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Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Broken Rocking Chair.

“What signs are you going to give us then, so that we may see it an believe in you?”
A Sermon for Pentecost X – Proper 13B 
August 2, 2015 – St. Philip’s, Laurel, DE
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

So, this is a sermon about wanting signs and evidence and proof and how sometimes, they are not what you want, or even expect. 

Because, once the Holy Spirit breaks through, you never really know what's going to happen next.

If you’re one of those people, you are obviously not alone. And, it’s clearly not a modern problem. It’s been going on since antiquity.

We come to this morning’s piece of John’s Gospel right after Jesus had just fed five thousand people. Five. Thousand. People. !!! From five fish and two loaves of barley bread that a little child had brought to Peter. There was not only enough to feed everyone, there were actually twelve baskets left over.  Imagine!!

That evening, Jesus and his disciples slipped away in their boats because Jesus was concerned that, in their enthusiasm, they would try to make him King. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, a strong wind came upon the sea and, about 3-4 miles out, they saw Jesus walking on water.

Clearly, there were lots of signs and wonders around Jesus!

The next morning, some of the people who had been fed looked around to find Jesus and his disciples had already left that area on that side of the Sea of Galilee and had traveled to Capernum. So, they got into “the boars” and went to Capernaum to find Jesus.

Imagine! Scripture doesn’t say how many people there were, but there were enough that scripture says they took “boats”. So, maybe a couple dozen. Maybe even more.

Having witnessed this feeding miracle, they come asking Jesus for more signs.

"What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"

They are referring, of course, to the story of Moses feeding “the whole congregation of Israelites” which we just heard in this morning’s passage from Exodus (16:2-15).   

Questions arise: Was the feeding of the 5,000 which Jesus just accomplished a “sign” the way Moses gave the hungry, wandering Israelites a “sign” of God’s work in him? Is Jesus the next Moses come to liberate them from the occupation of the Roman government? Is Jesus going to set them free the way Moses set his people free from the bonds of slavery?

Signs and wonders. Evidence of God’s direct intervention in our lives. We all want them, even though we would strenuously deny that we are superstitious. Or, that we are lacking faith or confidence in God’s presence and power in our lives so we need evidence.

Let me tell you a story from my own family. 

My grandmother was a Portuguese immigrant and a devout Roman Catholic. Until well into her 80s, she walked to early morning mass every day – I went with her until I started school. She also said her rosary at least once a day and here bureau was covered with statues of saints and there were lit votive candles in front of each and every one. She loved Jesus and trusted in God . . . . but . . .  there was this time . . .

It was right after my grandfather died. Very suddenly and without any warning. He got up from bed one morning to go to the bathroom. Had a stroke, fell to the floor and died instantly. He was 85.

My grandmother was absolutely bereft and inconsolable. I remember coming home from the funeral and cemetery and the house being filled with people eating mounds of food (It’s just what Mediterranean people do. We eat. For any reason. Happy. Sad. We eat. And, miraculously, there’s always enough food.)

My grandmother was in the parlor (remember when houses had parlors?) and was rocking in her rocking chair. Rocking really hard. She was also wailing loudly, calling out to God in her grief.

Her rocking became more and more vigorous as she cried, “Why did you take him from me, God? Oh, Precious Jesus! Come and help me! Come bring him back! Come and take me! Yes, Jesus! Come and take me. Not him! Bring him back and take me!”

And, as she rocked harder and harder, in the middle of her plea for Jesus to come and take her, we suddenly heard a loud BANG! We all went rushing into the parlor to find my grandmother on the floor in the middle of her broken rocking chair, crying out, “I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it!”

Signs and wonders. We all want them. Except, when we think we’ve gotten one we don’t want. Or, as the old saying goes, “Careful what you pray for because you might get what you want and then what will you do?”  

Is it wrong to seek a sign or look for a wonder? The story makes it perfectly clear that it’s neither right nor wrong. It’s simply human.  Does it mean our faith is weak, that we don’t trust God to provide, so we need evidence? It simply means we are human. Even as Jesus was simply human when, from the cross, he asked for a ‘sign’ from God that “this cup be passed from me, if it is your will.” 

Jesus said to those who asked him for a sign such as Moses gave to the people who had been freed from slavery, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

For those who follow his way, Jesus is miracle enough. The bread we break and the wine we drink are signs and wonders of the true and real presence of Jesus. 

They are sufficient to feed our spiritual hunger and thirst so that our minds and bodies might be strengthened to serve the people of God in His Name.

And if, from time to time, and in our grief or anxiety, we might look for other signs and wonders, well, I think Jesus will understand. Because He was once human himself. 

He might even send a sign or wonder our way, every once in a while. Sometimes, they may not be what we expect. Might not be walking on water. Or, calming a storm. But it may even include, as it was for my grandmother, a bit of unexpected humor in the midst of great sadness. 

Like a broken rocking chair.  

Because, once the Holy Spirit breaks through, you never really know what's going to happen next. 


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