Sometimes it seems like miracles are stories included in the Bible to make us believe. Rev. John Weems explores tension between God’s action and our desires.
I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will God never show favor again?
Has God’s unfailing love vanished forever?
Has God’s promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has the Lord in anger withheld compassion?”
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out the right hand.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
The waters saw you, God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
The clouds poured down water,
the heavens resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Today’s question from the congregation is “Where is my miracle?”
Is a miracle only something good that works out how we hope it will?
Or can something be miraculous if is not aligned with our desires?
From the burning bush speaking to Moses and the Hebrew people crossing the Red Sea, to the first reported miracle of Jesus turning water to wine at a wedding, to healings and feedings, the Bible is full of stories of supernatural activity attributed to God.
Especially in one of the most significant weeks in the history of the United States and recent history of the world for that matter, it can be natural to wonder where God is in all of this.
I must acknowledge that even in this congregation in San Francisco, I realize we are not all of one mind. Some are here feeling that a miracle already occurred on Tuesday. Others feel like you are in a living nightmare, and are shaking your fist at God looking for a miracle. Still others are seeking distractions by watching videos of kittens and puppies, eating extra chocolate, and drinking a favorite beverage. (Everything in moderation, please)
Let’s explore different views of what a miracle actually is, and what we may learn about processing our country’s current situation.
We do not have a perfect parallel word for miracle in Scripture. The Latin root means, “object of wonder.”
In today’s Scripture from Psalm 77, the writer is indeed wondering, “Has God changed?”
Biblical scholar Konrad Schaefer observes that Psalm 77 contains two movements, “the complaint of God’s abandonment” and “memory of God’s past action.” He calls attention to the repeated phrase, “at night,” as a “symbol of internal unrest, the seeming futile search for a hidden God,” going on to explain, “The insomniac is restless and frets over God’s absence and silence.”
God’s people wondered whether their creator had a change of heart and gave up on them.
Then the Psalmist seeks to help the people remember that the dreaded night will not last forever.
The writer remembers when God led the Israelites from Egypt.
He remembers the clouds and the water and the thunder and lighting and the path through the sea when there did not seem to be a path to liberation after generations of oppression in Egypt.
The Psalmist directs the people toward the miracle to which only God can guide them. Rabbi Yehudah Prero explains that one of the Hebrew words for miracle is נֵס (nes), an action from God “that is supernatural,” and “also means the sail of a boat.” Rabbi Prero sees the wind hitting the sail as an appropriate image to consider how God directs the movement of our lives in ways that sometimes seem invisible.
Where is the sign? Where is our miracle? We wonder . . .
Many here today have experienced a sign of wonder for which you credit God. I have had the honor of praying with some of you when you someone very dear to you recovered from the illness or when you found the job or secured affordable housing in this city.
But I’ve been with as at least as many who had to say goodbye as your dearest passed away, or the pain won’t go away, or things don’t seem to be working out.
Where is your miracle? We wonder . . .
This is not the part where I tell you just to be patient and that everything will immediately be ok. Psalm 77 was likely written after the destruction of Jerusalem, approximately 600 years before the birth of Jesus. People continued to struggle to follow God before and after he walked on Earth.
We continue to struggle as God blows the wind on the sail of humankind.
Another definition of the word translated “miracle” in Psalm 77:14 is “God’s acts of judgment and redemption.”
Regardless of your take on the Presidential election, we do have a miraculous opportunity not to simply put back together a polite false peace. In March of 1956, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon called, “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious.” I quoted it in August of this year, Victor lifted it up in September, and here we are again. Dr. King preached that “Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force–war, tension, confusion, but it is the presence of some positive force–justice, goodwill, the power of the kingdom of God.”
The absence of tension is not true peace.
There have been glimpses of miracles in the days since Dr. King walked on earth, but we wonder where God’s wind of justice is blowing now. Much of the world especially wonders what is going on with Christians, a key group responsible for electing Donald Trump.
The following is based upon an open letter I posted online last week:
I am not writing to condemn or affirm you based upon how you voted. I am writing to ask you to stand up against hate when you encounter it, not to spread it, and not to tell people just to move on or calm down.
Several have said you voted based upon your value of the sanctity of life for unborn babies and desire to protect your families from religious extremists. I respect your stated intent and desire to follow Jesus.
May we stand together to truly love our neighbors of all ages as ourselves, even when those neighbors are very different.
People aren’t out there protesting merely because their candidate didn’t win or because they don’t have jobs. Yes, there are some people who can be labeled “professional protestors.” I have personally met and spoken with dozens who are out there because lives are not being treated as sacred.
~While getting gas in Pennsylvania last week, Rev. Joann Lee’s friend was approached by a man saying he wanted to grab her by the p*ssy
~On Friday, an adult upset that high school kids were protesting wrote “run ‘em all over, protestor=speed bump”
~The KKK is increasingly proudly stepping out, including recruiting in San Francisco
~At a high school just a few minutes from my home in the East Bay, kids wrote “colored” above one toilet and “whites” above another
~Just down the street from Calvary last month, two gay men were attacked with paint ball guns while the shooters yelled about family values
~Numerous Muslim women have had their hijabs pulled off and been attacked by people yelling terrible things
~The Southern Poverty Law Center reports 200 incidents of hateful intimidation since last Tuesday. Suicide hotlines and other organizations such at The Trevor Project serving LGBTQ people are reporting five times usual call volume.
Women and people with skin even a shade darker than ours or different sexual orientations are being treated like garbage, and some are taking their own lives.
May we use our abilities to stand up for the sanctity of the lives of these neighbors.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” ~Jesus in John 13:34-35
If a miracle can also be defined as “God’s acts of judgment and redemption,” may we be part of the redemptive work that spanned from Abraham to Jesus and beyond. In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, Holocaust survivor, writer, professor and activist Elie Wiesel, who had experienced a hell on earth, wrote: “Yes, I have faith. Faith in God and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all.”
I believe that miracles are still happening today.
Within 48 hours after the passing of Colleen’s mom on October 4, strange things began to happen.
At the cemetery after we had chosen her plot, we returned to the car.
Out of the blue, “Jesus Loves the Little Children” began to play on the car stereo through my phone. The catch was, I didn’t know I had the song and had never before played it on my phone. Later that night, our Zachary came in and said, “Who is Billy Joel?” Apparently, “Still Rock and Roll to Me” started randomly playing on his iPad, though he hadn’t downloaded it and did not know anything about the Piano Man. Zach learned that his Grandma had loved to dance around the house singing Billy Joel tunes, and apparently wanted to lighten the mood.
Then dimes started appearing. That’ right, 10-cent coins.
Among the 15-plus appearances of standalone, shiny new dimes:
~My brother-in-law and sister-in-law had just landed in Barcelona when they learned of Mom’s death and had to turn right around and come back via Heathrow. They purchased an oven mitt as a gift for a friend. When they opened their bag, a shiny dime fell out of the oven mitt, which had only been in London and they did not have American money with them.
~Colleen found one near a jewelry box that belonged to her mom, followed by another that came flying out of a re-usable Target shopping bag when Colleen was having an especially emotional moment. Her mom worked at Target and everything in the store reminded Colleen of her.
~Each of Mom’s four grandchildren has found a dime—just a dime—in a place where they couldn’t miss it.
~Upon returning to San Diego after the memorial, two family members found one on their ironing board. Just a dime, and they are certain they didn’t place it there. Mary Jo had won an ironing contest in high school and loved to tell them about her advanced ironing skills.
~Very recently, one of Colleen’s good friends who heard about the dimes was bringing a pretty canister over to our house that Colleen could use to save the dimes. As she approached our house, a dime came flying out of nowhere at her feet. She did not have any other change.
Though I have experienced loss in my family and have accompanied numerous loving church people through times of loss, I had not personally experienced any activity like this. After Googling “Dimes appear . . .” it auto-filled with “out of nowhere.”
At the risk of you calling the authorities and having me committed, I might even call it a miraculous reminder of God’s presence.
I tell you this today because I firmly believe that God is not in some distant place called heaven ignoring all that we are going through.
May the supernatural action of God that transcends our full understanding provide signs of wonder that we can see and touch and feel in the here and now.
After his followers thought that all hope was lost when they had not heard of his resurrection, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.” (John 20:19-21)
Jesus wanted them to see the miracle of life overcoming death.
But he did not stop there. He went on to say,
“As God has sent me, so I send you.’”
As Christ sent them, so he sends us.
The miracle continues . . .
 Konrad Schaefer, Berit Olam: Psalms (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, 2001), 188-190.
 Rabbi Yehudah Prero, “The Meaning of Miracles,” Torah.org