“The days are surely coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the House of Judah . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” says the Lord; “for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” Often, as a priest, I am reminded that the days prophesied have not yet happened. To be sure, the prophesy has begun to be fulfilled as the messiah has come and initiated the beginning of the reign of God. But, and it is a heavy but, our Lord Christ has not yet returned and recreated all things, including our hearts, with His torah written on our hearts. We do not always see things that He sees, we do not always hear things that He hears, and we certainly do not always love those people whom He calls us to love. Every now and again, however, He reminds me of the validity of His promise. Every now and again, I get that privileged opportunity to hear of the healing looked for in Jeremiah. This weekend was one of those magnificent moments.
Let me start by way of foundational material. Nora (not her real name) had asked for prayers. She knew our Intercessors were faithful, and she had heard many tales of answered prayers thanks to their obedience. Nora shared a bit of her past and asked for prayers for healing. For very legitimate reasons, Nora had completely cut her father out of her life and out of the life of her immediate family. For some months, we have prayed consistently for her healing. For much of her walk in faith with Christ, she has also prayed for her own healing.
As everyone around here knows, I was travelling in New England this past weekend, connecting with those who were interested in joining the fight against slavery. I had met with state workers by virtue of planning or divine-scheduling. I had connected with people of different denominational affiliation. And I had a chance to reconnect with our friends at New Hope Anglican, the chihuahua preacher’s church. Bryan had asked me to preach at the Sunday worship service, their Healing Sunday. Bryan had also insisted that I give about three days worth of sermon. So, before church, I retired to the billiards room to collect my thoughts and outline a sermon that would be a couple days shorter. As I was organizing my thoughts, Nora herded her family into the room and began to share a personal testimony, oblivious to my presence.
On Tuesday of last week, she felt compelled to seek out her father and beg his forgiveness. When one of her family asked why she needed to be forgiven by him, she told them that she had been weak and had allowed him to continue to live without getting the help he desperately needed. She found that he was only 12 miles away and went to his house. Naturally, he was not convinced that her arrival was good. He had done despicable things to her in his past. I can imagine he was probably convinced that she had snapped and was there to kill him. But he came to the door and met with her. She repented that she had failed him as a daughter.
Truthfully, had the story ended there, it would have been ok or good enough. I saw her point, but I still thought she was owed the repentance by him. But here she was telling her family of the healing that she had received these past few months. Before I could interrupt the cries of surprise and interrogation of her family, she said there was more. As they knew, both her parents had been atheists. Nora counts it an amazing grace that God has grabbed hold of her and her life so fiercely, given her upbringing. “God does more than we can ask or imagine,” she boldly proclaimed. Her father told her she owed him no apology. He was the sinner in the relationship. He was the one who had failed her, failed her terribly. Could she ever forgive him? When Nora asked her father where this understanding had come from, he shared that a friend had invited him to church many years ago. After some time of going to that church, he met the Risen Lord. For reasons he could not explain to her, he had committed his life to Jesus Christ.
He went on to share that as he has journeyed with God, he has been given eyes and ears to see the hurt and sin that he sowed. His prayer, as a result, had become fairly simple. He had asked God for the opportunity to repent to all those against whom he had sinned. He told Nora he was certain, absolutely certain, that he would never get to apologize to his daughter because what he had done to her was unforgivable. Now, near the end of March, she was standing at his door asking him to forgive her! Reminiscent of Simeon, her father told her he could die now at peace.
Nora shared with her family the amazing healing grace of God. She had asked for healing prayers for herself, never once thinking to ask for healing prayers for him. She had asked for sanctification for herself, never once thinking to ask God to reach into her father’s life and to save him. She had given continual thanks for God’s willingness to claim a child of atheists never once asking Him to work the same miracle in her father’s life. There was so much work still to be done. God still had a lot of work to do in her life, and they were going to need a bigger table for Thanksgiving this year when her father joined them for the first time! You can imagine the tears of joy. The family hugged and prayed.
I turned to Bryan and softly said, so as not to interrupt the moment, “there’s our sermon. Would you ask her to give it today?” A bit of an argument ensued. Nora, as Bryan reminded me, is intently introverted. She does not like speaking to people she does not know. She does not like crowds. He counseled that I should simply get her permission to share what we had been privileged to witness. “It’s her story. It needs her voice. This church is her family not strangers,” was my response. Bryan asked knowing her fears far better than me. I will give her a lot of credit. She is not a fan of speaking in public. She is one of those gentle souls that never argues with those whom she trusts. In about 30 seconds or a minute, she got the obligatory three rejections of God’s call in that moment into our discussions. I had travelled all the way from Davenport. She had no homiletical training. Nobody would be interested in the story. Arguing with us had to have been very tough for her. And, in the end, God won.
In the end, we all won. Nora told her story to her brothers and sisters in the church. Most were those with whom she has forged a wonderful relationship, but there were a few visitors, a handful of strangers. When she finished what was a true labor of love and faithful obedience for her, there was not a person present not sniffling or tearing up. Almost all those present knew Nora. They knew her pain, her faithfulness, her desire to follow God wherever He leads her, and even her fear of public speaking. They took it for the blessing that it was. When Bryan and I recounted the prayer requests after the service, fully 7 people between us had asked us to pray for that kind of reconciliation within their own families. The visitors who grabbed me after the service were gushing. “I have read of stuff like this in the Bible, but I have never before witnessed it with my own eyes. I am speechless!”
Think what happened, brothers and sisters. Think of the vision that we have been given. A lady victimized by a father asked us to help her pray for her own healing. Our God is so gracious, so magnificent, so powerful, so loving that He was not content healing Nora. He responded to her prayers by reaching into her father’s life. Her father had failed Nora terribly. Not only had he sinned against her willfully, he had even taught her that her Father in heaven was a myth, a joke, a fairy-tale. Undeterred, God reached into her father’s life, interposed His flesh and blood, and began a healing process whose end we cannot yet know! Another prodigal son, this time in the role of a failed father, came to himself and claimed that sacrifice on his behalf. As much rejoicing as there was in Watertown CT last Sunday, I can only imagine what the party sounded like in heaven.
Brothers and sisters, that is the healing promised by God. That is the healing looked forward to by Jeremiah that can result only by our dying to our self and giving leave to our Lord to use us as He will. On this, the fifth Sunday in Lent, as we look back on the struggles of these past 33 days of this season where we take on disciplines and give up idols and begin to realize that we are not up to the simple tasks, let alone the difficult task of our own salvation, as we begin to look forward to next week’s celebration, the sadness of and passion of Holy Week, and the profound joy and hope of Easter, can you imagine a better story of redemptive healing? I can. I can think of two: mine own and yours. I pray, brothers and sisters that over the next couple weeks, you and I will be asked why we celebrate with joy each Sunday. I pray, brothers and sisters, that we will respond as did Nora, give an account of our walk with God, and given the privilege of seeing His kingdom grow right before our very eyes!