Enough With the Miracles Already
The status quo is the most powerful force in the world.
And sometimes it seems like Jesus’ mission is life is to break up the status quo, to challenge it, to upend it, to hit us over the head with how very un-normal life with him is.
And we kind of hate it.
Consider our stories today from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke. They are marked with fear and astonishment at the miracles being witnessed.
In the Book of Acts, Peter and John are going to prayer, and in the name of Jesus Christ they heal a man who cannot walk.
“All the people saw him walking and praising God,” Acts says, “and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.”
The same thing happens in our gospel story, tinged with even more intensity.
“Jesus himself stood among the disciples and their companions and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”
Even the very people who walked with Jesus on earth, who saw him perform miracles every day, kept getting caught off guard.
You would think after walking around with him for three years, seeing the healing and the feeding and the walking on water, they would be a little more adjusted to living among the miraculous.
Especially after Jesus had told them repeatedly that he would be raised from the dead.
Jesus wants an answer to the same question.
“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” he says.
The truth is that we don’t want to live in a miraculous world because that would force us to give up control.
A world where miracles can break out around every corner is no longer a world we can predict, and we hate that.
We like to know what’s ahead of us.
We plan our lives, by the hour, by the week, by the year, by the decade.
We have calendars and day planners, 3-year plans and 5-year plans and retirement plans.
We’re not interested in our lives being completely transformed in an instant by the radical inbreaking of God’s grace and love.
Unfortunately, that’s what conversion is, whether it takes place in a blinding instant or, more likely for most of us, over years and decades of God’s slow inroad into our hearts.
Fast or slow, being truly changed by God is a miracle, and we don’t really want that.
Change and loss of control are at the heart of what we fear most.
In fact, our lesson from Acts tells us what we really do want in very stark terms.
When I was preparing this sermon, this is the phrase that really jumped off the page at me from the scriptures.
Peter is telling the story of the arrest, conviction and execution of Jesus, and he says, “You rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”
You asked to have a murderer given to you.
That gives me chills to read.
Of course, in the story, Peter is referring to the crowds asking Pilate to release Barrabas to them, but consider how it is true for us today.
We so often want the things that are the worst for us.
We crave that which we know feeds our dark side, puts us in farther isolation from each other and from God.
We seek out the solaces and situations that feed and stroke our egos, that pump up our faltering self-image that rockets back and forth from sinner to saint and back.
We indulge in the vices that we know hurt us and those around us, seeking pleasure while hating ourselves and causing our souls and bodies even more damage.
In short, we ask to have a murderer given to us.
And our asking for a murderer to be given to us is not nearly as public as the incident Peter is describing. He says, “To this we are witnesses.”
Choosing a murderer over Jesus the first time was public and open, people shouting in the streets.
When we do it in our own lives today, we often hide it.
Why? Because our sins and our vices and our failures are often covering up something deeper, and that is pain and shame, two things that we strive to hide and deny, afraid to show weakness.
It’s about control again.
If we admit that we need help and healing, that means we admit needing other people, that we aren’t as self-sufficient as we think we should be.
We may ask for a murderer, and we may even get that in the short term—no one is going to stop us from the self-destruction we are determined to seek, whether that is alcohol or jealousy, food or ambition or prescription drugs, bitterness or materialism.
But in the long-term we will be disappointed.
Our quest for self-sufficient self-destruction, a life devoid of miracles and full of predictable days and controllable people stretching into a future where our power and our pride are assured—this quest will fail.
Jesus is not interested in whether we want him and his miracles or not.
He shows up, uninvited, and crashes the pity party in the Upper Room. “I am risen from the dead,” he says to the disciples. “Do you guys have anything to eat?”
We should be shocked and confused, startled and terrified as the disciples were if we are following Christ, because God’s world is radically different from our world.
Living in God’s world means living as though love has no limits.
Living in God’s world means things like physics and logic and pain and death are small and weak.
When we see the resurrected Christ, we enter a strange new world in which anything can happen.
Anything can happen, like Jesus showing up and asking if we have anything to eat.
I love that moment, when Jesus asks for food and the disciples give him a piece of fish, because it shows how the ordinary and the miraculous coexist side by side.
Jesus just rose from the dead, breaking the bonds of sin and death for ever, and he shows up at his friends’ house, helps himself to a bag of Doritos, and asks what time the game is on.
It’s somehow deeply satisfying to see the newly risen Jesus asking for food.
Why is that? Because it points to a greater truth.
This moment of the miraculous and the ordinary existing side by side shows us something very important.
It shows us that God, the creator of the universe whose greatness we can barely comprehend, loves and cherishes us, small, ordinary people, as if we were the only human ever created.
In a world where the risen Jesus eats a piece of fish, it’s suddenly not so strange that we flawed, mixed-up human beings can be the center of God’s heart.
We never find it hard to believe that things will go wrong and we will face tragedy in our lives.
What is hardest for us to survive is the knowledge that God loves us with no limits, no conditions and with utter joy.
Do you know that God has never been disappointed in you?
Do you know that you make God happy every day?
We do live in a world of miracles, the first and foremost of which is that Jesus rose from the dead because he loves us so very much.
We can keep holding on to our precious control, keep fighting the slow miracle that is God changing our hearts and our minds from the inside out.
Or we can let go into resurrection.
We may have asked for a murderer, but for the first time in our lives, God wasn’t listening.
We asked for a murderer, and instead God gave us new life.
That is a double miracle—first that it happened, and second that we might be willing to give up our stubborn self-destruction and pride to enough to truly let it change us.
Seems like the status quo died right along with sin and death.
And somewhere, Jesus is grinning at us and asking if we have anything for breakfast.
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