SERMON Lectionary 12B 2018
By Pastor Leo E. Longan
Jesus was not alone in what he did: in his day there were lots of preachers roaming the country. The people were hungry for the word of God and there were plenty of rabbis, plenty of prophets ready to feed them. What set Jesus apart in a crowded field was his healing. We have some of Jesus’ preaching in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere – not nearly as much as we would like – but read through the gospels and they are mostly a parade of healings and works of power, like the one in our gospel lesson today.
Healing seems to have been the central focus of Jesus’ ministry; it was because of his healings that people followed him and believed him. Some recognized him as the Messiah; others wanted to take him by force and make him king. And though Jesus never confronted or challenged the rulers – even at his trial before Pilate on the last day of his life – it was precisely his power to heal and perform miracles that made him dangerous and brought him to the cross.
Jesus power was amazing, but how often, in exercising that power, does he say something like “your faith has made you well” or “let it be done according to your faith” or (as in today’s lesson) “have you no faith?” when the disciples were afraid of the storm. And in one instance at least, his healing power was crippled by the lack of faith among the people of his hometown. (Mt. 12:58, Mk 6:5)
It seems to me that Jesus performs the healings and miracles as a way to engage faith and to strengthen faith. The healing was as much spiritual healing as it was physical. But what that means is that the path of faith, the path TO faith, is the path that cuts right through the thicket of human need. Jesus wasn’t in it for the glory, or to “win” anything – what exactly does “winning” mean anyway? Apart from the faith his ministry called forth, there was no glory for him, and his life ended – not in anything that could be called a “win” – but in horrific, bloody execution at the hands of a ruthless petty dictator.
We, in our faithful worship and song, ascribe glory and triumph to Jesus and praise him as our Lord and King, but he is not and never has been the king of this world. For Jesus, the royal road was the low road of human suffering and need, and it was faith – his own faith toward God and the faith he called forth from those he healed – that powered his ministry.
Jesus still walks the road of faith through the thicket of human need and suffering today. So we have to ask ourselves – we who call ourselves Christians – the same question Jesus asks his disciples this morning: “Have you still no faith?” What are we afraid of that makes us forget God, even a God who sometimes (as in today’s gospel) seems to sleep through a crisis?
Well, there is a storm raging around us today, raging around the world. A plague of wars great and small has infected countries in our hemisphere and whole regions of the other one, a plague rising from the stinking cesspools of greed and the lust for power and the need to win, a plague that like all such satanic afflictions falls most heavily on those least able to bear it. In El Salvador and Guatemala and Honduras, for example, an inescapable plague of murder, rape, torture, extortion has gained a deadly grip on society. Families are fleeing for their lives with nothing but their clothes and their children, desperate to escape the horror around them and the fear within them. We have no idea.
Well, perhaps some of you do; those of you who fled the Nazis, who were driven from your homes and your countries, separated from your families, interned in refugee camps – there are plenty of folks like that in our church – maybe YOU have a memory of what it was like. The rest of us, who, like me, have never missed a meal, never known a moment of real fear, much less been driven from our homes … we have no clue. Not clue one.
And yet it is precisely these desperate, homeless, penniless, hungry people that our leaders try to convince us are themselves a grave danger, that those who are fleeing murder are murderers, those who seek escape from rape and theft are themselves rapists and thieves, criminal aliens who deserve zero tolerance, immediate incarceration, and to have their children taken from them.
In the midst of this howling storm, can we hear Jesus calling to us, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
I was listening to the radio early yesterday morning, and heard a 1994 speech by a man I do not often quote, Rush Limbaugh, who said, in substance: “There is a war going on in America, a religious war, a war for America’s soul.” These words rang true to me: there IS a war for the soul of America, which seems more and more to resemble something described in the book of Revelation, where scripture is used to justify cruelty, where fear – raw, irrational fear – is wielded as a weapon and lies are spread across the landscape like the poison gas that has killed thousands in Syria and driven millions – literally millions – from their homes.
Dear people of God, it is not the thousands of desperate refugees crowding our Southern border that we need to fear, homeless, tempest-tossed, yearning to breathe free. It is the cold cruelty, the manufactured fear and the volcanic eruption of lies and liars that will smother us and deprive us of our soul. Followers of Christ know that the road of faith, the road TO faith, lies directly through the thicket of human need and suffering. Being a Christian means to follow in faith where Christ the healer has led the way, fearlessly and in the power and love of God.
Yes, Rush Limbaugh, there is a war for the soul of America, and for that matter for the soul of God’s world. It is a war that must be fought. Paul understood that in his day, and in Ephesians 6 gives us some good advice about what to wear when we go forth to do battle: put on truth, he says (remember truth?) righteousness (not self-righteousness, but the true righteousness that comes from striving always to do the right thing), peace, faith, salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. Yes, there is a battle to be fought, and still Jesus (who knows what spiritual warfare is) asks us, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Of course, we do have a choice; we always have a choice. We can put on the armor of God as Paul says, the armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the word of God and go forth to do battle with a crushing load of sin and suffering in our world and on our doorstep, or we can choose to emulate another recent utterly bamboozling fashion statement and don a coat that says, “I don’t really care. Do you?”
I wish I could be sure of your answer, but I know where I’ll be shopping for my own wardrobe. I can only pray that God will help me to be faithful and not to fear.
For us all, no matter what we choose to wear, I pray that God will bless us and keep us, shine the light of his face on us and give us peace.
Let us pray.