August 18, 2013
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
THE MIRACLE OF LOVE
It was on this very day 34 years ago that Helen and I were married. It was at FirstUnitedMethodistChurch in Vancouver, Washington. Today we celebrate the miracle of our love. I thank God every day for bringing Helen into my life. We both were praying. She says she was praying for a Christian, not necessarily for a pastor. I was praying for someone who wouldn’t mind being married to a pastor. God answered our prayers and with each passing year I am ever more grateful.
It has always amazed me that two people at an early age can so often get it right when it comes to a huge decision like marriage. We were so in love and we thought we were so mature. Well, we were in love, but we had a lot to learn on the subject of what it takes to make a marriage work. Out of all the people in the world, that we found each other and that it turned out to be the right “each other” is really quite mind boggling.
There was an article about Grady Little in “Sports Illustrated” a couple of weeks ago. He was the manager of the Boston Red Sox who was fired just before they won their first World Series in 86 years. He was fired over one decision he made about leaving a pitcher in the game that turned out to be the wrong decision. It was a “where are they now?” kind of an article.
He may have made the wrong decision then, but it turns out he made the right decision 42 years ago when he married his wife Debi. He was just out of high school when he met her. His dad had mentioned to him that he really ought to go check out the blonde who had started working at the local drug store. He did and soon he and Debi were dating. After about a month, it seemed time to bring her home to meet his parents. His parents were very gracious in meeting her, but then his dad took him aside and said, “Son, that’s not the girl I was talking about.” Turns out, he had the right girl after all!
It’s a miracle that we get that decision right about who to marry as often as we do. But the miracle of love I want to talk about today is a different kind of a miracle.
There was a young married couple named Bob and Karen. They had just moved into a new home, way out in a new subdivision that was just being developed. Theirs was the first home.
Bob had left for work, 20 miles away. Karen was straightening things up in the kitchen. As she turned away from the sink, she saw what she could not believe she was seeing. There was a snake slithering across her kitchen floor.
Now Karen was deathly afraid of snakes. Few people are real comfortable around snakes, but for Karen it was a full blown phobia. She would freak out even when she saw one on television. But here she was with her husband 20 miles away, with no neighbors to help her. It was all up to her. At first she was paralyzed with her fear. She couldn’t even move. But she knew she had to do something. She prayed, “God, help me, please!!” And then suddenly into her mind came a Bible verse she hadn’t thought of since childhood. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Karen sprang into action. She grabbed a large paper grocery bag from the counter. She opened the bag and placed it on the floor, open side facing the snake. Then she walked around behind the snake and touched his tail with a broomstick. The snake responded by entering the grocery bag. She quickly grabbed the open end, held it tightly closed, raced outside, and flung that grocery bag with a snake inside as far as it would go. She dashed back into her house, called her husband, and then collapsed in a heap.
When her husband came home, he told her that what she had just done was a miracle of love. Why did he call it that? Because the reason she was able to overcome her paralysis and take on that snake was because that snake was moving in the direction of a bedroom. Asleep in that bedroom was their two-month old daughter. It wasn’t bravery that propelled her into action. It was love. Love for her daughter. It was a miracle of love.
The Bible is full of love miracles. When Jesus healed blind Bartemaeus, it was a miracle of love. When he converted Zacchaeus, it was a miracle of love. When he walked right out of that cold, dark tomb, it was a miracle of love.
Our text today is another miracle of love. It’s the healing of a man who couldn’t walk. He is begging at the gate of the Temple. He’s hoping for money. He’s not hoping for healing.
There was a musical called “Go Out Singing” that had in it a scene that depicted this morning’s scripture. To set the scene, Pentecost has just happened. The Holy Spirit has empowered the followers of Jesus. Peter and John are entering the Temple when they come upon this beggar who is unable to walk. Here is the dialogue:
John: “Peter, why don’t you give it a try?”
Peter: “Give what a try?”
John: “The Lord said, ‘Look after my flock.’ Give it a try.”
Peter: “Oh John, come on, you know I can’t perform a miracle.”
John: “Peter, give it a try! What will it hurt? Try. Go ahead!”
Peter reluctantly approaches the man who couldn’t walk. He is embarrassed. With great hesitancy, he stammers out the words,
“Um . . . uh . . . um, oh, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I
uh . . . I uh . . . bid you, rise and walk.” The man stares up at Peter as if Peter were crazy. Peter stares back, and what little confidence he had is gone. He walks off stage, looking upward with embarrassment. He says, “Oh, forgive me, Master. I’ve overstepped my bounds. I know this was a stupid thing to do. What was I thinking? I’m no good without you. I’m so sorry. Forgive me for even thinking that . . . ”
And while Peter is saying all this, behind him the man is getting on his feet, testing first one leg and then the other, and then shouting, “Look! I can walk! I can walk! I can walk!” Peter looks back at him and says, “Of course you can!” And then Peter goes back and dances all over the stage with this man who moments before couldn’t even walk! Someone in the crowd yells, “It’s a miracle! You, walking!” The dancing man says, “It’s an even bigger miracle than you think. I didn’t even know I could dance!”
This man, looking for money, got something much better. “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he did!
One thing I love about this healing miracle even more than the healing miracles Jesus performed directly is that this one tells us that we, too, can do miracles. We don’t have to be Jesus. We just have to allow Jesus to work through us.
Here’s a question: If you had the power right now to perform just one miracle, what would that miracle be? What would you have Jesus do through you? Here are three possibilities.
First, we can, as Jesus works through us, be miracle workers with our words. Words are powerful things. I remember when I was first given the opportunity to preach. It was really bad. I still have those early manuscripts. It was really pretty horrible. And worst part was, I thought I was pretty good. I had no clue how awful I was. But people were so generous with their comments. Too generous, really. I got nothing but encouragement. It made me want to keep trying. It made me want to get better. Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on one good compliment.” I know what he means and I’ll bet you do, too. We can work miracles with each other with our words.
Second, we can, as Jesus works through us, be miracle workers with our attitudes. I have seen it many times. The attitude of one person can change the atmosphere of the whole place.
There was a woman who had been unemployed for a long time. She was getting pretty discouraged. Every one in her church knew her and loved her and was praying for her. Finally, with the help of some church networking, she got a nice job. Her pastor helped seal the deal with a letter of recommendation.
A few weeks later this pastor got a phone call. It was the supervisor of the woman who had just been hired. He wanted to take the pastor out to lunch. He wanted to talk about this woman the pastor had recommended.
On the way to lunch, the pastor was afraid this poor woman was losing her job. He was expecting to be chastised for recommending her. It was just the opposite. The woman was doing her job very well. She had met and exceeded all expectations. The supervisor said, “She has worked a miracle in my office. Her positive attitude has lifted the attitude of everyone around her, me included. She is a ray of sunshine, and I just wanted to thank you for sending her to us.”
We can be miracle workers with our attitudes.
Third, we can, as Jesus works through us, be miracle workers through our actions. I opened by saying nice things about a woman named Helen. We joke that she is the only person we know named Helen who is younger than 90 years old. I want to close by saying nice things about another woman named Helen, this one who lived back in the days when that was a common name. I’m sure you’ve heard of Helen Keller.
She was born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. She was a perfectly normal baby, but when she was 19 months ago she got very sick. We’re not sure if it was scarlet fever or meningitis. It left her deaf and blind. As a young girl, she frightened people. Her attempts to speak sounded like an animal, not a human being. She would lose her temper and break dishes and throw herself on the floor. Not unlike Arthur, Richard Pimentel’s friend, people assumed she was mentally retarded. They assumed there was nothing that could be done for her and it was really too bad that she had even been born.
Then Anne Sullivan came into her life. Anne was 21 at the time. Helen was 6. She was hired to be Helen Keller’s tutor. It seemed an impossible job. Week after week there was no progress at all. One thing she was trying since Helen couldn’t see or hear was to spell words on the skin of her hand. She could feel what she couldn’t see or hear. But this too was an exercise in futility. Until one day there was a breakthrough. At the well house, Helen was holding a mug under a spout of water. Anne pumped water into the mug. Some water spilled over onto Helen’s hand. On the other hand she spelled “w-a-t-e-r”.
Suddenly Helen understood! The lightbulb went on. She grabbed Anne’s hand and begged for more words. A new world had opened up for Helen Keller. And Anne Sullivan was right there as her guide. She went to RadcliffeCollege with Helen. She sat beside her in every class. Helen was the first deaf and blind person ever to earn a bachelor’s degree. She went on to be a world famous speaker, author, and advocate for people with disabilities. All because of the actions of a 21-year-old teacher who would not quit. Who kept loving her and caring for her even when it seemed hopeless.
A play was written about Anne Sullivan’s work with Helen Keller. It was called “The Miracle Worker.” It was the perfect title, because Anne’s actions, as Jesus worked through her, did work miracles.
We too can be miracle workers with our actions. We can work miracles of love.
That miracle performed by Peter is there to tell us that you don’t have to be Jesus to work a miracle. You and I can do so much more than we think we can. Our words, our attitudes, our actions are powerful. Circumstances that would seem to be impossibly hopeless are not. Like Peter, we just need a little faith.
But notice, please, the faith we need is not faith in ourselves. It’s not self-confidence. It’s not believing in our own abilities. Did you hear the words Peter spoke when he healed the man? He said, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk.” In the name of means through the power of. It means that Jesus was working through Peter. It means Peter didn’t do this by himself.
And neither will we do much of significance by ourselves. But in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, there’s really not much we cannot do. In fact, as that terrified housewife with the snake slithering across her kitchen floor recalled the scripture she had learned in Sunday school, “We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”
Dear God, we believe in miracles. We believe there is nothing you cannot do. But where our faith falters is in believing that there is nothing you cannot do through us. For we are not meant to be the passive recipients of your miracles. We are active participants in the work you are doing to redeem, to restore, and to heal our broken world. Through Christ who strengthens us, Amen.