Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, 2011
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, West Lebanon

 

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.

 

Last week, I found myself faced with three rather difficult problems. They would, I knew, demand all the wisdom, fortitude and prayer that I could muster. They were challenging problems, not unlike the calculus problems I encountered in high school; the ones I am still trying to figure out.

 

Ah, three challenging and difficult problems. Such joy! Now, which shall we solve first? The high school calculus problems were easy by comparison; just close the book and throw it across the room. But these particular contemporary nagging problems had real people involved. The answers needed to be good ones.

 

I was puzzling about this when one of my brother bishops called. I told him I was troubled by some issues related to the church. "What's new?" he asked. I asked him: "May I borrow your book?" "Which one?" he replied. "You, know," I said, "the one that has all the answers for every possible problem you encounter in life?" He paused for a moment, then said: "You need a Bible. I'll send you one. I'm surprised you don't have one handy." Then he said: "I'll send you a prayer book, too. I find it is a good companion volume." "OK," I said. "You made your point." He had, too. And I began to look at my "problems" in a very different light. They no longer seemed to be impossible. They were just, simply, questions to be answered. God would help.

 

Today's gospel passage from St. John tells of a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he learned that Jesus was nearby, he sought him out. He asked Jesus to heal his son. It was a simple and heartfelt request. A cry from the heart for assistance. Jesus is certainly filled with compassion, but he doesn't say that he will heal the nobleman's son. He doesn't say "no" either. Instead, he says something that seems very puzzling. Jesus says this: "except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe." What a strange thing to say when someone asks for healing for a son on the point of death.

 

Why such a strange question? What is it supposed to accomplish? Simply put, it is a challenge to the man's faith. What is it this man believes? Does he believe in witchcraft? Is he taken in by some first century brand of magic? Does he actually believe the spells and incantations that he has seen and heard? Does this nobleman really need to see "signs and wonders" before he believes?

 

We can easily dismiss the belief in such erroneous and primitive forms of magic and divination. They are limited in their perspective and often pull the practitioners away from God. But anyone who has feared for the life of a loved one is prey to any form or quackery. In the face of death, anything seems worth a try. In that frantic search for anything that might bring about a cure, perhaps even witchcraft would be considered. And so, we feel for the nobleman whose son is sick at Capernaum.

 

There is a moment, perhaps nothing more than a heartbeat, when the man considers his answer. "Sir, come down ere my child die." The nobleman has made his choice. And his choice is for God. And Jesus says simply: "Go thy way, thy son liveth." There is no incantation, no long chanting prayer, no magic spells said over the diseased body of the nobleman's son. No money has been given or received. There are few if any witnesses to the transaction. But what has happened is this: a man's faith is assured; that faith is transmitted into life and joy for the nobleman's entire household. That is the power of this message.

 

So much of the ministry that Jesus did in the world was accomplished quietly and without much notice. The work of God is so often done silently and without much fanfare. There were no trumpets or drums or loud shouting when the miracle was performed at Capernaum. So few of the miracles that Jesus performed were accompanied by much noise. We do not learn that the nobleman himself said anything to Jesus. They both simply turned and went away separately.

 

While we can never know his name, there was a conversion that day in Galilee. It was a profound and complete giving over to God. When that happens, true healing begins. Not only for the individual Christians, but for all who they touch. That, too, is the power of God's healing grace.

 

There is a wonderful phrase in today's collect, a petition that we who follow Jesus may be cleansed of our sins and serve Him with "a quiet mind." We can never solve all the problems we face in this life. Calculus is simply beyond the ability of some of us. And even those challenges that seem beyond our ability to understand, those problems that are matters of life and death, are best left to God.

 

It is our task to love God, to trust Him and to serve him with "a quiet mind." We should free ourselves from the distractions and snares the "signs and wonders" that would pull us away from God.

 

We have heard of the hour when the nobleman's son began to heal. Physically, he was cured of his illness. But in the same hour, his father was brought into the presence of God and learned of the healing power of God's grace. That healing power is available to all of us when we place Jesus at the center of our lives.

 

Oh, and what about those problems I mentioned earlier. Well, the calculus ones remain unsolved. And I know God will forgive me that. But as to the other three? With God's help those will be solved in kindness and love and with God's infinite grace.

 

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.