Faith Believes Nor Questions How


Several years ago I came down with a cold that I could not shake. I was home-bound for about a week and it wasn’t getting any better . . . in fact it was getting worse. I lay on the living room couch without the strength to even get up for glass of water. I didn’t eat for days. As my temperature began to soar past a hundred degrees, it appeared I was destined for the hospital. I had never really been sick in a very long time so I didn’t have a doctor to turn to. When finally I got to Mercy Hospital I remember literally having to crawl on my hands and knees to get up the steps at the front door.
The ER people took one look at me and called in an emergency internist who began to diagnose my problem. It turned out that I had a life threatening form of pneumonia that was resistant to the normal routine drugs. Over the next two weeks, my doctor would try a number of combinations of antibiotics to try to counter the disease. After about ten trials and twenty three different drugs, he hit on the right combination; but not before nearly losing me completely to the disease. During those final hours I was delirious with pain due to lack of oxygen as my lungs were nearly completely filled with fluid and my body was screaming for air.
I knew that I was at the point of death and begged for God to relieve me of the burden of my life by calling me home. That night I was given an extraordinary gift; one that I have remembered in great detail even to today.
We often read about near death experiences, but seldom do we encounter many who actually have had one. Well this was for me a second experience, far more vivid than the first one, back when I was eighteen. In this experience I was ushered somehow through a tunnel of light and was met on the other side by one who I can only describe as a being of light. I didn’t know if it Jesus or an angel but I knew that it was a being, clothed in light and exuding great love for me and for everyone there. In an instant I was shown my past – where things had gone right and where they had gone wrong. I was also shown a probable future if I decided not to go back. But the future I was shown would not be a pleasant one for my family or for those I would leave behind. I felt an intense desire to stay where I was but was ridden with guilt by the thought of leaving those I loved behind. And so I was given the choice to give up my life and be welcomed into paradise and be forever surrounded in love –or- go back to save my family from a dismal future and . . . to begin a second life’s work – to be literally born again. In either case I was assured that I would be forever welcome into the arms of mercy regardless of the choice I made. And so reluctantly, I chose to return. I woke that morning in my hospital bed. My temperature was now normal and I was finally able to breathe. Whether it was a dream, the medication or a miracle I am not able to tell you. But I know it was an experience so intense that it has stayed with me all these years and I have been thankful for every minute of every day since. I was healed of pneumonia and was literally given a new lease on life; but more importantly I was given the blessed assurance that all is exactly as how we all have been taught.
Today’s gospel story relays to us the story of two healings by Jesus. One is the healing of a man, born deaf from birth . . . they brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
The other is the story of a small girl with a demon, born to a woman of Syria, a foreigner and not a Jew, who begs Jesus to help her daughter. Jesus at first refuses but then changes his mind when the mother quotes a bit of scripture that we should all be very familiar with . . . Jesus said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But [the woman] answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
It was from this particular discourse that Thomas Cramner wrote the prayer of humble access that is in our Holy Communion liturgy . . ‘We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy’:
In both of these stories Jesus meets people that only he can cure. One who was deaf and did not know the Messiah and yet was healed; and the other was a girl possessed who also did not know Jesus, and in fact was not a believer and yet she also was healed through the faith and prayer of her mother.
The key question that can be asked in these stories and in so many others was when the disciples asked Jesus, upon the healing of a blind man in a different gospel story, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” And so it can be inferred that all these miracles happened so that you yourselves might come to believe . . . as the deaf hear, as the lame walk, and as those with demons are made whole . . . all for one purpose and one purpose only – so that you also will believe.
And so one man’s mission in life was to be born blind, another to be born deaf, and yet both are healed for the sole purpose to illustrate for those would believe that Jesus Christ came down from heaven in order that all people might be saved from what afflicts them. All the recorded stories of healing in the new testament are meant to illustrate for us that there will be those who cannot believe or will not believe and who are blinded by pride and arrogance that may be lost forever in their sins.
Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see . . . may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, `’We see,’ your sin remains.”
There can be no doubt that the blind man, the deaf man, and even the girl afflicted with a demon in these stories desired to go to heaven. I think most everyone holds in their hearts, to some degree or another, a general expectation of what heaven or the life hereafter is like.
I also believe that there is not one person outside these doors, however false may be their views, however unscriptural the ground of their hope, however worldly-minded they may be . . . who does not wish there to be a heaven to go to when they die. But Jesus tells us that many in this world . . . without a change of heart . . . will never get there. He tells us that many desire to wear the crown – but most are ashamed of the cross. Many would like the glory–but few can stomach grace. All would like the happiness–but very few buy into holiness in their lives. All would like the peace that believing brings–but very few will seek after truth. We all would like the victory–but none of us wants to fight. We all would like the reward–but not the labor. We all would like the harvest–but not the plowing. We all would like the reaping–but not the sowing. And so the way to heaven is fraught with difficulty for those who have little faith and it is nearly impossible for those who have none at all.
So yo might ask . . . why is it so difficult for even those of us who actually believe? I think it’s difficult because we hear the stories of God’s workings and of his healings, as in today’s readings, but few of us are healed. We see earthquakes in Nepal and droughts and recent wildfires in California and disasters all around the world and we wonder where is God in all this? We see stories on the news of fellow Christians murdered for their belief in the messiah and their churches destroyed and we wonder what is our faith all about if God allows atrocities against innocent people to be committed?
If God is not sending earthquakes, destroying economies and inflicting pain upon human beings, then we might ask, what is He doing? I believe scripture shows us clearly, that God works through people like you and me, calling them to help their neighbors in need. God comforts his people, walking with them even through the valley of the shadow of death as we read in the Psalms. God bends or forces suffering, tragedy and evil that occur to bring about good in all things. God redeems the suffering and heals the broken hearted. Those who are believers in God find strength from their faith in the face of terrible suffering. We are compelled to give sacrificially to help those in need. And we have the hope that comes from knowing that, with God by our side, the tragedy we witness in others, or are facing tragedy ourselves, is never the final word. I believe we are called, like Christ himself, to be “wounded healers” in a broken world.
You and I were each born for a purpose; we each have a mission in life. We may not all be aware of exactly what it is but like the deaf man and the young girl in the Gospel story, you were chosen just as you are (perhaps in ways broken, confused, blind or deaf) so that God’s works might be revealed in you. Remember always that you did not choose God, no one can . . . God chose you for this time and in this place.
If you go away with any thought from this homily today, remember that there’s nothing more precious to your life than your time. You probably feel you have a measureless supply of it, but I would tell today, that you do not. Wasted hours will destroy a life just as surely at the beginning of life as at the end, only at the end it becomes much more obvious.
Saint Paul wrote to us once . . . Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light . . . for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Amen