Sermon September 9, 2018
Do you remember a few years ago a commercial that appeared on TV? The final line of the commercial was “When EF Hutton speaks, people listen”. It is often the quiet people that tell us what we really need to know. The loud ones can say so much that it is hard to identify what is important in their words.
The saying that we might take away from today is “when we pray to God, God listens”. It doesn’t matter whether we approach God with a silent prayer or speak in the loudest voice. God will listen. Another image that you might consider today is how we can be changed when we are in God’s presence.
In the Gospel, Jesus sought some place to rest, he chose a place away from the crowds that were following him. Jesus went to the area called Tyre, an area without Jewish people. Certainly no one would have heard about Jesus in this place. But even the Gentiles knew about Jesus’ healing power. A woman approached and asked Jesus to heal her daughter. The response Jesus gave is surprising. No way, he said. I came for the Jewish people. We could think this is an example of the humanity of Jesus. He was tired and probably didn’t think he had the strength to help. He told the woman to go away. But she was persistent and reminded him of his calling. Jesus healed her daughter. The woman asked God for help and God responded. This is an example of the power of prayer.
That initial response that Jesus gave might be a lesson to us in our own humanness. I think Jesus wants us to remember the times we have rejected the power of God and all that God does. Have you ever questioned whether God is working in the world, thinking that maybe God is just sitting back and watching? Have you ever thought that God is only listening to certain people or believers of a certain faith? Have you wondered whether Jesus really did all of the miracles we find in Scripture? I think Jesus is suggesting to us that in our humanness, we may place limits on God’s power, grace and love even though we are believers. Even during the times we question, we can pray that God will help us in our uncertainty. The power of God transcends all of our humanity, reaching out to everyone in love. Just as the woman cried out to Jesus, we may need the stranger to remind us of God’s healing power available to each person.
God’s healing power is described in all parts of our scripture today. In the gospel, Jesus healed two people each from a different culture. After healing the woman’s daughter, Jesus left Tyre and went to Decapolis. Once again, he was looking for a place where he could find quiet and rest but the people in need still found him. Some folks wanted to help a deaf and dumb man so they asked Jesus to heal him. Just like the Syrophoenician woman, the deaf and dumb man was not Jewish. Jesus didn’t reject their request and he did more than just say you are healed. He didn’t just say go your faith has saved you. Speaking to the man would not have worked. Instead, Jesus physically showed the man how he healed him. Jesus touched and spat, helping the man to experience the miracle.
Perhaps after his encounter with the woman, Jesus was a little stronger and was not distracted from his mission to all. That mission became even clearer after his resurrection. First Paul and later Peter open their ministry to the Gentiles in their lives. They both knew that Jesus offered himself to all people. So, we shouldn’t limit God by what we understand. God isn’t found in just the Episcopal Church. God isn’t found in just the Christian community. God is here for everyone in every race and every nation. The differences in the healings indicate that God deals with each of us differently according to our needs.
God’s healing power is mentioned in other passages from today’s Scripture. In the reading from Isaiah, we hear “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped”. Later in the Psalm it says, “the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down”. Yes, God’s healing is available to every person not just those who followed the Jewish customs at the time of Jesus.
Let us consider one more way these two healings connect. I find the message for us is persistence. The message is found in the willingness of people to call on God. The woman wouldn’t take no for an answer. Jesus tried to hide from others but she found him. Jesus tried to turn her away but she demanded that he help her daughter. And the deaf man sought out Jesus as well.
Given the examples we read today, I would say that we are called to ask for God’s help always. We never know when God will respond to our plea but we do know that God will always listen. In Matthew’s gospel, we find this, “Matthew 7:7-8
“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened”. Jesus actually wanted us to ask God for what we need.
A similar expression is that we should pray without ceasing. Those words pray without ceasing are found in 1 Thessalonions 5:17. I would say that we can ask God for what we need without ceasing. Given today’s healings, I think we could say that God helps those who ask. God responds to everyone and responds to us when we are the squeaky wheel.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, brings some clarification on this theme in his sermon “Pray Without Ceasing.” Emerson made the following observation: “It is not only when we audibly and in form, address our petitions to the Deity that we pray without ceasing. Every secret wish is a prayer. Every house is a church; the corner of every street is a closet of devotion.”
So, let’s make everything we do and think a prayer. Let’s always be interacting with God in ways that help us to focus our lives on holy things and what we can do to bring ourselves closer to God. The best way to understand what praying without ceasing means is to listen to the entire passage in Thessalonians.
The verses actually say this “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”
Praying without ceasing relates to everything we do in our lives. It is connected to the sense of good that we do for others. It is connected to our willingness to give thanks to God for all that God does for us. It is connected to our willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. And it is connected to our effort to do good and avoid evil.
We wish to experience God in all parts of our lives and to express the glory of God to others. That last part fits really well with what happened for after the healing of the deaf and dumb man, Jesus asked folks to not tell anyone what had happened. But they went out and proclaimed his good work to everyone they met.
Our scripture encourages us to see the power of God at work in our lives. It encourages us to trust that God will help us on our journey. It encourages us to reach out to God in prayer, asking God to help us. It doesn’t matter what we have done, it doesn’t matter where we are. God has the power to heal what ails us. We may not even know what healing is best for ourselves. But God knows. Let us pray that God will continue to work in our lives and that each of us in thanksgiving will proclaim God’s glory in all that we do, praying every day through our words and actions. Amen.
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