Sunday, September 06, 2009

That's Why They Call Them Miracles

Mark 7: 24-37

Today marks 2 months since Donna went in for surgery. What was supposed to be an overnight stay, and me assisting her in her fight against brain cancer, has become two months of hospitals, rehab and skilled nursing homes, seizures, medications, injections, with her incapable of many decisions, and me making the majority of decisions for her.

This is not how it is supposed to be. Profoundly, I say that this is not how it is supposed to be.

I live in watchful expectation of the signs of the grace of God, and in these past two months, I have seen so very much. I have seen the love of God come from so many people, shown in their love for Donna and for us. Even people who are not explicitly Christian have raised us up in the language of their own traditions--An old friend from high school who now works for the State department sent us a prayer wheel and beads from Tibet. The first clergyperson on site in Philadelphia when Donna suffered her hemorrhage was a rabbi. People I haven't seen or talked to for years, have barely thought about since we all went to high school together, even elementary school together are following us on One friend that I hadn't talked to for some 15 years before this started, and who I just recently reconnected with on Facebook, sent us cookies yesterday.

Two other boxes came as well, holding a prayer shawl, and a box of homemade baklava, both from Commerce, Texas, the last town we lived in before moving to Pennsylvania. People from every previous church I served have made contact. Donna has 6 prayer shawls, scarves, or knitted squares, a couple from churches we've never been to. People of every faith tradition, and who have no faith tradition have helped us, sent us cards and food, loved us, side by side with the people we share a faith with. It has been glorious, it has been awesome, it has been divine.

I am aware of how this event in our lives has been such strong evidence of the love of God for his people as you and so many others have shown us love. You have been the face of God for us almost constantly for two months. You have lifted me up and helped me continue with your prayers. But I am sure you understand what I mean when I say that I would rather have not seen any of that. I'd rather just have Donna sitting in her usual pew, to my left and 4th row back, in the 11:00 service, trying to settle Joe down.

It is with great interest that I read the gospel text assigned for today. Not the first part, where Jesus may or may not have changed his mind after possibly being corrected like a little boy by the Syrophonecian woman. That is a good conversation to have over lemonade in the backyard of someone's house on Labor Day, but it isn't where I gravitated.

No, I went straight for the healing miracle. The story of the deaf man with the speech impediment. Now, when he says speech impediment, I think Mark refers to the sound that a person's voice makes when they have been deaf all their lives, who have never heard the proper ways words are formed in the mouth and throat in any language. The way that the actress Marlee Matlin sounds. So, Jesus performs two miracles on this man, a foreigner in the foreigners' own land. The first is to restore his hearing. The second is to change his speech to what someone who has heard all their lives would sound like.

We are a people who believe in miracles. We have stories that tell us that Jesus was able to work these miracles because of the belief of the people around him, almost as if he channeled their power into the miraculous act. We have stories of miracles that Jesus couldn't do because of the lack of belief of the people standing around. We have stories of Jesus healing people without any help from the people around him, both of his own ethnicity and nation, and stories like this one of people who are healed despite Jesus foreign status and the distrust the people around him have for this unclean Galilean. We are a people who believe in miracles.

So why is it that I do not believe that Donna will be miraculously healed? Why do I not expect that when we get a post-radiation-and-chemotherapy MRI in late October, they will find nothing there, just healthy brain tissue? Why don't I believe that she will return to full function, and be able to remember people after they have visited, and remember where we live now? Why don't I believe that when Donna comes home, it will be to grow old with me?

What do you think the family of the man the Jesus healed believed? He was an adult. There is no mention of his wife or children, or even of a mother or father. He was an adult, so someone had to have taken care of him. But everyone around him knew who he was, knew his handicap. They did not expect him to be changed. He had adapted to being deaf over the course of his life, and had fit into a role that the community had made for him. No one expected him to receive his hearing. No one expected to be able to understand him plainly when he spoke. No one expected the miracle.

We throw that word, "miracle," around a little too easily. It is a great, glorious, and terrible word, and we use it for basic biological acts like the birth of children to healthy parents. Beautiful yes, worthy to meditate over, marveling at the gloriousness of the design of God, yes, but not a miracle. We use miracle for the catch that David Tyree made that helped the New York Giants in the Super Bowl two years ago. We use it for Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception some thirty years ago.

A miracle is a scientifically unexplainable and unexpected event that shows evidence of the love of God. By definition, we never see them coming. That's why they are called miracles. So I'm going to play my part. I am going to put my trust in God by how the doctors and the nurses care for Donna (with watchfulness, of course), I am going to continue to witness the love of God by seeing how you and so many others from so many places in our lives come together to care for us, to love us. I am going to try my hardest to be the face of God for Donna, to show the strength and love of God to Joe, and sustain both through the grace and the stamina and the power of God. But I am not going to expect a clean MRI at the end of October.

That's why they call them miracles.


  1. Fryer Drew, this is a phenomenal sermon. Thank you for sharing it.


  2. It is with the eyes of Drew Cottle sometimes I see things more clearly. NOT expecting a miracle...hmmmm...NOW I understand! Thanks Drew.