Sunday, February 6, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Preacher: Pastor Day Hefner
watch this service online (readings start around 19:35; sermon starts around 27:32)
In our Training Disciples program, over the last couple of Wednesdays, we have been gathering for a meal and bible study; and the theme we’ve been focusing in on is evangelism. We’ve been talking about how, at its core, evangelism is really about storytelling – we share our own stories of faith as a way of pointing toward the larger story of what God has done and is still doing in the world.
For our bible study, we’ve been spending time with the story of the man born blind from the ninth chapter of John. I love this story for talking about evangelism because of its simplicity. Jesus comes across this man and has compassion for him; he spreads some mud on this man’s eyes, tells him to go wash, and *boom* he can see again. The actual healing takes all of two verses. But this man then spends the rest of the chapter, 30-some verses, being questioned over and over again about his encounter with Jesus. And his story is consistently the same every single time: “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” That’s it. The Pharisees press him for more details, but he sticks to his story: “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” It only takes him two short sentences to tell other people exactly how Jesus changed his life.
We used this story as an example to talk about telling our own stories of faith – our “one-inch” stories of faith. Because evangelism isn’t always about trying to share the whole big picture of God’s work or about, like, knowing the whole bible backwards and forwards. The most powerful evangelization can happen through sharing just a one-inch piece of the picture. We even made these little one-inch (ish) frames as a reminder (with only one casualty, RIP Jalaine’s finger, lol) that we don’t have to try to tell the whole story at once in order to be good evangelists – but we can share our stories. We share the pieces of the story that we know: He put mud on my eyes. I washed, and now I see.
So this last Wednesday, I invited those who came to bible study to share their own one-inch stories of faith (four of them even knew from the week before that I was going to do that, and they came anyway! haha). And I was completely blown away by how powerful and deep and personal the stories that they shared were. We heard stories of faith shared among families: stories handed down from grandparents and then taught to their own grandchildren; the powerful impact of sharing faith with family members who didn’t have much faith, but needed that word of good news in a difficult moment; even the presence of God in the midst of the pain of broken family relationships. Others shared stories about powerful encounters with God in times of sickness: in the crisis moment of a heart attack; during the illness of a child; and all along the holy journey of accompanying a loved one through death. I’m still amazed by the vulnerability and beauty of these stories.
Reflecting back on these stories, something I notice is that almost all of them took place in the midst of some moment of crisis or hardship or pain – illness, separation, death – some kind of difficult and overwhelming situation, when all that was left to do was pray. It was in those moments of overwhelming trouble that people most fully experienced God’s presence and love.
And I think this is something that’s beautifully reflected in the ways that our readings for today talk about God. From Isaiah to Luke, we see these images of God – the Almighty, the Sovereign of the universe – bending down and coming near to humanity. As the psalmist writes, “The Lord is high, yet cares for the lowly.” You have God, the creator of all that is – the Painter of the Big Picture, if you will, who stoops down and steps into the scope of our little one-inch frames. God who meets us where we are and enters into our humblest stories with such extraordinary tenderness and love.
I’m not sure why it seems to take moments of crisis for God’s presence and love in our lives to be made so clear – because God is always present in our lives! But my hunch is that those moments of difficulty and trouble have a way of stripping away our sense of control. They confront us with the reality of our vulnerability and our mortality; they leave us feeling small and helpless to change our fate. Sometimes it takes those moments of trouble interrupting our lives to make us stop and notice what God is up to.
But the beautiful thing is that, when we take the time to be still – or we are forced to be still – when we stop and pay attention, we find that God is there. And we find that, however overwhelming our circumstances may feel, however big our problems may be, God is bigger still.
Just look at the incredible images we have of God in our readings for today:
In Isaiah, the prophet sets his story in the year that King Uzziah died – a human king of Israel – and then, in contrast, he shows us what the real King looks like. He gives us this awesome image of God as high king seated on a throne, high and lofty, and wearing a robe so fabulous that just the hem alone fills the entire temple. Just imagine it! There are angels flying around everywhere, singing God’s praises with such loud voices that it shakes the entire place like thunder.
It’s no wonder that, in our psalm for today, all the rulers of the earth bow down and worship God!
In our second reading, Paul alludes to his dramatic conversion story on the road to Damascus: Jesus appears to him in a vision on the road, and then after he is struck blind and regains his sight, Paul is transformed from the early church’s biggest persecutor to its biggest evangelist. But even more than that, in this passage from 1 Corinthians, Paul writes an account witnessing to Jesus’ death and resurrection – AKA that time that God took on flesh, became human, got killed, and then defeated death itself. It doesn’t get bigger than that.
And in our gospel reading from Luke, we find Jesus hanging out with these worn out, tired fishermen, while teaching the crowds from their boats. They have been out all night trying to catch enough fish to make their living, but they keep coming up empty. But they have just enough faith to listen to Jesus when he tells them to push out just a little further from shore and let down their nets. And suddenly, they are literally drowning in fish – so many fish that their nets are breaking and their boats even start sinking. Simon Peter and the others are so amazed by this that they leave behind everything – even their suddenly very lucrative fishing business – and follow Jesus.
This is the awesome God whom we serve, the God who created and calls us. And whenever you are feeling overwhelmed, or burnt out, or like you’re coming up empty, THIS is the God who’s in your corner. This is the God who’s got your back in times of trouble. God is greater than any trouble we may face, and yet God is mindful of us and cares for us when we suffer. God moves and shapes the cosmos, and yet God also shows up in our lives in those little one-inch pieces that we can understand and share. God’s great love surrounds us and fills us and carries us through in every moment of our lives. And that’s a God that’s well worth talking about, whatever the size of your frame may be.