Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sermon Tomorrow: Jesus Raises Dead Boy to Life

Fred Vergara, St. James Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, New York. June 9. 2013

Please remain standing as we declare our affirmation together in my Christian Tai-Chi: “I am a child of God; I believe in His Word. I breathe the Holy Spirit; I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I push out negative thoughts, I take in positive thoughts. I push out sickness, I take in good health. I push out poverty, I take in prosperity. I push out hatred, I take in love. I push out despair, I take in hope; I push out sadness I take in joy. And now, I will share the Good News to my friends, to my family, to my neighbor here and all over the world in Jesus Name. Amen.” Please be seated.

Let me start with something funny. There was this missionary who went to Africa to evangelize the natives. While he was in the jungle, he saw a lion. He ran but it seems that his speed was no match to that of the lion. So he decided to stop and pray. He knelt down and closed his eyes and prayed, “Lord, save me from the lion.” When he opened his eyes, he saw that the lion was also kneeling in front of him. So he shouted, “Praise the Lord, the lion is now Christianized!” The lion said, “Quiet, I also pray before eating.”

Let’s now open our Scriptures to read this gospel this morning. Luke 7:11-17. Jesus made a miracle of raising a dead boy to life. It seems that the making of miracles is normative to the ministry of Jesus. In fact, two-thirds of the New Testament is all about Jesus making miracles: healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, making the deaf to hear, multiplying the bread, and raising the dead. What is the purpose of making miracles? We all know that those who have been healed eventually got sick again and those who have been raised from the dead, eventually died.  All of us are mortals, formed of the earth. On this side of life, we are born, we grow old and we die. It is on the other side, in heaven,  that we  are born to eternal life. So what’s the reason for miracles? Well, there are at least three reasons why miracles happen.

First reason: Miracles happen as a response to human need. The Bible says in Matthew 7:7 -8“Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened. For everyone who asks receives, everyone who seeks finds, and everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” So this miracle was simply a response of Jesus to the crying widow. This woman had already lost her husband. Now she just lost her son.  She was grieving, she was crying, she was praying for mercy. And Jesus, filled with compassion,  responded to her need. He touched the coffin and said to the dead, “Young man, get up!” The boy sat-up and began to speak, “Where am I? What’s going on?” Oh what a happy day that was! The funeral turned into a festival!

I am currently writing a new book with the title, “Where God guides, God provides.” It will record my experiences of  God responding to my need when I really needed it. One of these miracles happened in Singapore in 1981. I left my country, the Philippines, and ventured in Singapore for further studies.  I had a scholarship for tuition but I had only S$50 allowance for the whole semester. Actually, the S$50 was supposed to be for books but because our dormitory did not provide meals on weekends, I would spend that money for meals outside.   

Now my wife and I were newly married and she was left in Manila and she wanted me to come home for Christmas. I was in turmoil. I also wanted to come home but the round trip air fare was 1,000 Singapore dollars---and I simply did not have that money.  So I prayed, and while I was praying, I heard a voice saying, “Go.” I did know what to make up of that voice but I decided to go and take a walk.  I was thinking that maybe as I was walking, I might stumble upon S$1,000. I did not step on any money but I kept walking and it led me to St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral . 

As I was entering the church, the vicar (Canon Frank Lomax) met me and said, “Oh Father Fred, its good you came.  We have a worship service going on right now, but our guest speaker did not come. Will you take his place?” I was not really dressed up properly and I was not prepared but I took the pulpit and for some reason words just came forth from my mouth. After the service there was healing ministry and the vicar gave me my honorarium which was S$50. It was not exactly what I was praying for but I thanked him for it. But just as I was leaving the gate of the cathedral, a certain lady dressed in white, gave me an envelope. I took it thinking it was a thank you card. I went home to my dorm and opened it and lo and behold. Do you know what’s inside the envelope? Exactly S$1,000! God answered my need. When I came home to my wife the day before Christmas, it was a surprise! (Of course, it was not the end of the story for I would later became a priest in that cathedral).

Second reason: Miracles happen as platforms for evangelism. In a world of skepticism and unbelief, miracles break open the heart of the people to God.  St. Paul said the Jews demand signs and Greek seek wisdom. Miracles soften the hearts of stone and the minds of steel to understand that there is a God to whom nothing is impossible.  In this gospel, when the people saw that the boy was raised to life, they were so amazed and said, “A great prophet is here with us. God has made a visitation to his people.”

Do you remember the story of Jonah in the Old Testament?  Jonah was commissioned by God to tell the city of Nineveh to repent of their sins or else they would be destroyed.  Jonah, instead of obeying God, ran away from God.  He went down to Joppa and hid himself in a ship bound for Tarshish. In the middle of the ocean, there was a violent storm that threatened the safety of everyone. The captain and the crew cast lots on who among them was the jinx, the one responsible for the wrath of God which was about to happen---and the lot fell on Jonah. In order to calm the waters, he suggested that they threw him into the sea and they did! Be careful of what you ask for, you may get it. 

So Jonah fell into the water and a huge fish, maybe a killer whale swallowed him up. Inside the belly of the whale, Jonah had a change of heart and he said, “Okay, Lord, now I am really going to obey you this time.” The Lord, who is also God of the second chance, caused the whale to have indigestion and it vomited Jonah right into the shores of Nineveh. So Jonah preached, “People of Nineveh, repent or else you will be destroyed in forty days.” The result was  amazing: the whole city of Nineveh, from the highest to the lowest, from the king to the slaves, repented and turned to God! Do you know why they listened to Jonah? Of course, it was the power of God but there was another reason, and it was cultural. The people of Nineveh had a folk tale that the God who was coming was to be in the form of "half-man and half-fish."So when Jonah came out from the belly of the fish, they believed that he was truly a messenger of God!  God works in mysterious ways.

Third reason: Miracles are a demonstration that the power of God is greater than the power of the evil one. Jesus said in John 10:10 “The devil comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” The word of God is Good News and the word of the Devil is bad news.  And so when the Word of God is preached, the Devil tries to prevent people from hearing it. Sometimes the devil would make you sleepy so you won’t hear the word.  I'm happy to see no one is asleep right now. 

Sometimes the devil would give people a demon of unbelief.  In Acts 13:4-12, St. Paul was in Paphos , Cyprus when they met a Jewish sorcerer named Elymas. His other name was "Bar-Jesus" for he sometimes disguised himself as Jesus. He was an agent of Satan so as Paul was explaining the word of God to the proconsul (a Roman governor) Sergius Paulus, Elymas kept on interrupting and preventing Paul from speaking up. Sensing that this man was evil, St. Paul looked at him straight to the eye and said, “You are a son of the devil. Will you stop perverting the ways of God? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind and for a while unable to see the light.” Immediately mist and darkness came upon Elymas and he groped about seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul and the people saw what had happened to Elymas, they believed in God.

Brothers and sisters, when you live and believe in God, do not be afraid of the evil one: the power that is within you is greater than the power that is in the world. Amen.

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