Fr. Tim’s Sermon for September 9th, 2018

The Trinity, or The Man in Sapphire Blue, Hildegard of Bingen, c. 1151

Proper 18
16th Sunday after Pentecost
September 9th, 2018

Psalm 146
James 2:1-17
Mark 7:24-37
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Have you ever seen a miracle?  A real miracle, not just when it snows on Christmas, or you realize you still have ice cream in the fridge even though you thought you ate it all already.  Those are great things, but I’m talking about miracles, real, true, honest to God miracles.  Have you ever seen one?

Isaiah has, it seems, at least in a vision or a dream.  He writes about them in our Old Testament reading this morning.  Look at it again.  I’ll start at the end of verse 4: “’He [meaning God] will come and save you.’  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for you.  For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.”

This is some amazing stuff.  And look closely, for it’s even more amazing than at first glance.  “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped”; these are miracles indeed, but the next are even greater miracles: the lame will not only get up and walk, but they’ll leap like deer!  And the tongue of the speechless will not only speak, but they’ll sing, and not just the blues or a dirge, but they’ll sing with joy!  And it gets better: out there in the wilderness, out in the desert, waters shall suddenly burst forth; and not just a few drops, but enough to fill streams.  And that sand will become a pool; and not just a pool that will dry up but that ground that is thirsty, that yearns for water, that’s whole being is leaning in hope for drink, that same ground will become a spring, and not just a spring but many springs of water.  In each picture, things get better and better and better.

This is some set of miracles Isaiah has seen; it’s some work of God!  But, I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, there’s a little part of us that wonders, “Yeah, but does stuff like this really happen?  Isn’t this just a metaphor about God’s love?”  We certainly pray for miracles: we pray for the healing of our friends or family who are sick, or we pray for the safety of our loved ones, or the rescue of the lost.  We pray that everything will turn out right, and that they’ll get better, that the medicine will work this time, that this new procedure will see them through.

And sometimes miracles do happen, and sometimes prayers heal.  But sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes accidents happen, and people don’t wake up, or the lost stay lost, or our loved ones, who are so joyful and happy and full of life, they fall, and slip away, and die.  And in those moments, it’s easy to feel a little disappointed.  Many of us slip into doubt.  We may feel like we’re not praying hard enough, or praying correctly, or that maybe if we weren’t such horrible sinners, our prayers might work a bit better.  A friend of mine once said, “Yeah sure, Jesus answers prayers.  He just doesn’t answer mine.”

But Jesus says, he always says, “Listen!  Listen!”  Grief and sorrow plug up our ears and stuff up our eyes, but when we look and listen not just to what we hope for but what God is already doing in the world, we see miracles all around us.  For, as John Rottman writes, “even when God does not work a miracle of physical healing, Jesus always heals his children when they come to him.  Sometimes he steadily brings them into closer and deeper relationship with him, giving contentment and peace even in the face of death. Sometimes he breaks the power of addiction and evil in their lives.  Sometimes he heals emotional wounds.  Even when he allows them to die, they are not beyond his healing power.  Death ushers them into the great and final healing of those who go to be with Christ.  When his children ask, he never turns them away at the door.  Jesus never fails to give his children the bread of his healing power.”

I find this quote very powerful.  People in our culture are always looking for reasons to doubt God, and we need to be, as Christians, the voice in their ears that reminds them, “Listen, listen!  God is at work healing even now, even at this very moment.  It might not always look like great flashes of light or earthquakes, but even still God’s life is in the world drawing all things to him.  Miracles are all around us, for life and love are poured into this world with reckless abandon; like a toddler trying to fill a cup with milk, the cup of this world runneth over.

I’ll end this sermon today with a story: during my time one summer as a hospital chaplain, I spent a lot of time with people who were facing death, or at least a rather serious operation.  Often people were worried, or scared, or just plain lonely for an ear, so I did a lot of sitting, listening to life stories, holding hands, and praying.

One couple, though, was different.  I saw on the patient’s chart that he, the husband, had just signed papers to be transferred to hospice.  He was going to die, and he knew it.  I took the elevator up to the room, expecting the man and his wife to be in tears.  But when I knocked and opened the door, I found something different.  The air in the room, it was light.  Not lit up by the sun or the overhead lights, but light, not heavy.  It was easy to breathe.  And the couple sat – the man in the bed, the wife on a chair next time him – with such ease, such grace.  And I sat down with them, we talked, and they told me their story.  And in the conversation, I asked, “Are you afraid?”  And both of them shook their heads, and the man said, “We’ve been Christians all our lives.  We’ve struggled and prayed and walked with Christ.  I’m ready to go to God.”  And I think for him, for this man, it was as if the waters broke forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert, that the burning sand become for him a pool, and his thirsty ground springs of water.  And I know this to be true, for he became a spring of water for me.  He was, I believe, a miracle of God.


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