Sunday, September 20, 2015

This Week's Sermon: "Aeneas: 8 Years"

(Before the Scripture passage and sermon from today, I would like to apologize for the lack of posting over the past week--I had a busy week compounded by the sudden onset of a cold that laid me out for a couple of days.  I'm playing catch-up and I would ask your understanding and forgiveness for not yet returning to writing.   ~E.A.)

Acts 9:31-35

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. God strengthened the church, and its life was marked by reverence for the Lord. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the church continued to grow in numbers. 32 As Peter toured the whole region, he went to visit God’s holy people in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas who was paralyzed and had been confined to his bed for eight years. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up and make your bed.” At once he got up. 35 Everyone who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. (Common English Bible)

“From 40 Days to 84 Years: Waiting on God’s Word,” Week Four

It was a story that you have to think—just have to think—would have been taken by Hollywood and made into a movie at some point, but it does not seem as though it has.  A young girl gets stricken by a very serious, very contagious disease but survives it and upon adulthood decides to go into medical science to try to find a cure.  At the age of only 32, she begins her work on different samples of the disease, and exactly eight years later, a vaccine that she helped develop enters into mass production, a vaccine whose later incarnations would be credited with preventing 85% of typical cases in children.

That is, in a nutshell, how Grace Eldering and her colleagues Pearl Kendrick and Loney Clinton Gordon created the vaccine against pertussis—what we know as the whooping cough—in the 1930s.  During the Great Depression, three female scientists—and one of them, Gordon, African-American—managed to concoct a preventive cure for a disease that beforehand was infecting hundreds of thousands of Americans a year and killed thousands of them—so the fact that Grace Eldering had simply survived her own bout of whooping cough at the age of five was a true gift.

It took eight years to deliver on a grand scale the cure that these remarkable scientists knew was eventually going to come, and as it so happened, it took eight years for a man called Aeneas to experience healing from a source that so many other people knew could and would come, and eventually someday would—to Aeneas, to many other sick and stricken people in the New Testament, and ultimately, one would hope and pray, to us all.

This is a new sermon series, just in time for the fall season of school years and football seasons alike starting, and that’s in fact very important for us to remember right now.  This series is really about the passage of time and the effect that this passage can have upon our faith.  It was grown, in fact, out of an idea from one of our elders, Alisha Hayes, whose seed of a suggestion that she made to me for a sermon on having to wait for God to speak grew into a full-blown six-week series, and the thrust of that series simply is: what about people who sometimes have to wait years, even decades, to understand God’s will for their lives?  What about them?  And what happens when God finally acts in our lives, always on a divine timetable rather than our own human timetable?  And why do some of God’s favorites, even figures as revered as Abraham and Moses, have to wait as long as 75 or 80 years before God reached out them and called them by name?

Three weeks ago, we began this series by talking about one of those two chaps—Abraham—and we then moved on to Ezekiel in week two before rewinding back to Exodus to discuss Moses in week three.  This week, week four, we fast forward instead of rewinding further, this time all the way into the New Testament with this story about a hitherto unknown paralyzed man residing in Lydda (modern-day Lod in central Israel, near the West Bank) named Aeneas.

The origins of Aeneas’s name are fascinating.  The name is that of a hero of the mythological poetry of first Homer and then Virgil, a hero who is said to have led the Trojans out of Troy as it was sacked by the Greeks in the Trojan War and whose bloodline eventually included Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who ancient Rome’s mythology said founded the city.  But most important of all, the name Aeneas itself means “blessed.”

And while blessed may not be how Aeneas originally sees himself—we really don’t know, as we know nothing about him beyond what Luke conveys to us in these brief few verses—blessed he is, for he receives the same manner of healing that the same paralyzed persons in the Gospels received from Jesus.  Indeed, Peter even tells Aeneas that it is Jesus Christ Himself who heals him, not Peter (also, how many of us would want to hear, as the first words of our transformed reality, "make your bed!"? :) ).

It is a simple enough question in truth, but one with far from simple implications: where does our healing come from?  When we are broken somehow, by whom and what are we made whole?  And, does that wholeness have to come instantaneously in order to be of God?

Aeneas has gone eight years as either a paraplegic or a quadriplegic, and that is a long time to do so with the health concerns that entails, even in our age with modern medicine, to say nothing of ancient Israel its complete lack thereof, as well as its inability to care for people who are differently abled.  Considering Aeneas was likely unable to get much work in his condition, it is a miracle in itself that he even lived eight years as a paraplegic or quadriplegic, and even today, it is sometimes tough to live that long, just as it was miracle that Grace Eldering even survived pertussis at age five.

My own childhood idol Christopher Reeve, *the* Superman, became a quadriplegic in 1995 after his horsebacking riding accident that shattered his C1/C2 vertebrae, died only nine years later of cardiac arrest from one of the antibiotics he took for a case of sepsis that was in fact a relatively frequent occurrence for him at that point in his life precisely because he had become quadriplegic.

Would Aeneas have still been around in another year?  In truth, we have no way of knowing.  But what if the healing came from God not because it was instantaneous after Aeneas became paralyzed, but because it came just before Aeneas could have died as a result of his condition?

And that’s really the x-factor, so to speak, in divine intervention, and why I think this entire series matters so much.  We think that because God can be present anywhere, and see anything that happens as a result, that God should react immediately.  But we *know* that God does not do that.

But we don’t like it.  We want God to react immediately.  In the direst of circumstances, instances of life and death, we need God to react immediately, and we are crushed, heartbroken, bereft when or if God does not do so.  We react immediately to what we perceive as God’s lack of a reaction.

We aren’t told of Aeneas’s immediate reaction to being healed, but we are told of the reaction of his townsfolk, the people of Lydda: they all “turned to the Lord.”  They were all spiritually healed.

After eight years of waiting entire towns, entire cities got healed and made whole, inoculated against one a highly contagious, lethal illness in pertussis.  And after eight years of waiting entire towns, not just Lydda but neighboring Sharon too, were healed and made whole by being reconciled to God.

Eight years from now would be the year 2023.  Think of what will change in that time—think of how much will change.  Think about what might stay the same, and what the world will look like.  How will you yourself change?  And if you were to be injured or made ill tomorrow and were not healed until 2023, how might you be changed even further?  With how long you have waited to be made whole, who will you be?

How long will you wait, then, to reconcile yourself to God?  For the truth is, God has already reconciled you to heaven.  God has already longed for, strove for, desired for you to be whole, and God has given you the means with which to do so.

It is found here, in church, in a community of believers that loves one another and that, through this love, can heal and make whole one another in the same name of Jesus Christ that made Aeneas whole as well nearly two thousand years ago.

In so doing, we too are as Aeneas, even as we may not be paralyzed literally ourselves; in truth, we may identify more as his neighbors who turned to the Lord.  But we are Aeneas when we claim the identity of his name, and recognize that we too, at long last, are and have always been “blessed.” 

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
September 20, 2015

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