the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 17. 5-10
The miracle of believing is the love!

“Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s SUPERMAN!” And judging by the gray hair in the crowd, it’s safe to say that most of us recognize, most of us remember, those words. They’re the first part of the introduction to The Adventures of Superman. First, on the radio. Then, on television.

We love heroes! The bigger the better! And Superman was one of the biggest! “A strange visitor from another planet … came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men … who can change the course of rivers … bend steel with his bare hands … and who – disguised as Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper – fights a never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and, of course, the American Way!”

I listened, again, to those words, this last week, and I was tempted, when I was done, to say, “Word of God, word of life!” Like I said, we love heroes. The bigger the better. And truth is, you can’t get much bigger than Jesus! Think about it! A strange visitor from another planet! Came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond mortal men! Yada, yada, yada! Blah, blah, blah! What better description of our Lord and Savior! All-powerful! All-mighty! Invulnerable! Invincible! Changing water into wine! Walking on the sea! Calming the storm! Rising from the dead! There’s a reason why Jesus – in the musical Godspell wears superman’s shield on his chest! It’s what we expect! It’s what we hope for! It’s what we want! Always extraordinary! Always supernatural! Always above and beyond! And like hungry bass, we swallow the first couple verses of today’s gospel, hook, line, and sinker!

“Increase our faith,” the disciples say. And Jesus replies, “If you had any faith, even a little, just a trace, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you!” And we’re stunned! Amazed! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Jesus! Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory! Forever and ever! Only one problem … That’s not Jesus. And that’s not faith.

Jesus doesn’t change the world through power. Jesus – theologically speaking – changes the world through weakness! He’s not faster than a speeding bullet … or more powerful than a locomotive … or able to jump even a short building in a single bound … He suffers and is crucified and dies. He’s buried and descends to the dead. Sure, he has powers and abilities far beyond the powers and abilities with which we’re born. But those powers and abilities are things like compassion and patience … like mercy and forgiveness … like grace and charity and love … Jesus does miracles, but not for the sake of spectacle and sensation. There are books that record miracles for the sake of miracles. In one, he makes birds out of clay and brings them to life. In another, he stretches a board that Joseph, accidentally, cut too short. In still another, he carried water in a cloak. But those things never made it into the bible. And for good reason. What if Jesus could do those things? What if he did them? What difference would it make? How could they change lives?

The miracle Jesus performs not just once, or twice, but over and over, again and again, is loving! Loving the unlovable! Loving the unloving! Loving the unloved! That they might lovely become! Jesus cares! That’s the wonder! That’s the marvel! Jesus cares! With all his heart! With all his head! With all his being! Jesus’ superpower lies in how he feels about people! Lies in what he does for them! Casting out demons! Healing the sick! Cleansing lepers! Raising the dead! It’s all about people! Going the extra! Turning the other! Doing unto! Feeding the hungry! Giving the thirsty something to drink! Forgiving not just seven times, but seventy-times-seven! Those are Jesus’ powers and abilities! The miracle is that Jesus loves! That Jesus washes feet! That he hangs on a cross! It’s not an “s” on his chest that symbolizes his “power.” It’s the wounds! In his hands! In his side! In his feet! And uprooting mulberry trees means, absolutely, nothing. It has no redeeming value. And neither does changing the course of rivers … or bending steel in his bare hands … or fighting the never-ending battle. For truth. For justice. For the American Way – whatever that is.

The magic Jesus brought – the magic he still brings – is the magic that changes swords into plowshares, that transforms spears into pruning hooks. The miracle isn’t, simply, being faster or stronger or more able than anyone else. It’s bringing gospel to the poor! It’s proclaiming release to the captive! Sight to the blind! Letting the oppressed go free! But we get so confused, so distracted, looking up … into the sky … waiting for someone to come unlike any other … awesome … shocking … And we miss the Superman … kneeling before us … washing our feet … The miracle’s not about changing the course of rivers or bending steel or fighting the good fight. It’s not, even, uprooting a tree and planting it int the sea. It’s grace! It’s charity! It’s love! It’s lifting up the fallen! It’s laying claim to the down and out, to the lowest and the least! It’s raising the dead and giving our life as a ransom! A ransom not just for some or for many, but for all!

For us, water may remain nothing more than water. And we, too, might sink when we step out of the boat onto the sea. And mulberry trees stay in the place it’s rooted. But that’s not love! That’s not love! The miracle, my friends, is when someone tells you, “The peace of Christ is with you!” And then, the miracle continues when you turn to those around you and say the same thing! “The peace of Christ is yours, as well!” That’s when lives are changed! That’s when the world will never be the same, again! Faster than a speeding bullet? More powerful than a locomotive? Able to leap tall buildings? That, for us, isn’t what makes a superman! A superman or a supergod! For us, what does that, is a cross. A cross and the scars that stay … forever and ever. Amen.