Monday, July 26, 2010

Another Look At Miracles

Scriptures: Exodus 3 & 4, Luke 5:1-11

I am the child of a scientific culture in the modern era.

When I was very young, I watched on television as a human being walked on the moon. The moon is not made of green cheese.

When I went to see the doctor, the doctor poked needles in me, vaccinating me against viruses that caused disease. Illnesses were the result of infection, or of our own body cells going haywire. Illness and disease are not caused by evil spirits, or witches’ spells, or the wrath of God.

I am the child of a scientific culture in a modern era, and despite the fact that I have read many, many fantasy novels, I do not believe in magic. In the words of Mr. Dursley, a character in the Harry Potter novels, “There is no such thing as magic!”

I am also a Christian, raised as a member of the Untied Church of Canada, by parents who have attended church their whole lives. I received a bible for Christmas when I was seven years old. I still have that bible. I still read it.

And in it, I read stories of miracles that many have interpreted in ways that to me speak of magic. “Put your nets down in deep water,” Jesus says. “But we’ve fished all night and found nothing!” Simon replies. But they do as Jesus says, and of course the fish are there--so many that they almost sink the boats!

Water into wine, loaves and fishes, blind men seeing and lame men walking, snakes and rivers of blood and who knows what else--the bible is full of stories of things that look like magic, and the scientific child in me finds it hard to believe.

So the scientists in our world, who want to believe as much as anybody else, go searching for the causes behind the so-called miracles in the bible. The “blood” in the water may have been iron deposits. One only needs to look at the scum I clear out of my tub on a regular basis to realize that’s not so far-fetched. The fish were always there--maybe Simon and friends just hadn’t put their nets in the right spot. Or maybe they swam up when Jesus was talking. The lame person might have had the capability to walk all the time, but not the courage. The blind person? Scientists have discovered a type of blindness that’s caused not by any defect in the eyes, but by a person’s mind--they believe they can’t see, and so they can’t!

And so we demystify the miracles, and Jesus becomes at once more believable, and less like God. Our scientific minds are satisfied, but spiritually, we’re left empty. The miracles aren’t miracles after all.

It was on a Sunday not too long ago, as our minister was reading the story from Luke that I just read to you, that I realized where the true miracles were in these stories, and was able to see more clearly how God has acted in them and throughout history.

Has anyone here tried to change something in their lives? Perhaps you’ve tried to give up smoking, or drinking, or eating food that’s bad for you. Perhaps you wanted to become a nicer person, and speak more kindly and gently to others.

If you’re anything like me and the other human beings I know, you’ve fallen down quite a few times. Relapsed. Sworn at someone when they cut you off on the freeway. Took that one drink at a party because everyone else was doing it. Ate at McDonald’s because you were in a hurry, and nothing else was around. You fell down.

And maybe, if you’re like me, there were times when you were about to give up. “It’s too hard!” we say. “I can’t do it alone!” And someone comes along, and encourages you with a kind word, or maybe even a harsh one. Someone cooks you dinner, or takes the drink away and gives you a soda, or sits with you while your friends go out for a smoke, and a miracle happens. You have the courage to continue your struggle. That person, sent by God, has inspired you to do what you have to do to make yourself a better person.

And that Sunday morning in church, I realized that the miracle in this story had nothing to do with the fish. The fishermen had given up, and Jesus encouraged them to cast out their nets one more time.

Such a simple thing. The fish were there, but the fishermen wouldn’t have caught them without that encouragement.

And Moses. Excuses by the dozen, that guy.

I can’t do it!

Do it!

I can’t!

You will!

Oh, all right God! You’re more stubborn than I am. I’ll do it, but you’ll see! It won’t turn out right!

And a miracle happens--inspired and upheld by God, it does turn out right. The slaves escape, the blind see, the lame walk, the fishermen catch fish, and everyone has enough to eat.

I find that view of miracles infinitely more inspiring than any belief in magic. Because I know that magic isn’t real, and closing your eyes and chanting spells won’t solve any of the world’s problems. But if you believe in miracles, if you RELY on them and on God, miracles will happen.

I have many friends I’ve met on the internet and nowhere else. I have a friend named Pam, who at the age of 22, was in a motorcycle accident, and lost her right leg. From then until just recently, she’s been in a wheelchair. At the end of this March, she walked. Since October, she’s been posting on a message board about the new computer-assisted knee she was going to get for an artificial leg. The knee uses the computer to compensate for changes in elevation automatically--one of the things our brain does without us even knowing that keeps us (usually) from falling over. But with no flesh leg, no nerve pathways between the brain and the foot, an artificial leg can’t do that. Pam’s new computer assisted knee can do that.

It’s science, not magic. It’s also a miracle--a miracle that Pam believed it could happen and maintained her optimism through good times and bad. A miracle that when the technician who was handling her case suddenly quit, an new guy came took the case who was even better than the first guy. A miracle that scientists have persevered and discovered enough about the mind and how it works, and computers and how they work, that they could put this together to help my friend Pam.

Miracles like that occur every day, in every nation. To watch men walk on the moon, or to watch the Berlin Wall finally come down, or to hear about the end of Apartheid in South Africa--these were all miracles that occurred in my lifetime.

To watch the miracle of a healthy baby being born, when the mother has all sorts of health problems, to have a child with a disability make a huge leap in development, or even just to watch the ordinary unfolding of human life--these are all miracles.

All too often, we pray for magic. We want our debts to magically disappear, our health to magically be restored, our grandchildren to magically be better behaved and more attentive to us.

Let’s pray instead for miracles. To be inspired by the living God to work towards health and wealth and happiness for ourselves and others. To find joy in our lives everyday, no matter how bad the circumstances. To bring joy to others everyday, no matter how ill and grumpy we may be.

There is no such thing as magic. But there are such things as miracles. Let us go out and receive miracles, do miracles, be miracles. In the name of the miracle who was the Christ. Amen.

Preached at various retirement homes, July 2010

Edited to add: This is what I'm talking about when I talk about miracles.

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