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God's Mercies in Disguise 
By Dr. Sandra L. Randleman

NOVEMBER 6, 2011

God's Mercies in Disguise
LUKE 17:11-19

There is something within us that longs for God, a longing that the psalmist in Psalm 42 describes as a deer longing for flowing streams. We are filled with a restless longing, a deep thirst, and yet, we may not know how to find that for which we long. We seek peace, fulfillment, happiness, success, good health. Sometimes, it takes an experience that turns our lives upside down for us to look into the heavens and cry out to God. As the psalmist, we may ask God, "Have you forgotten me?" In such a time, may we also pray in words like those of the psalmist, "Yet, my hope is in God, my help. You are my God." 
On January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake struck Haiti's capital city of Port-au-Prince. The disaster in Haiti is expertly described and discussed in the book, Haiti after the Earthquake, written by Dr. Paul Farmer, a medical doctor and professor at Harvard University who serves as the UN Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti. Even before the earthquake, Haiti was politically and economically frail, with underlying needs for jobs and basic infrastructure, such as public schools, water and medical care. The poorest country in the hemisphere, Haiti was particularly vulnerable to such a tragedy. Port-au-Prince has a dense population of 3 million people and much of the building construction is sloppy and makeshift. Over a million people were displaced and left homeless by the earthquake, 316,000 people were killed, and many more were injured.
Massive aid poured into Haiti from around the world following the earthquake, but there was little organization of the humanitarian assistance and limited infrastructure in Haiti to manage the relief efforts. There are dreams and plans to rebuild Haiti as stronger and more stable than ever before in its troubled history.
But for now, many, many people in Haiti continue to live in inadequate housing and lack food, water and medical care. Yet, there are glimmers, even beams of hope in Haiti, as seen by the mission team you sent to Haiti last month in the name of First Presbyterian Church of Nashville. I was impressed that our planes to and from Miami were filled with American church mission teams working in various places in Haiti. As we worked in the Port-au-Prince area we met other Americans serving on church mission teams. I was delighted by the natural beauty of the mountains and the coast of Haiti and by the graciousness of many of the people we met. We stayed at a compound operated by the Haiti Outreach Ministries, a ministry supported by our church and by you through your contributions to First Presbyterian Church. Haiti Outreach Ministries has established three churches in Port-au-Prince and the ministry of each church includes a nearby medical clinic and a primary school offering Christian education to children in pre-K through the sixth grade. The ministry provides an oasis of hope in the surrounding desert of poverty. We worshipped in a two-hour Sunday worship service in one of these churches, attending the 6 AM worship service. The church could seat 900 people and the pews were filled with Haitian men, women and children. Another worship service followed with the pews again filled with worshipers. We saw an even larger church in the Cite Soliel area, a community known for its crime and gang violence. The church pews will seat 2500 people, and the sanctuary is filled each Sunday for worship, with many more people crowded around the open doors. The community surrounding each church is composed of people living in extreme poverty. We could see the poverty, but it is impossible for us to imagine what it is like to experience such poverty every day and every hour. Despite the poverty we saw, there has been much improvement in the condition of the people since last year. Much of the rubble left by the earthquake has been cleared away, and some of the tent cities have been replaced by more adequate housing for the people. 
Across the courtyard from the bunk rooms where we slept each night, there is a primary school of the Haiti Outreach Ministries. Each morning we watched the children arrive before the 7 AM school bell. They were often brought to school by their parents by bike or on their father's shoulders so their black school shoes would not become dirty from the dusty roads. The children were carefully attired in clean school uniforms with the little girls in gingham dresses with big white bows atop their braids. They gathered in the courtyard for prayer and singing before the start of classes. Such Christian schools and their pupils are the hope for tomorrow for Haiti. The students receive scholarships that permit them to receive Christian instruction and education, uniforms, books, supplies and the only meal they will probably eat all day. The children are playful and joy-filled, and they are being carefully prepared to become leaders in their churches, schools, communities and of their nation. 
Members of your mission team, led by Michael Baron, worked on the painting and construction of a new medical clinic in Cite Soliel. Susan Doughty and I assisted the dentist on our team, Dr. Steve Tipps, who is a member of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church near Chattanooga, and the brother of our church member, Mark Tipps. As we approached the medical clinic one morning to begin work, the patients were waiting for us, sitting on benches outside the clinic doors. As they waited, they were all singing in their native Creole language and clapping their hands. It was a scene I have never before witnessed in the waiting room of a dentist!
Before treating the medical needs of each patient, Steve spoke through an interpreter to ask if we could pray for the patient. It was a beautiful example of bringing Christian faith to one's vocation so that even the pulling of a painful tooth became prayer in action. When one woman was asked if we could pray for her, she exclaimed, "Pray for me? Oh, yes, pray for me!" Another women was more reluctant. She shook her head and asked, "What kind of Jesus do you believe in?" We assured her that we came in the name of Jesus who is the Son of God, a Jesus of love and mercy who loved her. But she shook her head again, "No. No prayer." Many other patients were waiting, lined up on benches in the narrow hallway. They all had aching teeth, unable to sleep at night because of their pain, and desperately wanting to have one, two or more teeth pulled. So we said our silent prayers for the woman and pulled her painful tooth, and she left our clinic. But I cannot forget her. I pray for her still. 
I wish we had taken the time to tell her stories about Jesus so that she could understand that Jesus' life embodied love in action and in word. I wish we had told her that Jesus' death and resurrection gave to us a precious gift, the living water that quenches the thirst of our longing souls. I wish we had said Jesus is with you in the midst of your terrible poverty and your physical need and pain. Jesus is here and Jesus loves you and nothing can separate you from Jesus' love, not even a devastating earthquake. I wish we had invited her to attend the Sunday worship service of the large church just a few yards from the doors of our medical clinic. I wish we had been able to give her hope, not just for the end of an aching tooth, but hope for always.
We could have told her about Jesus' compassion for the outcast, the poor and the ill. We could have told her about Jesus healing the ten men who had leprosy and who were isolated from their community by their wretched illness. The men saw Jesus and standing at a distance, cried out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." Jesus sent them to show themselves to the priest and as the men went, they were healed of their illness. One man returned, praising God, to give thanks to Jesus, and this man was a Samaritan. The Jews considered Samaritans as foreigners and unclean and not as righteous as themselves. But Jesus healed the Samaritan and praised him above all others because he gave glory to God. Jesus told the Samaritan man, "Your faith has made you well." The Samaritan received healing not just of his body, but also of his spirit. Jesus gave to the Samaritan the gift of salvation, a gift far more precious than his physical healing, a gift far more wonderful than the Samaritan had ever imagined asking Jesus for.
When our patient asked us, "What kind of Jesus do you believe in?" I wish we had told her about this Jesus. The one and only true Jesus who offers hope to everyone and healing of our deepest pain, our deepest longing, our thirst for a God of love and mercy.
We do not understand why there is poverty or illness or earthquakes or suffering or pain. But we do know that in Jesus, there is hope. There is hope in the midst of the rubble left by a terrible earthquake and there is certainly hope in the chaotic places of our daily lives. A broken relationship, an illness, a lost job, loneliness, the death of a loved one, economic problems, depression can leave us feeling as if an earthquake has shaken our lives and left chaos that is too broken to fix. We may find ourselves in a holy Saturday type of place. We may feel confused and alone like Jesus' disciples on the day between Jesus' death on a cross and the day upon which God raised Jesus from the dead and He appeared to His disciples. There is hope in the darkness of a holy Saturday type of place. The hope is through the amazing grace of Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father.
We are invited to bring our grief, our disappointments, our sorrows and nail them to a cross. We are invited to remember our baptism and die with Jesus to our sinful life and be raised to new life through Jesus Christ. We can pray to God for His Holy Spirit to grant us His vision, wisdom, provision and guidance. We can even rejoice because we know that the rubble of an earthquake or the rubble of our lives is evidence that God's work is not finished. God is the One who brings order to our chaos, light to our darkness and the promise of resurrection and new life.
I recently visited a gentleman, a retired Presbyterian pastor, who attends our church with his wife, Myra, and is now valiantly fighting lung cancer. With John Ishee's permission, I share with you part of our conversation. John discussed with me the blessings he had discovered in the midst of his illness, blessings he might never have known had he not become ill with cancer. But he confessed that sometimes he must ask God to see the situation from God's perspective. God shows him his blessings in the midst of an illness that has turned his life topsy turvy. Without God's perspective, John admitted that a serious illness could result in bitter feelings and blindness to his blessings. 
Hope in the Lord, the psalmist declares to us. Paul wrote in his letter to the young church in Thessalonica, "Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." In these words we find our instructions for responding to the earthquakes of life: rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances.
We are to rejoice always as we praise God and thank Him for His promises and for His mercies, for God is always at work and always with us. We are to thank God even when we may not see His blessings. We thank God for His mercies in disguise and for the people who wipe away our tears and pray for us. We thank God that He can use all things to draw His people closer to Him. In fact, the stories of the Bible reveal that God delights in performing miracles with the smallest of material resources and the most unlikely of people. As God used a cross to show us His mercy through Jesus Christ, so God can use the earthquakes of our lives for good and not for evil. We are to thank God in all circumstances, for in praising God and thanking God our eyes are opened and we see God's blessings all around us and the blessings that will continue to flow.
Pray constantly. In prayer, we can honestly express to God our feelings, our complaints and questions, and our petitions. We pray and talk to God and then we are silent so we can listen to God. We seek to be as present to God as He is present to us. In this stillness, we know that God is God and we find God's peace. "Be still," the psalmist wrote, "and know that God is God." In stillness, we still our bodies, our minds and our hearts and we receive God's peace from the God who loves us and is always with us. Having received God's peace and lifted up to God our petitions, with thanksgiving, we can let go of our fears and concerns. We are assured that God is able to do far beyond all that we ask or imagine. 
When I think of the suffering of this world, I often recall the words to a song by Laura Story:
We pray for blessings.
We pray for peace, comfort for family, protection while we sleep. 
We pray for healing, for prosperity.
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering.
All the while, You hear each spoken need.
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.
'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a 1000 sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?
We pray for wisdom,
Your voice to hear,
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near.
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough.
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe.
'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a 1000 sleepless nights 
Are what it takes to know You're near?
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy?
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storm, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise? 
We do not understand why there are earthquakes or illness or heartbreaks, but we can be certain that God is with us even in the darkest night. As God used a cross to show us His mercy through Jesus Christ, so God can use the earthquakes of our lives for good and not for evil. Rejoice always, pray constantly and give thanks to God in all circumstances. Our hope is in the Lord our God whose love and mercies know no end. Thanks be to God.
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