A Sermon Preached on The Fourth Sunday Before Lent
February 21, 2021 at 11:00 am
for an Online Service with The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete.
Have you ever been really desperate?
The word “desperate” is related to “despair,” and originally described the condition of being without hope. But it has shifted over time to mean being someone who is “extremely reckless or violent, ready to run any risk or go any length” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It also means “suffering extreme need or having a great desire for something.”
So, I think of a parent where the family is in in great poverty, and is willing to let someone else adopt or take care of the child. This does not happen so much anymore, but a hundred years ago many children were put into orphanages , not because they had no parents, but because their parents could no longer afford to feed them, or to get them out of urban slums. Between the 1830s and the 1930s, some 150,000 of them were shipped out as adolescents to Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, mainly to work on farms as indentured servants, and it didn’t always work out as well as in Anne of Green Gables. It must have been incredibly hard for so many of these parents to let go of their children – but they were desperate.
Desperation can lead to violence, as we know, sometimes for defensible reasons, and sometimes not. We recognise that one can use violence to defend oneself, and even kill another. However, sometimes the desperation has an unjust origin, such as a passionate relationship gone bad.
Talk to any alcoholic or addict and they will tell you that the compulsion for alcohol or their drug is overwhelming, leading them to desperate actions. They will steal money, ruin relationships, live in denial, hide booze or drugs all over the house, and allow themselves to have blackouts and overdoses. Some of them they will run any risk, including the risk of serious illness and death.
Or think of the acts of desperation of some people during the pandemic. The rushing to get back to England before the imposition of new restrictions. The huge desire to open stores and restaurants, despite the risks of infection. The people gathering despite restrictions, because they are desperate for human companionship, and to not be disturbed from their usual routine.
The gospel story today is one of desperation. There is a man who is paralyzed, but he has some great friends. They are so desperate to help him that, when they could not get through the crowd, they climbed up onto the house, broke through the roof, and lowered him down. They took a great risk. They did not seem too concerned with the possibility that the owner of the house would be upset, or that Jesus, who was staying there, might be. They were not thinking about the repercussions. They were desperate.
And it turned out okay. Jesus healed the man. He absolved him of his sins, and the man got up and walked, to the consternation of the scribes.
Why does Jesus do this? Mercy, yes, because healing and restoration is a sign of the kingdom of God. As we hear in Isaiah 35 – not today’s reading, but an earlier prophecy, we hear:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom . . .
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. Isaiah 35.1, 5-6a
But I suspect that there is more to it than that.
A Desperate God
I want to suggest to you that in many ways God appears to us as desperate. In the person of Jesus Christ we seen the action of a desperate God, one who will go to any lengths to restore the relationship between the divine and humanity. The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin are descriptions of the kingdom of God, and the emotions conveyed by those stories desperation to the point of recklessness.
We read in Isaiah 43 this morning:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I, I am He
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins. Isaiah 43.18-19a, 25
The Source of all being sends the Eternal Word to take on flesh and dwell among us. He lives as one of us, and suffers as one of us, and staying obedient to a desperate hope, he serves God and others even to the cost of death, death on a cross.
God blots out our sins for his own sake. Having created us, the Divine desires us, even as we might desire another person. And when we reflect on it, the proper desire of humanity is the desire for the Divine, the desperate one in whom we find rest and peace.
Jesus Christ is Always Yes
Paul tell the church in Corinth, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ . . . is always “Yes.”” All the promises of God are fulfilled in him. And God is desperate for you and me to receive those promises, and allow that yes to work in us. God wants us to be healed. God wants us to refresh ourselves. So what will be our response?