Readings: Psalm 36:5-10; segment from Starlight: Beholding the Christmas Miracle All Year Long by John Shea; John 2:1-11
You Know that Miracles Do Happen
Rev. Dr. Nancy Parent Bancroft
January 16, 2022
There’s a story about a woman who was going to physical therapy for the first time at the recommendation of her primary physician. He had warned her that improvement of the various body parts that were giving her trouble would take some time, but if she was faithful to her exercises, he believed that she would experience some relief. While in the waiting room, she watched as a man, bent almost in two, who had been called in struggled with the help of his cane to make it to the physical therapist. In just a few minutes the man came out walking straight as could be. The woman couldn’t help herself and asked him. Excuse me, sir, I’m curious about what was done to you in there. You seem so much better in such a short time. It seems like it’s a real miracle. Not exactly, the man replied. They just gave me a longer cane.
We probably all would like at least one miracle right about now. A miracle is defined as a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency. Since the age of enlightenment and with the expansion of scientific knowledge that is so easily accessible through the internet, we have become increasingly more cynical. Though many people still travel to Lourdes, Medjugorje, and to Our Lady of Guadalupe for cures, and though thousands bathe in the Ganges River each year seeking healing, we don’t want to be duped by magical thinking. We no longer perform sacrificial rituals at the winter solstice so as to entice the sun to return. Offerings to the goddess of fertility have been replaced by fortunes spent at fertility clinics. And yet we feel the need for miracles.
There are thirty-seven miracles by Jesus recorded in the Gospels. And with a few exceptions, they are presented from the easiest to the most difficult – Jesus’ first recorded miracle, the one we heard this morning, changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana to the raising of Lazarus dead three days.
Jesus performed four types of miracles – nature miracles, healing miracles, exorcisms and restorations of life. A nature miracle is one in which Jesus shows his power over nature. Turning water into wine would fall into this category. And then there’s the miraculous catch of fish that took place early in Jesus’s ministry and resulted in Peter, James, and John the joining him as his disciples. There’s the miracle of Jesus saving himself and the disciples in a boat by rebuking the wind and the raging waves, ending the storm and making all calm. And another time when the disciples were again in a boat worried about the strong winds and heavy waves when Jesus approached them by walking on water. And of course, there’s the multiplication of loaves and fishes where Jesus fed five thousand, not counting women and children.
Two-thirds of the recorded miracles of Jesus are his healing miracles in which he cured people who were sick or disabled: lepers, blind, paralytics, the woman with a hemorrhage among them.
Perhaps the most graphic and terrifying are three recorded miracles of Jesus casting out demons – the exorcisms; the act of freeing someone from the debilitating grip of evil. Experts today suggest that these were likely people suffering from severe psychiatric, cognitive and/or emotional disorders.
And of course, the most dramatic of miracles, the restoration of life. Again, there are three occasions in the Gospels when Jesus raises people from the dead: the daughter Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, the only son of a window, at Nain and then his own dear friend, Lazarus. It’s interesting that two of these miracles were performed on children. What can be more painful than losing a child?
No doubt Jesus was a compassionate man and wanted to alleviate suffering. But Jesus was primarily a teacher. He came to bring us good news; to make the divine present to us. And so, imbued in all of his actions, in all of his miracles, are lessons to be learned. What are some lessons we can glean from them?
One thing that all of the miracles have in common is that Jesus involved those desiring them. For a blind man, Jesus made some mud, rubbed it on his eyes, and told him, still blind, to go to Siloam and wash his face. He told the cured paralytic to pick up his palette and walk. He invited Peter to join him walking on water. And he called Lazarus to come out of the tomb.
Times are hard – discouragingly so. We all want miracles. We all need miracles.
We want nature miracles when we consider our suffering planet. But what part are we willing to play?
We’d like healing miracles: to rid the world of Covid of course. But perhaps closer to home – What healing do we need? What can we do to cooperate with God’s grace to show our desire for healing and our faith that healing is possible?
Exorcism. What are our demons? Fear, anxiety, discouragement, depression? Do we dare believe that theses demons can be lifted from us?
Restoration of Life. In what way have we died? Where is our enthusiasm? Where is our hope?
We personally need miracles. Our planet needs miracles and our society needs miracles. This week we celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And we acknowledge his great contributions to social justice and racial equality. But the very accomplishments that he helped bring about, the civil rights act of 1964 and the enforcement of voting rights are being systematically chipped away. We need miracles.
Do you believe in miracles? What am I asking? You don’t have to believe – you know there are miracles. If you’ve ever given birth or been close to someone giving birth you know that there are miracles. You know that miracles do happen. If you’ve ever sat outside in the dark and watched the sun rise, you know miracles exist. You know that miracles do happen. If you have ever walked around in springtime after a long Maine winter – weeks as cold as the one we’ve just had, you know the reality of miracles. You know that miracles do happen. And if you’ve ever been forgiven and loved after breaking someone’s heart you know that miracles exist. You know that miracles do happen. What have been the big miracles in your life? A narrow escape from a freak accident? An unexpected love? What are the repetitive miracles that enhance your life and that you’d miss should they no longer occur? How about the miracle of Zoom that allows us to connect safely with one another and enjoy the caring faces that you see looking at you right now? How about the miracle of music that lifts our spirits and soothes our soul? You know that miracles do happen.
So, as you sit and listen to Michelle play this morning’s meditative music, consider what miracles you want to pray for and what part you will play in helping to bring them about. You know that miracles do happen.