Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 29th, 2012
Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin
The Very Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine, D.Min., Rector
John 6: 1-21
Miracle-The Real Deal
The Smithsonian Museum in Washington displays a leather-bound book in which Thomas Jefferson pasted all the passages from the Gospels that contain no miraculous element. This was the Bible he read every day toward the end of his life, a more palatable gospel of Jesus the teacher but not the miracle worker.
Many of us hear the use of the word miracle pretty haphazardly: We read special offers such as: SPECIAL SALE. The Hollywood 48 Hour Miracle Diet Scientifically Formulated to lose up to 10 pounds in just 48 hours. This is a trendy understanding of miracles in our consumer society, but it’s not what the Gospel proclaims about the miraculous power of Jesus Christ.
Recently, I read The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, a former atheist who came to faith in Jesus Christ. He worked for the Chicago Tribune as legal editor. In his course of investigative work he interviewed Dr. William Lane Craig, who holds doctorates in philosophy from University of Birmingham, England, and in theology from University of Munich. I would like to share their fascinating conversation on the subject of miracles:
Lee: Okay, Dr. Craig, you’re an intelligent and educated individual. Tell me: how can a modern and rational person still believe in babies being born from virgins, people walking on water, and cadavers emerging alive from tombs?
Dr. Craig: It’s funny you should ask specifically about the virgin birth, because that was a major stumbling block to my becoming Christian. I thought it was totally absurd. When the Christian message was first shared with me as a teenager, I had already studied biology. I knew that for the virgin birth to be true, a Y chromosome had to be created out of nothing in Mary’s ovum, because Mary didn’t possess the genetic material to produce a male child. To me, this was utterly fantastic. It just didn’t make sense.
Lee: You’re not alone. There are other skeptics who have problems with it too. How did you then proceed?
Dr. Craig: Well, I sort of put that issue aside and became a Christian anyway, even though I didn’t really believe in the virgin birth. But then, after becoming a Christian, it occurred to me that if I really do believe in a God who created the universe, then for Him to create a Y chromosome would be child’s play. I guess the authenticity of the person of Jesus and the truth of his message was so powerful that they simply overwhelmed any residual doubts that I had. 
Then how do you define the miracles in the Gospels?
For any miracle in the Gospels there are number of interpretations given by theologians and preachers of the Gospel. Eco-theologians, for example, offer this new explanation of the feeding of the five thousand: People were hungry, and Jesus appealed to their good human nature that they should be a caring and sharing community. A generous little boy came forward and offered to Jesus the only food he had. This act of kindness on the part of the boy caused everyone in the crowd to pull out the food they were hiding in picnic baskets, and they shared it with each other. This was the real miracle, that Jesus turned the self-centered, obstinate, hard-hearted people into a caring and generous community.
Arguments like this are put forward because some have difficulty accepting miracles or even recognizing the power of God. It’s in our nature to want to be in control. We think that if every Biblical story cannot be explained, or explained in human terms, it is somehow deficient. The irony is that if this Gospel is about anything at all, it is about the difference between the way we think, and the way God thinks. We are finite. God is infinite. Our thought processes are defined by the world in which we live, complete with our prejudices, our biases and our politics. God, on the other hand, thinks outside the box, and brings about results we could not bring about on our own.
The five thousand whose hunger was satisfied do not appear to ask “How did it happen and how did he do it?” For them this miracle was the real deal. They recognized something unusual had happened, for they heard and received the message. “When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” A miracle is a sign from God. The entire Gospel of St. John is devoted to disclosing who Jesus is so people can believe in him. He stands in the Judean wilderness and says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” He is the bread – the nourishment for the soul which is better than the manna of Moses’ day.
Now we must ask ourselves: How does this miracle speak to us today? One may say it is quite odd for Jesus to feed those who could have gone home or found food in the villages or towns. Why not feed millions in our world who wait with big, round eyes, and big, round stomachs at food distribution centers? We see their starving faces on World Vision and Food for the Poor posters. What about them? If God could do it then, why doesn’t He do it now?
Jesus did not perform these miracles as the David Copperfield of his time. One obvious answer is found in what Jesus said to the disciples. “You give them something to eat.” He invited them to be co-partners with him in God’s kingdom on earth. His invitation to them, and, by extension, to us, means those who discover the living God in and through Jesus must be prepared to engage in the ministry of healing and release.
It is Gospel truth that Jesus never met a disease he could not cure, birth defect he could not reverse, or a demon he could not exorcise. But he did meet skeptics he could not convince and sinners he could not convert. We need faith to be convinced that Jesus can use us in a mighty and most powerful way to heal, to mend the wounded lives and transform the broken structures caused by human sin. This morning we offer our weakness, disbelief, and skepticism so our frail channel may become His vehicle of grace to heal and bless our world in Jesus Name.
 Philip Yancey, The Jesus I never