Do you believe in miracles?

Jul. 26, 2015

2 Sam 11.1-15; Eph. 3.14-21; Jn 6.1-21

Jesus was not a David Copperfield, or a Harry Houdini. But he was seen by many in his day as a wonder worker of extraordinary proportions. We know that's how King Herod saw him because the gospels' account tells us that when Pilate sent Jesus to Herod to be judged, and the first thing Herod demanded of Jesus was a miracle! Essentially, "Show me a trick!" No doubt the crowds demanded the same. He was seen as one who was in touch with power.

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, such powerful works meant a person was connected--just like a lightening rod that channels energy. But to the Jewish mind, a miracle worker had a personal connection to God, who is the real source of power. The NT calls these miracles... δυναμισ or "works of power". But the most commonly used the word in the NT is σημειον or "a sign" that points to God.

In today's scripture we have two of the most astounding miracles performed by our Lord...walking on water and the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. This amazing feeding of the 5,000, is the only miracle that's duplicated in all four of the gospels. In John's telling of this story, the people are so amazed by it that they want to crown him as the Messiah without hesitation. These two miracles by Jesus were powerful σημειον that he was from God. Both miracles communicate power.

These works of power were like an earthquake that rattles the place where everybody lives ...they're miracles so unique and so stupendous that they boggle the mind. They are comparable with the raising Lazarus from the dead...they are like a sonic boom that woke everyone up! By contrast, other miracles like healings became kind of standard, expected sign. They became so common that the announcement of God in Christ became muted, even though it has earth shattering implications. The healings became like the messages that scroll around the buildings in NYC's Times Square...the message is written large and unavoidably clear...but it's amazing how few people actually read those messages on a daily basis. But these two miracles are an explosion of power that blasts, "God is here!"

As with all miracles, skeptics try to explain them away by offering some paltry account. For example, they may say that Jesus' preaching and teaching shamed the crowd into giving up their hidden lunches that they hadn't been willing to share before Jesus spoke about sharing with others who had no food. But if that was the case, why did the want to make him king? Or when it comes to walking on water, there's the old, and oft repeated story of the pastor who could walk on water because he knew where the stepping stones were located. But for those who have experienced miracles, it completely rearranges the way we see things in our explanation is needed. Our world's foundation still reverberates with the miracle that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

But, questions arise: Are we too scientific to believe in miracles anymore? Do miracles still happen? Have you experienced a miracle in your life? I suppose it would depend upon what you meant by "miraculous". I consider the recent images of the planet Pluto to be miraculous. Even getting the New Horizons Spacecraft to a rendezvous with a planet that's smaller than our moon and it's 2 billion miles away, has been compared to hitting a coin with a bullet as it flips in the air at a distance of ten miles. Just lucky? Well, it's been said that miracles are happy coincidences, but in my experience coincidences happen more when I pray.

When my son was two years old, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer...and despite the doctor's assurances that his chances were good, as a baby he lost a kidney and endured an entire year of debilitating chemotherapy. At the time I remember asking God..."Lord, if all things work together for good for those who love you, why is this happening?" At the time, I wondered, "How can this possibly work out for the good?" He is now a healthy, young adult. I feel, in hindsight, that I was gifted a miracle--that he was diagnosed and cured. Just like in the gospel story, sometimes we have to go through the storm to get finally to the shore.

I love the story about St Teresa of Avila. She is remembered as a dynamic spiritual writer, leader and founder of many convents all across Spain. In one of her most arduous and ambitious efforts to found a new convent she accompanied a number of her nuns and loaded on pack mules nearly everything they needed to furnish this new mission. The mules were tethered together as they make their way in a driving rain over a narrow mountain pass. All of a sudden, the lead animal slipped and fell over the edge and it dragged down nearly all the other animals with it into the floodwaters. And the animals and goods were swept away. Teresa in utter mortification looked up to heaven and said, "Lord, if this is the way you treat your is a blessed miracle that you have any at all."

But then again, maybe the real miracle is that God is there for us in our times of great need to help us take the next steps after we've been crushed by life. God has a way of coming to us when we are hungry and thirsty, and hope in God helps us to move through an illness, or in our despair God crosses the chasm created by the storms to bring us to a safe shore. It's a miracle happens when our great needs are meet by God's gracious presence. And in that powerful moment we know that in this wide, wide world, our plight matters to God. God meeting us at that a miraculous sign that there's no end to God's willingness to be there with us. But the greatest miracle of all is that we could be loved that much. Amen.

The Reverend WA Ray St Thomas Church
Diamondhead, MS