The Third Sunday after the Epiphany: Year B

“An Age of Miracles”

A sermon by Patrick Foster

Good morning, my very dear friends. It’s good to see you all here this morning. You cannot imagine how much you mean to me.

You know, nowadays we’re subjected to a great deal of negative information, on the radio, on TV, and especially on the internet: too much negativity, in my opinion. And many people will tell you that it’s because the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I know I’ve been hearing  for more than fifty years now that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. It seems to be taking a long time to do so.

People also say that kids nowadays are disrespectful of their elders, that they know too much too soon, that they’re rebellious and uncontrollable. Many people long for ‘the good old days’. But you know, archeologists who have read through speeches and ordinary letters dating from the Roman Empire have found many of those same sentiments were expressed 500 years before Christ was born! I guess the ancient Romans didn’t realize that they were living in the good old days.

Well, I believe we here today are living in the good old days. Our children and grandchildren will probably remember it as a simpler, happier time.

But believe me when I say this:  We are living through much more than just that.

 We are living in an age of miracles.  

Let me tell you about a good buddy of mine I’ll call Indian Jack. I met him years ago through a mutual acquaintance. We became good friends after we found we had a lot in common. We’re the same age and both of us lost our fathers when we were young. As young men we both got involved with the wrong crowd, and both of us had problems with the law. Jack’s problems were worse than mine; he ended up spending a short time in jail, whereas my confinements were restricted to just a few overnight stays. Jack told me he had been a pretty bad character. He drank a lot and was heavily into drugs; he was violent, and he was a criminal. Jack was the sort of guy you don’t want to come across in a blind alley.

When Jack was in jail, he was visited by men he didn’t know who offered to help him turn his life around when he was released.

You’d think a tough guy like Jack would have told them where to go but, amazingly, he decided to accept their help. He hadn’t enjoyed his time being locked up-believe me, it’s not as much fun as it sounds – so, Jack decided to take a shot at changing the path he was on.

It took a few years and a lot of work, but Jack eventually changed. He went back to school to get a degree as a social worker so he could begin to help others. He got a job with the State of Connecticut working in institutions and jails, helping inmates prepare themselves for upcoming trials, while offering to help them to turn their lives around. It’s difficult, sometimes heartbreaking work, but Jack was committed.

Indian Jack is not really an Indian. He got his nickname when, out of the blue, he decided about twenty years ago to bring his knowledge and skills to help some of the Indian tribes in North Dakota on a volunteer basis. As some of you may know, Native Americans living on reservations often face bleak lives with little opportunity. Many live in poverty subsisting on government handouts: the sort of conditions that lead to drug abuse and all its attendant horrors of criminality, violence, and death. For many years, Jack spent his two-week vacation every summer living with the tribes, bringing a message of redemption. He told his story to hundreds of afflicted Native Americans and I’m sure he saved many lives. Over time, the tribes came to love Jack and adopted him as a full member.

Recently, he called to tell me that the State of North Dakota has asked him to come work full-time with the tribes year-round. Although Jack is retired, I think he’s probably going to do it – not for the money, but to pay back a debt he owes to the men who came to see him in jail.

When he was young the trajectory of Jack’s life was not such that he was likely to end up happy, healthy, and retired in Florida, just as the trajectory of my life would not have seen me standing here today. But miracles occurred in both our lives. In Jack’s case it was having men visit him in jail. In my life it was meeting Diane, an event that was completely accidental.

But, as I said, we’re living in an age of miracles.

A few weeks ago, I saw a news story on television about a Palestinian woman whose son was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers who had been given incorrect orders. The young man was not a militant, he was not armed, and he did not present a danger. But because someone in the heat and fog of war issued the wrong orders, that young man was killed.

Naturally, his mother was distraught. I’m sure the sorrow and pain she felt was almost beyond human understanding. Think of such a horror coming to your own family- it’s a parents’ worst nightmare, and she had to live through it. And is still living through it.

The soldier who killed the young Palestinian was also distraught. He was a good soldier, a young man like the Palestinian, and he never wished to kill civilians. He had joined the army to help protect Israel, not to kill unarmed civilians. The fact that he had killed an innocent, unarmed man pained him greatly. In his despair he sought out the Palestinian mother and confessed to her that he was the one responsible for her son’s death. He explained that it had been a mistake, the sort of thing that happens too often in war, and he apologized for being the cause of the young man’s death and of the mother’s grief. That was about all he could do.

And then came a miracle. The Palestinian woman looked into the young soldier’s face, and she forgave him. The Muslim woman put her arms around the Jewish soldier and together they cried. They cried for a long time together, and when they were done, they parted, not as enemies, but as fellow human beings who had shared in a very tragic event that would change their lives forever. Neither of them would ever be the same. Whatever hatred had existed within them had been extinguished.

 Truly, we are living in an age of miracles.   

So, when you’ve heard too much bad news, when the negativity that pours over us on a daily basis becomes too much, turn off your radio, shut down your computer, mute your TV and telephone, put down the newspaper, and you know what – don’t even answer the doorbell. Think of that Palestinian woman and that Israeli soldier. Think of my dear friend Indian Jack. Look around you carefully, and if you do, you will discover that miracles – true miracles – are happening all around us. All we need to do is look for them.