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July 2009 Sermons:
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

"You Are the Body of Christ" — July 5
"A Gospel for Losers"
— July 12
"Taking Miracles for Granted?" — July 19
"Truth and Miracles" — July 26

Archived Sermons:
June 2009
May 2009


“You Are the Body of Christ”
July 5, 2009
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

I Corinthians 12:1-11.
Mark 14:22-26.
Romans 12:6-8.

How we all love the Fourth of July! In every town across the U.S.A., bands have been playing, and fireworks exploding. Many of us have gotten time off to celebrate the holiday. And everywhere, our flag has been waving in star-spangled glory. I can’t picture the Fourth without the American flag. Can you? Why does this symbol of freedom stir our emotions so much?

Symbols are never easy to explain, especially a symbol as powerful as the American flag. But I like the explanation of one man whose grandson turned to him and asked, "What does our flag stand for, Grandpa?"

The grandfather thought for a minute. Then he answered: "Well, son, the flag is a bit of cloth and a bit of love and a bit of blood and a bit of hope, all woven together and crowned with stars. It's everything we know this country to be and everything we expect it to be and everything we pray it will be. You might say, it's what we'd all look like if this country were pressed together and cut down the middle. It's a center slice of America, the way God must see it when he looks at it."

This grandfather’s explanation makes sense to me. It shows that the symbol and the reality are one. You can't separate the flag from what the U.S.A. really is. Our nation is built on the many different gifts God has given to us.

We associate our most beloved symbols, like our flag, with what they stand for. It’s impossible for us to think of them without thinking of the realities they represent. Here are just a few. The golden arches. The Nittany Lions. A jack o’lantern. The Twin Towers. No seasoned American has to think twice about what those symbols stand for. But a person from another part of the world might have a harder time understanding that they represent McDonalds, Penn State University, Halloween, and September 11. We relate our personal lives to these symbols, in the same way we recall who we were with, when we first heard a certain popular song on the radio.

The Lord's Supper is a great deal more than a symbol. The sacrament means that God is with us, in His Son, Jesus Christ.

As today’s gospel lesson tells us, on the night before He was arrested, Jesus had a last meal with His disciples. He took a cup. He filled it with wine. He took a piece of the bread, and dipped it in the wine, and said, “This is my body, given for you.” Then He set the filled cup before the twelve men and said, "All of you drink some of this. It is the new covenant in my blood." It was a moment the disciples would never forget.

The bread and the cup are among the most powerful symbols of our faith. This coming Wednesday, we’ll be celebrating the five hundredth birthday of John Calvin, the founder of Presbyterianism. Calvin preached many sermons on the Lord’s Supper. According to Calvin, when we partake of Holy Communion, the bread and the cup symbolize our faith that Christ is here, and part of us, as we are part of Him.

When we see the American flag flying, it’s almost as if we can see "the rockets' red glare,” and hear “the bombs bursting in air." Our flag is so much more than a piece of cloth to us. In the same way, the bread and the cup used in the Lord’s Supper are much more than symbols. Christ presides at Communion. He walks up and down the aisles, serving us. Through the helping hands of our elders, Jesus offers His body to a family that has lost their home, to an employee laid off from his job, and to a couple who are mourning the loss of a family member. He offers Himself to a wife in the middle of a divorce, and to a person facing major surgery. In those moments we are one with Him.

What makes this particular congregation a strong one is the fact that we are so different. Each of us has unique talents and gifts. In the epistle lesson Barbara read, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church that their strength lies in their diversity. For me, the key sentence in this passage is, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

The bread of Communion reminds me of the many spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit gives us. Members of our congregation share these gifts for the glory of God. All of you have abilities, and some are waiting to be discovered. God needs all of them, just as “Stone Soup” needs a contribution from everybody in the little village, to be strong and flavorful. In the church we need engineers, writers, greeters, preachers, cooks, managers, painters, carpenters, quilters, teachers, caregivers and many more. They are equally important to the Body of Christ.

We heard how that boy’s grandfather explained the American flag. How would Grandpa explain the communion cup to his grandson? I can picture him saying, "Well, son, that cup is the most special cup in the world. They say if you look at your reflection in the cup when it’s filled, you can see the image of the person God loves best in all the world—you. And you can see something else. You can see a hill, and three crosses on it, with men hanging on them. And on the middle cross, the man who hangs there is Jesus. And He's looking right at you, and He's smiling. Because He knows, when you drink the wine, and when you eat the bread, you're taking Him inside you, and He'll be there always. That cup is the bond between you and Jesus, and it will change your whole life if you will let it."

And grandpa would be right. Jesus needs us all, and we need Him. And that’s a challenge for us, as church leaders. Getting volunteers is easy, but finding the right job for every person to do is difficult. If you have a sense of ownership, and you are doing the mission that you love, don’t you feel like the church belongs to you? Perhaps you have been reluctant to offer your talents to God in the church. You may be afraid of failing, or being embarrassed. You may not want to show off. But the church needs your gifts and abilities.

What spiritual gift can you share with other believers? Here are just a few from the Apostle Paul’s list in the First Letter to the Corinthians. Wisdom or knowledge? Faith, or the ability to heal? Prophecy or discernment? Paul insists that they are equally important. And those are just a few. In the Letter to the Romans he gives us an even longer list.

We know what Christ asks of us. What’s left is to pour ourselves out in service and sacrifice. The choice is ours.

In closing, I’d like to read a short item from the latest issue of The Faith Flyer, the newsletter of the Faith Presbyterian Church in Emmaus. It’s called “The Declaration of Interdependence.”

Let it be declared, announced and hereby celebrated:
That all people, everywhere, are dependent upon one another.
That everyone needs everyone else for freedom, life, love, and happiness.
That all things in the natural order are dependent upon everything else.
That our little planet and all the planets and stars in the solar systems are in a state of mutual dependence on one another.
That this universally shared dependence comes from God and is of God.
And that each individual part of this relationship has its own part to play—its own destiny to fulfill in God’s plan.

LET US PRAY.

Almighty God, we rejoice that you find our church worthy of your delight. We pray that you would show us how to use the gifts we have been given, to be your body. Abundance is ours today, to behold and taste, and we thank you for all your good gifts to us, O God. As we partake of the bread and the cup, refresh our ambition to be the holy communion of your faithful. In His name, AMEN.

 

John Killinger, “The Flag and the Cup,” Mark 14:22-26, www.goodpreacher.com, July 4, 2009.

“Sermon on II Corinthians 12,” www.homileticsonline.com, sermon for July 5, 2009.

Our children’s chat today was a retelling of the French folk tale, “Stone Soup.”

John Killinger, “ Mark 14:22-26”, www.goodpreacher.com, ibid.

“Declaration of Interdependence,” The Faith Flyer, July/August 2009, 11.


“A Gospel for Losers”
July 12, 2009
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers


Jonah 3:1-10.
Mark 1:14-20

When you think of Jonah, what’s the first word that comes to your mind?  I’m sure that word is “whale.”  In Sunday School, as children, were told this story about “Jonah and the Whale.”  Actually, the Old Testament doesn’t call it a whale. Just a fish. All we really know about this fish is that it was big, and that Jonah was in its belly for three days and three nights. [1]

The fish is not the most important character. The book is really about Jonah, a prophet who spoke for God to the people of Nineveh.  He was the most successful prophet in the Old Testament, with a hundred percent positive results! Jonah succeeded because God gave him a second chance. But Jonah ended up being a loser, rather than a hero.    

Why did he fail the first time? Jonah was afraid to go to Nineveh. Was he a coward? Maybe.  But Jonah had a good reason to be scared. Nineveh was the ancient capital of Assyria, the most powerful empire in the Middle East in the eighth century before Christ. [2] The Assyrians had looted and burned Israel, destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, and deported most of the population. [3] The Assyrian king, who lived in Nineveh, controlled every trade route in the Mediterranean. To tell off the King of the Ninevites would be even more dangerous than for you or me, today, traveling to Osama Bin Laden’s camp and announcing that he’s a sinner. It would be crazy. There’d be no way to escape from that place alive after you did that. That’s why Jonah told God, “No!” when he got his first work assignment. He was terrified. We can imagine him pleading with God: “Send me anywhere, Lord. Anywhere but Nineveh!”

And then, Jonah had run as far in the opposite direction as he could. He had boarded a merchant ship to Spain, clear over on the other side of the known world.  And on that journey, Jonah had learned there’s no escaping from God.  During a violent storm on the Mediterranean, the sailors on Jonah’s ship figured out that this runaway Israelite was making God angry. What could they do, but throw him overboard? Instead of drowning, Jonah ended up inside a fish.

Jonah was lucky, and he knew that. He was glad not to have drowned. [4]  Jonah sang praises to the Lord, from inside the fish. The fish swam back near Jerusalem and spat Jonah out on dry land. Then God gave this loser another chance to go to Nineveh. No use in my procrastinating, Jonah must have figured. Off he went, five hundred miles across the desert, to get the messy job over with. If the Ninevites didn’t clean up their act in forty days, Jonah warned, God would destroy them. [5]  Jonah’s sermon is only five words long in Hebrew. [6]  I guess it pays to keep a sermon short and sweet. The Ninevites listened.  And, to his amazement, the entire population of that city repented! All hundred and twenty thousand people. Jonah’s sermon was a “win-win”--for God and for Nineveh. But not for Jonah!

Jonah ended up a loser.  Instead of appreciating God’s grace, he cursed God for showing mercy to the enemy.  Why did Jonah complain? Try to put yourself in his shoes. What’s wrong is wrong, Jonah thought. Would you forgive Hitler if he repented after killing six million Jews? Or Stalin, or Idi Amin? Are there no limits to the grace of God?

In the way Jonah acts, we see ourselves. Jonah didn’t want to let God be God.  If we try to play “hide and seek” with God, we will lose. God is God, and the world is God’s. And God’s way is always to show mercy. Even to the Ninevites.

What’s the connection between the story of Jonah and the gospel reading from Mark? For one thing, there’s a fish theme. More importantly, people are called to discipleship in both stories. In Mark, John the Baptist announces that God brings good news in the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. [7]  John, like Jonah, calls everyone to repent. In the Old Testament, that is what a prophet does!  Jesus comes to a little town by the sea. He calls four fishermen to join Him and “fish for people.” [8]  And Peter, Andrew, James, and John do just that.

The fishermen would have to leave their work and their families.  When you hear about these men getting up to follow the Messiah immediately, do you think you could do the same? We’d like to think so. But I’m not sure I could have done it.  

We may be like Jonah, at first rebelling against God’s call. Or we may be more like the disciples of Jesus. If God was able to accomplish so much through these rough fishermen, if God was able to convert an entire city of savages through Jonah, even though he had a bad attitude--God can surely accomplish something through us. And the journey will change us, too. God’s purposes are accomplished through the most imperfect people. Some, you might even call losers.

There’s a lesson in this for all the perfectionists among us. God works through imperfect people.  Getting all A’s is life is simply impossible. Perfect SAT scores don’t guarantee flawless lives.  There is value in going through adversity. We losers learn that failure doesn’t kill us. We also discover that worldly success isn’t everything. The gospel is good news for those of us who need another chance. It is a gospel for Peter, who denied his Lord, for Paul, who persecuted his Lord, and for Jonah, who ran away from his Lord. It is a gospel for you and for me.  

LET US PRAY.

Almighty God, you alone can take our willfullness and our willpower and turn them into determination to serve you. You show us your power, before which we are powerless. Help us to rely on you, and not to think that we have to do everything ourselves. Bless us with the knowledge that you are in charge of our lives. Remind us that we are your beloved children. In Jesus' name we pray. AMEN.     

 

[1] Jonah 1:17.

[2] Scott W. Bullard, “No One is A Foreigner—People Matter to God,” in Abingdon Preaching Annual, ed. David Mosser (Nashville: Abingdon, 2009), 298.

[3] John H. Walton and others, The IVP Background Commentary on the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL:Intervarsity Press, 2000), 777.

[4] Walton, IVP, 778.

[5] Jonah 3:4.

[6] Carol M. Bechtel, Above and Beyond (Nashville: Horizons, Presbyterian Women, 2007), 23.

[7] Mark 1:15.

[8] Mark 1:17.


“Taking Miracles for Granted?”
July 19, 2009
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Mark 6:1-13.

The Gospel lesson is about rejection. Jesus has become famous in Galilee. After He’s performed a handful of amazing miracles, the word has spread that He’s a great healer. Then, He goes to Nazareth, the village of His childhood, and His ministry fails miserably. He is dishonored by His family and friends. We can identify with Jesus in this story. We all know what rejection is.

Rejection is when a friendship is suddenly over. You had counted on your friend to stick with you. The two of you had shared rough times and good times together. But something happens. All of a sudden, your phone calls are not returned. When you run into your former friend at the supermarket, she won’t look you straight in the eye.

Rejection is when you’re sitting at the dinner table, telling your family something you learned in science class at school. You are excited about molecules. It amazes you that your body, and your bicycle, and your house are made of tiny particles, too small for your eye to see. But when you tell your parents, they chuckle. Your older brother even corrects you. He says, “Atoms are smaller than molecules. Haven’t you ever heard of atoms?” You had been so excited to learn that molecules are the building blocks of everything. But your family just thinks you’re a cute little kid and brushes off your discovery. They take the wonders of molecules for granted. What a letdown! You have been rejected.

Rejection is going to a church meeting with an excellent proposal. You’ve worked hard to write a report. You are proud to be presenting it tonight. The church needs to implement your idea, and you know it. You distribute copies of your proposal at the meeting. Your handout has pie charts and graphs and footnotes. In your opinion, you do a good job of introducing it at the meeting. And then, out of the blue, a committee member speaks up, and tears it to shreds. People nod their heads when he talks. No one disagrees with him. No one speaks in support of your idea. You are stunned. The meeting is adjourned. Nobody shakes your hand. Nobody looks you in the eye. Your proposal has been rejected.

Rejection really hurts. Jesus had experienced rejection in Nazareth before. Read chapter three of the Gospel of Mark. But in today’s reading, the failure is even more painful for Him. This is His most heart-breaking rejection so far. These Nazarenes are the folks who have known Him all His life. His former playmates, his teachers, his aunts and uncles, his next door neighbors, are all there at the synagogue to hear Him preach. Listen to them, whispering among themselves, “How can this young man be the same Jesus we used to know so well—the one who helped His dad in the carpenter shop? Little Jesus, the carpenter’s son. How can a construction worker have special powers? Who does He think He is?” They reject His sermon. They reject Him.

Why can’t Jesus do miracles in Nazareth? I think the reason is, that His former friends don’t believe in Him. In making miracles, their faith is as important as Jesus’ power. The miracles He wants to perform, will never get off the ground, if they reject Him. Doesn’t it make sense that the act of ministry depends on the watchers and the hearers, as much as the speaker? If your congregation knew you in seventh grade when you first got braces, if they played in Little League with you, they are going to take you for granted. People tend to see, in you, what they expect to see. Even if you happen to be the Son of God. Faith is a two way street. Have you ever noticed how being rejected never brings out the best in you? In Nazareth, Jesus is not at His best.

Mark, who wrote this Gospel, has included this story of Jesus’ rejection for a reason. He’s showing us that rejection is part of everyday life for a disciple. The disciples sent out by Jesus traveled without money or food. They had only one set of clothes to wear. They must have looked like beggars. It’s no wonder they were rejected.

Jesus learns a lesson from His failure in Nazareth. So he makes a point of preparing His disciples for failure. He warns them: some people won’t like you. The nastier ones may even try to run you out of town. Jesus gives them permission to bail out of an assignment if they feel rejected. If you have really tried, and people don’t show enough faith, it’s not your problem. And it’s not God’s problem, either. Jesus uses an old Middle Eastern expression of derision in this story: “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust on your feet as a testimony against them.” Shaking off the dust, according to tradition, means to let go of the bitter feelings that come from rejection, so you will be able to continue in ministry, full of peace and joy.

So that’s how the disciples learn from the Master to deal with failure in their ministry. Rejection is still a big part of discipleship! When we have poured energy, passion, and time into the lives of other people, we expect we will get something in return. But failure is the name of the game for those of us who walk in the way of Christ. If we are faithful disciples, we will be rejected. In this world, people who try to do what’s right, are taken for granted, at the very least. We may summon up our courage to share what Christian faith means to us, with a stranger. The person may respond by staring back at us blankly. We may write letter after letter to township officials asking for a skateboard park for our local youth, and those letters to go unanswered, while middle school boys keep on risking their lives, skateboarding in the middle of the street and in church parking lots.

We may spend hours listening to the troubles of a friend who drinks too much. We may sit with him in the emergency room after he drives his car into a tree. We may help him to find an AA chapter, and see his life slowly getting back on track. A month later he tells us that he is sober. But four months later he calls from the police station to tell you he has been arrested for DWI. You watch him go through the cycle of sobering up and starting to drink too much, all over again. You wonder--what was the point of all you did to help this friend? What’s the point of writing letters to the mayor to try and keep children safe? What’s the point of giving evangelism our best shot--if all we get back is a blank stare? If we commit to following Jesus Christ, we should expect to be rejected. But we can learn a great deal, even from our rejectors.

Jesus’ life story is much more than a story of rejection. In the end, it is a story of rejection transformed. The Gospel is good news precisely because Jesus’ rejections are not the final word. Jesus failed among the Pharisees in Jerusalem. The disciples abandoned Him in the garden of Gethsemane. His ultimate rejection took place on the cross. God transformed the humiliating death of His only Son into resurrection. And so, for us Christians, rejection is not the last word.

A child, who has shared his discoveries at the dinner table, and been laughed at, grows up to be a parent who listens respectfully when his children speak. He doesn’t take their excitement in learning, for granted. He’s learned to show love and respect to all people. Rejection is transformed.

A person whose friendship is rejected, learns what it takes to give and receive love—from the experience of having given, but not received. God’s grace gives the rejected friend the gift of discernment. He or she learns to shake off the dust of a failed relationship. And, maybe, he or she learns how to select trustworthy people to hang out with. Rejection is transformed.

The church committee member is still feeling hurt by the rejection of his proposal at the church meeting. He keeps going to church, but secretly hopes he won’t meet up with his adversary. He takes communion on the first Sunday of the following month. He shares the body and blood of Christ with the man on the committee who shot down his proposal. The communion bread and juice represent Christ’s final rejection. In the sacrament, Christ’s broken body is transformed into a symbol of Christian unity. After the service, the two committee members meet in the hallway. They exchange a handshake. They can look each other in the eye. Perhaps they will be able to work well together. Rejection is transformed.

It’s a miracle. The transformation of rejection into understanding is a gift of God. The church is a place where people are treasured, in a way that brings out the best in all of us. Don’t ever take that for granted.

LET US PRAY.

Lord Jesus, you don’t work alone. You reach out and call ordinary people, like us, to be your disciples. You believe in us. Give us what we need to do our work for you, and help us overcome the heartbreak of rejection. Help us to learn to do your will. AMEN

 

Joerg Rieger, “Theological Themes in Mark 6:1-13,” Lectionary Homiletics, June-July 2009, 38.

Susan Andrews, “Saved by Scandal: Mark 6:1-13,” www.goodpreacher.com, July 16, 2009.

Mark 6:11.

Andrews, ibid.

Carol Kent, “Being Rejected,” Tame Your Fears (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2003), 129-143.

 


“Truth and Miracles”
July 26, 2009
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers


II Kings 4:42-44.
John 6:1-21.

I remember teaching my first confirmation class a few years ago. My students were reading the story of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, from the Gospel of John. This miracle story appears five times in the New Testament. Did you notice that the story about the prophet Elisha, that Sue read to us from Second Kings, is a lot like it? These seventh graders read the Old Testament story, and then John’s version.

I was surprised when the confirmands told me they had never heard either story. When the class ended, one of the boys waited for me in the hallway until everybody else had left. Then he asked me, “Okay, now tell me what you think really happened with those loaves and fishes.”

I was flattered that he trusted me enough to ask me that question. Christian scholars have debated the facts of this story for two thousand years. I thought for a minute before I answered him. I said I believed Jesus had multiplied the loaves and fishes until the crowd had been fed. We don’t know how Jesus did it, I told him. But that God gave Jesus the power over nature to make it happen. And that only God can make a miracle.

I said that our idea of history has changed, from the time of Jesus. History, in those days, was more about stories than facts. We can’t be sure that details in the Bible, like the number of baskets of bread, are historically accurate. Different versions of the story give different numbers of baskets and fish and the characters in the various versions are different. But facts like that don’t matter so much. There is one fact that matters to me--the fact that this story appears in all four gospels. The founders of Christianity believed it and thought it was really important. This young man seemed satisfied. “Cool story,” he answered. “I believe it!” And that’s exactly what I had hoped he would say.

I realize that this story goes beyond what most of us are prepared to believe. Did Jesus actually create a dinner that filled up all those hungry people? Some skeptics explain it all away. They say the miracle was really the generosity of the boy who shared his dinner. The adults around him in the crowd felt pressured. So, one by one, they donated the snacks they had saved in their pockets. A little like a standing ovation after a concert. You’ve had this happen to you. The people who didn’t like the concert eventually feel like they have to stand up and clap with everybody else. The rational explanation—that adults handed over their food out of a sense of guilt-- makes this a nice little story of sharing, then, but not a miracle. All its power disappears when somebody gives that kind of explanation.

There’s no end to the questions my seventh graders could have asked me about the miracles in the Bible. Do you really think that five thousand men, women and children would walk through the wilderness, to a deserted hillside by the Sea of Galilee, and stay a few hours, and not bring anything to eat? Did Jesus really walk on water to meet the disciples afterward? What if he was standing on a reef or a wall of rocks? Think of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Was Lazarus really dead, or was he in a coma? What about the parting of the Red Sea in the book of Exodus? Did God part the waves to help the Israelites escape from Egypt, or was it just a tidal wave? Was the star of Bethlehem really God’s sign to announce Jesus’ birth? Or was it Hailey’s Comet? Are these Bible stories just tall tales? Is the age of miracles long gone? Can we be Christian, and still wonder if these stories are true?

Jesus performs more than sixty miracles in the Bible. I believe the miracles of Jesus are true, although I admit I’m happy to hear news that might prove one of these stories. That’s why I was so excited when I heard, a couple of years ago, that pieces of Egyptian chariot wheels, thousands of years old, had been found in the Red Sea, petrified, near the Sinai Peninsula. Immediately I pictured Yul Brynner from the movie, “The Ten Commandments,” getting swamped in the sea with his army of charioteers. But the skeptics would have answer for this, too. They’d point out that no Egyptian pharaoh is recorded in history as having drowned in the Red Sea, and that the kings of Egypt are pretty well documented. Doesn’t that make you sad?

Did you know that Thomas Jefferson rewrote the New Testament to take out all references to the miracles of Jesus? In his version of the gospels, he includes the parables and the moral teachings like the Sermon on the Mount—but no miracles! Jefferson was a good Christian, or he thought so. But he was an intellectual who lived during the age of reason. To him, miracles were nothing but folk tales if they hadn’t been proven scientifically. He wanted the gospels to be completely believable. Jefferson meant well. He wanted people in America to live as honorably as Jesus had.

So, what do you think? Do miracles happen? What is the answer, for us Christians? The truth is in the greatest miracle of all—the miracle of Jesus Christ. After the feeding of the five thousand, the crowd was ready to crown Him as their king. But, instead of choosing glory, Jesus walked the human walk. He preached and listened, cared and wept. He suffered and touched and healed. He empowered the powerless. He fed the hungry. He made the foolish wise. He turned the other cheek. And then He died on the cross. And His resurrection is a miracle we believe in. If we must understand everything about God in order to believe that Jesus is alive, how can we believe anything at all? Instead of nitpicking about every detail of these miracle stories in the Bible, let’s look at our lives, and celebrate the miracles we’ve seen.

Many of us remember watching the first moon walk on television, forty years ago. Americans of my grandmother’s generation didn’t believe it possible that people would walk on the moon. She was the first woman to get a driver’s license in the District of Columbia. Her own grandmother would not have believed a woman could drive a car without horses pulling it. My grandmother would never have believed that we could watch our daughter, on her junior year in Spain, talking to us on the phone, live on the Internet. If someone had not once believed these things were possible, they never would have come to be.

I want to tell you a miracle story from my own life. I was a chaplain in a metropolitan hospital in New Jersey during seminary. I had been assigned to the brain trauma unit. I loved the patients there. But their stories were so tragic. Men who hadn’t bothered to wear helmets when riding on their motorcycles, and had their skulls smashed in, sat looking at aquarium fish swimming in a tank. People in comas, after accidents or botched surgery, having sponge baths and being fed intravenously. Retired teachers with inoperable brain tumors—women who had been so productive and so creative in their careers-- sat in wheelchairs with nothing to do. I had probably driven past these people on the Parkway or seen them in the mall at another time, another place. They were like me—but a lot less fortunate, it seemed.

Mary was a patient in her late thirties. She was a beautiful young social worker with a husband and three sons in elementary school. She had had an operation on her toe, and the anesthetic hadn’t been administered correctly. All summer, she had been unconscious. Her family talked with me often. They were blindly optimistic, depressed, frantic, and angry—I saw the whole gamut of emotions. She was a mom, a wife and a daughter, and they wanted her back. But Mary was like the Sleeping Beauty.

I visited her room and said the Lord’s Prayer to her every day for three months that summer. I had been saying the Lord’s Prayer every day with each patient on the unit. Mary’s eyes never flickered. Her face never moved at all. But one day, while I whispered the prayer Jesus had taught us to pray, Mary’s eyes opened. She murmured, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” I heard it as clear as a bell. I called her mother to come in. It was a miracle.

LET US PRAY.

Lord Jesus, we come to you this day, full of hunger for security, desire for love, and hope for the future. Teach us to hunger for your presence. Show us Your Glory. Feed us, call us, and save us, for you are our only hope in life and in death, and in life beyond death. AMEN.

 


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