I don’t doubt that miracles happen. I see them every day…from gravity to in my personal battle with cancer, some things are just too amazing to logically explained. But I know it’s tempting to shrug off such miracle stories about Jesus. Taken at face value, they seem far fetched and unbelievable. But isn’t that why we call them miracles?
Is it even necessary for our faith to believe that Jesus really walked on water, or magically multiplied the loaves and fishes? I fear that when we focus too much on the seemingly impossible things, we might overlook the true miracle and miss what God is revealing to us in them.
Perhaps it’s not so much that a human could multiply loaves and fishes in such an astounding way. The real miracle is that one human could represent, by his words and deeds, such signs of hope and healing that people would follow him and feel their hunger satisfied.
Perhaps we shouldn’t read it as a miracle story, but see it as a parable about what we are called to do and who we are called to be.
If we are going to follow Jesus, or take his name as our religious identity, then at some point we must understand that Jesus is going to turn to us and say: You give them something to eat.
How we respond to his command will make all the difference. One little boy gave up all his family had, five barley loaves and two fish. Did his act cause others to let go of what they were secretly hoarding?
Anglican priest Jason Cox will argue this story is “not so much about magic” as it is about “how we see the world, and what we do with what we already have.” As Cox points out, “The magic has already happened: God has already given us a world out of nothing, already provided sun and earth and water and seeds—how much more magic do we need?”
If you read the story closely, you will notice Jesus doesn’t make something out of thin air. “He takes what God has already provided. He draws out the resources that are already present in the community.”
Jesus teaches us to see the “what’s there” with new eyes – his eyes – through a lens that comes with having real faith in God’s mystery. These new eyes help us to see and to understand that “Whatever God has already given us, is always enough.”
Think about what God has given you, the blessings, the gifts of hope and peace, and perhaps material things. Have you ever opened your wallet or cupboards and found exactly what you need? I have – many times! So many times now that my first instinct is to respond by saying, “Thanks, God.”
Gratitude for these gifts is great. But Jesus isn’t asking us to simply be thankful. He’s commanding us to be faithful. He’s calling us to share what we have – to let go of our fear and stop holding onto to what’s “ours” so tightly. When we are able to do that then we will discover that “we absolutely have enough bread to feed the whole world.” That alone would be a miracle, wouldn’t it?
How are you using the blessings God has given you to feed the spiritual and physical hunger of others? Look around your house or apartment, look deep into your heart and ask yourself, “What am I keeping from others that is stopping real life miracles from happening through me?”
Speaking to a massive crowd in South Africa last week, President Obama recognized how lucky he was to receive an enormous financial blessing with the new tax cuts. He knew that this windfall was on the backs of the less fortunate.
To paraphrase President Obama, “There’s only so much you can eat or have. You don’t have to take a vow of poverty to help people out a little. If there are people out there who don’t have enough to eat, then let me pay a little more in taxes...I can afford it.” He punctuated his point by reminding us “What an amazing gift it is to help people and not just yourself.” (click to watch video clip here)
When he saw the crowd that had gathered and learned that they were hungry, Jesus didn’t prayed for a miracle. He took what they had, blessed it and broke it, and began to distribute it to everyone. Jesus knows what God was capable of doing. And Jesus knows what we’re all capable of too!
The gospels tell us Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom of God. And this story helps us to get a foretaste of what that kingdom is to be: a partnership between heaven and earth.
If we were willing to share what God has gifted each one of us, then perhaps there would be no hungry people in our neighborhoods, maybe no one in the world would thirst, or be without shelter and peace. We would all have hope; no one would be left behind.
This story is a reminder that we all have something to share. There’s plenty for everyone. And left overs to boot! This is the abundance of God’s love and grace, poured out for us and for the world. Through Jesus our cup overflows; transforming hearts with so much love that we have to share and giveaway in order to merely contain it.
What might this church be like if we took all our different talents and resources, and deliberately pointed to Christ’s abundance in response to human hunger, suffering, and pain? Jesus taught us how to multiply our resources. He taught us how to use them not merely as a handout, but to be a true revelation of God’s amazing grace.
Many people followed Jesus with the hope of seeing a miracle happen. But they would come to discover that they themselves are called to be the miracle, and do miraculous things for others.
Through this set of lenses, we notice what is truly miraculous is not that someone could walk on water without sinking. But that one person’s presence among ordinary, insecure, and timid people could calm our anxieties so much so that we can walk where we once feared to go before.
The miraculous story of Jesus’ resurrection is not so much that a dead body could come to life again. But through our journey with Jesus, we find hope on the far side of despair; faith that could overcome our doubts; and the courage to live as Jesus lived, well beyond the sting of death.
More than merely miracles, Jesus gives us a compelling and tangible picture of what the Kingdom of God is like, here and now. And in the world to come. Unbelievable? Miraculous? Look through the eyes and heart of the one closest to God, and see for yourself.
Let us pray: Lord Christ, open our eyes so that we might see our talents and gifts through your love and grace. And continue to teach us ways in which we, as a people and a church, can be miraculous revelations to your glory. Amen.
Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. C (Westminster John Knox: Louisville) 2009. pp 284-88.
Cox, Jason. Take, Bless, Break, Give. episcopaldigitalnetwork.com. (07/26/18)
The other night Sean asked me if I had ever notice that when you look really close in a mirror you can see the whole room. “Thank you Capt. Obvious,” is what I wanted to say, but then I realized there’s something really smart about his observation. Most of us are oblivious to the life around us. We tend to only see what we want to see, or believe what we want to believe. Because of this so many things are hiding in plain sight and we’d totally miss it.
Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” illustrates this brilliantly. The authorities are looking for a stolen letter in the apartment of the supposed thief. They tear through everything, going as far as taking apart his furniture believing it’s been hidden in there. But the police never looked “in plain sight” - in the middle of his desk where a normal letter would likely be.
Perhaps we can’t see what God looks like because we’re not looking in the most obvious of places.
This begs the question, “Why isn’t God more obvious?” If God was revealed through many wondrous signs and miracles throughout the Bible, why doesn’t God act that way today? When atheist Bertrand Russell was asked what he would say if after death he discovered God was real. Russell replied that he would say: “God, you gave us insufficient evidence.” Really? It seems easier to blame God than to accept the notion that perhaps God is real and all around us.
So has God made us blind? Or are we merely looking for God in all the wrong places?
Bookending two more famous passages in Mark, today’s readings seems nothing more than a transition from one miracle story to another. They are almost so small and insignificant, that we could be tempted to overlook the deep meaning within them. I’ve read these passages many times over, and never saw the big theme within it: People recognized Jesus everywhere he went. Why is that? Did they Google him? Was he trending on Instagram? Through our 21st Century lens, this might not be too far off the mark.
You see, up until this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus had been on an image building campaign. He was doing pretty well with name recognition, and building up a respectable following. He is gaining some notoriety for his miracles, exorcisms, and teachings. And he was even raising a few eyebrows! He was like a rock-star Rabbi.
Word about him was spreading fast. Wherever he went, his reputation preceded him. He and his disciples couldn’t even sneak off for a little rest without someone tweeting his location. People would chase him down, doing whatever it took to be close to him. Imagine how filled our churches could be if the world was only able to see Jesus in our midst today!
So how did people recognize Jesus without Google or 24 hour news? I would argue it was by his words and deeds. Whether or not you believe in his divinity, the way he spoke and acted defined his human character. People are drawn to leaders who practice what they preach. And this group flocked to Jesus like sheep without a shepherd. Moreover, Jesus was more than just a good leader, he was also a mirror of God – reflecting God’s love and grace to anyone and everyone.
Now, I’m not a big fan of mirrors. In fact, I believe the mirrors in our house are haunted. Every time I look in one, there’s this crazy old man standing in front of it blocking my reflection.
Jesus reflected God’s will and it showed. No matter where he went, he had compassion for those around him – healing the sick, feeding the hungry with what little food he had. He served others first. Jesus didn’t sit around wondering how to do something – he just did it.
By practicing what he preached, Jesus could confidently say, “Whenever you see me, you see my Father” (John 14:9). In other words, Jesus is saying everything I do is a reflection of God’s love that is in me. If you want to see God, just look at what Jesus does...and do it.
We have a church member who likes to say hello and smile at strangers. Just the other day she told a woman who was having a very difficult time that God loved her. And then left it at that. Darlene has taught us that ministry doesn’t have to be difficult or a massive undertaking – it just has to come from the heart.
Wherever your talents lie or your comfort zone is, there is someone who is in need of the good news of God’s grace and love. As Christ followers, we’re called to be the visible presence of that love. The Bible tells us that by our faith we have not only been redeemed but have also been baptized with the Holy Spirit of God – the same spirit that empowered Jesus now empowers you and me!
Jesus said, “if you believe, you’ll do the same works I have done...” Then he added, “you’ll do even greater works better than me” (John 14:12). Imagine doing what Jesus did, only better. Wouldn’t that be a great way to be recognized by others? Or to be seen by God?
Nicky Gumble said, “Faith is a muscle that grows by stretching. One way to increase your faith is by doing something God asks you to do.”
We've got work to do. God knows people are still hurting and walking away from what we know in our hearts to be true. We are still killing one another; shutting people out of our lives; retreating into our unhealthy addictions. Yet, even in the darkest of places, or in the most hopeless situations, God is there…right there in plain sight…in the hearts of you and me.
Whenever we see compassion towards another human being or animal or this great creation… we see God. Whenever we see someone standing up to injustice, especially for the weak and the most vulnerable...we see God righting wrongs. Whenever a hand is offered to help another, whenever a smile is shared or a blessing paid forward... God is present. Despite what Bertrand Russell thinks or says, God has been here all along…in both good and bad times.
God is not hiding. We are. God is not silent. We are. God is not refusing to help someone, or causing bad things happen for some greater purpose. That’s what we are doing. We can’t pass the blame on to God without God holding a mirror up to our face.
Jesus entrusted us to complete his mission. It’s up to us to show the world what God looks like, and to put God’s love in their hearts. It’s up to us to tell and re-tell the gospel of Jesus Christ, and live out this good news in all that we do. And as a church, it’s up to us to create community where God may be encountered in the faces of each one of us.
By our faith we become God’s children. But by words and deeds, we become God’s voice, God’s hands and feet going into the broken places of the world to bring healing, help, and comfort. This is how others will come to recognize us as sons and daughters of the God who comes to us, who heals us and feeds us, and loves us no matter where we are and refuses to leave us there.
We are the Good News, just as Jesus was and still is.
So as you go out into the world with an open heart and open eyes, remember if you long to see God, it may not be in the dramatic or the victorious, the miraculous or the stupendous. Instead, it may just be in the ordinary or in the mundane, in the kindest word or simplest deed we can muster. Whenever we show love and grace, we know God is always present and visible…right here…in our hearts and in plain sight.
Let us pray: Lord God, thank you for allowing us to see you in the most unexpected ways. Increase our faith so that we might believe not just in you, but in the power you have given us to do your will. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
In the book of 2 Samuel, God asks a powerful question to King David, “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” This passage is referring to David who feels guilty because he is living in a luxurious palace while the ark of God resides in a dusty old tent.
It bothers the young king because he believes God is the one who deserves the better home. I once read that “One of the most fundamental of human mistakes is to think we can do God a favor.” Who am I to build God a church? Am I to domesticate God?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to build God a house. Many people, like Gaudi, have taken it upon themselves to do so. It seemed like wherever we went in Spain there was a church, and in some instances there were churches next to other churches. I imagine this is where Starbucks got the idea. My cousin Brian believes the ancient Spanish only did two things…built churches when they weren’t going to them.
I believe the point David seemed to miss, and perhaps it's one many of us still miss today, is that God doesn’t need to dwell in buildings…because choses our hearts to build his home.
In her book Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins writes, “For the two of us, home isn't a place. It is a person. And we are finally home.” Taking a little creative liberty, that person for us, as Christians and as the church, should be Christ.
Through the person Jesus, God moves in; knocking down the walls so the true light within us can shine like a beacon from heaven for others to be led back to God’s glory and find peace. Christ reframes our heart, so God can remodel the world.
If we look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesian home churches, we could argue that Jesus’ mission could be summed up in one word: Reconstruction.
As we just heard, “Jesus created in himself a new humanity, making peace among enemies reconciling both groups to God.” Reconciliation, unity, and peace, these are the building tools and materials God uses to reframe and reconstruct us in Jesus Christ.
The bible tells us that Jesus willingly came to be with us, to give his life over as a sacrifice so that our sins are forgiven, our hearts are made pure. In essence, Jesus prepares a place within us for God to dwell.
Even those who were estranged from God are now united in God’s love by what Jesus Christ did for us all. There is nothing stronger or more powerful that God’s love; which tear down the walls of fear, racism, nationalism, anger, resentment, jealousy, and anything else that keep us from being united as children of an all-loving God.
Standing together in Jesus Christ, our hearts begin to shine brightly and our spiritual houses begin to overflow with the Spirit of peace simply because God has moved in and unpacked all this abundance of heaven within us.
Yet for some strange reason we love our walls. For some they are physical walls and barriers. For others they might be mental and spiritual walls that trap you.
In today’s divisive political climate, we see how our walls allow us to control who comes in and who’s left out. Have we forgotten the joyous feeling that spread across the world when the German people were reunited as the Berlin Wall came crashing down?
Paul emphatically states, “Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall.”
It’s been argued that strong walls make for more peace. When my brother and I were younger, we shared a room. As you might imagine, this was not always ideal. At one point our fighting got so bad that my mom created a dividing line out of tape. He got one half of the room. And I got the other. While this settled some of our issues, it didn’t really do much for keeping peace in the rest of the house.
But God didn’t choose to be divided from us. Instead, through Jesus, God desires to be bound to us…to be nailed to us even. God chooses to live with us even in our messiness, and uses it not to separate us but instead to leads us towards peacemaking and reconciliation. This is why it’s called the Good News!
As I sat on their sofa and looked out onto the Spanish skyline, I realized that the walls we create only hide the beauty of God’s love. Why would we want to do that? God’s love is to be given away as freely as it has been given to us. It’s how we reconcile with our enemies, become one with one another, and find our true peace within and all around us.
Through Jesus, God took a sledgehammer to our old shelf and began to measure, cut, and reframe our hearts and minds into our new, true self.
Through Jesus, we receive the assurance that God is our support beam, taking on the load of whatever weight we might be carrying.
Through Jesus, God becomes one with us so that we can be a picturesque view of heaven where others can come to see the beauty of God’s love and peace within their own heart.
After all, as that old saying rings true, home is where the heart is. Which is why I invite you to unlock the door to your heart and welcome God home.
Today’s gospel is a story about two people, each one seeking the same thing form Jesus: a healing miracle. This would take nothing less than faith. But once they showed it, God immediately addressed their cries and healed their brokenness.
The story is found in the fifth chapter of Mark’s gospel.
Mark takes us to a seaside town, a place where Jesus has been before. At the docks, a crowd gathers, pressing in on him, hoping to see if the rumors about this man are true. Jairus, an important man in the community, is there to meet him. Faithfully believing in what is being said about Jesus, he humbles himself and begs for help.
While they make their way to Jairus’ home, Jesus has an encounter with a woman who would have seemed destined to die alone and unknown. She too showed her great faith - trusting that all she needed to do was reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment and she would be healed and restored.
Her faith, like many of us today, seems to come from out of desperation and fear. But for twelve years, “She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had.” This tells me that she was once a woman of means but whonow had been reduced to poverty. Jesus would be her last investment.
With nothing left to lose, she pushed her way into Jesus. Mind you, she was considered unclean by Jewish law. Anyone she touched would also be considered unclean. Yet when she grabbed hold of Jesus’ cloak, “Immediately, her bleeding stopped.” Without fully understanding, she knew in her heart “she was freed from her suffering.”
Here's the good news...Jesus doesn’t see an unclean woman. He doesn’t see her by her social status. Nor judge her by her wealth or sin. He simply sees a child of God, like you and me. Instead of publicly admonishing or shaming her for what she did, Jesus praises her for what she has… faith.
Looking into her eyes with love, he says the words that make her healing complete: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
After so many people had cast her down, it is Jesus who lifts her up. And after being defined by her brokenness, it is Jesus who redefines her. And with one word, “Daughter,” this unnamed woman sees her worth in God's heart and her salvation is complete.
Whether you’ve had faith all your life like Jairus, or you are only finding it now like this unnamed woman, the same truth applies: the second you reach out to God, God immediately draws you into his heart and makes you a beloved child.
This is what Jesus so often does with his healing. More than just curing a disease, Jesus restores us to our rightful place: at home in God’s eternal love. And it all begins with faith.
Faith is best defined as Trusting in God’s faithfulness and promise to us.
There is also a sense of immediacy with faith. Immediately the blood dries up. Immediately Jesus is aware. Immediately the house is filled with joy again. Immediately my cancer was gone. Immediately our sins are forgiven.
The second we say yes to God, we immediately become God's beloved. Our brokenness restored, our life renewed. God’s healing hands – Our forgiven hearts. Restoration. Salvation. This is the power of God’s grace that flows to us through Jesus Christ.
This week as will celebrate our nations’ independence, it’s hard to imagine the division and brokenness that plagues our communities is what are founding fathers and mothers had in mind. But here we are, a broken country in dire need of healing and restoration. Inside and outside our borders, the beloved children of God are judged unfairly and pushed away from being a part of society. They are named in various ways as outcasts and treated as less than human. Families are divided over pettiness and politics.
Until all of God’s children are welcome into our hearts – as God has welcomed each one of us – we will continue to fall short of the kingdom of God. Our faith will be incomplete. And our bleeding will continue. Thus we must always pray for God’s healing hand, and the strength to love and forgive and accept one another no matter what.
If you are struggling with a long-term problem in your life that does not seem to be getting any better, or if you have recently received news that knocks your faith, turn to Jesus…whose faithfulness to God has a profound impact on us and the world.
If you believe you are unworthy or that you are someone who has been judged as less than, know that God loves you as you are and wants better for you as well. God sent Jesus to take your hurt and brokenness, and give you shalom—the health, healing, and wholeness—he gave to a woman not named in scripture, but whose faith is unforgettable.
You don’t have to even touch the hem of his garment. You only have to reach out your heart in prayer and offer Jesus your pain and suffering. And immediately you will be made new again.
Let us pray:
Lord Christ, we lift up our pain and burdens to you. We no longer want to suffer, but desire to be healed so we might be able to live freely and fully in your care as beloved children of an all-loving God. Amen.
I am grateful to the wisdom and insight of Rev. Cannon Frank Logue whose sermon “A Beloved Child Of God” inspired this sermon. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2018/06/11/a-beloved-child-of-god-pentecost-6-b-july-1-2018/
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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