Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Grace Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
“The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than World War I (WWI), at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351.”
Since 1919 the world has experienced 3 pandemics of ‘the flu’. The latest epidemic in our country today has been quite serious; mostly because of the rapidity by which the virus degrades the immune system and causes lung failure through pneumonia.
Many people who do not believe in the One True God call such epidemics part of the natural evolution of our existence. In their view such viruses are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ they just are. For them, it is too much to believe that an all powerful, almighty ‘god’ who loves his or her creation would allow such suffering and death. Even some who do believe in a ‘creator god’ will not admit that sin is the cause of such catastrophes. Why would they deny sin? Because that would mean that we are the cause of our own suffering.
In the beginning, all of creation was ‘good’. God, the creator of the heavens and the earth looked upon His creation and declared it to be good. In this perfect world was no sin, no evil and no death. Man had dominion over all the animals. The bounty of the earth and the fruit of the plants were good and without thistle or thorn.
It was after Satan deceived Eve and Adam into sin that the world became hostile to humankind and to itself.
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:17-19]
Pain, suffering, illness and death all began at that moment. From that time forward the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and everything that creeps upon the earth, had enmity with human beings and with the creation itself.
The world was no longer perfect. Thus, earthquakes, floods, and even disease were released into a sin-filled world. To ask the question ‘Does an all powerful, loving God cause our pain and suffering?’ is to deny the cause of our pain and suffering. God is a loving God who wishes His creation to be perfect. He is not the cause of our pain and suffering; the cause is our sin against Him. Just as we cannot heal ourselves from flu or plague, we cannot make ourselves perfect and without sin before God.
It is because of this that the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law from her fever is even more amazing. As soon as Jesus grasped her hand and raised her from her sickbed, she began to serve them. There was no rest required. There was no time needed for recovery. When Jesus healed this elderly woman, she was immediately and completely healed.
‘So what?’ you may say. It’s not as if she was really sick. A fever is not very high on the scale of the miracles of Jesus.
Maybe we have become a bit jaded in our expectations of the Son of God. After all, he healed leprosy, made the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear and raised two people from the dead not including the miracle of his own resurrection. Why should we then be impressed by the simple dissipation of a fever?
It is easy to see the benefits of being made physically whole. The sight of a broken limb made new, the deformed leg made straight, or the deaf ear made to hear are restorations that can be witnessed by their physical aspects. It is more difficult to see physical changes when the illness is inside the body. Even with our knowledge of viruses and cancers that eat away at our innermost beings, we can never be completely sure of recovery.
Loneliness, anxiety, addiction and grief are just a few of the non-physical illness people encounter every day. What pill can we take to cure sin? What physician can heal separation from God? What can we cut away from our bodies to guarantee righteousness before our God? The answer to all these questions is nothing. We have been at war with sin, death and the Devil since the moment of our birth.
We never had a chance. We never saw it coming. When we were born, we were born into sin. We have been living with this damage all of our lives. It is a shock to our system that we will never overcome.
This sin is more than a fever that will soon pass. This sin never allows us to rest; we cannot build up immunity to it. This sin is killing us every day. Our medicine cannot quell it, our doctors cannot cure it, and its final stage of infection results in death.
During the pandemic of 1918, a doctor described a typical case of the influenza virus. It would start with a ruddy brown coloration in the cheeks. Then the ears would begin to turn blue and within hours, the patient would suffocate from the buildup of fluids in the lungs. He felt helpless as he watched person after person die because he truly could do nothing to save them. All he could do is to comfort the sick for the brief time they had left.
As an ordained servant of the word, I proclaim God’s grace and administer the sacraments of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper but I cannot declare you righteous and without sin before God. Only the sacrifice of the Lamb of God can take away the sin of all people. Therefore I do what is commanded of me by my Lord. I speak to you the word of God. I speak to you words to comfort you, to heal you, and to assure you that God is with you. You are not alone. We are not lost nor are we as those who have no hope, for we hope in the Lord.
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength. [Is 40:27]
We cannot by our own reason or strength overcome sin and death. We cannot heal ourselves. Our only hope is in the strength of the Lord. It is through Him we are healed.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength; [Is 40:30-31]
The strength of our God is complete and immediate. Like Peter’s Mother-in-law, when Jesus Christ grasps our hands, we are lifted up. We are healed instantly.
Earlier I asked, ‘What physician can heal separation from God?’ The answer is, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the great physician. He bore our sins in His own body on the cross, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose wounds we were healed. [1 Peter 2:24] His resurrection from the grave brings us out of death and into life. His blood kills all sin in us and His love regenerates our broken souls.
Some of you may be battling an illness of your own. It may be physical, psychological or spiritual. It may be cancer, it may be addiction, or it may be loss of faith. You may be tired and weak. You may be in despair and see no end in sight.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon you. He has been sent to heal the brokenhearted, to liberate those in the captivity of sin, to return sight to the blind and to proclaim the Lord your God. In this we hope. In this we have faith. God is with you. You are not alone. You may not have the strength to lift yourself up, but Jesus does. Wait for the Lord. He will grasp you by your hand and your sin and your sickness will be gone and you will begin to serve Him.
“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” [1 Peter 1:23]