Can You Hear Me Now
Isaiah 55:1-5 ; Psalm 17:1-7 & 15
Sermon delivered by Minister Shirley Lin on 3rh August, 2008 at Taiwanese Presbyterian Church of Washington
(In Chinese, translated by Ken Sun)
Before I begin, I want to thank you for this gracious invitation. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to share God’s Word with you. I am honored by your invitation. While it is a joyous occasion for me, being invited to preach here and being cared for by this congregation, it may be safe to say that these are not very good times.
We can start here, in the US. You have, I’m sure, experienced the economic problems, from the increase in gas prices, in the cost of groceries, and the recession talk and loss of jobs. By now, we are accustomed to hearing about how the US economy is sinking quickly. If your family is anything like mine though, your family may be very intimately tied to Taiwan. If you talk to my parents, they would tell you that the conditions in Taiwan aren’t much better. There are very similar economic issues with gas and food prices and a slow economy, as well as problems with obtaining good, high-paying jobs.
Our troubles aren’t always just in our pocketbooks, especially if you’re not worried about the economy or paying the bills, living on your own and having to hold down a job. Even if you’re still in school, there are still lots of concerns and worries.
After all, let’s be honest. If you’re a Taiwanese child, not only do you have to have straight As, you also have to play a musical instrument, participate in a sport, and maybe go to extra schooling either to prepare for college or just Chinese School. This doesn’t change when you go to college either, because those good grades are still expected, but of course compounded by the fact that doing poorly in school will prevent you from getting a good job, and the cycle of life continues.
But even beyond that, we are all human beings. Each and every one of us has our personal lives to contend with that is not always easy, no matter how old, young, rich or poor we are. Even Jesus, the only Son of God, had hard times that He had to deal with. We see this clearly in today’s Gospel passage.
What directly preceded today’s Gospel reading was the beheading of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was not only the cousin of Jesus, but also the man who had baptized Jesus. Upon hearing the bad news of his cousin’s death, Jesus wanted to be alone. I imagine that He had many emotions that He had to deal with. He no longer wanted to deal with all the people who were coming to Him. So He retreated. Jesus got on a boat and went to a desert place. Yet, the people continued to come. These people disregarded everything to follow Christ because they believed that He would heal their sickness.
Rather than telling these people to go away like His disciples wanted, Christ went to the people and helped them because He had compassion for us. Even when it got dark, Christ chose to feed the people instead of sending them away.
We see from this passage that even in the worst of times, God is wholly present to us, extending God’s entire self to us. Even when Christ was in mourning, Christ continued to heal and feed those who asked. How many times do we put our fears and worries fully into God’s hands?
My ministry is mainly in chaplaincy. This means that I work in the hospital, visiting with patients and their families and friends. I talked to them, offer support and comfort, because if you’ve ever been in the hospital, you would know that it is not always easy. One particular evening, I was working at a hospital in New Haven. I received a page from a nurse to support a cancer patient. She was a married woman in her 40’s and she had two young children. This was her second bout with cancer and her situation was not looking good. She was in a lot of pain and feeling desolate.
The nurse thought that I could bring this woman a hug blanket, which is a fleece blanket made with prayers and blessings. Our hospital offers them as a support and comfort, as well as to let the patient know that they are not alone. I went to the cabinet to look at the different blankets we had. There were several different ones. I took a deep breath and looked over the blankets and settled on an emerald green blanket with frogs on it and headed upstairs. As soon as I went into the room, introduced myself, and presented her with the blanket, the woman began crying. I was feeling a little baffled when she spoke.
“Thank you…. I’m Irish. This is beautiful. This means a lot to me.”
Green, of course, is the color of Ireland. This is why on St. Patrick’s Day, an Irish day celebrating a saint that was critical to the history of the Irish people, pubs dye beer green. In some ways, the color green is a part of the Irish identity. This woman told me that seeing this green blanket was a sign from God, letting her know that things were going to be alright. For me, I knew that God was at work. I did not know she was Irish because she did not have an Irish last name. There was no reason that I chose this blanket, but a gut feeling. God guided me to bring to His daughter what she needed to be encouraged during her battle with cancer. In that moment, God gave this woman healing as Christ had healed those who came to Him.
Maybe there are times that we think that what we want or who we are aren’t important enough for God to care. Maybe we think there are bigger and better issues for God to address. But our God always has time for us, making time for us, as Jesus had laid aside His own troubles to tend to the crowd. And this is a great thing, considering how much suffering there is in this broken world.
Today’s readings are all about calling out to God for help, salvation and deliverance. In the Old Testament reading, Isaiah speaks to the troubled; those who are in need of physical things. Oftentimes, we feed ourselves, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally with things other than God. Rather than buying, drinking, and eating what is not good for them and continue to be unsatisfied, we must turn ourselves toward God. What is not God will not fully satisfy us. In this way, it’s like a bad airplane meal that may give us a ton of calories, but we never feel quite full afterwards so that even though we have eaten, we never enjoy the meal. When I finally get off the plane, I’m not hungry, but I wouldn’t exactly go back for the food.
It is only through living in God that we are glorified as God’s people. With God being on our side, our earthly and physical needs will be taken care of. What Isaiah is doing is calling us home—calling us back to God. Not only will God help us through those times, what we do without God’s presence in our lives is empty. It is when we invite God into our lives that we can truly live. It is then that we can see the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. This is why we say that God’s presence is transformative.
Even though I work in a hospital, I am not a doctor. Even though I’m a servant of God, I do not have the power to heal. This can sometimes make my job incredibly frustrating, but at the same time, I know that God has the power to heal and that power goes beyond anything else that can happen in this world. I met a woman once who was a drug addict. I met her as she was on hospice care, which meant that she probably had less than a year to live. Because of her years of drug use, she had contracted HIV and hepatitis C, and she had recently found out she had developed cancer, which had been a problem in her family.
Before I met her, I thought that she would be very depressed about the state of her life. I certainly would have been if I were her. Rather than being pessimistic about her life, she told me she felt blessed. She said that God was at work in her life through her illness. Before she had gotten sick, she was a drug addict, always looking for her next fix. After she became ill, she stopped using drugs, the daughter that she had abandoned as a little girl had returned, taken a leave of absence from serving in Iraq, so that she could now take care of her mother. Now that she was off drugs, she was able to form a relationship with her little boy, who was in elementary school because she was now clear minded enough to be with him and love him.
Transformation in God does not mean that things are perfect or you get everything you want. Transformation in God means that through God, we are blessed so that our lives are full and has meaning. It means that we can get beyond what earthly suffering is so that we can appreciate the goodness of God.The Psalmist agrees that God is always there when we called upon Him. Along the lines of Isaiah, the Psalmist understands that it is only with having God in our lives that salvation and glorification can come. However, the Psalmist addresses a different reason for calling out to God. The Psalmist is not looking for physical fulfillment. He is looking for deliverance from his enemies. He wants God to see him for who he is: a righteous and pure person rather than how others may see him.
You know, being misunderstood is a terrible feeling. There was a time when I struggled greatly with my training program. I was having a hard time communicating with the supervisor and my peers. It was a difficult time because I felt misunderstood and unsupported. It got so bad that I began regretting the decision that I had made and question my calling. Well, to be honest, I spent a little time yelling at God for bringing me into that situation. I had trusted God to take me to where I needed to go. And all I got for this trust was suffering and being misunderstood! But after I got my anger out, I called to God, asking for guidance and support.
The next day, I felt better. Rather than starting the day off with classes, I was able to spend time on the floors visiting with patients. I was able to make connections with patients that nourished me and allowed me to know that I was where I belonged. Shortly after, I had a very helpful conversation with my supervisor and we came to a mutual understanding where I felt much more heard. In the midst of that, I came to realize how much I depended on God to provide relief for me, as well as to receive my hurt, bitterness, frustration, and anger. When we call, God answers. We must always trust that God knows better than we do and accept the gifts we are given even if we can’t always see how some things can be good.
When we are hungry, God feeds us. When we are thirsty, God gives us drink. Like Jesus feeding the hungry that night, we are going to be fed today with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This sacrament represents for us the presence of Christ still in the world today. When we eat of this bread and drink of this wine, we will be renewed and rejuvenated to lean upon God for all things.
Let us remember the sacrifices of Christ, not only when He gave us His body and blood, but also when He gave us His time and energy, healing us and carrying us through the hardships of our lives.