Sermon: Proper 11 RCL B – “Signs and Wonders”

Photo by Jason Yu on Unsplash

A particular bishop brought in a consultant group to work with each individual church. They were reported to do wonders for any church who was willing to put in the effort. The only issue was that the consultants were all cannibals, so when the bishop hired them, he made them promise not to eat anyone. They all agreed.

After meeting with almost forty churches, things were going splendidly and each of those churches was growing and thriving, but then one day, the leader of the cannibal consulting group got a phone call from the bishop. Seems the secretary at the last church had gone missing and he wanted to make sure that it wasn’t the cannibals doings. Once he got off the call with the bishop, he asked his fellow workers if anyone had something to do with the missing secretary. One cannibal sheepishly raised his hand.

“You fool!” said the leader. “For weeks we’ve been eating clergy and no one noticed anything, but no, you had to go and eat someone important!”

Today, our Gospel reading was from Mark 6:30-34 and then we skipped to 53-56. What I immediately wanted to know is what went on in verses 35-52. Turns out, we skipped right over the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water. Huh? Why on earth would we skip those two events? They seem kind of important to me, but the more I thought on it, I realized that I was falling into the same mindset as so many during the time of Jesus. Jesus even pointed this out in John’s Gospel when someone came looking for a miracle. Jesus said, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48) Yes. We give thanks for the miracles that occurred then and continue to occur today, but they also serve a very specific purpose outside of those who benefit from them.

Let’s say that St. Matthew’s becomes a place of miracles. Now, I believe we see them all the time, we just don’t recognize them as such, but let’s say that they are undeniable: someone who is blind… born blind comes to our church, they receive the sacrament of healing and prayer and… they see. And then there is someone who has never walked in their life and they are prayed over and they walk. After a couple of events like this, word starts getting around: people are getting healed at St. Matthew’s. Others begin to arrive, slowly at first, to check things out and see what all the fuss is about, but I guarantee you this, if that begins to happen, after a short while, you won’t be able squeeze in here with a shoehorn and not just on Sundays. This will be wall-to-wall people. Some coming to worship, some bringing others in search of a miracle, some bringing themselves in search of the same, and even some who will come to criticize and tear down, but what is the purpose of this all? Episcopalians be like: as long as no one sits in my pew, it’s all good, but seriously, in all that is taking place, what is the purpose? Is it solely for the healings / miracles? Those are important and amazing, but they are not the purpose. Is it that more people are coming to church? Again, good, but not the purpose. How about those whom the healings are taking place through? Yes, yes, and yes. All good, but the purpose behind it all is so that the Good News can be proclaimed. The miracles, the feeding of the 5,000, walking on water, site for the blind are like beacons in a dark night, guiding people to a place where they can encounter God and hear the message. What is the message? Jesus is Lord. Forgiveness of sins. Salvation. Eternal life. The miracles occur so that this message, which is the Good News, can be proclaimed. Miracle: Lazarus was raised from the dead. It got a lot of people’s attention, but Lazarus is going to die again. Good News: Lazarus may die again, but through the forgiveness of sins and his faith in Jesus Christ, Lazarus will rise again, but this time he will rise to eternal life. The miracles demonstrate Jesus’ authority, so that we might believe his teaching and his word: salvation has come to all who believe.

The miracles then are like a beacon, calling out to those who would see and know God. Before Jesus, that beacon was to be God’s chosen people, the Israelites. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God said:

“You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
(Isaiah 49:3)

And a few verses further:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
(Isaiah 49:6)

The Lord is saying, it is not just the Israelites that I want to hear of my salvation, but all of humankind, so you will lead them. You will be a beacon to the world, but our reading today from Jeremiah tells us that they did not succeed: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!… It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them.” The shepherds might as well have been eaten by cannibals, because no one would have even noticed if they were gone. To be honest, I don’t believe it was a task that could have ever been fulfilled through human hands, but they were still the chosen ones, so when they failed, God said, If you want something done right, you just have to do it yourself. Continuing to speak through the Prophet Jeremiah, God said, “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.”

And here is where our Gospel reading comes in. Jesus and the apostles had been doing the work, but Jesus also recognized their need for rest, so they tried to get away for a short time, but the crowds found them. Jesus could have pushed on and said, “Enough! We’re on vacation,” but that was not Jesus. Instead, “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Israel was to be the beacon and the shepherd of God’s people, but when they failed, God said, “I myself will gather the remnant of the flock…”… I myself will be the beacon and the Shepherd. And Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11). “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

The miracles that were performed by Jesus and the Apostles acted as a beacon, so that the world would be drawn in to hear the teachings and the message of salvation. And now we, as the Church, have been entrusted with the task of continuing that great work, but where are the miracles? Where are the beacons? Answer: sitting in the pews. You are the miracle. Your very life is a beacon, a testimony of God’s great work in this world and your life is a testimony that needs to be heard. You are a miracle that the world would in fact know was missing; therefore, through both words and deeds, live into your calling as witnesses to the Good News of God and then watch in joy and amazement as the miracle that is you, takes place in others.

Let us pray:
Loving God,
Send us out to draw others to You,
into Your peace,
into the Church,
into lives dedicated to the Gospel.
May our voices speak of hope and welcome to all.
May our hands lift high the torch of new life in You.
May our hearts yearn for justice and truth.
Renew in us the courage and strength
to reach out to the neediest in our midst.
United in faith and prayer, with Mary,
keep us ever steadfast in Your love
as we strive for Your vision of a world renewed.
We ask this through Christ, Our Lord.
Amen.

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