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  • Writer's pictureJanean Tinsley

Unbind her and let her go

Photo by Daniel Reche on

Throughout life, there are certain moments that fundamentally change you and your perspective. This could involve a relationship, a situation, or even discovering some hidden truth that unlocks new wisdom within. For me, most of these life-changing moments have come since I graduated high-school and “set out” on my own. You can’t plan these kind of moments and you have no idea when they’ll hit you. However, when they do, they make you who you are.

As you know, if you have followed my blog this year, I had a major change in my life. After 11 years in ministry in the United Methodist Church, I left that institution permanently. It was a very difficult decision, even though I knew God had directed me to walk away. Just two weeks after I gave my last sermon, Covid hit and churches, along with the rest of society, temporarily closed their doors. It was a lot of “closed doors” to process and, quite frankly, very difficult. My emotions since February 2020 have ranged from resentment to sadness to relief to emptiness and all things in between. Through it all, I kept asking God, “Why did you call me to ministry if it was just to watch it die?”

And that is the place where I have consistently sat, frustrated at God for all the schooling, the money spent, the tears shed, and the heartache felt. I knew I was called to ordained ministry. I knew I was called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I knew I was called to make disciples and grow God’s kingdom. I knew it in the pit of soul so why, God? Why put me through it all? What was the endgame?

Can you relate? Have you ever felt so convicted of a path in your life only to seemingly have that path, once traveled, to just end? It’s enough to leave you scratching your head and shaking your fists to the heavens.

But then, out of nowhere, comes one of those moments. The ones that fundamentally change you from the core of your being. And that is exactly what has happened to me.

July 12, 2020 was just an ordinary Sunday. My husband and I had plans to spend that sunny, hot day on the lake. That morning we packed our lake goods together and headed toward the marina 25 minutes away. It was still early so we decided to listen to our favorite church service online while driving. Little did I know that before that Sunday morning message reached its conclusion, I would experience spiritual transformation.

I have prepared around 350 sermons throughout my ministry career. That’s a lot of time reading scripture, researching the history, and studying commentaries. On top of that, there have been hours poured into Bible study preparations and other Biblical teaching opportunities. So, it would be easy to conclude that I would be extremely familiar with scripture. And yet, as I think most ministers would attest, God has a way of opening scripture anew every time you take time to read and study His word.

The sermon that Sunday morning was the final in a sermon series titled The Signs of Jonah. The entire series was very interesting. Rev. Alan Miller, the pastor, was specifically teaching on this particular Sunday about the resurrection of Lazarus. If you recall, Lazarus was very sick and his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus asking him to come and help their brother. They knew Jesus was able to heal their brother because he had already healed others. They believed in him. But Jesus chose not to answer their request right away. Instead, he waited for four days. He waited until Lazarus died before coming to the aid of Mary and Martha.

Once Jesus arrived, Mary and Martha were deeply saddened by the loss of their brother and understandably confused by Jesus’s delay. With exacerbated grief, Martha went to him.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 17-27)

Jesus, … deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Unbind him and let him go.” (John 38-44)

It’s a powerful story and one that many people know and love. Packed into 44 verses is a story of love, belief, hope, grief, humanity, and divinity. I have preached on this story several times because it’s one of my absolute favorite stories within scripture. But when I heard the sermon on July 12, it was as if I was hearing these verses for the very first time.

So what made this sermon any different?

One simple statement.

“Martha was focused on the corpse in the tomb and not the Christ standing in front of her.”

Y’all! Even writing it makes my heart speed up. Hear it again.

“Martha was focused on the corpse in the tomb and not the Christ standing in front of her.”

Oh my goodness, that statement … that single moment in time … has fundamentally changed me. I sat in that car hearing the words of the sermon fall away as Jesus’s voice became audibly clear, “I’ve been right in front of you all along and you refused to see me. Trust me because I’m not finished with you yet.”

I’m not sure if my husband picked up on my audible gasp or the tears in my eyes that I was trying to hide. But the rest of that day, while anchored in a quiet cove on Kentucky Lake, I heard the words over and over, “You refused to see me.” And I grieved.

I grieved because I, like Martha, had become so consumed with the death of my situation with the UMC that I had failed to see the life in front of me … the life that is Jesus Christ. I failed to see the immediate because I was too focused on the what if. I was focused on the “corpse in the tomb and not the Christ standing in front” of me. I couldn’t see all the ways I was still being used to proclaim the truth of God because I was focused on the ways I no longer was being used. And I can’t help but wonder how many times I missed a holy moment because I failed to see the Christ standing right before my eyes.

The truth is, I still don’t know what is ahead for me. My counseling practice is growing and I have recently become the only Certified Clinical Trauma Professional in our region. The Holy Spirit is very present in my practice and I can feel His guidance in those sessions. I believe I am helping people and I know that a few of my clients have come to know Jesus Christ within that office. But I am certain there is more God wants of me. And I know now that I can’t say that the ministry I was called to do is dead and buried behind some stone too heavy for me to move.

Something was happening in the tomb before they knew something was happening. Reversal was taking place. Decomposing was composing. Falling apart was being put back together. That which could not see could now see. That which could not walk could now walk. That which Christ was doing was getting ready to come out. Rev. Alan Miller, First Missionary Baptist Church, Benton, KY

Bro. Alan said, “Jesus didn’t just resurrect Lazarus from the dead. He didn’t restore him to the state of where Lazarus was before he died. He resurrected him, healed him, and let him go.”

I believe in that life-changing moment, Jesus not only resurrected me but he healed me, he awakened me, he empowered me, and he let me go out into the world on his behalf to teach others the profound truth that is our hope. We each have a choice to make. Every day that we wake up, we have a choice to focus on the corpse of our situation or focus on the Christ. I don’t know about you but I’m tired of living in a tomb of my own making.

“Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Unbind him and let him go.”

Lazarus was dead. He was dead. But God breathed new life into him and when Jesus called out, Lazarus was set free from the grips of death. And so can we. I look around and see the pain etched in the faces of most people I come into contact with. The world is so full of darkness and uncertainty. Our country is on the brink of civil war. Fear is underlying most of our daily actions. And grief over the life we once knew is prevailing.

“Martha was focused on the corpse in the tomb and not the Christ standing in front of her.”

I was Martha, focusing on the corpse. I was Lazarus, bound up in a tomb. But then Jesus called out, “Unbind her and let her go.”

…if you believe you will see the glory of God.

The sermon begins around the 32 minute mark.

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