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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Words for Fearful Hearts

God in Christ brings healing to our blindness, deafness, and lameness to the world’s needs, and in that healing we find our calling and our life.

Note from the preacher: Profound thanks are due to Michael Bridges and George Baum, “Lost and Found,” whose song “Must Be” insisted on working into my heart and mind whenever I read these texts this week.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 23, year B
   texts:  Isaiah 35:4-7a; Mark 7:24-37; James 2:1-17

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

The Pharisees ask Jesus an insightful and frightening question in John’s Gospel, near the end of the story of the healing of the blind man.

Jesus is speaking of seeing and not seeing. He just healed a man born blind, so some might have assumed that’s what he meant. But the religious leaders who opposed Jesus sensed he might be talking about something other than physical blindness. They asked, “Surely we’re not blind, are we?” (John 9:40) What a realization that is. That’s exactly what Jesus is suggesting. And frightening is only the beginning when it dawns on us that we might need to ask the same question.

James does this to us. Today Isaiah speaks of God healing the blind, the deaf, the lame. Then James insists on making us see and hear things about ourselves that make us wonder if we’re the ones needing such healing.

James’ people surely didn’t think they were prejudiced. They were probably decent people. But James shows them how they couldn’t see the way they fawned on wealthy visitors while being cooler to the poor who came to them. They certainly cared about those in need, but James shows them how they are deaf to the cries of the hungry by blessing them in God’s name without helping them find food. They definitely had faith, but James claims that if their faith is lame, and won’t act, it’s a dead faith.

James makes us nervous.

Is it possible we’re the ones who can’t see?

That we in our privilege and status are unable or unwilling to see what is really happening in the world? Or that we, though we hate to think this, are racist and biased at times, that we have prejudices that blind us?

Is it possible that we drive past what is happening in this city, look away from the suffering we see in the news, lower our eyes when we approach others in our neighborhoods, because we’d rather be blind than see what is uncomfortable, challenging to us?

Maybe we are the blind ones.

Is it possible we’re the ones who can’t hear?

That we put in our earphones or turn up our radios to pleasant things so we don’t hear the cries of those in our city and our world who are dying? That we listen to entertainment that distracts us and keeps us occupied so we don’t have to listen to what’s wrong, or hear others challenge us on our views and our part in the problems?

We hear news reports breaking in on our lives and are irritated more at the interruption than sad at the latest pain that has happened.

Maybe we are the deaf ones.

Is it possible we’re the ones who can’t walk?

That we sit in our comfortable homes and think about what could be done for this world but somehow are unable to get up and do it? That we’re glad when others volunteer in disaster areas, or work in our neighborhoods and city to help others, but somehow we don’t get up off our couches?

We seem to find the amount of work needed to bring life to the people of this world so great that we fall into inactivity and lethargy rather than do even a little, helpful thing.

Maybe we are the lame ones.

Is it possible we’re so wrapped up in our own needs and worries, our own life and concerns, we simply cannot see any more, cannot hear a thing, and are unable to move?

It’s not only possible, it’s certain. Yes, sometimes we see the truth, sometimes we hear the cries of others, and sometimes we even act, but it’s often not our main way of being. It’s far easier for us in our middle class situation to turn our eyes away, shut our ears, remain in our seats in the face of the world’s pain and need. When the pain and suffering aren’t ours we have the privilege to ignore it however we choose. Those in the midst of it have no such choice.

Speaking only for myself, these readings make me painfully aware how easy it is to avert my eyes, quit listening to what’s going on, stay put rather than act. I could just as well be blind, deaf, and lame sometimes for all I actually do.

And if this is the truth for all of us, that’s profoundly sad, and deeply frightening. Where is hope for the rest of the world in this? Thanks be to God, we hear Isaiah tell us today.

“Say to those of a fearful heart,” he says, “be strong, do not fear! Your God will come and save you.”

And the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, and the lame will leap like deer.” That’s Isaiah’s hope for us, which becomes reality in the life and actions of the Son of God like we saw today.

This is the meaning of salvation for Isaiah: God will not leave us blind and deaf and lame. God will come and open our eyes, unplug our ears, make our legs work again.

We may be so mired in ourselves we can’t imagine how to get unstuck. What joy, then, to hear that we’re not the ones who can do the unsticking, we can’t heal ourselves.

The Triune God has entered the world and our lives for this very purpose, to heal us so we once more see, hear, and act for God’s healing and life in the world.

We even find Good News today for when we think God is blind, deaf, or lame.

We don’t know whether Jesus really meant to insult this woman, but she called him on it. She challenged his apparent blindness, deafness, and inactivity, even if he wasn’t planning to refuse her. And if Jesus really couldn’t see his ministry extending beyond the Jewish people before this, after this encounter he went right into the region of the Decapolis. That’s Gentile territory, so the deaf man healed today was likely a Gentile, whom Jesus healed with no argument or hesitation. Maybe this woman’s prayer to the Son of God opened his eyes and ears and motivated his action. We can’t know.

So also we don’t always know what the Triune God is doing, why God acts or doesn’t act. This woman encourages us to challenge God, just as we challenge ourselves. We get to say so if we think God can’t see or hear or won’t act.

Maybe we’ll change God’s mind, open God’s eyes. Maybe they never needed changing. But she shows us we can speak up, and Jesus shows us God will listen.

This is the joy of our salvation: we are made new for the life of the world.

That we find joy and purpose in our lives when we can see the truth, hear what is happening, act in our own small ways, is icing on the cake. The deeper grace is that when we see, hear, and act, the brokenness and pain of this world no longer overwhelm us because we do those things in the strength and courage of the Triune God who heals us for this very purpose.

And we will see waters burst in the wilderness, pools transform the burning sands, and springs of water quench this world’s thirst. We will see the healing of all things continue in and through us, and that is the joy of God we have longed for our whole lives.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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