Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

 

Sermon

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, 2011

St. Joseph's Anglican Church, Brooklyn, NY

 

Let us pray: O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil, and make us the sons of God, and heirs of eternal life; Grant us, we beseech thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves, even as He is pure; that when he shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto him is his eternal and glorious kingdom; where with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, he liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

 

It is always a good thing to visit St. Joseph's and I do look forward to my time with you. We have certainly seen a lot of each other during the past year. It has been a long and challenging journey. But, by the grace of God, the storms seem to have passed and things can settle down a bit.

 

I am delighted to be here today especially because I have been able to leave the enormous piles of snow that have accumulated in New England. The Winter has been very severe and I am very happy for the chance to travel south to a place where the snow piles are nowhere near what they are in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

 

But I do want you all to know that I hold you and this parish in my daily prayers. You are never far from my thoughts and I look forward to our future journey together. The work of Christ's church must go on with a renewed dedication. There is much to do. There are many practical aspects to our journey. First of all, how will we care for our beloved church; its buildings, its property and the treasures of the church that we have received. These are real, temporal responsibilities that must be addressed. And I have every expectation that this parish will fulfill its responsibilities to the service of God's holy church.

 

But there is another responsibility we have; the greater responsibility. And that responsibility is to God; to heal and care for His people. We often talk of healing. Especially at this time of year when so many of us battle colds and the flu, we wish to be rid of those diseases which are usually temporary. Serious illness is another thing entirely. And when we learn of such an illness, we visit the doctor and plead for help. Sometimes, we even pray for a miracle.

 

Miracles are part of God's world; the gospel is full of miracles. In today's gospel, we find two examples of healing miracles. Both involve a serious illness. In the first, a leper, approaches Jesus. He asks that he be cleansed of his dread disease. He asks simply and respectfully of the God that stands in front of him. And he asks his question directly to God. He doesn't say: "if you are really God, help me out." He doesn't say: "if you could put in a good word for me, I would be much obliged." He doesn't even say, "please help me, I am separated from my community and I feel alone and afraid, help me. I know you will have mercy on me because you are God."     No.         The leper says none of this. Rather, he kneels down and worships God and says, very simply, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." Lord, if thou wilt. He knows that everything – everything – is in God's hands. Lord, if thou wilt. And Jesus reaches out his hand to touch the leper and, behold, the leper is cleansed of his dread disease. Lord, if thou will do so, you have it in your power to cleanse me of my sins.

 

The second miracle in this passage from St. Matthew's gospel is a little different. In this miracle, a centurion approaches Jesus. He doesn't ask to be cleaned of a disease. Rather, he asks Jesus to heal his servant who is sick of the palsy. The centurion describes the servant as being "grievously tormented." Jesus has compassion and offers to go to the centurion's house. But the centurion is reluctant; he feels that he is unworthy. And he says something very telling, a phrase we have grown to know and love. The centurion says to God: "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed." Speak the word only! And Jesus marvels at this statement of faith. Like the leper in the earlier story, the centurion, too, recognizes God. He has traveled to Capernaum to be with God. He needed God's help. He journeyed away from his home to plead for his servant who was gravely ill. He does not say to God: "I think you might be able to help." He does not say: "People seem to think you can work miracles, so I thought I would test that theory." The centurion does not even say: "I know you can heal people of their illnesses, so please help my servant." No. He says this: "Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but speak the word only..." The centurion knows God. He knows that God's word alone is enough to save. He knows that God's word, by itself, if it comes directly from God, has the power to heal all illness, physical or spiritual. God's word. And God's word alone.

 

There is that wonderful phrase, "come under my roof." Many of us think it means: to come into my home. That is correct. But it also means to "enter into my heart." The centurion believed he was completely unworthy to receive God into his heart. "Lord, I am not worthy," he says to Jesus. But Jesus has another idea. Jesus knows that a man with a penitent heart, a man who knows God and has looked for him has indeed prepared for himself a place where God may dwell. God can truly recognize those who have faith, those who approach God with a humble and penitent spirit.

 

Here at St. Joseph's, just as in all our churches, there is a need for healing; healing of our spiritual selves; healing for our parish communities. We can never demand that of God. We can never say: "God, fix this place." Because the work must in many ways be our own. We can never say, "God, you work miracles; prove it to us." God has nothing to prove to us. God is God. But what we can say is this: "We are unworthy of your grace and goodness; but we do know that, if it is your will, you can heal us and make us well; you can heal us from all has pulled us away from you; you can restore us to spiritual health. Speak the word only and it will be so. Speak the word only and we will be healed in the spirit. Speak the word only and our souls shall be healed.

 

Let us pray: O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to heal thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.