Why We Still Need Miracles

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Back in the days of the early Church,
if you wanted to convince someone
that Jesus is Lord,
that Jesus was more than just a man,
that Jesus was who he said he was,
one of the things you would do
is tell the stories of his miracles. [1]

All four Gospel writers—
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—
go to great lengths to do this.

All four attempt to show us a man
who is more than a man.

Here is a man, they say,
who has control over
the weather,
the elements,
and all of creation.

Here is a man
who has control over
our sickness,
our health,
and all of our ailments.

Here is a man
who even has power
to raise others
from the dead.

In those early days,
you told these stories,
and people said,
“Wow. How could this man
not be the Son of God?”

*     *     *

But centuries passed, and
something happened to humanity . . .
something happened to us.

Some would argue that
we humans became
more reasoned,
more enlightened,
less gullible.

In other words,
we became smart . . .
or at least we thought we did.

And so all those stories
that used to
intrigue us,
inspire us,
convert us,
suddenly became
lackluster,
far-fetched,
and dull. [2]

Instead of Jesus
walking on the water,
preachers, teachers, and theologians would say,
“Wellllll, what really happened
is he actually walked by the water.”

Instead of Jesus
turning water into wine,
they would say,
“Wellllll, what really happened
is they never actually
ran out of wine
in the first place.”

Instead of Jesus
raising a little girl
from the dead,
they would say,
“Wellllll, what really happened
is she was never actually dead
to begin with.
To quote The Princess Bride,
she was only mostly dead.”

And now, centuries have passed
since the Enlightenment,
when we all thought
we became so smart,
and we have a whole new problem.

Now we have SO much
knowledge and information
swirling around us,
coming right for us,
demanding our allegiance and attention
that we can barely separate
fact from fiction anymore. [3]

More than ever before,
we have no idea
WHAT to believe.

*     *     *

I tell you all of this
because today’s Gospel story
is one of those miracles
that has become extremely easy
to explain away.

The sermon that many people
will hear preached in their pulpits today
will be something along the lines of,
“Wellllll, what really happened
is Jesus didn’t actually multiply
those five loaves and two fish.
Instead, he inspired.
He was generous.
That little boy was generous, too.
And all that generosity
inspired everyone there
to share what they had,
because there was probably plenty of food
in everyone’s pockets;
they were just being too stingy to share.”

And you know what?
I’ll admit there is a certain kind of
beauty to that interpretation,
because it is true
that when we get around Jesus,
his generosity becomes contagious,
and we cannot help
but to become generous, too.

In fact, I have seen this
many, many times
right here in this congregation.

We come here to worship,
we come here to receive,
we come here to encounter Jesus,
and we walk away
changed,
transformed,
ready to be generous
with what we have received.

In fact, a couple months ago
your Vestry and I decided to test this out.

I asked the entire Vestry
to pick three parishioners to interview,
which made for a total of about 40 parishioners,
about a 10% sampling of our parish.

The first question was
“What do you love about St. Anne’s?”

The last question was
“What is one thing
you’d like to see begin
at or through St. Anne’s?”

We then fed all the responses
through a word cloud generator,
which enlarges the most repeated words
so you can see the most dominant trends.

You can probably guess what came out
as the biggest word under
“What do you love about St. Anne’s?”

Worship.

Communion and community
tied for second place,
but worship is the thing that anchors us.

That was to be expected,
but the one I really wondered about
was the last question:
“What do you hope to see next?”

I’ll be honest.
I worried that you’d be focused on worship there, too,
as though all we exist for
is to live within these four walls
and soak up God’s goodness
only for ourselves.

But wow, did you surprise me.
Do you know what was the biggest response
to your hope for the future?

Local outreach.

Turns out, our collective heart as a parish
is looking for new ways that we can take
the love, healing, forgiveness, and grace
we have received in this place,
and turn around and offer them generously
to the community around us.

I can’t wait to see what y’all decide to do with that.

*     *     *

But as beautiful and true as all that is (and it is!),
it still say it misses the most important point
in today’s Gospel lesson.

You see, we can talk all day long
about the whats and the hows
of the miracles of Jesus.

We can try our best
to figure out what really happened
and how it all came to pass.

But when we focus only
on the what’s and the how’s,
we usually miss the who and the why.

And the who and the why
are always, always, always the same.

The who is Jesus,
and the why is because he loves us.

Who is it
who broke the bread
and fed the people
even when everyone thought
there wouldn’t be enough?
Jesus.

Why?
Because he loved them.

Who is it
who brings you here
every single Sunday
and gives you nothing short
of his very self
even when you feel
tired, bedraggled,
and like there just isn’t enough for you in this world?
Jesus.

Why?
Because he loves you.

And who is it
who has so filled us in this place
with his love, healing, forgiveness, and grace
that from time to time
we look around
and realize that
our cup is overflowing
and we cannot help
but to share that same
love, healing, forgiveness, and grace
with everyone else in town?
Jesus.

Why?
Because he loves us.

To me,
that is one of the greatest miracles of all:
that God wants us,
that God needs us,
that God uses us . . .
all because God loves us.

*     *     *

As human beings,
we have come to believe
that we are so smart.
We think we are so rational, so reasoned, so well read.
And yet, as I said before,
despite having more information at our fingertips
than we ever have before,
we’re still struggling to figure out the truth.
Most days
we have no idea
what to believe.

After all these centuries,
maybe this is where
the miracles of Jesus
still tell us all we need to know.

Whats and hows
are a dime a dozen
and come and go every day.

But the who and the why
have not changed
in two thousand years.

The who is Jesus.
The why is because he loves you.

Everything else—
everything else—
is just the details.

Amen.

[1] Hall, Douglas John. “Theological Perspective: John 6:1-21.” Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Year B. Vol. 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Pr., 2009.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.