The Faith that Moves Mountains
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, August 11, 2013
The parables and miracle stories of Jesus are multilayered. We have the event, we have the meaning of the event in context, and then we can move even deeper into psychological and metaphorical meaning. Today’s miracle stories are great examples.
I will focus on the two blind men. This is a cut and dry healing, straightforward, with some interesting detail. Particularly this, Jesus tells the blind men, sternly, not to report their healing to anyone. They do. We aren’t sure why he told them that. Perhaps he wanted to reveal himself more slowly and not draw attention to himself too quickly. He wasn’t, after all, interested in PR. But whatever the case, when the word got out the crowds grew as he went from town to city to village proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and healing.
What was that Good News he preached? Was it, “A Great Healer has come and it is Me?” No, that was not it otherwise he would have instructed the young men to go on tv and testify. The Gospel message is not that. It is simple. It is one thing. Jesus taught it in his first sermon in Mark’s Gospel and the message did not change throughout his life.
The Gospel is this, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The healings and exorcism were signs confirming the message, but they were not the message itself. Maybe that’s why he wanted them to wait. Maybe he was afraid the people would miss the real message and focus on the signs. We know that is what they did. That is what we do isn’t it?
I know how it works. I went to Oral Roberts University. Oral based his reputation on his ability as a faith healer. As an aside, in my three years there I never saw a healing, but I was assured time and time again they were taking place “all the time”. There were quite a few so-called miracle workers running around there with story after story to tell. You couldn’t spit without hitting one. Everyone was a faith healer, I guess.
It didn’t impress me. It seemed more like they were really trying to compete with one another about who was the “biggest baddest healer in the universe!” Miracles, miracles, miracles! Egos, egos, egos. Donations and media empires and BMW’s, but I do not believe I ever heard one of them preach the Good News that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” They preached miracles. And miracles are beside the point. Miracles point to the point. The point is, God is with us, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, wake up and see.
Now I do not believe Jesus healed every sick person he met. At the Pool of Bethesda where I’ll bet the sick were swarming like flies, he seems to have picked one paralytic to heal, but the kingdom was still “at hand” for all the people there, wasn’t it? Some people do not experience miracles and see the kingdom more clearly than those who do. Why? Faith. Faith that embraces all of life as a gift whether “good” or “bad.” Faith does not try to escape the darkness, it works from within to transform it, to be, at the very least, a light in it.
There is a story from Russia of a very holy woman who even though armless and legless, and blind, and who lived all her life in a box, worked miracles for others, even heard them ask for her intercession from great distances away. Her name was Matrionushka. The kingdom of heaven was very real to her. She was just fine in her box. Her physical deformities did not limit her. The box was not a prison. She did not need a miracle. She was a miracle.
There is the beautiful story I love of the woman who lived in an iron long for many years, but who exuded joy and love to everyone she who came into her presence. “How can you be so happy,” she was asked. Her reply, “Every once in a while someone opens a window and a breeze comes through.” She was just fine in her iron lung, freer than most of us who wander around freely and complaining about everything under the sun. She didn’t need a miracle. She was one.
The truth is that we do not need special favors, visions, signs, miracles. All we need to do is wake up and see. God is with us. What more could we possible need than that?
Our blindness is deeper than physical blindness; it is a blindness of heart and soul. When the heart and soul are awake the only thing that can be seen in all circumstances, in all places, in all people, in every moment is God. The spiritual life is really quite ordinary and not the supernatural drama we are taught to desire and expect. The spiritual life incorporates all of life, light and dark, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant and turns all of it into joy.
I like how Kyriakos Markides replied to a man who wanted to know more about how to pray the Jesus Prayer. You see, the man was Jewish. He wrote that what he read in Markides’ book, MOUNTAIN OF SILENCE, about hesychasm inspired him, but he had a problem. Let me quote his letter and then the response. The letter said, “…I have a problem. I am Jewish, and I find it very awkward to pray, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. What do you think I should do?”
Without hesitation Markides replied that he should use a version of the prayer suggested by St. Gregory Palamas, “Lord, enlighten my darkness. Lord, enlighten my darkness.” Not a bad idea for all of us. You see he did not try to convert him, he just taught him a little bit about how to pray.
That is what we need. Not miracles and signs, just enlightening. Just to wake up and see God all around and within. That is enough for us.