SERMON Epiphany 5b 2018
By Pastor Leo E. Longan
Annual Meeting: the Mirror and the Miracle
Today as we gather to do the work of this community in our annual meeting of the congregation, perhaps a little back-to-basics is in order, starting with this thing we are doing right now.
Every Sunday morning of the year at 10:30, at seven or eight special times, and at every wedding and every funeral, we do this thing, the thing Christians have gathered to do from earliest days. It doesn’t really have a proper name; it goes by a series of more-or-less useful nicknames (mass, holy communion, service, liturgy … Lutherans sometimes call it Word and Sacrament ministry … ) We do need some kind of name for this thing that we do, but really, for all the good the nicknames do us we might as well call it Fred. It’s just our thing.
I don’t have a definitive solution to this name problem – if it is a problem – but as I reflected on the question this week, seeking a fresh take on it, this is what came to me: when we gather every Sunday, year in and year out, down the centuries, across millennia, we offer two things: a MIRROR and a MIRACLE.
Our mirror is our deep dive into God’s word, in scripture, praise, prayer and preaching. God’s word is not an exercise in nostalgia or a celebration of imaginary friends; God’s word is Truth itself. God’s word is a living word about us as we draw breath in this precise moment. We really have two choices here: God’s word is either a living word about us and the living God or it is a pretty boring history lesson about dead people and what they did and thought. As Mark Twain says through the mouth of Huck Finn, “I don’t take no stock in dead people.” Neither, as Christians, do we. At least not here, and not now, as we come together to do the thing.
I call God’s word the Mirror, because like a mirror it shows us who we are, as we are, right now before God, with God. God’s word is the best mirror, because it has been polished by human encounters with God, individual and collective, down the centuries from ancient days.
This mirror idea is suggested by a hint I received some years ago from a seasoned tourist to take a mirror with me when I travelled in Europe, so I could admire Michelangelo’s amazing ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, for instance, by looking here (down) rather than always straining my neck to look up. The scriptures, the hymnal, the service are like that Sistine Chapel mirror: they reflect God above and they show us ourselves as we really are.
This is happening today in our lessons, in the mirror of God’s word. We gather to sustain and strengthen our ministry at Trinity Lutheran Church; Jesus in Mark’s gospel shows us what that ministry is made of. After preaching in the synagogue, Jesus begins to heal. First, within his own circle, he heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Then he takes it to the streets, and, as Mark says, “…they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons … and he cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast our many demons …” Then in the early morning, he went off to pray alone. When his disciples found him, he took them with him on a mission to all the surrounding towns, preaching and healing. This, Jesus says, was “what I came out to do.”
This lesson from Mark’s gospel (1:29-39) is a perfect mirror of what we came out to do today, a mirror of our own ministry as Jesus’ disciples: to teach and to heal, both within our own circle and moving out into the world. That us; that’s what we do.
There is another mirror for us in the glorious lesson from Isaiah (40:21-31) this morning, a mirror of the struggle that ministry entails and or the strength that ministry requires.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless (Remember those words as we meet today to face our challenges here!) For those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
This is what God shows us in the mirror of his word today: proclaim the good news as Jesus did, bring healing to people as Jesus did, and do it with the power and strength that God gives. That living word is as beautiful as anything Michelangelo painted on the Sistine ceiling. (And, by the way, that Sistine ceiling is really, really beautiful.)
But as I say this thing we do has two parts, the Mirror and the Miracle. A mirror implies distance between the reflection and the thing that is reflected. The Miracle is what happens when God steps out of the mirror and right into the present moment, in space and time. God does that to us and with us and in us every time we share the sacrament, whether we feel it, or want it, or know it or not. This thing that we do is also the thing that God does, and that is always a miracle: where we see a wafer and sip of wine, the Lord Jesus is here in the fullness of his majesty and glory. Where we look around at a nice room that we paid for and still have to pay so much to maintain, God lives in the splendor of uncreated light. When we sidle up to the sanctuary platform with its now rather shabby carpeting to take our communion, then the angels rejoice and sing as God again claims us as his precious, redeemed saints, in robes made white in the blood of the lamb. This is the Miracle part of this thing that we do. It is a miracle because our eyes can’t see it, our ears don’t hear it, our minds can’t contain it. It is a miracle that we know only through the sweet, mysterious, enchanting, beautiful gift we call faith. Faith is the light in the mirror; faith is the heat, the healing love, in the miracle.
Sometimes, especially when we have to do our business. crunch the numbers, face down the disappointments and mop up the messes that this life presents us, we are tempted to think that the light in the mirror is growing dark and the love in the miracle is growing cold. That’s when we most need to look deeply into the mirror of God’s word, and eat and drink our fill of the miracle of God’s grace.
This thing that we do – that we are doing now – is the beating heart of our life of faith. It is where God comes to meet us, and speak to us and change us and love us and save us. It is, to use Jesus’ own words, what we came out to do, for ourselves and for the life of the world.
Let’s look in the mirror, and live into the miracle.
May God make it so – today and always – for his precious children at Trinity Lutheran Church of Middle Village, New York
Let us pray.