Summary: Is it crazy to pray?
In this morning’s Old Testament Reading we heard about the Healing of Naaman - an event which happened nearly 3,000 years ago. In the New Testament Reading we saw how Jesus healed Ten lepers, and only one returned to say thank you - that happened 2,000 years ago.
This morning I want to bring things much more up to date by telling you the story of Mary and Arnold Rivers.
I met Mary and Arnold briefly in Liverpool Diocese when I was ministering there in the 1970’s. Years earlier, long before I met them, Arnold had fallen ill. Five separate Doctors diagnosed the illness: two said "Spinal meningitis" - two said "Double pneumonia" - one said "Septic scarlet fever"! Whatever it was, Arnold was dying. Mary prayed for him day and night at his bedside. After five days they, very gently, told her y to give up and stop praying - his heart was massively damaged - brain cells too. If he lived he would be nothing but a cabbage. But Mary went on praying. They said she was crazy to do so - that it was irresponsible to pray for anything else but the death of her husband. But Mary went on praying.. Then Arnold recovered consciousness. Six months later he was completely healthy - except for his badly damaged heart. The Doctors and Nurses called him their "MIRACLE BOY"!
A few years later Arnold started to think and talk about Ordination, but because of his heart, he wasn’t sure - a short walk in the Garden would lead him to collapse and put him in bed for a week - but the thought of Ordination kept nagging at him. He felt wanted to serve God in a new way, to say thank you for his life. Mary encouraged him to press on with it.
Well, somehow he managed to get to the Selection Conference, to examine what he said was "God’s calling" - and the Selectors agreed "Yes! God was calling him to be Ordained" and he could go forward for Training for the Ministry - with one proviso. He would have to pass a Medical Examination before he could begin!
On the day of the Medical the Doctor examined him, and said something which shook him to the core - "I want you to run upstairs to see how your heart stands up to it". Up to that moment he couldn’t even WALK upstairs. But Arnold ran - he ran up the stairs, and when he reached the top he ran down again, and then up again and down - for the first time in years! The doctor examined his heart and pronounced his verdict. "There’s nothing wrong with you - you’ve got the heart of an athlete!".
They called Mary crazy - his friends would probably have thought that Arnold was crazy if he’d told them what he was planning. They would have said that those Selectors were crazy even to think of sending him for training in his physical state. And some, no doubt would have called that Doctor totally irresponsible, crazy, to tell this broken man to run upstairs. He could have collapsed and died there right in front of him!.. But don’t forget we’re moving in the area of "FAITH" - every one of those people had faith, Mary, Arnold, the Selectors, the Doctor, and their faith put together added up to a MIRACLE.
Now don’t forget that they called Jesus crazy too - Mark’s Gospel tells us that, when his FAMILY heard about the things Jesus was doing, they set tried to seize Him and put Him away, because people were saying "He’s gone mad". But that’s only to be expected when we serve the kind of God that we do - a God who said, "The way I think is not the way you think, and the things I do are not like the things you do, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours and my thoughts than yours".
He’s telling us that if we trust to OUR logic - we will be limited by our logic.
If we are open to the possibilities that God presents to us, our experience and our hope will be expanded far beyond anything we can imagine - as with Arnold Rivers.
When Jesus spoke about the kind of life God has planned for us, He called it Life in the Spirit, and described its qualities like this "The wind blows where it wants to - you hear it coming but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going. That’s what it’s like for those who are born of the Spirit". Life lived with the Spirit of God within us is not a secure and predictable life - just the opposite - once you’ve opened yourself to Him, you can be blown anywhere and everywhere, for God moves in the most surprising ways - and the only thing that stops Him is the boundary YOU put around Him.