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Cycling In, Cycling Out – Br. Mark Brown

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Br. Mark Brown

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24/Psalm 30/2 Cor.8:7-15/Mark 5:21-43

A miraculous healing; a miraculous raising from death…  I’m not always quite sure what to make of these healing stories—sometimes they raise more questions than they answer. What did Jairus’s daughter die from the second time around?  What was the final illness for the woman with the hemorrhage—something caused her eventual death, even though she had once been healed by Jesus. How many people did Jesus actually heal?  Why didn’t he just waive his hand over the whole earth and heal all people everywhere?  Why Jairus’s daughter and not his neighbor’s? What does it mean that Jesus can heal and sometimes does—and sometimes doesn’t ?  Perhaps you’ve experienced healing in a way that you know was a special grace—it happens.  But, as we all know, no one gets out of this alive. Even Lazarus, raised from the tomb, died again.

Questions are good. So, what do we make of Jesus’s healings and raisings from the dead?  They’re meant on one level to show Jesus’s compassion and his power over the forces of nature.  But I find the way the Gospel of John speaks of miracles most helpful: they are called “signs”.  The healings, the feedings of thousands, the turning of water into wine: they are “signs”, signs pointing to something else, something larger, something more important.  I’ll come back to that.

But first, let’s look unflinchingly at the human condition. We are part of an amazing phenomenon, rare, perhaps even unique, in the universe: a biosphere, an ecosystem, an interrelated system of systems of living things. We are alive, in this very biological way.  And in this biosphere, in this ecosystem of which we are part, nothing is permanent: it is in the nature of living things to be temporary. Living things cycle in, they cycle out. We cycle in, we cycle out, as the generations generate and regenerate.

Of course, we like the “cycling in” better than the “cycling out”.  Babies are a happier thought than the other end of the cycle.  Actually, I don’t believe I will be cycling out.  I know it, but I don’t believe it—if that makes any sense. My driver’s license is a constant reminder of my mileage and the picture on it is a devastating reminder of the effects of time on a living organism—I keep it turned so I don’t have to see it. And the Medicare card in my wallet confirms the same truth.  So, I know what’s happening—I just don’t believe it.  At least the invincible adolescent on the committee inside my head doesn’t believe it.  And my inner adolescent who thinks he’s immortal often speaks the loudest.

Some verses from the Wisdom of Solomon we heard earlier: “…God does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome…for God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity…” [Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24]

We cycle in and through and out of this current life.  And, yet, we are “made in the image of his own eternity…”  And not for decay and corruption.  And I think that is what the healing miracles and the raisings from the dead are all about:  they are signs pointing to this larger truth, this larger life, which we cannot see clearly from here. He raised very few people from the dead—and they died again.  And perhaps a few thousand were healed—and sooner or later they cycled out of this world as well.  But what the stories convey to us is the assurance that we are not made—ultimately!—for decay and corruption and death.  We are made for life, life in an eternity of being.  What we’re doing here is, in some ways, just getting started on a journey that is far too expansive to comprehend. This is, at least in part, what the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus are about: yes, death is real, but we, too, are “made in the image of God’s own eternity”.

“You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave,” sings the Psalmist. “Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning…you have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy. Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord, my God, I will give you thanks forever.” [Psalm 30:3,6,12,13]

Forever… Have you ever wondered about “forever”? I once gave myself the challenge of summarizing the message of Jesus in as few words as possible (for a sermon a few years ago).  I got it down to five words with a five word extension: “Join me in the Resurrection—don’t wait ‘til you’re dead.” “Join me in the Resurrection—don’t wait ‘til you’re dead.” Five words plus five more.  The Resurrection life is something we can begin to be joined to even now—even now, in this world which, as magnificent as it is, is often a “vale of tears”.

And Resurrection life is what I think St. Irenaeus meant when he said that “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.”  Today would be St. Irenaeus’ feast day, by the way, although Sunday takes precedence. “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” Words of wisdom from a second century bishop and theologian.

The miracles of Jesus are signs pointing the way to this “fully aliveness”, something larger, something more expansive, something both ahead of us and mysteriously present even now: this image of God’s own eternity in which we are made.  The healing of the woman with the hemorrhage is a sign pointing to our ultimate and complete healing.  The raising of Jairus’s daughter is a sign pointing to our ultimate raising from the dead.

Even as we come to grips with the inevitability of our earthly diminishment, a new expansiveness, a new life takes root in us.  We don’t have to wait for this new Resurrection life. This greater life in the Spirit is here among and within us.  There is a deep well of life within us.  When we love, when we know compassion for others, the springs of God’s own eternity flow forth in us.

We are made in the image of God’s own eternity. And also in the image of God’s own creativity and generativity.  In Genesis God is revealed as creator: “Let there be light!”  And so forth. Then we read that we are created in God’s own image and likeness: that is, in the image of God’s own creativity and generativity.  When we create, when we generate, the forces of God’s own creativity and generativity are working in and through us. When this happens, we are joined to that greater life to which the Resurrection points, the Resurrection life to which the healing miracles of Jesus and the raisings from the dead point. That “fully aliveness” that St. Irenaeus speaks of.

It’s in our very nature to take part in God’s creative work: as God’s artists, our medium is the world we create together.  A world of love, a world of compassion, a world of justice, a world of grace and beauty—a world reflecting the image and likeness of God.  It’s a world we create together, sometimes through a very messy and frustrating political process.  It’s been an extraordinary week of this artistry in the medium of love, compassion, justice, grace.  It’s been an extraordinary week of creativity, of generativity coming to fruition in decisions affecting millions of people, their health, their dignity, their freedom and their happiness. Hats off to the Supreme Court of the United States and to so many others. And hats off to President Obama for his words of grace in Charleston this past week—even for his singing!

There’s so much life in all this.  There’s so much grace and truth—attributes of the Incarnate Word [John 1:14, 17].  So much light and love. And human beings have been co-creators, artists in this work—though many wouldn’t think of it that way, and indeed, many resist.

Yes, we cycle in; we cycle out. But we still can know ourselves joined to that greater life, that Resurrection life even now. No need to wait.

I’m beginning to think that the invincible adolescent who thinks he’s immortal may have a point.

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3 Comments

  1. Meg Smith on July 8, 2015 at 12:41

    For me, this was a great sermon. It asked questions I want to ask, without answering them but with an approach to dealing with them. It made some great points in a fresh way. Thanks, Bro. Mark.

  2. Bonnie on July 2, 2015 at 20:20

    I take the healing stories and the other “miracles” just for what they are. Acts of our God here on Earth for a short while. And he still does them!
    Thanks for your sermon, Brother Brown.

  3. Emily Osborn on July 2, 2015 at 17:12

    Perhaps I am the exception that proves the rule. At 88 I do not dread death. I take it as moving on into a new stage. I am quite well for 88 and have a ministry, caring for my husband who is 98 and still somewhat mobile. He wants to live well over 100. I will, if that is Jesus’ will– live long enough to care for him and make our home. Emily Osborn

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