Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 25, 2006
The Gospel: Mark 4:35-5:20
Sermon: "Miracles Help Us Recognize Jesus"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
[They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" I adjure you by God, do not torment me." For he had said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, "Send us into the swine; let us enter them." So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you." And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.]
Miracles Help Us Recognize Jesus
Third Sunday after Pentecost - June 25, 2006
The doctor was one of the best surgeons in Charleston. His patient was an elderly woman who required surgery to fix her physical problem. As all surgery it was a little risky but it was not major. The day of the surgery arrived. The family sat patiently in the waiting area. The doctor and his medical team went through the surgery with no complications. Everything had gone smoothly and well during the operation. It was now time to begin to arouse the patient. Now, the problem occurs. They can't get her to respond. She has slipped into a coma.
Now, everyone is confused. During the operation everything was going well. Her vitals had looked great. What had caused her to slip into this coma? The doctor and the team got busy. They tried everything they knew to get her out of the coma and nothing worked. He was over an hour late getting back to the family. They were getting nervous. Finally, the doctor could wait no longer. He sent his patient to intensive care while he told the family what had occurred. He tells them the surgery was successful. The actual surgery had been easy. However, she was in a coma and he did not know why. He had no answers and he had no idea how to proceed. The family was first elated and then devastated. They could not believe what they heard. They were very upset, confused and angry. They questioned God. For most of them the woman was their mother or grandmother. They couldn't understand why this was happening to her.
The doctor listened to them as they vented their frustration and their pain. Then he told them he was going to leave them and try and figure out what to do. However, before he left, he said he would call the ICU and see how she was doing and exactly what room she was in. They could go and visit her. He left the family and went to call. When he called he asked the nurse if she was there. The nurse said, "Yes, she is sitting her talking to me. The doctor said, "What do you mean? She was in a coma in the operating room. She was in a coma when she left." The nurse said, I don't know anything about that, but when she arrived she was awake and she has been sitting up talking to me ever since." The doctor slowly hung up the phone. He went back to the family and told them what had just happened. The family went ecstatic. They hugged the doctor. They thanked him for what he had done. They praised God where before they had questioned God. The doctor still did not know what had happened. He had no idea why she went into the coma and no idea why she came out of it. It was an enigma and a miracle to him. As a doctor he couldn't understand it, but as a person of faith he believed whatever had happened, God had taken of it. In his mind it had to be God, because he didn't do anything.
Now, I will bet some of us are thinking this was a fluke of some sort. There is an obvious explanation. Some of us will shake our heads in disbelief and say there was no miracle here. Some of us will think there was a miracle but miracles just don't happen much today. Some of us will forget this story almost before we leave the building. We have become immune to stories of miracles. We live in an age when people live long lives. Information is immediate from any area of the globe. Medical advancements occur everyday. We have the ability to go deep into the sea and out into space. We can help people have children and we are working on cloning. We can even slow down the process of aging and bring people back to life if their heart stops. We don't believe in miracles too much anymore.
Yet, we are a people of faith. The stories today show us what people of faith believe in. We believe in a God that can control the elements of wind and water. Almost all peoples have a faith that begins with this belief in a deity. We also believe that God works in the lives of people. Other races and cultures believed the same about their gods. The Greeks believed that their gods constantly got involved in the lives of the people. They also believed they exhibited all human traits. They exhibited love and compassion but they also exhibited anger, lust and greed.
The two stories we have today show Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus is working in the lives of the people. First, he calms the storm. He responds to their cry of despair. He responds with compassion and love even though the disciplesí fear has caused them to lose heart and lose faith. He shows them he does have .the ability to command the elements of wind and water. He commands them to be still and calms their fears.
Secondly, Jesus shows his ability to release people from enslavement. He has the power to control things we do not understand. This story is of the Gerasene demoniac. Here is man for whom the town has given up. They tried to help him in various ways and they were afraid of him. They tried to stop him from hurting himself or others by using chains and shackles. When he breaks the chains and shackles they are so afraid of him they keep him out of the town. He has to live in the graveyard of the village. He lives alone and in the caves.
When Jesus arrives, the man comes to Jesus. He bows down and asks Jesus what he was going to do to him. He even calls on Jesus by God not to torment him. Jesus had recognized the man as being possessed and called on the spirit to leave the man. After some further dialogue the demons do leave at Jesus' command. Now, there are a few things we should notice. First, the man came to Jesus and bowed down. Second, he knew who Jesus was. How? It is said that even the demons recognize Jesus for who he is. Third, they recognize Jesus' authority. They recognize that he has authority to heal the man and rebuke them and remove them.
There is one other thing to notice in this periscope. The townspeople are scared of Jesus. They ask him to leave. They have seen him help this man and yet they are afraid of him. In fact, they are almost as afraid of him as the demons themselves. They don't understand who Jesus is.
Now, today are we any different? We have trouble believing in these miracles. We try to explain and rationalize them away. The storm was ending and the man was simply in a psychotic episode from the treatment of the townspeople. We attempt to say these events are just made up stories about Jesus by the disciples. If we say these things we have plenty of company. We are in the company of the disciples who doubted. We are in the company of the townspeople who asked Jesus to leave. We are in the company of the soldiers who will arrest Jesus, the Jewish leaders who will condemn Jesus, the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus. Do we like being in this company?
Yes, we do have trouble with miracles. And yet, there are miracles around us everyday. They are simple miracles and we take them for granted. The lady in the operation was a miracle. Even the doctor who performed the operation believes it. Today, we are asked to believe in God as we have experienced God through Jesus. We believe in a God who can create and set creation into order. We believe in a God who is involved in the lives of individuals. We believe in a God that loved us enough to send Jesus to teach us and to redeem us. You know we have to ask ourselves, do we believe in miracles? We have to answer the question. For as we answer that question we are really confirming our belief or our disbelief in God and In Jesus Christ. Do we believe that God is real and that Jesus is the Son of God the Messiah? Do we recognize Jesus for who he is? But before we answer that question I hope we realize one thing. If we noticed the demons knew the answer to that question. They actually recognize Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah. They don't like it, but they do know who he is.