Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, August 6, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.
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When Jesus heard [this], he withdrew from there to a deserted place by himself. And when the crowd heard, they followed him on foot from the towns. And after he went out, he saw a great crowd, and he was touched by them and he cured their sick.
But when early evening came, the disciples came to him, saying, “The place is deserted and the hour is already past. Release the crowds so that they might go into the villages and buy for themselves food.” But Jesus said to them, “They have no need to go. You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “We don’t have anything, except five loaves and two fish.” He said, “Bring them to me.” And after he’d ordered the crowds to recline upon the grass, he took the five loaves and the two fish and after he looked up into the heavens, he blessed [it]. And after he broke it, he gave to the disciples the bread. And the disciples [gave the bread] to the crowds. And everybody ate and was satisfied, and they took what was left over, twelve wicker baskets full of broken pieces. And those who ate were about five thousand men, not including women and children.
Become Part of a Miracle
This morning we’re going to talk about miracles. And you know, when you think about it, that’s probably a pretty good topic, because it seems to me that miracles have a rather odd, almost contradictory position in the modern world.
As a society, even as modern, American Christians, we have a odd relationship with the whole idea of miracles. And I’ll tell you, for me, that’s a good reason for us to talk about them this morning, especially in light of the passage we just read from Matthew. Because, you know, I think there are three things we can be safe in saying about miracles: one, that miracles still happen, in fact, they happen all around us all the time. That’s one. And two, we still have a role to play in them. In other words, God still uses us to accomplish his will, even when that will involves the miraculous. And three, to play that role, to be involved in that will, well, we really have to make a few decisions ourselves, decisions that, when push comes to shove, will really determine whether we’re going to become a part of a miracle or not. Now, in my opinion, based on this story, those are three things about miracles we can say are true right here and now. But let me explain.
Like I said, first, I think we can say with all kinds of confidence that miracles still happen, and I’ll tell you why: because God is still in charge and he still cares. I’m telling you, he still has compassion for the world he created and the people he made to care for it. In other words, in spite of how tough things seem to be, he still loves his children, which means he still loves us. And you know, I believe that’s pretty clear in the passage we just read. I mean, just think about what happened. After Jesus had gotten some pretty horrible news about John the Baptist, namely how he was beheaded by Herod Antipas, he wanted to get away, by himself. Now I don’t know about you, but that makes a lot of sense. I mean, our President is taking a seventeen-day vacation; why shouldn’t Christ? I guess, Jesus needed some private time, certainly to pray, and probably to think, maybe to just relax. But as soon as they heard he’d gone, what happened with the crowds? Matthew wrote that “they followed him on foot from the towns.” Bless their hearts, they just couldn’t leave him alone. Now if it had been me, I’d have been a little ticked. But that’s not how Jesus reacted, is it? I mean, not only did he go out to see the crowd, but he was touched by them and started to cure their sick. In other words, he cared so much for those folks, he experienced so much compassion, he felt so much love that Jesus sacrificed something he really needed, you know, something that was important to him so that he could use his power to help others. And if that wasn’t clear enough, later in the story, he did the same sort of thing when he saw that those same folks were hungry.
And second, we’re still called to be involved in miracles ourselves. In other words, God has still given us a role to play in accomplishing his will in our world. And you know, that’s the way it was in the passage we read, particularly when you’re talking about the feeding of the five thousand. I mean, when Jesus recognized that it was late in the day and the crowd was probably hungry, he could have miraculously made the people’s hunger pangs go away, right? Or he could have miraculously made food appear right in 5,000 stomachs, not counting the woman and children, right? My gosh, we’re talking about Jesus, Son of God, he could have miraculously given everybody a McDonald’s value
meal, man, he could have even super sized it, right? But is that what he did? No, instead, when his disciples came and said to him, “‘The place is deserted and the hour is already past. Release the crowds so that they might go into the villages and buy for themselves food.’ ...Jesus said to them, ‘They have no need to go. You give them something to eat.’” That’s what he said, and then later, after he’d taken, blessed and broke the bread, the disciples not only passed it out, but also picked up the straps. They were actively involved in the miracle.
And I’ll tell you, I think that’s still the case today. In other words, in the face of a hungry world, I think Jesus still tells his disciples who have more than enough, simply to “give them something to eat.” You see, I believe it’s still our responsibility to get food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger and to clothe the naked, to care for the sick and to visit the prisoner. And it’s certainly our job to make sure everyone knows that the body of Christ was broken for them. You see, just like the disciples with Jesus, we’re called to be directly involved in the miraculous, and that’s the second thing we need to remember.
And third, to be involved, we still need to be both open and willing to work. In other words, we need to be like those disciples in the story we read, who were not only open enough to hear what Jesus said but also willing to pass out the bread and clean up the mess later. And I’ll tell you something, if we want to be a part of the miraculous, we’re going to have to do the same thing ourselves. You see, even though it hurts, we’re going to have to be open to both the old and familiar as well as the new and different. I mean, give me a break, how are we ever going to do what Jesus is calling us to do if we absolutely refuse to learn from the past; therefore, we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. And you tell me, how in heaven’s name are we ever going to do anything in a new and changing world if we refuse to do anything that’s new and different or to adjust how we help and share because we assume that nothing has really changed since 1972. For the sake of gospel, we’ve got to be open to what both the past and the future has to offer. And I’ll tell you something else, we have also got to be willing to work, sort of like the people did when y’all had your rummage sale. But I don’t want to single them out for special attention; that would be unfair. I believe there are plenty of people in this congregation, who are willing to roll up their sleeves and to do whatever is necessary to get the job done, Christian brothers and sisters who deserve to hear our encouragement and support, rather than a lot of griping and criticizing and complaining. I’ll tell you, we need to remember that it wasn’t the disciples, but the scribes and the Pharisees who gave Jesus a hard time because he didn’t do things “their way.” You see, we’ve got to be willing to be involved in miracles, and that’s the third thing we need to remember.
Now, I think the whole idea of miracles will always be an uncomfortable fit in the modern world. I mean, on one hand, it’s got to cut across the grain of people who believe reason defines truth but on the other hand, we’re probably going to still use the word if the impossible happens, and the Browns make the playoffs. No, our society will probably continue to have an interesting relationship with miracles. But that doesn’t have to be the case with us, because we can remember that miracles still happen and that we can still be involved in the miraculous and that if we want to play our role, we still need to be open and willing to work. And with that said, let me ask you: do you want to become part of a miracle?