Sunday, November 9, 2014

The twenty first Sunday after Trinity

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ, 

John 4:46-54 

"Sir," the royal official pleaded with him, "Come down before my child dies." Jesus told him, "Return home; your son will live." The man put his trust in the word Jesus spoke to him and started for home.  

My friends, the miracle that is recounted in this morning's reading from St. John's Gospel is also included in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke. In those narratives, you might recall, the story is just a bit different because Jesus is already in the town of Capernaum and the person who comes up to ask Jesus for help is a centurion, a Roman soldier, and it is his servant, who is ill whom Jesus heals. Not so here. We might wonder why it is that some of these details vary from one Gospel to another. We remember that all of the Gospels began as an oral tradition. It was a spoken word at first, and only later in the century were these things written down according to the different oral traditions. Sometimes the little details do vary. But the essence of the narrative is always the same. It is the power of Jesus healing.  

St. John, who wrote his Gospel as the last of the four, wrote it in such a way that it is almost a text of theology. It is an interpretation more than anything else of who Jesus is and what He did. When Jesus works a miracle in John's Gospel it is always followed by a discourse. Jesus speaks to the crowd about what He has done and instructs them about what He has done.  

In the second chapter of John's Gospel, we read of the first miracle that Jesus worked at Cana in Galilee. He changed water into wine and we think of this as a marvelous blessing of weddings. It's much more than that because it also has to do with the eschatological vision that John had: the end of the world and the completion of God's plan couched in terms of a wedding, a traditional Scriptural image of those events.  

When Jesus worked that miracle, He went out and taught someone: Nicodemus. There is the long discourse with Nicodemus about being "born again of water and the Holy Spirit". The same is true with this morning's Gospel. The royal official's son was ill. Jesus healed him from a distance. As a matter of fact, we happen to know from John's Gospel that He was in Cana of Galilee again, about fifteen miles south of the city of Capernaum. It is here that the royal official encounters Jesus, asks for a healing for his son, and receives it. We might say, "So what? Jesus did this for this individual, but what has this got to do with us?": Always the Scriptures are written for our benefit twenty centuries later.  

So how do we understand this and interpret it? The key is in what John wrote:  

Jesus told him, "Return home; your son will live," The man put his trust in the word Jesus spoke to him and started for home (John 4:50).  

The man put his trust in the word that Jesus spoke to him. John was very conscious of the idea of the Word. Do you remember the prologue to John's Gospel in the first chapter?  

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. . . The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1: I & 14).  

Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. The Word of God, according to John, is always creative. As he wrote those words, John had in mind the very first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, and how it begins. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth". For John, this is the beginning of the new creation, with Christ our Lord.  

As Jesus begins a discourse in the fifth chapter following upon this miracle, it is very evident that He is talking about His Word and about the reaction that should come from His Word. Jesus says this:  

I solemnly assure you the man who hears my word and has faith in him who sent me possesses eternal life (John 5:24).  

Later on He says:  

An hour is coming, has indeed come, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who have heeded it shall live (John 5:25).  

In another place in that same chapter:  

An hour is coming in which all those in their tombs shall hear his voice and come forth (John 5:28). Hearing the Word means that something happens because of the Word of God. First of all, it is creative:  

Then God said, "Let there be light." And there was light (Gen.1:3). God's word is always creative. He created by a word, out of nothing. His word also leads to salvation. Remember the Gospel of two weeks ago, where the people let the man sick of the palsy into the house through the roof at Jesus' feet and He says, "Have courage, son, your sins are forgiven" And when they all murmured about that. He said, "Which is less trouble to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' or 'Stand up and walk'" (Matt. 9ff..)? He healed the man to show them He had the power with a word to forgive sin. God's word is not only creative. It leads to salvation. When God speaks, something happens.  

On the opposing side of all of this, we can hear what Jesus says about those people who hear the word and nothing happens.  

The Father who sent me has himself given testimony on my behalf. His voice you have never heard. . . . (John 5:37).  

Jesus equates the lack of faith with never hearing the Word of God.  

When we consider what words are in our time twenty centuries later, we know that words just tumble over us like a waterfall and sometimes we are so inundated with words that they lose their meaning. They no longer pack the power or the punch. Right now, leading up to the first Tuesday of November, we hear the words of politicians. What are they to lead us to? Belief and trust in what the person is saying? Sometimes. Mostly, we are rather cynical about what we hear. How about the words of advertisers? Advertisers spend millions of dollars, choosing the right words to describe their product. We hear those words and we trust in them and we bring the product home and it never quite lives up to those glowing promises. Our clothes are still dingy. They aren't as bright as sunlight even though we've used that particular detergent. But we trusted the words.  

What Jesus is saying and what we have to understand is that in order for us to come to faith, we have to hear the words and believe in them. Then something happens. How does Jesus speak His word to us now? He is, of course, the Word of God. He is the Word made flesh. He speaks to us in the words of Scripture, of course. And here we find the truth. These are not campaign slogans or the hyperbole of advertisers. This is the Word of God. We can trust that what we hear from God's Word is true and right.  

Secondly, the word of God is present to us in the Sacraments. We hear the words of a Sacrament and we know something special is happening. As a little infant brought to the font of Baptism and the priest pours water on that child's forehead and says, "I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," we know that something special happened at that moment to the child. Those words have power. They are creative because this person is created as a new person in Christ and they are salvific because this person is filled with the very life of God Himself.  

We also know that the word of God is present in His Church, in His people, in one another. Sometimes it becomes a little more difficult to discern the truth here. But you and I, because we have been given the Holy Spirit, are able to discern what is the truth and what is not. We listen, we hear, and we say, "Yes, this is of God. This is the Word of God." And we follow it.  

In our first reading this morning, Paul is describing a warrior for Christ. He has him putting on all of this equipment: 

“Stand fast, with the truth as the belt around your waist, justice your breastplate, and zeal to propagate the Gospel of peace your footgear. In all circumstances, hold faith up before you as your shield. - . Take the helmet of salvation. . . “ 

The equipment is defensive. But there is one more item in that list — "the sword of the Spirit, the word of God". Paul intends that we go on the offensive with it. To a world that is fed lie after lie, it is only in the Word of God that we can find joy, happiness, peace, contentment, quietness of mind (as that beautiful opening prayer of our liturgy said this morning).  

Another time Jesus was teaching the multitude. We read about it in the sixth chapter of John's Gospel. He had just fed five thousand people in the wilderness. He continues with a discourse about its meaning. He talks about a new food for them.  

My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. The man who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him . . . the man who feeds on this bread shall live forever (John 6:55ff.).  

As He gave us the instruction on the Eucharist, the reaction of the people was predictable:  

After hearing his words, many of his disciples remarked, "This sort of talk is hard to endure! How can anyone take it seriously ? (John 6:60)  

Jesus turned at this moment to His apostles and asked them, "Do you want to leave me too?" Peter's response is an interesting one. He answers Jesus at this moment with an answer not only for the apostles but for you and me as well: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:67ff.).  

The Word of God, Word made flesh, continues to be present in our midst now; in Scripture, in Sacrament, in the Church.  

Today, the Lord would speak to you as well, to each and everyone of you, if you are open to it. He will speak to you in the silence of your heart. The Psalmist says:  

Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. . . (Ps. 95:8).  

Listen to what the Lord has to say to you today in prayer. Understand what He is saying to you. Is He drawing you closer in a relationship with Himself? Is He speaking a word to your heart? "Abandon that habit of sin and turn to Me'" What is He saying to you? He has something very special to say to each and every one of you. The alternative would be unthinkable: that the Lord is mute. No. He speaks His gentle word and it's creative; it leads to salvation, if we harden not our hearts.  

As we offer our Eucharist, listen to instances in which the Eucharistic Prayer mentions the Word of God. Listen to the words the priest speaks. Let them become a part of you as well. Listen. What God has in mind is what He had in mind for that royal official's son.  

The man put his trust in the word Jesus spoke to him, and he started for home. We can put our trust in the Word and we can start for home as well. But our home, we know, is not here. It's in heaven!  

Father Ed Bakker 
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province 
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne