Mini Sermon #14

Sermon Lesson: Matthew 14:13-21 (NRSV)
Secondary Lesson: Exodus 16:13-16 (NRSV)
Psalm: Psalm 17 (NRSV)
Alternate New Testament Lesson: Romans 9:1-5 (NRSV)

Where are the Miracles?

In the modern age, we’re taught that miracles aren’t real, at least, not anymore. They’re dismissed, they’re disproven, and more often than not they’re explained away as “fits of fancy” or straight out “delusions.”

We live in an age of skepticism, which while not quite so bad in and of itself can have serious consequences to our worldview and our faith.

When a scientific study conclusively showed that prayer works when it came to seriously-ill patients in hospitals, it was immediately discredited and explained away. All of a sudden prayer was another victim of the “placebo effect.” Or “prayer” was suddenly re-described as “positive thinking of others.”

Religious language has been eroded. All of a sudden, you don’t say “God bless” when someone sneezes but the more innocuous “bless you.” Same rough idea, but the idea that God will be blessing you, that God will be enacting a small miracle so you won’t be cursed when you sneeze … it’s considered mere superstition.

… perhaps it is. Perhaps not.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve censored myself in my personal life, even though I am a Christian and a minster. Instead of telling someone “I’ll pray for them,” granting them the hope that God will perform a miracle, I have changed to “I’m thinking of you” or “I’m sending you good thoughts.” I, with many Christians, learned the hard way that people are hostile to the idea of prayer, and so I changed myself accordingly. It’s a whitewashing of language, the whole movement based in the eradication of miracles in the common consciousness.

Now, I’m as skeptical of so-called miracles as the next girl. If you tell me that Jesus revealed his face to you when you were cracking an egg, I’m going to seriously wonder if you’re misinterpreting things. If it goes further than that, why Jesus would choose to make himself known when you’re making “breakfast for dinner.” To my modern analytical mind the idea doesn’t quite make sense.

Of course, I’m not saying it didn’t happen … but I, like the rest of 21st century America, have been trained to immediately discredit such things in my mind.

Where once it was marvelous and wondrous and believable that a virgin forced to marry a pagan king would be visited by an angel and decide – out of nowhere – to run away and join a convent, now the poor girl would be treated quite differently. In modern days, she would most likely be sent to a psychiatrist and prescribed something for depression (at the least) and her parents could lock her away in her room and send her off to boarding school. She might be diagnosed with some euphemism for religious fervor. (For the record, I have the deepest respect for the field of psychiatry. I use this merely as an example.).

An Incomplete History of Miracles

Less than fifty years ago, if you were driving alone with your kids and broke down on some country road, unsure what to do and without a cell phone, you would be cursing your luck–if not worse. When a Good Samaritan came along, the good ole country mechanic with a mangy dog in the bed of his truck, you would thank God for rescuing you and let him under the hood of your car.

Now, you might judge him, believe him to be a serial killer, and curse God for making your day that much worse, when your Good Samaritan (who may have once been viewed as an Angel-in-Disguise) was really just trying to help.

You would miss something in the translation, because miracles don’t happen.

And when did they last happen? When did miracles stop?

Did miracles cease to happen when Jesus ascended to heaven around AD 30? Or was it after? Was it after Saul saw Jesus on the road to Damascus, became Paul, ministered to the people of the Eurasia, and was later executed by the Emperor Nero?

Or did miracles continue?

Was the Basilica of St Peter a marvel in engineering or the hand of God?

Were the conversions of Saint Helena and her son – Emperor Constantine I – mere luck for the Christian community or the work of the Holy Spirit?

Were the stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi a mental illness or a sign of true devotion to the Lord God? And could he speak to animals?

Were the visions received by Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orléans, mere hallucinations? Or did the Archangel Michael send her to defend her beloved France?

Was Luther just a common discontent when he nailed his 95 theses to the doors of a church in Wittenberg or a revolutionary who received divine inspiration?

Who told women to preach in Tudor England even though the sentence was to burn at the stake for religious subversion — their own vanity or Jesus Christ who whispered in their ears and told them that the world needed to change?

How did mystics survive on only the Eucharist for years on end? Divine intervention? Can we really believe that a “Christ crispy” a day can scientifically maintain life?

Where do the miracles end? Did they remain in the “old world” and never sail to the shores of what would later become the Americas? Are they only in the Judeo-Christian community? Must they be grand? Can they not be small?

Somewhere we have lost the miracles, lost the wonder, lost the deference to the idea that God can and does intervene in our lives.

And the original miracles, the ones Jesus performed (not that there weren’t documented miracles in the times before Jesus) … what of them? In our skeptical world, curled in on ourselves, can we really recognize them for what they are?

Feeding 5k

Before I get to the “greatest of all miracles” (as some believe, I’ll leave it up to you to decide, however), we need to understand the moment in time in which it occurs.

In modern day America, we’re all terribly claustrophobic. Whether or not we agree with government oversight on the lockdowns, self-isolation, and the wearing of masks, we’ve all been affected on some level.

We’ve all felt it. Our worlds have pulled in on themselves.

Our travel is impeded, our favorite type of pasta isn’t stocked on the grocery shelf, and I don’t know a single woman who wasn’t desperate to get back to the hairdresser.

Being touch-starved became the new norm, even if you were self-isolating with others.

Shopping online became needed for retail-therapy or sheer necessity because most of us couldn’t get to the stores. They weren’t open, or the precautions weren’t enough, or they just didn’t have what we found we so desperately needed (or wanted).

This was not the world of Jesus.

Self-isolation was not his problem. Quite the reverse, in fact.

Galilee was a small country/province. It was about 50 miles the long way and 25 miles the wide way (but those dimensions were in no way uniform). There were 204 established towns, or thereabouts. This may be a desert land, a rocky land, but you could not get away from people–ever. Privacy and isolation were a luxury, nowhere near the norm.

So, when Jesus withdrew in a boat, he was clearly telling the world to “shove off” for a bit and let him think (and perhaps fish) for a bit. He needed to get away. Essentially, Jesus was attempting to “go off the grid.”

We see from the rest of Matthew 14:13-21 that this didn’t work out too well for Jesus. Then again, Jesus wishing for privacy usually backfires.

Jesus comes back and he cures the sick. The disciples look at the position of the sun in the sky and wonder why everyone is still there… and kindly suggest to Jesus that he do something about it.

The disciples are probably tired, they’ve been out in the heat all day watching Jesus cure people (I’m sure even the most miraculous of healings can get old after awhile) and they just want to hang with their friends, listen to their teacher (i.e. Jesus), and let their guard down.

Perfectly understandable, entirely natural, we have all felt that way after a long day.

But this is where Jesus surprises us just a little bit. He doesn’t agree with the disciples. He doesn’t say “yeah, let’s go make sure they know where the footpath back to the village is” … (subtext: I wanted to be alone, let’s get rid of the crowd and maybe I can go have ‘me time’ … finally…). Instead, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd.

Of course, there’s a problem. They only have five loaves of bread and two fish.

(As an aside, maybe someone should have planned ahead and gone fishing in the lake so they might have more food. Some of them were, after all, fishermen. Then again, how could they foresee this? Five loaves and two fishes might very well have been enough to feed their original group of friends.)

Here is when the miracle really takes place. Except, it’s not the miracle we are used to.

If I took a poll of Christians around the world right now, over 90% would tell me that the miracle is the fact that Jesus made the food multiply until it could feed five thousand people. We’d have a token 7% perhaps of “don’t know” and then the rest filled with “undecided.” It wouldn’t occur to anyone to think that there might be another miracle that is happening alongside it… or instead of the feeding of the five thousand…

And, of course, feeding hungry people on such a large scale is awesome. It hearkens back to God feeding the Tribes of Israel with Manna as they escaped from Egypt (Exodus 16:13-16)… from little (or nothing) comes more than enough.

However, the multiplied food is the byproduct of the miracle. It’s not the main event. It’s showy, it’s flashy, and it certainly caught everyone’s attention — but the bread and fish multiplying was not the point. The problem is, even two thousand years later, people don’t seem to realize this.

So, What’s the Point?

The point, simply, is that God loves his people.

It’s the miracle that happens over and over and over again.

God loves the people of Israel, he loves all humanity, and he will do anything in his power to show them that he loves them and to keep them from suffering.

The people here in Matthew 14 are hungry — but for what? dinner? yes, on some level, but they are hungry for understanding, for caring, for love.

God has and always will provide. We’ve seen this time and time again.

In “The Love Map” Series, I explain that it’s all about this complex relationship of divine and human love: love for God, love for Christ, love for your fellow human beings… and here we see a piece of that.

The five thousand needed God in their lives, so Jesus got out of his boat although he was tired and only human–and he healed them. That is love.

When they wanted to stay, Jesus fed them. That is love. When he used took the loaves, looked to heaven and blessed them (Matthew 14:19) he showed that the food came from God Himself in heaven, they merely passed through his hands, through his disciples’ hands.

The miracle is that Jesus didn’t slam the proverbial door in the faces of the crowd. The miracle is that he cared, that he wanted to help, that he loved them enough to work through his exhaustion, to work through his weariness, to feed them, to dine with them. He proved that they were worth it.

… If he did it then, performed such feats of caring and love, why (I ask you) would he not do so now?

Jesus fed the five thousand, he did the impossible, he nurtured their souls. The pageantry of it was obvious, it was flashy, and we’re still talking about it two thousand years later.

Allow Jesus to do the same for you — to work the same miracle. Allow his love, understanding and care to come into your life. He’s waiting for you, if you haven’t already acknowledged him in your life. His love will never stop, despite wars, famines, pandemics, injustice, cruelty, desperation, little mindedness, and anything else we (as individuals or as humanity on a whole) can throw at him.

Love the Lord your God as you Love yourself … I can guarantee you that He has loved you since your birth.

Amen.

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