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Sermon – “Greater works than these…”

I preached last Sunday. These have been tumultuous times for our church, and although I had resolved not to preach for the foreseeable future to give more time to my writing, I couldn’t refuse when asked. Here’s the sermon:

Sermon – Greater Works Than These

There’s a Charlie Brown comic strip, that begins with Snoopy and the little bird named Woodstock, both sitting on top of Snoopy’s dog house. And Snoopy is thinking, “Someday, Woodstock is going to be a great eagle. He’s going to soar thousands of feet above the ground.” And in the next frame Woodstock takes off, tumbles upside down and flutters through the air hither, thither and yon. And Snoopy thinks, “Well, maybe hundreds of feet above the ground.” And right then Woodstock crashes to earth and looks around stunned and confused. And Snoopy thinks, “Well, maybe he’ll be one of those eagles who just walk around.”

This morning, we heard this incredible promise from the lips of Christ – “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…”

Greater works than these? But Lord, I’m one of those eagles who just walks around, and you want me to do greater works than yours? Greater than feeding the multitude, healing the sick, raising the dead? Tough act to follow, Lord!

Jesus also said, “With faith you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and you could say to this mountain, ‘Go join the mulberry tree,’ and they would obey you!

So, just how much faith would we need to accomplish all of that? The disciples were thinking they’d need a ton of it, so they say to Jesus, “Increase our faith.” And Jesus says, “No.”

“No?”

“No. You don’t need me to increase your faith. You already have enough faith. You have faith the size of …(and they’re thinking he’s going to say the size of a mountain or the size of an ocean) But no! The size of a mustard seed!”

“Well,” they asked, “how much faith is that?”

“About this much. Now come on you guys! You have this much faith, don’tcha?”

And they say, “Well, sure. I mean, who doesn’t have that much faith? But Lord, you want us to perform miracles and work wonders…with this much faith? That’s not a lot of faith, Lord.”

“Actually,” Jesus replies, “it’s exactly enough faith. All you need.”

“So then, what you’re saying to us is, you want us to have a little faith in our ability to work miracles?

“No, you silly gooses! I want you to have a little faith in my ability to work miracles through you. Get it? All you have to do is believe in me, just a little bit, and I’ll take care of the rest. Now off you go, heal the sick, cast out demons, preach the Good News. And while you’re at it, move a few mountains and get a few trees throw themselves into the ocean. It’s fun. Try it.”

And off they went.

At several points in his ministry, Jesus called his disciples, “Oh ye of little faith!” And I used to think he was scolding them for not having more faith. But now I don’t think he was scolding them, but teasing them, reminding them that their little faith was sufficient for miracles. To my mind he’s calling them, “O ye of just enough faith!”

And what was it Jesus wanted his disciples to believe? He wanted them to believe that his Spirit lived and was active within each of them, and that was the Source of their power to do the works of Christ. Christ’s own Spirit. What an amazing idea! I think it’s what Annie Dillard was getting at in that quote on the back of our bulletin – if we’re going to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit, we should buckle up, because we’re invoking the power of miracles!

And that’s what the disciples learned. They came back rejoicing! “Lord! Even the demons were subject to us in your name!” That must have been pretty heady stuff. These were ordinary people, not scholars or theologians, just common folk, and wherever they went, miracles followed. And Jesus said, “Not bad for faith the size of a mustard seed.”

That same power is available to us. That same Spirit is living in each one of us. So why aren’t we working the same wonders that Christ did, and even greater works than these?

Short answer?

We are.

Take feeding the multitude.

Hunger relief on a global scale is reaching more people today than ever before, and certainly more people than Christ ever fed. So I guess you could say that we’re doing a “greater work” than Jesus. Has global hunger been eradicated? No. And it’s not for a lack of food. There is enough food and there is enough money. But there’s not enough good will, yet. We have a natural tendency to hoard what we have, because we think if we share it, we have to lose some of it. But that’s not the way it works in the kingdom. Remember the miracle of the loaves and fishes? The little boy gave away his lunch and five thousand people were fed, (including him!), fed until they couldn’t eat any more, and baskets and baskets of scraps were left over. In the kingdom of God, it’s like we’re standing in a torrent of running water. If I splash a little on you, am I deprived? No! The water keeps pouring in! I can throw buckets of water on you, and the water pours in faster than I can pull it out. There is no scarcity. That is a misperception based on fear, fear that there’s not enough to go around. When we come to see the inaccuracy of that assumption, and learn to live in the reality of God’s abundance, when we freely and joyously open our hands to share, global hunger will be eradicated.

But let’s bring it down locally, to our little church here. We certainly feed the hungry by supporting the mission and the food bank. I believe that the people who attend Deborah’s fitness group bring a donation of canned goods for the food bank as their “admission price.” So we do feed the hungry in that way.

And Lord! the potlucks around here! Any excuse for a potluck. When your church’s motto is “Until we eat again,” you know that no one’s going to go hungry at St. Andrew’s in the Burg.

And it’s not just the food we share. Christ not only broke bread with those he called to his table, he shared his presence as well. We do that when we come together after service to eat and talk and laugh and listen to each other, and get caught up. There’s a churchy word for that. We call it fellowship. When we come together to fellowship, we strengthen the bonds that make us a church. It’s a very necessary activity and it just happens to be delicious. ?

So that’s feeding the multitude.

All right then, what about healing the sick? Jesus healed the sick all the time. Do we? Starting on a global scale again, all the medicines and vaccines today are curing illness on a magnitude Christ never dreamed of. And we’re even preventing disease. Christ healed people, but I don’t think he ever prevented a disease. We can do that now. That’s another “greater work.”

But let’s bring it on down to our church again. How do we heal people?

I don’t know if love can always cure someone, but I do believe it always heals them.

Around Christmastime last year, V. reminded us to be mindful of our sick and shut-ins, and send them a card to let them know we were thinking about them. And I thought, “What an awesome idea!” And I was a little embarrassed I hadn’t even thought about doing it. So Tony and I sent out a few cards, one of them to S. A little while later, she sent us a thank you card for our Christmas card. She was so touched by it, and how beautiful it was! I don’t even remember what it looked like. I remember there was a lot of red, and some glitter, but that’s it. But it meant so much to her. Now, did she throw away her walker? No, she did not. But she was healed a little bit. And so were we in sending the card. Mother Teresa said that the greatest disease on the planet was not leprosy – we have medicine for leprosy. The greatest disease is loneliness. But there’s a medicine for that too, and this church is quite liberal in using it – your cards, your prayers, and your visits. We even have a new pastoral minister now who visits our sick in hospital, K. An essential ministry of healing.

And there’s boarding house. Some of the residents there suffer from mental illness, and while their illnesses are not cured, the residents are deeply healed by the love and caring of L. and D. and all who are involved in that ministry. And I daresay, the ministers themselves are healed by the residents.

So, St. Andrew’s Amherstburg is two for two! Alright!

But now for the big one. Raising the dead. Does St. Andrew’s have any ministry of raising the dead?

On July 6, 2015, St. Andrew’s suffered a great loss in the passing of Jill Pardoe. Jill was very dear to me, and I struggled with her death. I found I could come to church for worship, but I could not face coffee hour, could not even enter the church hall. It was too painful. I couldn’t listen to people, I couldn’t speak to them, I couldn’t do my fellowship. So after service, I would hide out in the basement. I’d sit in the library and read, (and we have a very nice little library downstairs thanks to G.) or I’d file some sheet music in the music room. Busy work. This went on for months.

And I started to feel a little guilty about it. But then Reverend T. R. came to our church one week as a guest preacher, and he told of his experience after the death of his first wife. And he said that he too could come to church for worship but had to leave right after because he couldn’t bear to be with people. And he said when we’ve suffered a great loss, we have to “build a scaffolding” around our hearts to protect them and give them a chance to heal. And I thought, “There’s my permission! There’s my permission!” And I told him when he returned a few months ago how much that meant to me.

So, I continued hiding out in the basement. And not once in all that time, did anyone ever say to me, “You should be over this by now. Jill wouldn’t want you to grieve like this. It’s not healthy. It’s time to get on with your life.” No, not once. The only thing anyone ever did say to me was, “I understand,” and give me a hug.

Then in the Spring, I had to take some time off for my stomach problem, and later in September, when I was planning to come back, I realized I still couldn’t face coffee hour. And I asked Tony, “What am I going to do if I still can’t even go into the hall?” He replied, “Do what you can do.” Very good advice.

Providentially, the first Sunday I came back after my stress leave was when all the trouble erupted at the church. Our elders had been removed, people thought Presbytery wanted to shut us down, and there was chaos and anxiety and not a lot of answers. I felt a great need to help, make some contribution, and I couldn’t do that if I was hiding out in the basement. But I still couldn’t go into the hall, so what could I do? I decided to stay in the sanctuary and talk to people after service. I asked them for guidance, for information, for suggestions on how I could be of assistance. And as I did so, my courage started to return. One day, the person I wanted to talk to was standing at the top of the stairs just inside the church hall, and I thought, I can do this much. I can climb the stairs and stand there and have a conversation. And I did! And I was very proud of myself.

A couple of weeks later, I climbed those same stairs again, walked into the hall and sat down at a table. And I thought, “Woo hoo! Look at me sitting at a table, chatting people up like it’s the easiest thing in the world!” Although my heart was thudding in my chest – boom, boom, boom!

And there was someone at the table who was watching me with a very kind look on their face. And finally they said, “You’re back.” And I replied, “Well, for now.” But “for now” turned out to be “for good.”

The way you respected my privacy, the way you waited for me to come back when I felt ready, and especially the way you honoured me by allowing me to help during a very difficult time for our church, all of that, pulled me up out of darkness and back into the light again.

So if anyone ever says to you that St. Andrew’s Church is weak, doesn’t measure up, and needs to change, tell them – “We raise the dead at St. Andrew’s Amherstburg. What do you do at your church?”

We know we don’t do this on our own, but by the power of the Christ’s Holy Spirit. We don’t need any faith in ourselves and just a tiny bit of faith in Jesus to allow him to work through us and accomplish miracles for others, like you did for me, bringing me back to life.

And I am profoundly grateful to you, O ye of just enough faith!

Let’s bow in prayer…

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4 Comments

  1. Valerie Hess
    Posted March 11, 2017 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Powerful! Thank you. I needed to hear this tonight. Valerie

    • Penny-Anne
      Posted March 11, 2017 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      Thank you so much, Valerie. Glad I could be of help on your new journey.

  2. Karen Rockwell
    Posted July 1, 2017 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    your sermons so invite me to church!eW4D

    • Penny-Anne
      Posted July 15, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      A lovely compliment! You’d be most welcome any time you want to come. <3

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