Sermon for Sunday, December 15th, 2019
Some of John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus and asked him:
Who are you?
Are you the one?
Are you the messiah that we have been waiting for?
It wasn’t the first time Jesus had been asked this question. It wouldn’t be the last either. As a matter of fact, this is the question that Jesus is always being asked.
Who are you?
Are you the messiah?
In some form or another people throughout the gospels are asking Jesus this question. Everyone from Peter to Pilate. Everyone wants to know who this man really is. It is the most important question they ask Jesus in the scriptures. It is the most important question any of us ask Jesus. In fact, it is probably the most important question any of us will ever ask in our lives:
Who is this man?
Who are you Jesus?
Are you the messiah?
Jesus answers this question in many different ways in the scriptures. This time, Jesus tells John’s disciples to go and tell John what they see.
Tell him that the blind, see.
Tell him that the lame, walk.
Tell him that lepers are cleansed.
Tell him that the deaf hear, that the dead are raised.
And tell him that the poor, have hope.
Tell John what you hear and see. Jesus is telling these people that the evidence for who I am is right in front of your eyes. Elsewhere in scripture Jesus says: “If you don’t believe me, then believe my works. My works testify to who I am.” The miracles are right there, only, for some reason people can’t see them, can’t believe them. Some people can’t take them in. Why can’t they take them in? All these little miracles are pointing to the big miracle right in front of their faces. When John’s disciples ask Jesus who he is, he points to the little miracles. Maybe Jesus suspects or knows, that if people can’t accept little miracles, they’ll never accept the big one. If they can’t accept people being healed, they won’t accept the promise of eternal life either.
You know I typically don’t like either/or categories and I don’t like separating people into being either this or that, but this is one occasion where I feel compelled to. It seems to me that there are people that believe in miracles and people that don’t. Either you believe that God has sovereign power and is active and alive in the world, or you believe that the universe is essentially a machine, with every mysterious phenomenon possessing a logical explanation. If you believe in miracles, then even the tiniest, most insignificant thing can be proof to you of the presence and the love of God. If you don’t, well then even a dead body coming back to life isn’t likely to impress you. You will find a way to dismiss it. If you can’t accept the little miracles, you aren’t likely to accept the big one. It should come as no surprise then, that the people that like to dismiss the little miracles Jesus performs, are also typically the ones that end up denying Jesus’s resurrection. If you can’t accept the little miracles, you aren’t likely to accept the big one either.
But when they asked Jesus who he was, he pointed them first to the little miracles. Pay attention to the little miracles, and then you will begin to see the big one. Sometimes I wonder if that’s how God’s grace works. Maybe God uses little miracles to crack that crusty exterior of ours so that his big miracle and get through. The little drops of grace, the little miracles are the most important ones to absorb, because they are what prepare us for the big miracle.
As I was reading the passage from Isaiah this week about the desert blossoming and water being upon the dry land and the highway in the desert, I was reminded of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few years ago. Not our most recent pilgrimage, but the one a few years before that.
As tourists are wont to do, one day while we were there we took a drive (took a highway through the desert actually) to visit the Dead Sea and to see a mountain fortress that King Herod build called Masada. If you ever get the chance to visit Masada, it is really spectacular. It sits on top of a giant rock next to the Dead Sea. And you can either hike up a trail to the top or you can take a cable car. Well just as our group got off the cable car on top of that mountain, something spectacular happened: it started to rain. It started to rain hard actually. It wasn’t the slow, misty, drizzly rain like we have had here all week. It was a driving rain. Well we had to scramble to find some protection from the elements while we waited for the next cable car back down the mountain. Unfortunately, that year that group didn’t get to see much of Masada, because it’s just not safe to visit it in the rain. So, we loaded ourselves back onto the bus and got back on the highway headed back to Jerusalem.
Our tour guide commented as we got back on the bus, that it usually only rains one day a year in that part of the desert. One day a year and as luck would have it that was the day we tried to visit. Now you might think that the parched and dry land of the desert would suck up and moisture like a sponge, but that’s not what happens. It’s funny, but dirt that isn’t used to water, doesn’t know what to do with it. Water is so foreign to the dry land of the desert, rain is so uncommon, that when it does rain, when there is water, the land has no idea what to do with it. The desert soil doesn’t absorb the water; the water runs right off it.
If you have ever had a houseplant that you have let almost die from neglect and not watering it, and then decided to try and save it by pouring water onto it, then you may know what I am talking about. Once the soil has turned dry and hard, if you just pour water on it, most of the water is just going to pour straight through the pot or overflow onto your counter. Dry soil doesn’t know what to do with water, so the water just runs off.
Well on the one day a year when it rains in the desert, the water doesn’t soak into the soil; not much at least. It mostly runs off and creates rivers and streams and waterfalls and flash floods. That highway in the desert that we were traveling on, headed back to Jerusalem, was quickly flooding and becoming almost impassable in places. We made it back obviously, but it was a little slow-going at times.
Dry land is so unused to water that when it comes, it kind of shrugs it off, as if to say, “what is this stuff?” “I don’t recognize this stuff. Better dismiss it.” The ground becomes so hardened that it can’t absorb what it needs the most even when it is right there. Little drops of daily rain water the ground much better than an annual flash flood. Maybe it is the same way with us and God’s miracles and little graces. If we aren’t used to seeing little graces, little miracles in our daily lives, then we aren’t likely to recognize big ones. Our souls become dry and hardened by not seeing God alive and at work on a daily basis, so when the big miracles come along, the grace just runs off us; it doesn’t seep in because we haven’t learned to let it in. Just like the desert soil doesn’t know what to do with water when it comes.
If you want to know who Jesus is, and as I said, there is no more important question, then maybe start with the little miracles, not just those he performs in the scriptures, but start trying to see the little daily miracles in your life. Don’t write them off; don’t dismiss them or try to explain them away, but choose to believe that God is active and alive in the world, even in small and almost imperceptible ways. Believe that God has power to do little things, and then maybe your crust will start to crack, your eyes and ears will be opened and then maybe you will be able to receive the big miracles when they come along.