Looking for a Miracle
September 10, 2006 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 7:24–7:37
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Rally Day: A New Year of Christian Education
"Looking for a Miracle"
Today begins a new year of learning and growth in the faith we share with "Rally Day." For teachers and students, this past week marked the beginning of a new school year, and that beginning is carried forward with the ministry of teaching in the church: Sunday School, adult Bible classes, and Confirmation. Our Early Childhood Education Center opened its doors for a new year of ministry this past week, and English as a Second Language classes will start up this week. As we become engaged in a new year of teaching and learning in the Christian faith, the Scripture lessons for today point us toward miracles of healing in the First Reading (Isaiah 35:4-7a) and the Gospel (Mark 7:24-37). There is restoration, hope, and new life here in these lessons. And who among us doesn't need these things in our own life today? Maybe, without realizing it, we also are looking for a miracle. This becomes the theme for today's message: "Looking for a Miracle." May God's rich blessing attend the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus' sake.
That first lesson (Isaiah 35:4-7a) is addressed to God's people after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the kingdom of Judah by the mighty Babylonian army in 586 B.C. The temple and the holy city were destroyed, and many of the people exiled to far-off Babylon (modern-day Iraq). With the center of their faith in rubble, God's people pondered deeply about many things: where was God in all of this devastation? Why did He allow this to happen? Could they even worship God in this foreign land? Would they ever go home again? What would the future hold? Don't we sometimes ask ourselves those same questions when circumstances in life are pressing heavy on us? Speaking to his exiled people through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord assured them that He had not abandoned them, and that He would in fact come to their rescue. And these would be the signs accompanying that rescue: God would open blind eyes and deaf ears, making the lame not just to walk, but to run and jump, and causing those unable to speak to sing for joy. The Word of God through Isaiah gave hope and comfort to God's struggling people, and they were looking for a miracle.
Fast-forward about 750 years: God's people had returned to their homeland, had rebuilt their temple, but what about those miracles of healing? They were still looking. At the beginning of today's Gospel we read: "Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice" (Mark 7:24). Why? Why couldn't Jesus escape notice? Because word was out that Jesus could do what no one else had ever seen before. The words of Isaiah's prophecy, indeed all of Old Testament prophecy, are fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, true God and true man. He cast out a demon from the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman. He healed the man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. That Syrophoenician woman, though she was rebuffed by Jesus initially because she was a Gentile, refused to take no for an answer. She was looking for a miracle, and she wasn't going home without one. She believed Jesus could and would help her daughter, and that is faith. The crowd of people who brought the deaf man to Jesus also believed Jesus could and would help this hearing-impaired and speech-deprived individual. They, too, were looking for a miracle. How about us? Are we looking for a miracle? Don't we all have needs that are bigger than we are-needs for which we must seek the Lord's intervention and help?
I would hold up to you that exchange between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. Because she was a Gentile, a foreigner, Jesus said "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs" (Mark 7:27). "Children" here means the children of Israel, those to whom Jesus was first sent. "Dogs" here means Gentiles, foreigners; the reference is that of wild dogs, scavengers who feed on the village refuse-not very complimentary. But this clever woman turns this whole image upside-down, and replies to Jesus: "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs" (Mark 7:28). The "dogs" she's referring to are little lap dogs, pets that hang out under the table that kids feed when Mom isn't watching. She's willing to settle for whatever she can get from Jesus, even the crumbs.
When it comes to feeding our faith and engaging ourselves in study of God's Word, we may be more like that Syrophoenician woman than we think. Perhaps all we're looking for are crumbs and scraps that come our way from worship and Bible study. Our congregational survey from last January is witness to this. The most often-cited reason why members of St. John's do not participate in Christian education classes was because we're "Not in the habit" (44%), or because of "Lack of time" (30%)). The survey also indicated that we should "Address issues affecting daily lives" (45%). Our Ministry of Christian Education can do something about that last one, and we are, but if we're not digging into God's Word because we're not in the habit or we don't have enough time, then our priorities are messed up, and we have missed the mark.
Jesus came to do what today's psalm tells us: "The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down" (Psalm 146:7). The prison is that of our own sin, and that sin blinds us to the Lord who created us in his own image. If we're looking for a miracle, the real miracle here is that Jesus came into the world to break the strangle-hold of sin by defeating the power of sin, death, Satan upon the cross. Because He closed his eyes in death upon that cross, our eyes are now opened to the riches of his grace. Through the power of the life-giving Word of God, the cleansing waters of holy Baptism, and the strength of Christ's Body and Blood in the holy Supper, Jesus says to us: "Ephphatha," "Be opened" (Mark 7:34). And so we are opened-open to a new way of life. We shouldn't settle for scraps and crumbs from the Lord's hand when He wants to give us so much more. As we begin a new year of learning, may the Lord Jesus Christ who cast out demons cast out every obstacle in our life that stands in the way of deepening and strengthening our faith. May the Lord Jesus Christ who opened deaf ears open not only our ears, but our hearts and minds to his gracious presence, his power, and his peace. May God make it so, for Jesus' sake. Amen.