“Do Miracles Still Happen?”
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Fourth Sunday of Easter
I seldom use the pulpit to promote a movie and I don’t want to change that habit. However, there is something about this particular story that grabs my attention and I think it is safe to suggest that you can’t go wrong by going to see this movie. Part of my interest stems from the fact that Jennifer Garner, who stars in this film, grew up in a Methodist Church. She readily admits that she stopped attending church when she moved to Hollywood and that she had let her faith take a “back seat” to the fame and glamor of her life. She goes on to say that making this film caused her to re-examine her faith and realize that it was important to her. She recalls that her parents gave her a strong faith upbringing and that she owed that to her children as well. The other thing that interests me about this story is that it is based on actual events. It would seem that the miracle described in this film is not simply a work of fiction to sell tickets. These are real people for whom this miracle represents a truth of life, mercy, and grace. Jennifer Garner quoted Albert Einstein in the clip we just watched; he said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I choose to believe that everything is a miracle.
Let us pray…Lord, this morning we have heard a story that is challenging for our 21st Century brains. We have a hard time grasping the concept of being raised to life after a fatal illness. Help us today to hear a word of hope from you. We come to your word in the name of Jesus. Amen.
The Book of Acts is one of my favorites. It tells the stories of the early church struggling to spread the gospel in those first years after Jesus. It can be exciting and disturbing to read of their victories and learn of their hardships. It can also be difficult to relate these stories to our post-modern world. If we are honest, we must also admit that we live in what many scholars have called a “post-Christian” world. “Post-modernism” is a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. Postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. For these reasons, post-modern thinking seems to be at odds with a Christian culture that relies on absolute truth and values that should be relevant for all persons. “Post-Christianity” falls into line with basic post-modernist thought. It is about experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, outward over inward. When we speak of a post-Christian culture, we are making the point that the church no longer occupies the central place of social and cultural authority and Western civilization no longer considers itself to be formally or officially Christian. Ours is no longer a world in which belief in God can be taken for granted.
Into this secular culture comes a story that depends on faith in the power of God to work through a human being to restore life. This is a story with no scientific or objective truth. It is unexplainable and, therefore, suspect in the mind of our post-modern culture. To engage this story we must accept that God is still working through God’s Spirit in the lives of people and in human society to restore a broken world. There is no room for unbelief in Tabitha’s story.
So, how do we tackle unbelief, even as it may exist in our churches, among our friends and family? We may not want to admit it, but we live and move and have our being in communities inhabited by people we know and respect who do not share our faith claims. It is difficult, even for us, to sustain faith in the unexplainable within such a context. The story of Tabitha is really about two things.
- It’s about a woman being raised from the dead; a story that challenges our assumption that we are on our own in this world.
- It’s about a community willing to focus all of its spiritual strength and resources passionately upon life and wholeness.
In our broken world we need this story. Remember the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty? It may not seem like a likely place to seek theological insight, but think about it again. Poor Humpty is so broken that we assume all the resources of the kingdom are insufficient to put him back together. What the story lacks is Luke’s perspective that God is still at work here. Maybe the king’s men and horses can’t do the job, but God can; maybe they should take Humpty to God. All of the predicaments and problems and mess that we step into are beyond our ability to fix.
The Book of Acts says that nothing is impossible. Acts tells us that the followers of Christ are empowered to turn the world upside down. So, in this book, we read stories about conversions, healings, and life after death. This community with power from the Holy Spirit refuses to be content with the status quo. The question I want us to ponder this morning is: “Do miracles still happen?”
To answer this question we must understand a couple things. First, what is a miracle? A miracle is an event which the forces of nature – including the natural powers of man – cannot, of themselves, produce, and which must, therefore, be referred to a supernatural agency. A miracle cannot be explained upon any natural basis. Second, did miracles ever happen in the past? I believe the answer to that is “YES” – evidence of miracles attributed to Jesus is plentiful and is corroborated in historical sources other than the Bible. Objectively, we can state that miracles did indeed happen during Jesus’ lifetime. What the world today seems not to notice is the presence of miracles every day. We need to recognize and proclaim these miracles.
Tabitha’s resurrection isn’t the only miracle in this story; her life is a miracle. Tabitha was a disciple – I guess nobody told her that women had no place as leaders in the church. She was a woman and a widow; women were not valued in the culture and widows had no one to stand up for them; she was marginalized. Yet, from the margins, Tabitha devoted her life to doing good deeds and acts of charity; she was a servant leader. Her death was natural; it was the normal course of human life, but the other disciples sent for Peter. Peter came to Tabitha’s bedside, knelt, and began to pray; then he told Tabitha to get up and she did. The Spirit of God that raised Christ from the dead returned life to this faithful woman whose daily acts of compassion are central to the new reality of God’s reign in the world. We should not be surprised if we can hear the echo of Mary’s song reminding us that God “lifted up the lowly”. Later we will hear Paul describe a new distribution of power where God uses what is lowly and despised in the world to usher in a new reality.
I believe one of the important lessons we take from this story is that God values the everyday faithfulness of people like Tabitha who do miraculous things in God’s name, often unnoticed. Think about it…Have you ever met a “Tabitha”? I have and I’d guess you have too. She has no wealth or power except her deep and abiding commitment to give expression to God’s compassion for those in need. She is determined to practice her faith by serving others. Her fondest prayer is: “Lord, help us to help those in need, and make us sensitive to what they really need.” Tabitha’s work throughout history is too important to die, and this story affirms that God agrees. Miracles still happen today because Tabitha still lives in churches all over the world.
We need to remember that Tabitha will die; just not today…Peter will not come back time and again to revive her. Peter will die; all the disciples will die; all of us will die. The focus of the story is not on returning from death to life. This story is about a community who passionately believe in one another and the work that God is doing among them. They believe in miracles because they understand that miracles exist all around us…Life itself is a miracle. Nothing has changed – Miracles still happen right here, every day…In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.