"Good Normal Miracles" - Sermon on Luke 8:40-56 - by Pastor Joe Ellis - May 9, 2021
This Sunday I’d like to do a rerun of the Thanksgiving sermon I gave in July 2019. I had originally planned to do a reflection on the Lord’s Supper today, but plans changed as Michelle, Ben and I experienced a trauma last Wednesday. Ben fell about six feet and was knocked out. After we got him to the hospital he was unconscious for about an hour. The nurses and doctors were preparing Michelle for the worst — they weren’t sure if Ben would be able to walk, or be able to speak — in other words they had no idea the extent of the damage but Ben was not looking in good shape. Relief came gradually. First with the news that the CT scan looked great, no fractures or bleeding. Second, relief came with Ben slowly waking up, returning to his good normal — making jokes about poop, wondering whose pee was in the cup left in the hospital bathroom, and just wanting to go home. Ben seemed back to his good normal the next day, but it has taken Michelle and I a bit longer to recover. Over these past few days Michelle said she’d been thinking about this sermon I gave a couple years ago, so I thought I’d share it again today.
The thought for this sermon originally came when I was praying on my in-laws back deck during our visit in 2019. There I was, drinking my coffee, enjoying the early morning sun streaming through the trees, and I was praying through the scripture passage in Luke that we just read. I was imagining what it must’ve been like for the people in the story to experience those miracles. I pictured the joy, the relief, the gratitude, the freedom that the woman must have experienced after she touched Jesus’ cloak and her chronic bleeding dried up. Then I turned my attention to the dad in this story who was trying to rush Jesus along to reach his daughter. It wasn’t too hard to identify with the dad in this story, who is desperately wanting to get Jesus to his daughter as quickly as can be, before it’s too late. How frustrating it must’ve been that Jesus didn’t share his same sense of urgency. Can you imagine the agony of waiting while Jesus wasted precious time trying to figure out who touched his cloak? You want to tell Jesus to hurry up, but you hold your tongue, and then it turns out too late anyway. Because before long someone comes along and says, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any longer.” Imagine the total and utter devastation that little girl’s dad must have experienced at those words. His heart must’ve crumpled like a paper box squeezed in water. His beautiful little girl is no more. Jesus turns to this man who has just had all that’s precious squeezed out of his fragile life, and Jesus says, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.” I can imagine myself following Jesus, wanting to hope but mostly feeling devastated, feeling like my whole body has been drained of blood. Jesus leads the way. He shakes off the derisive laughter of those mourning, and he takes the child by her hand and says, “My child, get up.” Her spirit returns and she gets up at once.
That morning when I was praying through this passage on my in-laws back deck, I imagined what it would be like to see life return to my daughter’s beautiful blue eyes and the colour return to her cheeks. I imagined scooping Anna up into my arms and holding her so tight, so tightly that she’d say, “Daddy, you’re squishing me.” And it was at that moment when Jesus took over my time of prayer. He showed me the types of miracles he does in the Gospels. Healing someone’s skin disease, bringing a man back to life, forgiving someone’s sins, restoring a person to sound mind, or returning a little girl to the arms of her daddy.
Jesus invited me to see that he doesn’t give people super powers — those aren’t his type of miracles. Jesus’ miracles don’t often involve giving someone incredible strength, or the power to fly, or special eyes that shoot lasers. Instead, Jesus’ miracles restore people back to good normal. good normal, as opposed to bad normal. bad normal was what the Dad would’ve had to get used to with the death of his daughter. When she is dead, there is absolutely nothing that her daddy wants more than to see her little body and soul be brought back to good normal. He would give anything to hear his little girl go on and on and on and on as she tells people about the bear she saw in the backyard. He would give anything to see her push her food away and say, “I don’t like that,” as annoying as that is. Her daddy would give anything to hear her sing those strange songs like “Melonia.” Those are the good and weird normals her daddy would ache to have back.
When good normal is taken away, you realize how precious good normal is. What are the good normals in your life that if they were taken away, you’d beg for a miracle to have them back?
What Jesus did for me during my time of prayer was show me that the good normals I have in my life are equal to the best results of His miracles.
There are two broad types of miracles in Scripture. The first is when people you love are being restored to good normal. The second is when you yourself are being restored to good normal. Think about that — the good normals you have in your life are equal to the best results of Jesus’ miracles. The good normals you have in your life are equal to the best results of Jesus’ miracles.
The result of the Jesus miracle we heard today is that the daddy can hug his little girl. I get to do that, too. Every day that ends with embracing good normal is a day that ends in the same way as this morning’s Gospel story. We both end up in the same place. My stories and your stories might be less dramatic, but are those enduring good normals any less a miracle? Are they any less a gift? Should I be any less thankful? Think of the people who you love that are alive and that you can hug. Those are good normal miracles.
Or, think of the first story, the woman who was bleeding for 12 years. If you don’t have a chronic bleeding problem, you are enjoying the same result the woman experienced when she touched Jesus’ cloak. I seldom think that the fact that I’m not chronically bleeding is something to be thankful for, but it certainly is! We have the same good normal as the woman in this story! Let’s celebrate and be glad! Our good normals are countless. We have peaceful political elections, mostly. Your home isn’t on fire. You can laugh at jokes. Your dog or cat still thinks your great. You can breathe in and breathe out. Your central nervous system is still working. No doubt each of us could go on and on.
In my time of prayer, Jesus reshaped what I saw as a miracle. My miracle definition still includes God powerfully and dramatically restoring people to good normal — I saw a bit of that last Wednesday. But Jesus also showed me that the good normal I currently enjoy is no less a miracle. The end results are the same. Both dramatic miracles and good normal life are gifts from our Dad in heaven who loves us and cares deeply for us. How many good normal miracles are you currently enjoying? If you tried, I bet you could count no less than one thousand.
No doubt, as I’m saying all this, most of us are nodding. But at the same time we might be thinking of good normal things that are lost or the good normal people in our lives who have gone missing. These are the bad normals that didn’t get a miracle like Jesus did in these stories, and the result is that we now ache so badly for that good normal to be returned… So, how do the bad things that we wish would transform back to good normal fit into this whole message? Let’s go back and look at the miracle stories.
First — they encourage us on what to do in the face of bad normal. They encourage us to pray. Today we heard a story of a woman’s 12 year chronic illness being healed, and a little girl being raised from the dead. The Gospels stories tell us of Jesus healing diseases, raising the dead, casting out demons, restoring people’s mental health, reconciling broken relationships. These stories remind us to never stop praying for that good normal, for everything we know about Jesus tells us that he is about bringing restoration. So, let’s not stop praying, even if we feel like we’re struggling with bad normal. Last Wednesday I was terrified. The only thing I could do was pray — and I didn’t have words. All I could do was pray in tongues and trust that the Spirit would intercede along with me. Anna was wondering what I was doing. I told her that I was praying in a language that only God knows. So she joined in, and started praying in her own way, saying “Dabba doo, dabba dabba dabba doo.” I’m sure the Spirit heard her prayers. We were two prayer warriors going to bat for Benjamin. Together, Anna and I rattled the gates of heaven.
Sometimes we pray and pray and pray only to discover that God seems to have a different plan, and the miracle doesn’t seem to come. Do these miracle stories in the Gospels speak to those experiences? Do these miracle stories speak to our disappointment, our frustration, our grief and our longing?
In the Gospel written by John, he doesn’t call miracles “miracles.” He calls them signs. Signs point to something else. The purpose of a sign isn’t to stop at the sign (unless it’s a stop sign). The purpose of a sign is to open your eyes to something that you might otherwise miss. The purpose of a sign is to point to something beyond it. Whenever Jesus does a miracle, he’s opening our eyes to what the Kingdom of God is like. Miracles are signs pointing to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God refers to the state when things are going to be just as God intended, the final return of good normal. Jesus’ miracles are signs telling us that God’s kingdom is coming and the bad that we experience here now will not last when God’s Kingdom comes in full — on that day all creation will be restored like one giant miracle. The dead will be raised, tears will be wiped away forever, the land will be healed and together we will feast in the presence of God and of the Lamb. That’s the reality Jesus’ miracles point to. Jesus’ miracles are a sign telling everyone that the bad we experience here won’t last in the Kingdom of God. bad normal will be utterly abolished. good normal shall come with triumphant finality.
So when we find ourselves hurting and aching for a good normal to be restored, Jesus’ miracles call us to hope that Restoration will return. One day you will be restored to all those you love. One day your health will be complete. One day you and your enemy will embrace. One day you will be of perfectly sound mind. One day you will never again experience loneliness. One day, “All will be well, every matter of thing will be well.” When we do see miracles happen, or when we experience the miracle of continued good normal, let them be signs telling us not to give up hope because the restoration of all things is coming, a bigger good normal is coming. On that day, our good normal will be enfolded into God’s presence, and we will be welcomed into a wholly new and beautiful good normal. Let our best good normals now be a sign of what is to come.