A friend of mine was the minister at a church that ran an unusual ad in the local newspaper each week. The ad contained all the usual information – service times, phone number, etc. But it also included this piece of information – Healing Service – Thursdays at 7:00 p.m. I asked him one day, if I need healing, I have to wait until a Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m.? I wasn’t making fun of the idea; it just seemed odd to me to schedule a miraculous healing.
This morning, as we draw near to the end of our series of messages about spiritual gifts, we come to the gift of miracles.
What is a miracle? Is this phone a miracle? I read a review the other day that said the new iPhone was truly a miracle. This phone would absolutely be a miracle to someone who lived a hundred years ago, or even forty years ago. We often talk about the miracle of technology. There are days, I’ll confess, when I want to throw mine in a lake and be free of it, but most of the time I’m happy to have it. As a parent, it’s really nice to know where my kids are and if they are okay. Parents, isn’t it nice to be able to call you kids and make sure they are okay? When I was that age, I was very grateful my parents couldn’t call me to find out where I was and what I was doing!
People toss the word miracle around quite a bit. Do you remember the Miracle on the Hudson? In January of 2009, Captain “Sully” Sullenberger managed to safely land an airliner in the Hudson River, saving all 155 people on board.
Two years ago this month, 33 miners in the nation of Chile were rescued after 69 days trapped underground.
When the first miner stepped out of the narrow capsule that transported him to the surface one of his relatives proclaimed this is a miracle of God! When someone is found alive in the rubble of an earthquake it is often proclaimed to be a miracle. In December of 1972 the Pittsburgh Steelers won their first ever playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. Anybody remember that game? I sure do. I was watching it on TV and will never forget the game. I grew up just down the river from Pittsburgh so I’ve been a life-long Steeler fan. In what is often referred to as the greatest play in the history of the NFL, Franco Harris caught a deflected pass on the last play of the game to score the winning touchdown for the Steelers. Curt Gowdy, one of the announcers, called it a Christmas miracle – the miracle of all miracles. I think that’s quite an overstatement, especially when you think about Christmas miracles. Do you remember the miracle on ice, when the American hockey team, at the Winter Olympics in February of 1980, defeated the hockey team of the Soviet Union?
But what is a miracle? There are a lot of miracles in the Scriptures. The Gospels, in particular, are full of miracles. Jesus gained great renown because of the miracles he performed.
On more than one occasion I’ve been in a hospital and heard a doctor tell a family that healing that came to a loved one could only be described as a miracle. Of course, those kinds of occurrences make us wonder why miracles don’t happen to everyone.
In our Scripture reading for this morning Jesus is asked what miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? (verse 30). Jesus performed a lot of miracles in the gospels, but never on demand. Every time someone asked Jesus to perform a miracle because they wanted proof, Jesus declined. They really tried to pressure Jesus – Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat (verse 31). This is really brazen – it’s a challenge to Jesus to prove himself.
God doesn’t work that way, and it’s partly because some people won’t acknowledge a miracle, even when they see one right before their eyes. We can also ask, if it takes a miracle to bring faith, is it really faith. Part of the lesson about the disciple Thomas (John 20:24-29) is that faith does not need a miraculous confirmation. The point of faith is that faith exists without an overwhelming proof.
This is one of the important truths about miracles – often, they are a matter of perspective. Not everyone realized, or acknowledged the miracles of Jesus. The disciples didn’t believe the women when they told of the resurrection. Thomas didn’t believe Jesus had risen. When Jesus raised Lazarus that was when the religious leaders made the decision to have him put to death. Jesus certainly understood that a miracle doesn’t make any difference to some people, because their hearts, their eyes, and their minds are closed to the miraculous, even when it is right in front of them.
I’ve told you about the class I teach in Louisville. I have a student in my class named Burke. He’s missed almost every day of school this year, but it’s okay; we are excited when he manages to come to class. I was glad to have him for the first time Friday. He’s in the 9th grade, and he has had a very tough road. Last year, at the beginning of the school, Burke learned he had a brain tumor. He had several surgeries and spent almost the entire school year in a hospital. He comes to school occasionally now, and he is a really brave young man. He is in a large wheelchair pushed by his mom or his dad. He has a rather large desktop attached to the front of his wheelchair so he can have his books and papers spread out in front of him.
I tried not to make it obvious during class that I was keeping my eye on him, in case he was getting too tired or had a seizure. We have instructions of what to do in the event of his going into a seizure. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him struggle with the outline I gave him, because his hands don’t work very well.
As I was packing up my papers and books after class I watched as the students were hurrying to gather up their things to get to their next class. One of the other students left his things on his desk to come over and talk to him. Conversations aren’t easy because he still struggles to get the words out, but the other student was very patient, standing there, patting Burke on the shoulder, and telling him how happy he was to see him and telling him what the class had been doing. It was very touching to see that kindness.
Burke is a young man who just wants to come to school. He just wants to carry his own books. He just wants to walk down the hall. He just wants to pick up a pen or a pencil and take a quiz or a test. He just wants to talk with his friends and classmates. A 9th grade young man should be able to do those things, but Burke can’t.
Here is a piece of a blog post his mother recently wrote – I don't know if Burke will be able to walk again unassisted-- I've read about kids with ependymoma tumors that always have balance problems because of the brain injuries from surgery. That doesn't mean I don't believe in my kid – I just know that this world has physical limits. But I know that if anyone in Burke's physical condition can re-learn how to walk, he can. And he wants to try. We have always been honest with him, when he asks, that we don't know what he'll get back, but that his effort in rehab can get back as much as possible. While I can't be certain of what will happen for Burke physically, I know his heart and spirit are strong, and his faith is boundless.
It’s easy to think about how unfair it is that Burke has had to endure such a struggle, and how much he needs a miracle, but I would also have to say is that he is a miracle. He doesn’t appear to let the struggle get him down. Here is a 14-year-old young man, with an incredibly tough situation life has handed him, but he is such a fighter and an incredible inspiration, and his faith is boundless. There’s a miracle!
The reality is that miracles surround us every day – every day – but they often go unnoticed. The people who came time after time to ask Jesus to perform a miracle totally missed the point. They missed the point because miracles don’t always bring faith – there were plenty of miracles performed by Jesus that didn’t always bring about faith in people. Miracles don’t always bring about faith, but faith enables us to see the miracles that surround us every day.
Back in the mid 90’s I received a call late one evening that a member of the congregation I was serving at the time had suffered a very serious stroke. I met the family at the hospital and we sat there all night, and all night the family hoped and prayed for a miracle.
He never regained consciousness and passed away two days later. The night was waited at the hospital, and for a long time after, his wife was very troubled because there were things she wanted to say to him that she did not get a chance to say. For a long time she struggled with the lack of closure that she so desired. Some years after her husband passed away, another member of the congregation was in the hospital here in town. His condition began to deteriorate and one day his heart stopped and he died, but was resuscitated. He had a near-death experience when his heart stopped. A few days after the experience he asked to see the widow of the other man. They were acquaintances, but not close friends. He had a message for her from her deceased husband. She went to the hospital to see him, and he gave her the message.
The difference that came over her was amazing. You could see the burden lifted from her. There was a lightness about her that had long been missing.
I officiated at her funeral a few years ago. After the service there was a lunch and I was seated at a table with two of her four daughters. I never knew the message this other man gave to her, but was always curious. That day at lunch, I asked her daughters about it, and they had certainly been curious as well, but their mother never spoke to them about it. But one of the daughters said, whatever it was, it was a miracle for her.
There are plenty of people who would say it was all a hallucination. When someone has a near-death experience, they will say, their brain will play tricks on them, or medication will cause them to hallucinate, or there will be another reason to doubt what they experience. I’ve known a number of people who have had near-death experiences, and they are certainly very real to them. And on this occasion, it brought a miracle to the life of another person.
So, again, it comes down to a matter of perspective. When you look at life, what do you see? Do you see the miraculous that God is working around us every day? Do you see the miraculous in events that may not be noticed by others. I said last week that the gift of faith allows us to be able to see, and it certainly enables us to see the miracles of God that come to us every day.