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Reversal Stories

Way back in the year 1849, a ship was sailing in the South Pacific when it suddenly sprang a leak, took on water and sank.  Only one sailor, John Brown, survived and he ended up on a small island.  He survived, but he had lots of problems: no food, no drinking water and no shelter.


His first task was to find a spring with fresh drinking water.  Then he collected driftwood and built a little hut so he could get out of the rain on rainy days.  The hardest part was to find food.  After he found some fruits and vegetables, he gathered more driftwood to build a fire to cook his food. 


It took a few days, but he finally set up a pattern for himself.   He would collect water and driftwood in the morning.  Take a nap in the heat of the day.  Gather up some food towards evening.  And cook a meal after sunset.


After three weeks of living like this, John began to lose hope.  It just seemed like he would never be rescued. 


One morning, when he returned from doing his morning chores, he saw that his hut was on fire.  It seems that a dying ember from his campfire had come back to life.  It had been fanned into flames by a morning breeze and his hut was burning to the ground.  This made John more despondent than ever.  He sat near his burning hut and cried his eyes out.  Then he fell asleep.


When he woke up he saw a ship sailing toward his island.  When the ship landed, he said to the sailors, “How did you know I was here?”  “We saw your smoke signal.” They said. “And we came to save you.”  And so it was that his burning hut had saved his life.


That story is called a “reversal” story.  It’s one of those stories in which things get turned upside down.  What John Brown thought was Bad News turned out to be Good News.  His burning hut became a smoke signal and he was saved.  And now I would like to move into the realm of faith.


It seems to me that the history of our salvation is filled with reversal stories.  Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian scriptures contain stories in which the outcome is the reverse of what people expect.  It seems that God is always reversing things.  In the Book of Genesis, we hear that Sarah is more than 70 years old; but thanks to God’s intervention she has a child and she names him Isaac.  In the Book of Judges, we hear that Manoah’s wife is barren, but God intervenes and she has a child and his name is Samson.  In the first Book of Samuel we hear that Hannah is childless; but then she conceives and gives birth to a child and his name is Samuel. 


In the New Testament, Elizabeth is quite elderly.  But then she becomes pregnant and delivers a child and he is John the Baptist.  Her cousin Mary is a virgin and she conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit and her child is Jesus.  And then we have the biggest reversal of all time.  Jesus dies on the cross and his Heavenly Father moves in and gives him a New Life:  A life with no more suffering, no more tears, no more sadness……But only the fullness of joy and peace.  Now let’s take a look at today’s Bible readings.


We saw that Job was in a terrible situation.  He said, “I’m so miserable and I have so much pain and every day is a burden for me.”  Then God moved in and reversed the situation.  God gave him ten more children to replace the ten who had died.  God gave him many more sheep and camels to replace the ones which had been lost.


In today’s gospel, Simon’s mother-in-law is very sick with a high fever.  Her condition changes dramatically after Jesus prays for her.  The fever leaves her and she is healthy once again.  Then people come forward who are possessed by demons.  Jesus prays for them and their situation is reversed.  They are no longer help captive by the demonic powers.   Then many more people come forward  -  people who are suffering from poor health.  Jesus prays for them and their health is restored.


Now let’s move forward to our own day.  I firmly believe that God is in our midst causing certain situations to reverse themselves.  And this is what I mean:  We live in a culture which is dominated by individualism.  We are surrounded by people who say, “The main thing in life is to take care of yourself.  Take care of Number One and let the chips fall where they may.”


But in recent years God has been reversing that situation by blessing communities and helping communities to become strong again.  With God’s help, the movement toward community building is growing strong again.  With God’s help, people are reaching out to each other and establishing ties with each other.  The movement might be gradual and not highly visible, but the spirit of individualism is decreasing and the spirit of community is growing again.


And now it’s time for a conclusion.


I believe that the sacred scriptures tell us that we should expect God to be the God of reversals.  We should expect God to enter into human situations in every century and reverse those things which need to be changed.  We should not be surprised that God is calling people to reverse some of the values of our world today.  God is calling us to a new level of morality  -  -  -  a level that calls for honesty, for unselfish love and for community building.


Let us pray for the grace we need to participate in this movement of God’s Holy Spirit.

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