Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Peering Outside Our Walls: The Royal Official

An important question to start our morning together: Who is addicted to coffee? My hand did not go up. Notice my hand did not go up. I’ve never liked coffee. In fact, I’m one of those strange folks who do not even like the smell of coffee! But if you are one of those coffee addicts, you’ll appreciate this story. Most of you will recall the stories of Hurricane Sandy. Or, as it came to be known: “Superstorm Sandy” On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the coast of the Northeastern United States. The Category 2 storm became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. Experts estimate that the storm's monetary damages topped $68 billion. More tragically, at least 286 people were killed along the path of the storm in seven countries! But a little storm like Sandy did not stop some coffee addicts! As this storm bore down upon New York City, almost everything shut down…almost everything. There was at least one rogue Starbucks near Times Square that kept their doors open! Desperate, but highly committed (addicted?) Starbucks junkies fought high winds, dangerous rains, and dire warnings just to get a latte or a cup of coffee. Bethany Owings, 28, walked 10 blocks with her one-year-old daughter for a fix. "I saw on Facebook that they were open," she said. "It was scary not having Starbucks." Her neighbor and friend 29-year-old Chris Hernandez came along and later he said, "When she said they were open, I was like, 'Pack the baby up. Let's go! I didn't know they were all going to close. I started panicking. There's nothing else I would've gone out for. This makes my day complete."

Desperate people will do anything! Especially people who are desperate about things more important than coffee! Have you ever heard the story about the man who was desperate for his son? Listen, this is how John tells the story…

Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”  The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.  As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.  John 4:46-54 (NRSV)

Now, even after hearing this story, you might not fully appreciate how desperate this man was. There are some important things to notice in this story. Most importantly, this man was not a Jew! Why is that important? It may not be that unusual for a Jew to go to a Jewish rabbi asking for help. The crowds had been growing around Jesus. There had been reports of Jesus doing some pretty amazing things. In this same town, not long before, Jesus had turned jars of water into wine. It would not be especially unusual for a Jewish father to run to a Jewish miracle worker for help. But this man was not a Jew! He was a Roman official. His son was dying, and he was desperate. He was so desperate; he would try anything to save his son. Who knows what this man had already tried. Maybe he had already prayed to his own gods. Maybe he had already taken his son to see the medicine men of his own community. As a royal official, he was a man who had money. I’m sure he spared no expense trying to find someone or something that could save his son. But when we find this father, his son is at the point of death, and in desperation, he travels 18 miles to a neighboring town to seek the help of a Jewish rabbi! He did not know about Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. The name “David” probably meant nothing to him. He did not grow up hearing the stories of Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. But he had heard about a miracle worker named Jesus. And this desperate father was willing to try anything!

There is something else in this story that let’s us know how much of an outsider this father was. Did you pay careful attention to the conversation between Jesus and this royal official? This man travels 18 miles to find Jesus. He finally finds him and then John tells us he “begged” Jesus to come down to Capernaum and heal his son. Now, at this point of the story, if we aren’t careful, we miss something important. John says at that point Jesus said, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Many of us picture Jesus here criticizing this man’s lack of faith. As if Jesus was saying to this man: “So, that’s what it’s going to take to get you to believe, huh? If I don’t heal your son, you won’t believe,” but notice, that is not what happens at all! This man finds Jesus and begs him to come save his son. Then, Jesus says TO THE CROWDS: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The 2 “you” in Jesus response are plural. He is not talking to the father. He is talking to the crowds, the Jewish crowds, and the “insiders.” You see, these Jews had been debating for some time whether or not Jesus was the Messiah or not. Some said, “Yes.” Others said “No.” The “Yes” folks were pointing to all of Jesus’ signs as proof that He was the coming Messiah. The “No” folks were still skeptical, but willing to wait around for more signs. And while they were busy having their inner-office debate, this man is desperate for someone to save his son’s life.

After Jesus chastises the Jewish crowds for this lack of faith, this man brings Jesus back to the point. “Sir, come down before my son dies!” Can’t you just see it? This man runs all this way to find help. He finally finds Jesus. “Help my son!” Then Jesus turns His attention away from him to the crowds and begins discussing this ongoing Jewish, religious debate. I picture this desperate man looking around at the scene and finally saying, “I don't care, I just need someone to save my son!” And that is exactly what Jesus did. He saved this desperate man’s son, even before he made it back home. Is there a lesson in there for us anywhere?

This summer, we are peering outside our walls to see how people outside the community of faith responded to Jesus. Throughout His ministry, Jesus interacted with many people who were not “insiders.” He talked with a Samaritan woman. He met at night with a skeptical Pharisee named Nicodemus. A couple of weeks ago, we saw how Jesus responded to the Gentile people who wanted to worship Him during Passover. I think it is important to pay attention to these outsiders. They have important questions. It’s easy to get so comfortable in the church building we forget that there are people outside our walls. I think the gospels are filled with these kinds of interactions so we will not forget. So, what does this interaction teach us? Above all, it teaches us this. People outside these walls are desperate for help and they are looking anywhere and everywhere to find it. Marriages are in trouble, so, people outside these walls are searching everywhere for help. Counselors, Self Help Books, advice from their peers, and models for marriage they see in the news and in Hollywood. People are struggling to get out of the prison caused by debt, so people outside these walls are searching everywhere for help. Some are gambling, hoping to erase their troubles in an instant, others are looking for more loans to pay off their already existent debt, some are just charging their credit cards more and more and more, some have just given up. Some folks in this world are exceedingly lonely, so people outside these walls are searching everywhere for help, online dating sites, bars, many young people join gangs, everyone looking for someone to provide a place of belonging, a real community, real companionship.

Interestingly, when this royal official was desperate he found Jesus. Don’t you think it is curious that this unreligious, non-believing man went looking for Jesus? Why did he do that? He did that because Jesus had built up a reputation as someone who can help desperate people. Even outside the walls of faith Jesus had a reputation as someone who helps desperate people! Brothers and sisters, wouldn't it be great to be known as a family who helps desperate people? Outside these walls are: People desperate for someone to heal their marriage. People desperate for someone to help them get a handle of their debt. People desperate for someone to help them raise their children. People desperate for someone to help them pick up the pieces of their lives in Nebraska after the deadly tornado. People desperate for someone to help stop teen violence in schools. People desperate for someone to help them deal with cancer. People desperate for someone to help them find a cure for their loneliness

My question is this: Do those people know to come here? Do we have anything to offer them? I think we do. I think we have more than just a nice worship service on Sunday morning to offer. I think we have a community, formed by the grace of Jesus. We have people in this room who struggle with marriage, debt, loneliness, doubt, disease and ….We are just as “fallen” as people outside these walls. But we've allowed God and God’s people to pick us up again. We are not perfect, but we are covered by the grace of Jesus. We do not have all of the answers, but we have recognized that we don't have to have all of the answers. Church, there is a freedom that comes from being about to say those things and believe them! Folks, people outside these walls would love to share in that freedom with us.

In his book The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani shares a story from a trip he took to India with his father. While walking the streets of New Delhi, a little boy approached them. He was "skinny as a rail, and naked but for tattered blue shorts. His legs were stiff and contorted, like a wire hanger twisted upon itself." Because of his condition, the little boy could only waddle along on his calloused knees. He made his way toward Skye and his father and cried out, “One rupee, please! One rupee!” Skye describes what happened when his father eventually responded to the boy's persistent begging: "What do you want?" his father asked. "One rupee, sir," the boy said while motioning his hand to his mouth and bowing his head in deference. His father laughed. "How about I give you five rupees?" he said. The boy's submissive countenance suddenly became defiant. He retracted his hand and sneered at them. He thought his father was joking, having a laugh at his expense. After all, no one would willingly give up five rupees! The boy started shuffling away, mumbling curses under his breath.

Skye’s father reached into his pocket. Hearing the coins jingle, the boy stopped and looked back over his shoulder. His father was holding out a five-rupee coin. He approached the stunned boy and placed the coin into his hand. The boy didn't move or say a word. He just stared at the coin in his hand. Father and son passed him and proceeded to cross the street. A moment later the shouting resumed, except this time the boy was yelling something else: “Thank you! Thank you, sir! Bless you!” He raced after them once again, but not for more money but to touch the feet of the man who had given him so much. This, I imagine, is how our God sees us, as miserable creatures in desperate need of his help. But rather than asking for what we truly need, rather than desiring what he is able and willing to give, we settle for lesser things! We settle for making church about buildings and programs, we settle for living life like everyone else, but God has promised us a Life Uplifted!
God is able to help desperate people, including you. Don’t ever forget that. Don’t ever forget to share that!

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