Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Miracle of Presence

A few weeks ago a friend told me she didn’t really know what it meant to have an experience of God. Recently another asked me how to pray. While these should be the stuff of what a pastor does most days, sadly these confessions are rather rare in my pastoral experience. And I love it when people start getting serious about their relationship with God and are willing to share with me their doubts. The genuine work of being pastor doesn’t often happen. Most often we deal with the mundane things of planning liturgy, visiting the sick or figuring out what the Bible reading is saying for the next sermon. But you have to be ready for those moments when the Divine enters someone’s life to claim that as gift and a moment of the holy. It is when these kinds of conversations begin that I know that miracles occur.

With my friend, it was just a matter of a day before she did recognize that she had an experience of God. “God walked in the door!” she claimed when a close moment with a friend evolved into an awareness of God-with-us. And it was just a matter of moments before my other friend realized that praying wasn’t as difficult as he was trying to make it out to be. These might have felt like miracles in their lives—and in some ways they were.

Whenever God makes God’s presence known, it is a miracle and that is what our readings are about. Today we hear about God making God’s presence known in the lives of believers.

Elijah was a prophet—one of the greatest prophets of Israel. But Israel was in the control of other countries whose gods were not the God of Israel. Elijah had humiliated and finally killed the priests of the god Baal and had to flee into the mountains to escape the wrath of the queen of the land. Elijah calls upon God to save him. There is an earthquake, a storm and fire. All of these would have been recognized as manifestations of the god Baal. But God was not in any of those things. God makes God’s presence known in the silence of Elijah’s heart and a humbled Elijah covers his face and is moved by God’s presence.

In the familiar story of Jesus walking on the water, Jesus appears to the disciples when they too are frightened during a storm. The disciples think that it is a ghost coming across the water, but Jesus calls to Peter to come to him across the water. Peter falters in his trust and begins to sink, but Jesus lifts him up and they get back into the boat. Peter’s faith is bolstered and he confesses that Jesus is the Son of God.

Miracles in the Bible are not just things that we cannot understand. They are not magic or necessarily earth shattering events. They are moments that are designed to bolster our awareness of God’s presence in our lives. And I would suggest to you that miracles happen daily.

There are many miracles told by the writers of the Bible. The parting of the Reed Sea for Moses, the parting of the Jordan River for Elijah, the abundance of oil and meal for the Shunnamite woman, the oil for the Temple during the Maccabean Revolt, the feeding of the Five Thousand, the healing stories of Jesus. All of these are miracles—not because they are the completion of the impossible but because they bring to the awareness of the people around them that God is always present; God is always acting.

All too often we think miracles are not things that happen to me. Miracles are something grandiose or they happen to others. Or even worse, we think that miracles don’t happen anymore—that miracles are merely the explanations of a non-scientific age. But I would like to suggest to you, that our training since our first science class in school has taught us to doubt the existence of miracles. We want to find existential meaning for each event in our lives. We often pooh-pooh the real miracles—the real encounters with God because the thought—the awe that such a meeting would bring is inexplicable.

If we look at the story of Jesus walking on the water, we find that the disciples reacted much the way that we do. First, they would rather believe it is a ghost than believe that Jesus can walk on the water. Second, Peter wants to do what Jesus does to prove that it is Jesus and he does, until he finds himself without support. But when he has experienced this miracle, Peter is finally able to see Jesus for who he is –the Son of God.

This is what the small miracles of our lives do for us. When we find God working in our lives and can see it as God’s work, we need to be able to claim our faith and share it.

A pastoral colleague tells of uprooting his family to attend seminary in another city. Nothing went right and the little money they did have was soon gone. One Sunday they quite literally had no food —nothing to eat for Sunday dinner. When they went to their car after services, they found the whole back seat filled with groceries. Somehow their situation had gotten to members of the church and quietly their needs had been met. A miracle? They thought so. It was a sign of God working in their lives and the lives of the members of their church.

Like last week, it was the disciples who multiplied the loaves and fishes, not Jesus. It was their miracle of giving that was highlighted. So it is today—it is Peter’s confession that Jesus is the son of God that stays with us, that reminds us that it is we, ordinary people, who confess that it is Christ who changes our lives. When we can confess that “God has walked into the room”, when we can share with one another what God is doing in our lives, we are doing what our baptismal covenant calls us to. When we can help another see God working in their lives we are giving the greatest gift we can offer.

The word “church” –ekklesia in Greek comes from the words “to call out”. Those folks who find they are to be “church” for one another are those who are “called out” of themselves, or out of their comfort zones to witness to God’s blessings in life. We are to be those who can recognize the miracles in our lives and in the lives of others. We are to be those who allow us to welcome the miracles knowing God’s presence in our lives, in the lives of those around us and in the communities we live.

I would invite you this week to look at your life and open yourselves to the miracles that have happened to you. I would also invite you to share those miracles with others—not in pride, but in the humility that God showers upon those who are found by him. This is evangelism—this is the Evangelical in the ELCA. It is a simple, humble act of being truthful about what God is doing in our lives. We may not be called to walk on the water but we will truly be called to hear the “voice of silence”. AMEN

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