A Sermon Preached on Facebook Live Broadcast
Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter
Epiphany IV - January 31, 2021
On this fourth Sunday in the Season of the Epiphany, we are treated to yet another story of yet another manifestation of the incarnation – another revelation that Jesus is the Son of God – by the miracle at the Temple in Capernaum.
There was a man in the synagogue there who was ill. Perhaps he had a seizure disorder, or maybe he suffered from a mental illness. Scripture says, “… he had an unclean spirit”. And, Jesus “rebuked” him and the unclean spirit convulsed the man and, crying with a loud voice, came out of him and he was healed.
And, everyone in the synagogue was “amazed”. Amazed. I have no doubt. That was pretty amazing. No wonder scripture tells us that Jesus became famous and word “began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee”.
Amazing! That word from scripture has followed me around like a lonesome, hungry puppy dog all week. Sometimes, I could hear the word in the tiny, three-year old voice of our eldest granddaughter, who used to say, in her tiny three-year old lisp, “Amathing!” The swing ride was “Amathin!” Discovering worms underneath rocks was “Amathing!” And billowy clouds in the sky that looked like an animal was “Amathing!”
Now, of course, she’s in her second year of premed studies and finds living off campus this year, “Amazing.” And, her organic chem professor is “Amazing”. And she, from this nana’s perspective, is pretty amazing herself.
Amazing. Those folks in that temple that day in Capernaum, that small ancient town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, had a right to be amazed. The healing a man of an unclean spirit is pretty amazing.
Today, however, over 2,000 years later, we understand that a seizure disorder is a neurological not theological problem, and there are several modern techniques from a pharmacological to surgical remedy to manage and even, in some cases, cure the disease.
These days, we call them “modern miracles” and while there are some who might still shake their heads in disbelief and ask, “Isn’t that something?” and “Can you imagine?” and “What will they be able to do next?” these days, we pretty much take modern miracles in our stride.
Ever since “the boy in the bubble” and “the baby with the baboon heart” that Paul Simon sang about 40 years ago, we have become aware that these are truly “the days of miracles and wonders.”
Except, I wonder. I wonder if Jesus walked into one of our sanctuaries today – even if there were only the required five people or less people there during the pandemic – I wonder if Jesus walked right in to one of our churches and healed a person with a seizure disorder, would we be ‘amazed’?
Maybe, but I suspect we’d be more surprised by his visit than the fact that he cured someone. I mean, these days, things like that happen every day – some days, six times before breakfast.
Why is that, do you suppose? Have we become jaded? Spoiled? Arrogant? Entitled? Privileged? Or, have we just gotten so very comfortable that we’ve lost touch with the wonder of it all?
I have a very clear memory of the time – now, I’m going way back in the Way-Way-Back Machine – when my grandmother moved in with my parents, temporarily, just to recover – after she had had some abdominal surgery. I was working a summer job flipping hot dogs and hamburgers at a lunch counter (Remember those? Every posh department store had them.) and I was just getting home from work.
My mother had bought a brand new device – a telephone answering machine – so she could tend to my grandmother or her laundry or her garden outside and still get important messages. My grandmother was used to the telephone but she had no idea about this answering machine.
As I pulled into the driveway, I could see my mother out in
the garden. It was a beautiful summer day and my mother had all the windows
opened. As I got out of the car, I could hear the phone ring and then the
answering machine click on. My mother’s voice, sounding that tentative, high
pitch that also recorded her nervousness in not being sure how this all worked,
announced that she wasn’t able to come to the phone? Right, right, um, now? So
please, um, leave a message?
At which point there was a loud BEEP and I could hear the voice of my aunt Deolinda asking about my grandmother. And then, I heard my grandmother’s voice. She was YELLING. At the answering machine. But, she didn’t know it was the answering machine. She thought it was her daughter, Deolinda.
And she was YELLING, “Linda! Linda! It’s me! Mamma! It’s me! Lydia is outside. If you just shut up for one minute, I’ll tell you how I am! Linda! Linda! Argh, you never listen to me!”
I had stopped in my tracks to listen to the commotion and when my mother came round the corner from the garden and our eyes met, we both burst into laughter. As we walked together into the house, we talked about how we might explain this “modern miracle” to her.
As my mother tended to my grandmother, my mind began to wander, as it often does, if left to my own devices. I wondered if that’s how prayer works. That, maybe there’s an answering machine in heaven and sometimes, Gabriel or Raphael or one of the cherubim and seraphim in charge of receiving and delivering messages of prayer that day assigns someone who doesn’t understand the miracle of modern devices so instead of taking the message, they just yell back at the phone.
See? Maybe it isn’t that God heard your prayer and the reason you didn’t get what you wanted is because the answer is no. Maybe the message just hasn’t been taken off the answering machine yet.
Anyway, now, all these years later, I don’t know too many people who have an answering machine. In fact, fewer and fewer people have an actual phone in their home – a ‘landline’ as it’s called. Now, your phone with all your contacts plus a camera plus a place to store and share all the pictures you take (anybody remember ‘PhotoMart’?), plus a way to communicate by text message and email, plus access to the ‘internet superhighway’ where you can consult The Google and get all sorts of information which you never even had in your library at home, plus all sort and manner of ‘apps’ that allow you to get the current weather and predictions, play solitaire or Candy Crush, or tune into your local news or watch a movie on Netflix. . . . .
. . . . . . All. From Your. Phone.
And, you know, when you stop to think about it, if that isn't amazing, I don't know what is.
If Jesus had walked into your church even 15 years ago and told you you’d have this device that fit into your pocket or purse and be able to have access to all of that (and more), I suspect you’d have been just as amazed as the people in that ancient Temple in Capernaum when Jesus healed that man with a seizure disorder. You might have even asked, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority!” My, my, my.
I confess that I am no longer amazed at the things technology can do for us. I nonchalantly nod my head approvingly at the “direction stations” set up in a friend’s house for her Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner that silently vacuums her floors every night while she sleeps.
I have found – and taught others – my “Chimpanzee Technique” of managing technology. I just keep batting at the key board and, eventually, some combination works and I get what I want from the computer.
What does amaze me is, given the current state of the affairs in our world in general and this country, in particular, that human kindness and generosity can and does prevail.
I just heard a truly amazing story of the principal of ahigh school in North Charleston, South Carolina who works all day at school and then works a part time job every night at the local Walmart. His daytime job supports his family, but every penny he earns at the Walmart goes to support the kids and families in his school.
You see, 90% - that’s ninety percent – of the students in his school live at or below the poverty line. As he was being interviewed, he talked about making a home visit with a family of a child who was disruptive and, he said, “I knocked on the door and (chocking up), there were curtains on the window and (coughing while chocking up) a bare mattress on the floor and . . . (long pause), I knew I had to do something to help.”
That, to me, is amazing! I mean, this man, this principal of the local high school, is working a part time job just to take care of his students and their families, to help them put food on the table and a table to put food on. That kind of generosity, that kind of kindness, in today’s world, is – at least to me – simply amazing.
I know. It shouldn’t be, should it? But, it is.
Then again, I think sunrises and sunsets are amazing. I think the waterfowl who are my closest neighbors are amazing. In the season of Light, I think Light is amazing and that even darkness is just a shape of the light, which is why the ancient Psalmist sang that ‘darkness and light are both the same’ to God, who is the Ultimate Amazement.
So, in this Season of the Epiphany, the season of Jesus who is the Light of the World, I want to know what it is that you find amazing? What is it that “causes great surprise and wonder” in you? And, if you haven’t felt surprise and wonder recently, ask yourself why not.
What is it that gets in your way of wonder and great surprise? Is it you, yourself? Have you become so worn down by the worries and troubles of the world that you’ve become jaded?
Have you become such a serious adult person that you can’t get out of your own way to feel the amazement of your childhood again?
Has it been so long since you last felt amazed that the only thing you’re amazed about is how long it’s been since your were last amazed?
Here’s a nickel’s worth of unsolicited advice. Drive or walk yourself to a local playground. Yes, in this cold weather. Bundle up. You’ll be warm in a minute.
Sit yourself down on a swing. Just swing. Slowly, at first. And then, start to pump your legs. I know it’s been a long time but I promise, the memory of how to do it will all come back to you. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself feeling like you’re soaring in the air. It might even make you giggle a little.
And, when you get to that point? Just between the feeling of soaring and the feeling like you’re going to giggle? That, my friend, is the feeling of amazement. If you feel it, say it right out loud. Just like my granddaughter, you can say, “Amathing!”
Winnie the Pooh once said to Christopher Robin, “Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”
There is great truth and wisdom in that. And, when you do that, when you come to that realization, it is amazing. But, because we are adults, we forget it and dismiss it almost as quickly as we learn it.
I’m also remembering that theologian G.K Chesterton once wrote, "The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly."
Be an angel. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Find what it is that makes you feel amazing. Maybe it’s a ride on a swing. Maybe it’s playing hopscotch on the sidewalk. Maybe it’s building something with a child in the neighborhood and seeing the amazement in their eyes.
Maybe it’s a walk along the ocean or on a forest trail. Or, perhaps, it’s just looking into your own yard, taking time to watch the sunset as the squirrels scurry and the birds fly off in flocks and just taking in the wonder of it all.
Whatever it is, do that one amazing thing. And then, whatever it was that was dis-ordered in you, whatever demon of guilt or pride or remorse or shame was tormenting you will be tossed out and you, too, will be healed.