Benediction Online

Monday, August 11, 2008

Miracle Stories
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Preached by the Rev. Faye Hogan

“One thumb Nellie” was an old Southern hill country woman who was something of a legend even to her neighbors. Rumor had it that her thumb was blown off when a hose broke on the moonshine whiskey still she had concealed in the woods behind her house. But Nellie was known for her quick temper so no dared ask her if that was what really caused her to lose her thumb. Yet, despite Nellie’s temper and her questionable occupation, Nellie had a love for her church. She walked into town for most Wednesday evening services and never missed a Sunday service.

Pastor Walt had been at the small church for a year before he got up the courage to do what he felt to be his Christian duty, to try to talk to Nellie about her occupation. Nellie listened just long enough to see where Pastor was going with his subject, and then excused herself and turned up the dusty road that led back home. The longer she walked the more riled up she got about what Pastor Walt had been trying to say. By the time she passed her neighbor Beulah’s house, Nellie had worked up a full head of steam. Of course Beulah asked Nellie what was wrong and Nellie told her, ending by saying, “ I liked him heaps better when he jes talk about love and NOT tellin’ me to change my life! Pastor jes move from preaching to meddlin!”

I wonder if each time the Pharisees had an encounter with Jesus they didn’t feel the same way? Some surely said, “We can tolerate this man as long as he just comforts people and talks about loving one another but when he starts telling us that the way we live, the way we expect the Hebrew people to live, needs to be changed, well then, he’s just moved from preaching to meddling.” The Pharisees were God fearing, devoted to God’s Law as they understood it, and they gave the Law full respect and scrupulous obedience. They felt that they were offering others a healthy alternative to the ways of the world surrounding them. To the Pharisees, as well as to some Christians today, the rules are clear and if the rules, at least as they interpret them, are followed they will earn God’s love. Those who don’t try to be just like them; those who don’t even try to measure up deserve to be the outcasts they are. They say, “Just let them go… it’s not much of a loss after all.”

Yet Jesus constantly responded in confusing ways…Jesus often didn’t follow the rules. One week he had been at the Sabbath table with a leader of the Pharisees, and the next week he was seen in a near by village visiting at the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha, having diner, sitting after dinner with both men AND women and treating them as equals.

No, most of us believe that Jesus would not have responded to “One thumb Nellie” as Pastor Walt did. By trying to preach to her or by advising her to find a better occupation, Pastor Walt was, indeed, “meddlin’ “ Jesus’ message was about the compassionate concern of an ever loving and ever searching God. Perhaps Pastor Walt just should have continued to welcome Nellie and talk about God’s love for her and leave the transformation to a new life in God’s hands and in God’s time. That ever seeking, searching God who never gives up on any one of us.

Both last Sunday and again today, Matthew presents us with two miracle stories which are perhaps the most famous miracle stories of the bible. In hearing both the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, and the miracle of Jesus walking on the water, we tend to get caught up in questions like, “Did this really happen?” or “How did Jesus do that?” There are those who simply say, “Miracles are miracles. That’s the point. Of course it happened just the way scripture says it did. We accept this on faith. When we get to see God face to face, we’ll ask God how miracles happen.”

And others warn that we need not take scripture so literally. The message in both these miracles is that:
God will provide all that we really need, OR without faith in God we will never feel truly filled or truly safe and will sink in our own doubt as Peter did, OR all of God’s creation should have enough to eat or to have shelter from the storms of life whether they be hurricanes, disease, wars, etc. and it is our job to care for one other, OR all of the above.

However these two miracles actually happened, one message we need to take away today is that God takes our often small beginnings and provides the out come that is needed. (Needed, not necessarily wanted). If this message today had a title, it would be “God never wastes anything that God has created.” There are those today who believe that the age of miracles is over, if there ever was such an age at all. They believe that today we can explain “miracles” away with our knowledge of medicine, technology, psychology, physics, or, or and the list goes on. I, and many of you, believe that miracles still happen. I’m not talking about pretty amazing events that leave us filled with a sense of wonder. Events that make us look at someone else and say things like, “Did you ever expect to see anything like that?” No, it’s more than that. When a true miracle happens, it not only leaves you with a sense of wonder, but also actually brings you to your knees in awe. The God who heals hurts, the God who brings about reconciliation is still at work.

Looking back at our reading from 1 Kings we heard: “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.” In the sheer silence the Lord appeared and spoke to Elijah, giving new hope, new mission, to a man who had felt hopeless, useless, and very alone.

After the first service this morning some of us saw the video,” The Spirit of St. Paul’s “ which told the story of how Trinity Church and the Chapel of St. Paul’s became an island of support providing support for the thousands of volunteers following 9/11. If any modern day example fits the description given in 1 Kings, the destruction of the Twin Towers is it. In the silence that followed, it was discovered that Trinity and St. Paul’s Chapel remained unscathed, not even one broken window. From the site of pure evil, 30 feet away across the street, a place of God’s healing opened its doors and through the efforts of an often-unlikely mix of people joined to do God’s work. God never wastes anything God has created.

Finally, (we have) one last example of a modern day miracle. Hospital chaplains see more than their share of grief but they also see more miracles than, I suspect, many people do. This one is one that those present that evening agree was truly God at work.

The young man’s family had kept vigil by his bedside in the ICU for days. His short life had been filled with drug abuse and wife beating until his wife finally had had enough and divorced him. She and her ex-in laws had not spoken since the divorce until they met in the ICU. Their meeting was so volatile that the chaplains had set up separate visiting hours for them so that the other families in the ICU waiting room could sit in peace and quiet.

But the young man had died and now it was time to discontinue all aggressive treatment including the ventilator. The family gathered around the bed and the chaplain went looking in all the usual places cafeteria, restroom, waiting room) for the ex-wife but couldn’t find her. Returning to the ICU, the chaplain closed the curtains, led the family in prayer, blessed the body, and left the room so that the family could be alone for a time. Leaving, the chaplain found the ex-wife standing outside the room clinging to the curtains for support, and quietly crying.

Hearing the chaplain speaking to the ex-wife, silently, from inside the room the curtains were drawn back a bit, and the ex-brother-in-law reached out, gently took the ex-wife’s hand and led her into the room. Silently each family member shifted around to make a place for her at the bedside. After a time, the family left and the chaplain walked with them to the elevator. The family and the ex-wife walked slowly down the hall… together. A life that had been wasted during the short time he had lived became an instrument, which God used to bring about a miracle of reconciliation.the healing of a broken relationship. God never wastes anything that God has created.


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