Participating in Miracles?

Matthew 14:13-21

 

MIRACLE.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

1: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs

2: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment

Not sure what you consider to be a miracle. Does it have to be something religious—something related to a god or gods? Does it have to be supernatural?

Or are miracles everyday occurrences that we cannot explain?

 

What’s a miracle to you?

Check out this Ted Talk given by Louie Schwartzberg.
Hidden Miracles of the Natural World.

Now allow me to admit something to you.

I love to see nature’s miracles.

But I’m not a big fan of the popular miracle stories we have in our religious traditions. Don’t get me wrong—I love mythology and magic and science fiction. I thoroughly enjoy the magical stories in the various religious books from around the world.
But we’ve come to a point in humanity’s existence when some of those miracle stories [particularly religious ones] have led us to apathy, lack of empathy, and even great misunderstandings that lead to violence.

I don’t think this is a stretch at all.

Consider what is happening in Gaza right now.

Both sides of this violent conflict claim to have some higher authority that gives them the right to claim a certain land. Now, whether or not most of the normal, everyday people of Israel and Palestine believe that—I don’t know. But that’s the view we often hear about and see.

Children, youth, and adults all die because someone believes in a supernatural right to a particular land.
It’s so tense right now that people are afraid to even talk about this issue.
No matter what someone says, it’s likely to offend someone.

So I probably just did.

And then there are other issues like the fact that thousands of children and youth from Central America are coming to the U.S. via la bestia, a train that travels through Mexico to the U.S. border. They are risking their lives because they believe that they will be reunited with their families in the U.S. if they can just get across that imaginary border we made up years ago.

They expect that they will be greeted with hospitality, food and water, a place to stay. They think that once they are in the U.S. their lives will be better.

There are also countless examples of prejudice, discrimination, racism–the pushing down of people just because of their skin color, or cultural background, the religion they practice [or don’t] or the language they speak.
Ferguson, Missouri. Black men [unarmed] and killed by police officers in the last few weeks:
Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or John Crawford.

Of course, These issues are only a few of many around the world.

So back to the issue of miracles.

I argue that our stringent belief in religious, supernatural miracles [especially those within books] have led us to apathy, a lack of empathy, and even violence.

We rely on some supernatural force to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
We wait for some god-miracle to deal with those Central American kids.
We stay silent about and don’t organize against racism or prejudice of any kind in our communities.

We pray and pray and pray, and light more candles.

And then what?

My question for you to consider today is simple:

Do we ourselves participate in miracles?

In other words, for one moment, try to put past ideas and conditioning aside. Think about miracles differently. Consider the possibility that miracles do in fact happen, but they don’t happen while we are passive.

Consider that miracles happen when we are agents of change.

Do we participate in miracles?

And with this in mind, let’s look at a really famous miracle story in the Christian sacred text of Matthew’s Gospel. The miracle story of the loaves and fishes is also told in the other three canonical Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John.

On the surface, this seems like the best Jesus hocus pocus magic show ever.

You go, Jesus Potter Harry Christ!

jesuspotterharrychrist.jpeg

People hungry. 5000+ people, actually.
Not enough food.

Did I mention hungry people, and a lot of them?
Enter Jesus, who waves his magic wand and…Abracadabra!
Bread and fish for everybody!
It’s a miracle!

The story begins with “when Jesus heard this.” What Jesus had heard was that John the Baptist, his cousin, had been killed by Herod Antipas, the ruler of a region called Galilee. Even though Jesus was obviously distraught over what had happened and wanted some alone time—when he saw the crowds of people he felt compassion for them and offered healing to those who needed it. But then, that evening, the disciples arrived. Now I don’t recall the people ever saying anything about being hungry. But the disciples were anticipating having to feed these people. They had only five loaves of bread and two fish—probably enough to feed themselves and Jesus. But it was their ration and certainly not something they would share with the others.

So the disciples wanted to send the people away.
Not enough to go around.

But Jesus said to them: “YOU give them something to eat.”

Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish from the disciples.
After a blessing, Jesus broke the bread. Then, the disciples gave the bread to the crowds.

Everyone was satisfied. There were even leftovers.

A LOT more than 5,000 people, because someone forgot to count the women and children.
It was a miracle!
Or something like that.

Look, I’m not here to be a Debbie Downer.

debbieDownerBut the author of Matthew’s Gospel story has Jesus only bless and break the bread. Then, he distributes it to the disciples.

Um, yeah. This is classic “Communion/Eucharist/Lord’s Supper.

#JesusBodyandBloodCeremony

Matthew’s agenda, however, is to include a great number of people in the Lord’s Supper– regardless of social status, wealth, being clean or unclean—they all ate together.
For one beautiful moment in a story, people of all shapes and sizes; beliefs and cultures; languages and traditions; social levels and genders and ages—were together.

They were humanity.

 And this was a miracle.

I asked you at the beginning to consider the possibility that miracles do indeed happen, but that they don’t happen when we are passive. I asked you to consider that miracles happen when we choose to be agents of change.

I am asking you to be willing to participate in miracles.

And like you saw in the beautiful nature videos, you will need to accept the fact that many [if not most] of the real miracles in the world and all around us are hidden miracles.
They are not featured on television news programs, tweeted to a million people, or shared on Facebook.
They are hidden to our conditioned and distracted eyes.

Hidden miracles—but real. VERY real.

I challenge you to participate in the miracles here on the ground where the people, animals, plants, and all living things are.
Don’t limit miracles to divine intervention.
Don’t wait for someone or something else to make positive changes happen.

Miracles have always been and will always be extremely outstanding and unusual events, things, and accomplishments in this world.

And real miracles are needed in Gaza; in Palestine; in Israel. In Western countries like the United States, that both fund and support Israel’s military actions; in Arab countries that both fund and support Hamas’ military actions.

The real miracle would be Palestinians and Israelis seeing each other as humans and not enemies. The real miracle would be if countries like the U.S. would stop fanning the flames of hateful rhetoric and start funding peacemaking instead of bombs.

Consider this recent article in the Chicago Tribune, written by Jill Jacobs:

This is what we need to hear instead: pro-Palestinian voices that empathize with the Israelis racing for shelter, that denounce terrorism and rocket attacks, and that refuse to tolerate any anti-Semitic tropes masquerading as criticism of Israeli policy. In one powerful and much-circulated op-ed, for instance, a Palestinian-American student calls for pro-Palestinian protesters to utterly reject anti-Semitism.

And we need to hear pro-Israel voices expressing authentic grief at the deaths of Palestinian children, calling for protection for civilian populations, acknowledging the damage inflicted by 47 years of occupation, and denouncing any language that dehumanizes Palestinians or Muslims.[1]

Likewise, as it pertains to the 50,000 + children and youth from Central America who are here in this country, will we participate in miracles?

A United Church of Christ ministry, Bethany Children’s Home, near Reading, PA, was asked by the federal government to be a temporary site for children who have been victims of abuse and human trafficking.

bethany.jpegThe program is called Helping Hands. It allows staff at Bethany to pick up children at one of the surrounding airports, give them food, clothing and a medical exam and reunite them with family in the United States while they await an immigration proceeding. Kevin Snyder, Bethany’s CEO, said this:

“They are very caring kids. They are very needy children. They are very appreciative.”

bethany2.jpegIn spite of recent protests against the Helping Hands program, Bethany’s staff and volunteer core remain committed to helping kids as long as there is a need. Says Snyder:

“These are children. They need help and we just cannot turn our backs on them.”[2]

The real miracle is in seeing these children and youth as human beings who deserve hospitality and fulfillment of their basic needs. The real miracle would be to stop seeing them as “undocumented” immigrants, criminals, or problems.

And as for all the senseless shootings in U.S. cities, and the prejudice that is alive and well, even though some people to cover it up–as people, as human beings, let’s stop being silent about it.

Stop justifying it. Stop criminalizing young men just because of their skin color or cultural or religious background.

Seriously, just stop.

And when you see or hear this kind of prejudice, don’t stand by and watch it happen. Don’t pray for a miracle.

Make a miracle.

Be friends with people who are different than you. Stand up for anyone who is pushed down.

So friends, I ask this same question—of myself and of you:

Will we participate in real miracles?

 

[1] “Move past hideous stereotypes of Israelis, Palestinians”, Jill Jacobs, Chicago Tribune, August 1st, 2014.

[2] http://www.wfmz.com/news/news-regional-berks/local-program-reuniting-kids-crossing-border-illegally-with-families-in-united-states/26987366

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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