Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY, 1943.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Gospel for today records two miracles: the cleansing of the leper and the healing of the servant of the centurion. Each of these miracles teaches a lesson in prayer. The lessons deal with difficulties which we have often experienced.
The Collect for the day is a preparatory prayer. In the Collect we are made conscious of the fact that God knows that we are set in the midst of many and great dangers. God knows the frailty of our nature and is patient with us when we cannot always stand upright. These weaknesses of ours never separate us from the love and power of God. On the contrary they can be used to turn us all the more vehemently to God.
They can be the occasions of deep experiences in prayer in which we pray for such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations. When we arrive at this point we may safely expect miracles of grace.
I do not mean to say that dangers and temptations will cease. But I do mean definitely that strength will be imparted to us to support us in all the dangers, and to carry us through all the temptations. "There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
Such miracles of grace are common occurrences. They have happened to us more often than we know. If they had not we would not be here to tell our story. As it is we give thanks for them through Jesus Christ our Lord. And we are bold to ask for more and greater things than those.
"When He was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean." Now leprosy was an incurable disease. Moreover it separated the victim from all human contact. It meant a lonely, uncomforted death.
"And, behold, there came a leper." Why? How? God knows. This coming was a greater miracle even than the cleansing. The leper not only came, he worshipped, he believed. He prayed, "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean." He was an untouchable person, but "Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed."
The leper believed that Our Lord had the power to cleanse him. He was sure of that. He was by no means sure of himself though. Why? Should he expect the miracle? What right had he to ask?. He did not need to be reminded that he was unworthy. This was the "if" in his prayer. He never for a moment doubted the power of Our Lord. But he was not so sure of his love. It was not doubt, but humility, I think. It must have been, because the answer to his prayer was immediate. "I will."
Haven't you ever had an experience like this? We prayed passionately. We prayed confidently. And then there came the question concerning ourselves. "But why should I expect this favor? What right have I to ask?" Do you remember? And how quickly the answer came. "I will."
The centurion had a similar experience that same day. He also came beseeching, and saying, "Lord, my servant lieth at home, sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed." And Jesus said unto the centurion, "Go thy way, and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour."
So, from the leper and from the centurion we learn that the love of God is no less than His power.
Affectionately in Our Lord,