Why Does this Generation Seek a Sign?

Mark 8:10-13

June 5, 2016

Today is graduation Sunday and let me say, I’m so proud and happy for our graduates who are ready to “commence”—to launch into a new stage of life.  Part of that launching requires them to sit and listen to commencement speeches… advice given…  Commencement speeches often sum up the wisdom learned by the speaker. The good ones have words for all of us to live by…  not only graduates:

There is some good advice out there… I wonder what your advice would be to a graduate.  I was asking my dental hygienist Gloria that as she cleaned my teeth… She gave good advice… be sure you do what you love doing for a job… don’t choose a career for the money… do it because you love it. She’s seen too many people who are miserable… That’s good advice.

I’ve been thinking about the sort of spiritual advice I could offer. In light of today’s text, I’d like to leave our graduates –  a quote from the Little Prince:

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye”

If I could give you spiritual advice or a word along those lines, I would sum it up in two words:Pay attention. Pay attention. What is essential is hidden from plain view.  Pay attention, we  are surrounded by the holy… God is among us… but it is only with the heart that one can see rightly… God is among us with those whose hearts are able to see…

Pay attention.  It is clear in our text that the Pharisees had not been paying much attention to the right thing… God had been moving among them in Jesus… but they did not have the hearts or vision to see it. They were distracted.

He has been performing miracles and healing people and sharing wisdom of God… but all they see through their doubt and cynicism is a heretic. He’s not God’s messiah, eh is a troublemaker.

In our story today, Jesus is returning from feeding 4000 people and there they are ready to meet him as soon as he steps out of the boat… ready to argue with him… ready to ask him for more proof … more signs that what he says and does is from God. Then Jesus sighs and says, “Why does this generation ask for a sign?”… As if to say, haven’t you been paying attention? The signs have been there all along…

Pay attention. That’s my word for you and for all of rest of us… Pay attention… for God is present among us… the signs have been there all along.

For many people the signs are right in front of us in the world God created.

We call this “natural theology” in the church. God is present in the created order. It’s why you sense something powerful when you go to the beach, take a walk in the woods, or go to the mountains. Something holy is present there.

One reason Willem and Earthcare team and many others care about the environment is because there is something holy present in God’s creation.

Annie Dillard shared this wisdom with us years ago in her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek which was about her year long observations of the holy at work in a small creek near her home  in southwest Virginia.She teaches us to go out into the world and notice the wonder of a penny on the sidewalk or a bug climbing a leaf. After watching a mocking bird swooping downward repeatedly for several minutes, she compares his free fall to “The old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there…”

Pay attention… the signs of God’s grace and beauty are all around us… open your eyes… you don’t need more signs… you need to see the signs already there…

If you pay attention, sometimes God will speak to you through this gift.

Wendell Berry knows this.  He is a Kentucky farmer who has been paying lots of attention. God has used nature in powerful ways to speak to him. One of his most famous poems, is called The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I think Jesus would have liked that poem. After all, he is the one who said, “Do not worry… consider the lilies of the field…” (Sermon on the Mount)

Pay attention to the signs of God in beauty of the world God has given us… pay attention, it may be one way God is speaking to you… bringing peace.

The other way God is speaking to you of course is in a much more personal manner. In Jesus Christ. God is seeking personal relationship… seeking to reach out to us in personal ways. Christians believe God does this in a unique way in Jesus.

The Pharisees did not see it this way, as we can tell from our story. They needed more signs, more proof  that he was from God. That what he was doing and saying was part of what God was doing in the world.  People still ask for more proof.

For some reason—their pride, their ego… their cynicism… their doubts… for some reason, they simply did not see God at work in Jesus. They wanted more signs, more proofs. Prompting Jesus to wonder, “Why does this generation ask for a sign?” Maybe if they had been paying attention…they would have seen the signs…right in front of their eyes.

Of course, others were paying attention… and with the eyes of heart and faith, they saw God was at work in Jesus and many believe God still is speaking to us through the risen Jesus… even today.

The signs are still there for those who have the eyes of faith.

For those of you going on ASP or a mission trip,  I think if you pay attention, you’ll find Jesus at work there… because Jesus was always among the poor in his life…

For those of you who are trying to bring peace to broken relationships… to help someone burdened by guilt of sin… pay attention… you’ll find Jesus there… because Jesus was a friend of sinners… and a healer of relationships… healer of troubled souls and bodies

For those of you caring for friends or strangers who are suffering or sick… pay attention, you are likely to see Jesus at work there… because Jesus’ was always among the sick and the suffering, offering comfort, healing, help and hope…

Pay attention… signs of Jesus are all around us… sometimes hidden… but always reaching out through his followers to be a means of grace in the lives that need him most…

Today I am especially thinking about a young adult named Dan—a friend of Joe’s out in Los Angeles. Dan, a fellow comedian, grew up in the Assemblies of God church—Pentecostal. His parents were missionaries.

Dan did what many young adults do after they leave home and graduate… he left the church… he began questioning his faith… wondering what was real and what was not… He grew skeptical of what he had learned all of those years about God. The whole concept of God began to feel pretty cold to him and all conceptual.

But recently Dan had started reading the Bible again—studying the Bible again—and Joe asked why. Dan pointed back to an experience he had a few weeks earlier. Dan had been going through a tough time for months in Los Angeles… struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts… He was feeling at the end of his rope… he was frustrated with his career, his personal life and he was not the guy he wanted to be…

One Saturday there was a huge event in Los Angeles  — a Pentecostal revival- 50,000 people in the LA coliseum … and he did not want to be near it…

But on Saturday morning a friend calls and says, “Hey, me and some of our friends are going to the rally… and I have the feeling you are supposed to go…” Dan was like, “No”… She says “Look man, I’ve been praying about it and you are supposed to go.”  And Dan said, “Okay, I have no excuse and so I’ll go… but I go begrudgingly” . He says,“I get there with a group of other Christians… everything in him hates the experience… I’ve abandoned this… this is weird…”

It had been a tough week for Dan… In addition to dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts,… in the previous 24 hours he has had his car towed… he found out he is being kicked out of his place… He is out of sync with the universe.

So, there he is, sitting there with his friends… being quiet, respectful but not engaging with anything… he didn’t want to be there…and he is sitting next to one of his friends… a new believer, not raised Christian, who had a powerful encounter with God… she is on her knees, praying and she is experiencing something powerful. Dan is respecting her space. Dan says,

“I am sitting here for about 20 minutes and the whole time I am like, ‘I should probably ask someone to pray for me… and I’m like, Oh, no… that’s weird”…

Then his friend puts her hand on his knee and she looks up and tells him,

“God is telling me that I’m supposed to pray for your mind…”

Dan had not talked to her about anything—the depression or suicide-  and he looks at her, his brain initiates an argument, a retort and then he just breaks down and weeping uncontrollably… He slumps over… and she puts her hand on him and starts speaking in his ear, “No more thoughts of suicide… no more thoughts of self-harm… you are not done… God says, you are not done”

Dan says, “this is bananas and other people start coming around and praying for him… and people are saying things… things that are like answers for prayers he had been desperately praying for weeks… and heard nothing… and had given up on… and that lasted for about 40 minutes and then he came too and his brain felt like jello…for a day or two… and since then, he has been reading the Bible with new eyes…

As he looks back on it, he knows there are likely ways to explain it, and yet, he says, “I experienced something that deeply affected me and from that minute until now I have not had a suicidal thought or been depressed… I know relapse is possible, but that was weird…”

What do you make of that experience? That healing… it is a form of healing. Perhaps you can explain it away… but to me, it was a sign of the presence of Jesus… reaching out through faithful friends…… using the prayer and love of friends as the means by which to reach out to Dan… and to heal… to bring peace…

Dan is blessed to have friends like that… I am too… and I hope you are as well…

As our graduates leave here… you are about to start a new journey… wherever that journey takes you, I want you to pay attention: keep your eyes and heart open to the signs around you… signs of the divine in everyday life and nature… and signs of the Christ… God personally reaching out to love and care for you… especially in your moments of anxiety or fear… ready to help, to heal, to save…

Look for the signs… you don’t have to ask for any more… they all around you…

In fact, one of those signs is before us now at the Lord’s table. The sacrament of communion. Do you know the definition of a sacrament?

They are visible signs and seals of God’s invisible grace made known to us Christ…”

Here Christ is actually present with us… ready to heal, to help, to forgive… to love… Oh, I know, it looks like a loaf of bread and some Welch’s grape juice… but for those who have eyes of faith… they are signs of more… so much more. Amen.

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