In the Midst of Miracles
7th Sunday After Trinity
August 3, 2014
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
What do you mean when you use the word “miracle”? How do you use it? “It’s a miracle I
made it to work on time with all that traffic.” “It’ll be a miracle if the Tigers’ bull pen can get through a game without giving up a run.” The word miracle is used differently than it once was, and it’s meaning has shifted. We have a tendency to use the word miracle today to describe things that aren’t truly miraculous, but are simply rare or impressive or unlikely. For something to be truly miraculous it must break the laws of nature, like gravity pushing an object up into the sky instead of pulling it down to the earth. We tend to use the word to describe something extraordinary or improbable, but that is a bit different than the way the word is used in the scriptures, I think that significant. I think our general misunderstanding of what a miracle actually is has blinded us to some miracles that happen in the world today.
The Bible tells of many miracles, times when God intervened directly in nature in such a way that the natural order of things is overruled. Take today’s Gospel reading, for example. Jesus and his disciples were doing what they usually did, travelling the countryside proclaiming the Word of God and healing the sick. As usual, a great crowd had gathered to follow Jesus. This crowd followed him for several days, and when their provisions ran out, they had nothing to eat. Many of them had apparently packed a lunch of some sort, but now all their food was gone and they had nothing left. Jesus had compassion on them and fed them from the seven loaves of bread that the disciples had left for their own meal. He also gave them fish. About 4000 people were fed using seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. The people ate their fill, and the disciples gathered up seven baskets of leftovers, the miraculous feeding of the 4000.
But while today’s text ends there, the story does not. In fact, the story doesn’t really even begin there. In the sections before today’s reading we read of Jesus healing a young girl of an unclean spirit after her mother pleads with him by admitting that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. We also read of him healing a deaf man by putting his fingers in the man’s ears. In the section that follows today’s reading, we hear of the Pharisees once again coming to Jesus and demanding a sign from heaven, a request which Jesus denies. He will not indulge their desire for parlor tricks. After denying the Pharisees request, Jesus and the disciples get into a boat to travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. On the way, the disciples realized that now they had forgotten to bring enough food. As the disciples discussed their predicament, Jesus said to them, “Why are you worried about the bread? Don’t you get it yet? Are your hearts that hard? Don’t you remember how many baskets you had to gather up when I fed 5000 people? Don’t you remember how many baskets you had to gather up again when I fed 4000 people? Don’t you think I can provide for you? Do you not yet understand who I am?”
It is in Jesus’s questions that we see the importance of recognizing the miracles of the Bible as distinct from other extraordinary acts of God. The miraculous acts of Jesus were an announcement to the disciples and the rest of the world that he was indeed the long promised Messiah. What made his actions miracles was not that they were simply rare or impressive, but that they defied the way things normally work, showing the power he possessed as God. But not only were they an announcement that Jesus was the Messiah, they were an indication of what type of Messiah he is. They were a glimpse into the heart and will of God. When I was teaching at the high school, sometimes the students would get into fairly intense debates about what super power they would want to have. Some said they would want to fly. Others wanted invisibility. Me? I would like the power to freeze time, that way I could accomplish all the things I wish I could get done on a daily basis. All idle speculation aside, the reality is that as God in the flesh, Jesus had not just one superpower, but the ability to do anything he wanted. He literally had all the power in the universe right there in his fingertips. And what did he do with all that power?
Did he fly? Did he shoot fireballs from his fingertips so that people would marvel at his great power? Did he travel the countryside wowing the crowds to make a name for himself? No. He healed sickness. He gave sight to the blind. He gave speech to the mute. He gave movement to the lame. He gave life to the dead. He gave freedom to those oppressed by demons. He gave food to the hungry. That’s why the crowds came – to see creation restored to what it was before the fall. To catch a momentary glimpse of Paradise, where God himself puts all things right. As our Gospel reading makes so abundantly clear, Jesus is a God of compassion. In his miracles, not only is Jesus showing that he is the Messiah, he is also showing who the Messiah is, namely, a loving, merciful, compassionate God.
Which brings us to today. Do miracles still happen today, in 21st Century United Sates? The answer to that question begins with remembering what a miracle is. A miracle is not just something rare; the last miracle Jesus performed on earth was no less miraculous than the first miracle even though by that time people knew he could do it. A miracle is any time the God of compassion directly intervenes in such a way that the natural order of things is overruled. Neither does a miracle have to be something that would cause our jaws to hit the floor if we saw it firsthand, like raising the dead. Do you want to see a real miracle? Don’t look to the snake charmers or faith healers, look around this room right now. Remember today’s reading from Romans. Each person here today was at one time a slave to sin. We were at one time slaves to death. We were stuck in our sin so that we could not free ourselves. But now, through being united through baptism to the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are slaves to righteousness. In our old slavery to sin, our actions ultimately got us only death. But being slaves of God, the fruit we get leads to righteousness and eternal life. For the payment for sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.
If you want to see a miracle today, look around you. Look at the person next to you. Look at me. Look in the mirror. The church is a miracle of God. Through Adam’s sin, we are all born enslaved to the tyranny of sin, unable to free ourselves. The fact that any of us is here today is a miracle, for it required God to intercede and undo the natural order of things. We are often tempted to confine the miraculous to only spectacular things like the feeding of the 4000 or the many healings Jesus performed. But those events, while miraculous, pale in comparison to what is going on around you in this very room today. Those people who ate bread and fish on the hillside no doubt grew hungry again, probably that very day. Those people who had their sickness healed by Jesus still got sick again and one day died. Even the people who Jesus called out of the grave ended up back there again. Those miracles still left those people enslaved to the tyranny of sin and death. But the miracle that takes place when a person receives the gift of faith, even today, is a miracle that has eternal results.
Last week we considered how our lack of awe when it comes to the water of baptism doesn’t undo the miraculous work accomplished by God there. We have the same challenge before us today. The challenge today is to see the church of God for the miracle that it is and not be blinded by its worldly appearance. You are witnessing a miracle this morning, for this morning you are surrounded by people who were at one time dead in their sin but who are now alive in Christ. That is not something any of us can do for ourselves, it requires God coming to us to overrule the natural order of things. The fact that anyone would actually want to come hear the Word of God is a miracle of the Holy Spirit at work in them. The fact that anyone would want to come teach others of their Savior at Vacation Bible School is a miracle of the Holy Spirit at work in them.
There may not be any news crews outside trying to catch a glimpse of the miraculous thing going on in this room or in churches around the world today, but the fact that there are any Christians at all is a miracle of God, for it requires the working of the Holy Spirit to undo the natural way of sin and death in the fallen creation. Not only is the church miraculous, but the gifts given to the church are as well. Not just water, but the Word of God in and with the water to accomplish such great things as the drowning of the old man and the birth of the new. Not just bread and wine, but bread and wine joined with the body and blood of our Lord so that our new creation will be fed and nourished in faith toward God and in love toward our neighbors. It may not be as visually stunning as watching a paralyzed man get up and walk, but it is no less miraculous, for it is God himself overruling the natural way of creation to accomplish something great for you.
You live in the midst of the miraculous.
So often we are tempted to look for things that meet the world’s new definition of what the miraculous should be and end up ignoring the truly miraculous right in front of us. We are tempted to look to incredible healings or speaking in tongues or dramatic conversion testimonies as the evidence of God’s presence on earth today. But dear friends, we have the miraculous right here. We have the word of God himself preserved for us and given to us in the pages of Scripture. We have the body of Christ to feed us spiritually the same way that Jesus miraculously fed over 4000 people all those years ago. We have the gift of the new creation and the simple reality that any one of us born in sin would desire to hear the Word of God proclaimed to us. These are no small miracles, and they are around you today.
That doesn’t mean that the marvelous miracles don’t happen anymore. If something marvelous does happen, be it miraculous intervention or simply a case of God using the normal order of things to accomplish something great, rejoice and give thanks for God’s goodness. When a disease is suddenly or improbably healed, thank God. When a person walks away from a horrific automobile accident unharmed, thank God. When a person survives a natural disaster even though the odds were stacked against them, thank God. But don’t lose sight of the simple miracles in your midst each time the new creation given to you in the water of baptism seeks the things of God. Don’t ignore the miracle taking place each time you desire to pray, to read the Scriptures, to come to our Lord’s house and receive his body and blood. For these desires are truly miraculous, given to you by the working of a compassionate Messiah who cares for you.
 “God’s Care and Miracles” in the Lutheran Study Bible p.1674