Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity

The Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, Charlestown, NH;
Trinity Anglican Church, West Lebanon, NH

 

Let us pray: O God, our refuge and strength, who art the author of all godliness; Be ready, we beseech thee, to hear the devout prayers of thy Church; and grant that those things which we ask faithfully we may obtain effectually; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Late Thursday evening, I returned from California. My good friend, Bishop Williams had invited me to lead a retreat for the clergy of the Diocese of the West. The retreat topic was “Gifts for Ministry.” It had been a successful retreat, a joyful opportunity to be together and witness to the life that has been given to us by Jesus Christ.

The journey had been a long one; seventeen hours to get there, fourteen hours to get back. There were frequent changes in planes, a long car ride to the airport, a delay at one point, the rush to a distant gate at another. Though such events are not uncommon for those who travel a great deal, it can still be uncomfortable. The return trip, though shorter, involved a late plane and a short duration between flights. During that last dash to gate number (I think it was) Z5021, someone called to me from the doorway of Hudson News. I didn't see who it was right away, but I heard the following words very clearly: “It's ok, Father, He'll be there when you arrive.” I heard the words. And so did about two dozen people who were moving about. Suddenly, all eyes turned toward me. It's sometimes hard to be anonymous when you've got this purple shirt and white collar on.

Thanks for the reminder,” I said quickly, tossing the words over my shoulder. But then I stopped, considering the gift that had been offered. I turned toward the source of the voice, getting a good look at the person who had addressed me: cowboy hat, boots, what looked like a taco in his hands. “Thanks,” I said, “thanks for the gift; you've given me a story for my sermon.” “Anytime, brother,” he said. “Name's Ed.” “Thanks, Ed, I'll mention you in the sermon.” “You know,” he said, “I've never been in a sermon before.” “Well,” I said, “you are now.” People stopped to watch this shouted conversation. “In fact,” I said, “I'll put you all in the sermon. Just remember what Ed said; 'He'll be there when you arrive.'” We all waved to each other and I turned again to the challenge of finding Gate Z5021 – or something like that.

But after that brief conversation, my journey was considerably lighter. Probably everybody's journey was lightened by that good-humored exchange. But there was a very serious point to it all. Jesus will be there when we arrive. Jesus is with us at every point in our journey. We just need to recognize Him.

Today's gospel tells of a certain nobleman whose son is sick at Capernaum. We remember that Jesus once preached at a synagogue there. He knew the area well. This nobleman approaches Jesus for help: “Come and heal my son.” But Jesus responds in a very curious way. He says to the nobleman: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” How many moments passed before the nobleman replied? What happened in the heart and mind of this man who was so concerned for the life of his son? However long those moments might have been, the man says this: “Sir, come down ere my child die.” Jesus says simply: “Go thy way, thy son liveth.” The man believed the words of Jesus and turned toward home.

Julian Barnes, the famous atheist, once wrote: “I don't believe in God; but I miss Him.” It is a telling phrase. Julian Barnes does indeed miss God. He wants God to be with him. But he can't seem to find Him. He keeps missing God, even though God may be standing right in front of him. Even so, part of him wants God, a part of him would like to believe. Part of him wants the life that Jesus offers.

That is the message of today's gospel; eternal life is offered to all whose faith is sure. The words “to live” are the rich meaning of the the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the ancient Semitic language, there was no word for “recover”, as to recover from an illness. To the ancient world, “to live” means both recovery from illness and to return to life from death. That is part of John's purpose in this gospel message.

With Jesus, there is a recovery from illness and a return to life from death. Both are clear from this gospel message; we are healed from spiritual illness when in the presence of Jesus. We are also raised from death and given the reality of eternal life.

In many miracles, Jesus is indeed physically present. He heals the sick, raises the dead, brings sight to the blind. But in this story, Jesus heals at a seeming distance. A young man, close to death, is healed of his illness; he is brought back to life. Those who were with him might have wondered at the sudden healing, the sudden and improbable return from the very edge of death.

But the young man's father, returning from a long journey to beg God for help, has heard from the mouth of God that the child is alive.

“When did it happen,” he asks. And perhaps he knows even before he learns the answer. It was at the moment that Jesus spoke the truth of life and brought all that was necessary to an understanding of this world and the next. Life is offered in Jesus Christ.

The certain nobleman did not miss God; he knew where to find him. But, in fact, He is always with us. All we have to do is recognize His presence among us. He is with us in our going out and our coming back. As Ed the prophet has said: “He'll be there when you arrive.”

Let us pray: Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things; Graft in our hearts the love of thy name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.