The first miracles were anything but sentimental schlock.
When Lazarus was summoned from the tomb, when Jesus demanded, “unbind him,” it couldn’t have been a pretty sight. The Gerasene demoniac turned out to be a problem too, but only after Jesus healed him. As British theologian James Alison notes, when the demoniac was chained, naked and clearly loony, the townspeople seemed to be at peace with the situation. They only became afraid after his encounter with Jesus, as he sat among them, healed, clothed and in his right mind. Healing, raising the dead is disruptive stuff.
Things with Jesus haven’t changed all that much. Jesus still won’t be tamed as he moves among us. As he comes into our midst–forgiving sin, healing–he remains an intrusion in our lives, disturbing what’s what, and generally causing a fuss. God’s presence in the world can appear as a still, small voice to be sure, but it also calls forth the dead from their tombs. God’s business in Christ is hardly for the faint of heart.
All too frequently we are told how the church needs to be more relevant to culture. But if we take the story of Christ seriously, relevancy is the last thing the church should be about. It seems the church’s job–if we claim Word and Sacrament at its center–is to be the singular, prophetic voice in this world that should be undoing us, making us new, again and again. As we leave Christmas behind us and quickly head into Lent, we cannot escape the primary Christian story, a story that at its heart is offensive to our domestic sensibilities. God has become flesh, entering a world of sin. And this God goes to the cross and dies. God becomes our dust, while we, in turn, are given God’s life and resurrection. The sacred has entered the profane and the world will never be the same again. It seems the church has a wild, absurd, scandalous word to offer. In fact, it is a theological revolution, and revolutions are never sentimental, nor do they feel relevant.
The task of the preacher, the gift (and burden) of the church, is to offer this Word of Christ to a world that is heavily bound, a world that needs to be made new. And because Christ’s Word promises to bring miracles, we need to prepare ourselves: it might not be pretty. This Word summons and heals and all that is dead is brought to new life. Our lives are messy stuff. But now Christ, God made flesh, has entered every corner of our world and there is no place that God is not: the veil has torn, all things are disrupted. Jesus is in our midst. Now, sins are forgiven, wounds are healed, and the dead will rise.