A sermon preached by Daniel Love Glazer at Northbrook United Methodist Church
January 29, 2017
[Scripture: Mark 1:21-28]
No one who knows my mother would consider her to be religious. She is a Jew and proud of her Jewish identity, but her Judaism does not encompass a conscious devotion to the Holy One of Israel. Even so, she describes the experience of giving birth to me, her first-born child as a “miracle.” Perhaps you women who have given birth feel similarly. For my part, I can simply say that birth is a wonder.
Our scripture passage for today relates an incident early in Jesus’ public ministry in which he is said to drive out an evil spirit from a possessed man. Does this represent a miracle? Skeptics have suggested that, rather than being delivered of an evil spirit, the man had epilepsy and was mimicking the behavior he understood that demon possession would require. Remember that in Jesus’ day, no one knew of or understood the disease of epilepsy. So, while in this event Jesus evidently healed the man, he may not have cast out an evil spirit. Even so, curing him of epilepsy could plausibly be termed a miracle.
And speaking of miracles, the Gospels relate many incidents when Jesus healed someone of disease.
Here are just a few examples:
- Curing a man who had been blind since birth of his blindness
- Healing a man with a withered hand
- Healing the paralyzed man whose friends lowed him from an opening in the roof
A Google search for “miracles of Jesus” yields a list of 35 miracles, including the casting out of demons, many healings, and, not to be forgotten, the spectacular miracles of feeding the 5000 with two fishes and five loaves, and the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead.
None of this should be surprising for us Christians who consider Jesus to be the Son of God. Jesus was a miraculous person. His incarnation as a babe, born of Mary can certainly be deemed a miracle—and I say this, quite apart from Mary’s alleged virginity.
When the Son of God was on earth, incarnated in the likeness of mortal flesh, and overflowing with compassion for the struggling mortals of the realm, it was inevitable that extraordinary things should happen. But we should not approach Jesus through miracles; rather we should approach the miracles through Jesus.
Jesus did not want to become known primarily as a miraculous healer. Such a reputation would attract unfavorable attention from the religious authorities and would detract from his true mission. Consider Mark 1:40:
A man with a skin disease [leprosy?] approached Jesus, fell to his knees, and begged, “if you want, you can make me clean. Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do want to. Be clean.” Instantly, the skin disease left him, and he was clean. Sternly, Jesus sent him away, saying “Don’t say anything to anyone. Instead, go and show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifice for your cleansing that Moses commanded. This will be a testimony to them.” Instead, he went out and started talking freely and spreading the news so that Jesus wasn’t able to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, but people came to him from everywhere.
When I was in high school, I read Bertrand Russell’s book Why I Am Not a Christian. In this book Russell asks, “If Jesus was as powerful and as merciful as Christians believe him to be, why didn’t he banish illness from the face of the earth, instead of just healing a few random lepers?” When I read this, I thought, “That’s a knock-down argument.”
But Jesus’ mission on earth was not to perform miracles. It was to portray the Truth. He declared, ““For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”  Moreover, he said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
What is the truth which Jesus came to portray? It was the truth of the Kingdom of God, which embodies the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Jesus taught that “God is your heavenly Father.”Indeed, Jesus referred to God as “your Father” or “your heavenly Father 15 times in Matthew chapters 5 and 6 alone, as well as elsewhere.
Toward the end of the gospel of John, Mary Magdalene cries at the tomb where Jesus was buried. And the resurrected Jesus appears to her. He says, “Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, “I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God,” Jesus here makes clear that God is not only the Father of Jesus’, but is also the Father of each one of us. He has also affirmed, “You are all brothers”  and “The Father himself loves you.” And also, “Fear not, little flock: for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
We live in a disturbed world. Whether due to demonic influence or the faulty free-will decisions made in a finite, evolving world, we cannot open the newspaper or peruse the TV news without realizing that evil and tragedies abound. I’m sure you can all provide a list of horrors that are all too real. I will cite only one: in Chicago last year, 700 people were murdered. The victims included little children. My wife used to teach high school on the South Side of Chicago. She said that all of her students knew someone who had been shot.
For the most part, you and I live fairly comfortably here on the North Shore. It’s unlikely that we knew any of the 700 murder victims I just cited. But, in lesser ways, we are not immune from pain and suffering. We may struggle with one or more of a variety of problems: physical infirmity, broken relationships, a wayward child, dying parents, unemployment, not to mention internal demons such as addiction that may control our lives. Still, we can take heart in what Jesus taught us: that we are all the children of a Fatherly God, who loves each one of us with an infinite love, and who has provided for our welfare in this life and in eternity. If we realize this eternal truth, we will not only be comforted in our souls, but we will be inspired to bring comfort and hope to our fellow brothers and sisters.
In his book The Spiritual Life of Children, Robert Coles tells of a girl named Mary, not yet ten, from a region of the country often called backward. Mary told him, “I don’t want to waste my time here on earth. When you’re put here, it’s for a reason. The Lord wants you to do something. If you don’t know what, then you’ve got to try hard to find out what. It may take time. You may make mistakes. But if you pray, He’ll lead you to your direction. He won’t hand you a piece of paper with a map on it, no sir. He’ll whisper something, and at first you might not even hear, but if you have trust in Him and you keep turning to Him, it will be all right.”
Thanks be to God!