Monday, February 13, 2012

Sermon Delivered February 12, 2012: He Couldn't Help It

I remember the day as clear as a bell. I was working for the YMCA After-School Program in Williamson County. For four hours each day, we were charged with caring for kids ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade. The particular group of kids I worked with were a hand-full, to say the least. When I arrived at the school, the administration was ready to kick the YMCA out because of their inability to keep the kids in line. It was a rowdy bunch.

We began working with those kids and implementing a program to turn things around. One of the things I noticed was the kids having a difficult time settling in and getting role call done. To ease matters, I began a story time as the kids arrived. The kids honed in on the stories immediately, and it helped transition from school time to Y- time. Of course, since I was a seminary student and this was the Young Men’s Christian Association, I started telling Bible stories.

One week, I took three days to tell the Exodus story about God using Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. I told about the Ten Plagues. I told about the Passover. I told about the flight of the people out into the desert and the deliverance at the Red Sea. At the end of the stories, a young boy came up to me. He looked me right in the eye and said, "Is that story true?"

Now, for most of us sitting here this morning, it’s an easy answer. There would be little or no hesitation on our parts to respond, but you see, at the time, I was at a disadvantage. I had spent four years in college studying theology and almost another year in seminary by this time. During those years, I had been exposed to all sorts of stuff regarding this and other biblical stories. There were some well intentioned folks who were very uncomfortable talking about miracles and other such phenomena found in the Bible. They were afraid the Christian faith wouldn’t make sense in a society very much based in technology and science. Therefore, they tried to remove every sort of super-natural occurrence from scripture and chalk it up to embellishment by the biblical writers.

Even in that Exodus story, they tried to explain the ten plagues as a logical consequence of the Nile River becoming infested with a red tide, which led to fish dying, which led to flies, which led to frogs and so on and so forth. The Israelite’s escape was nowhere near as dramatic according to some of my professors. They probably were not released by the Egyptians as the Bible recorded. Instead, they probably slipped away and ran as fast as they could to evade capture. All of these notions came flying back at me when that little boy asked me, "Is this story true?"

Suddenly, I realized I was at a crossroads in my life of faith. I knew I was at the point of having to make a choice. Would I go down the path of removing the supernatural from scripture? Would I buy what my education had taught me about such things? Could I do that? Could I remove the miraculous from everything including the things done by Jesus including the resurrection? Could I chalk the resurrection up to something that just happened in the minds of the disciples and that it wasn’t a bodily resurrection? All this ran through my head in seconds because of this little boy’s question, "Is it true?"

And I looked him in the eye right back and said, "Yes. It’s true." The choice was made. I would not seek to remove the supernatural from Scripture, and I wouldn’t seek to remove it from my life either. For I believe God did work in such ways as recorded in the Bible. I believe God wrought miracles. I believe Jesus healed the sick and calmed the storm and fed 5000 men plus women and children with only five loaves of bread and two little fish. I believe He died and indeed bodily rose from the dead. I continue to hold onto the belief that God works miracles in our day and age as well. Although they aren’t quite as dramatic as when Jesus did them.

I mean, take a look at our Gospel lesson this morning. Jesus’ healing of the leper this morning is instantaneous. The guy comes running up to Jesus, kneels at Jesus’ feet and says, "If you choose, you can make me clean."

Jesus is moved with pity as He looks at the guy. He knows the guy’s been cast out of his village and community. He knows the guy can’t work and is at the mercy of anyone who might share a loaf of bread. He knows many think that God is punishing this leper by giving him the disease. All of this Jesus knows and understands as He touches the man and says, "I do choose. Be made clean!"

Mark includes the word, "immediately" to show how quickly the healing took place. "Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean." It happened fast. The guy was cured and could go back to his family and friends; could go back to work; and could rest easy knowing God wasn’t punishing him. It was a tremendous thing having Jesus heal him.

I’ve witnessed my own share of miracles; although, I must confess the healings that I have seen have taken a little longer. Most recently, I saw one that left my jaw hanging on the floor. Roughly three weeks ago, I headed to Bellville to visit the Gardner family. I was way ahead of schedule, so I decided to stop in at Colonial Belle and check on Anita Wolchik. I entered, and Anita was sitting in her wheelchair right at the entrance watching television. She saw me, and her face lit up. I raced up to her and gave her a big hug. I squatted by her chair to get closer to her to hear what she might have to say.

Anita’s speech still isn’t all the way back, and it can be difficult to have a conversation with her, but I do manage to catch several words. If I work really hard, I can understand quite a bit of what she has to say. For several minutes we talked, and I asked how she was getting along in her therapy. She replied, "O.k." I asked if she was getting stronger, and she said, "Yeah." But she wasn’t content to tell me this. She wanted to show me. She grasped the handles of her wheelchair, and she stood up on her own power!

Now, some of you might think, "Ho-hum. So, she stood up. What’s the big deal?"

Here’s the big deal. Six months ago, she had a stroke that destroyed half of her brain. She spent weeks in the hospital recovering from that only to have open heart surgery which knocked her back even more. She endured months in hospitals and rehab centers, and some of those experiences were downright horrible. At times, I wouldn’t have given a plugged nickel that she would have lasted a week. For quite some time, she couldn’t use one side of her body. I can’t tell you how many prayers I and others lifted up about her asking God to heal her. And here she was, standing. On her own. With no assistance. My eyes started watering.
Shortly thereafter, I had to leave to keep my appointment, but after visiting the Gardners, I headed straight home. I sat down on my computer and blogged about the experience. I couldn’t keep it under wraps. I had to share what had happened. Sure, Anita had doctors and nurses caring for her. She had undergone quite a bit of therapy, but after all I had seen with her, you can’t convince me this was the only thing that had led up to that moment. God was working His healing on her. It was just taking some time. And I had to tell about it.

The guy who had been healed from his leprosy had to tell about it too. Jesus had commanded him to remain silent, but he just couldn’t help it. He had to share. He had to let everyone know what God had done. He had been touched by Jesus and healed. There was no holding back. The former leper spread the word and showed evidence of what Christ had done in his life, and folks flocked to see Jesus.

It makes me wonder about how often do we talk about what Christ has done in our lives? How often do we share how He has touched us or touched those who we know? How often do we proclaim His goodness and His mercy? How often do we point the way to Him especially with those who are hurting? Do we sit in silence? Do we think Jesus commands us to be silent? Perhaps, just perhaps we are called to be like that healed leper who couldn’t help himself. Perhaps, just perhaps, we are called to be so excited about having Christ in our lives and making a difference in them that we are called to share that news with others. And perhaps, just perhaps, folks might just flock from all around to be touched by Him as well. Amen.

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