The Aftermath of a Miracle (Is Harder Than You Think)
What do you do in the aftermath of a miracle?
We all think about what kind of miracle we’d like to see happen in our lives—a winning lottery ticket, our team going all the way to the Final Four in March Madness, our political discourse regaining civility and sense. (I’ll give you three guesses as to which one of those is the farthest-fetched).
Many times our longing for a miracle is far more serious—for a loved one’s cancer to go into remission, for a job to come through after months of fruitless interviews, for an estranged child to come home for the holidays.
There are times God does do miracles this big in our lives—most of us can think of an example in our own lives or someone we know.
Sometimes the miracles are as simple as escaping a close call in traffic.
But it’s also really important to think about miracles far more broadly than actual supernatural events.
Sometimes we don’t get the miracle we prayed for, but we get the miracle we need.
Perhaps the miracle we prayed was for the cancer to go into remission, but the miracle we received was entering into an incredible new depth of relationship with our loved one through the process of caregiving as his or her health declined.
Perhaps the miracle we prayed for was for that job interview to pan out, but the miracle we received was a new understanding of our family’s ability to pull together in tough economic times.
Perhaps the miracle we prayed for was a reunion with an estranged child, but the miracle we received was a new ministry of intercessory prayer, as our faithful and sometimes anguished prayers for this lost and wandering loved one expand into a vocation of praying for all those who are lonely and in pain.
The first question to ask is this: where you need a miracle in your life?
And the second question to ask is this: where in your life is God giving you the miracle you need rather than the miracle you want? Take some time to pray about that this week.
But the real question I want to tackle in this sermon is this: what do you do in the aftermath of a miracle?
I think we often picture miracles as creating happily-ever-after scenarios where everyone rides off into the sunset together holding hands and singing Kum-Bah-Yah.
But the reality is quite different, as we see vividly illustrated in our gospel story.
For the man born blind whom Jesus heals in our gospel today, his miracle brings him nothing but trouble.
Jesus heals him from his blindness and it immediately causes catastrophic controversy in his community.
The neighbors don’t like it because it removes this man from the category they had comfortably placed him in all their lives: blind, and therefore, in the view of their society, useless.
Suddenly he’s different, and it makes them very uncomfortable.
They can hardly recognize him—they’d rather he stay the same, shackled by his disability, than threaten their status quo.
The Pharisees don’t like it because it threatens their religious power.
Jesus heals people on the Sabbath, which automatically disqualifies him from spiritual leadership in their eyes.
Jesus’ healing of this man disrupts every label and category in this society, and the community can’t stand it.
Because when things start to change beyond our control, we feel as though our power is threatened.
Consider how this dynamic affects our own ability to welcome miracles, and remember that by miracles I don’t mean people walking on water and lightning bolts from the sky, I mean the simple transformative work of God in our lives.
How many times do we miss out on healing in our lives because it would threaten our control too much?
How many times do we deny that God is calling us to change because we can’t let go of the power our status quo gives us?
And most importantly, when are we blocking God’s work from manifesting in someone else’s life, because it just doesn’t fit into our boxes for that person or for God?
The truth is that the aftermath of a miracle is often a pretty bumpy road.
If you are faithfully spending time with God in prayer, God is going to start rearranging things in your life and in your heart.
And there are going to be a lot of people who resist that, possibly including yourself.
When we pray for a miracle, we need to pray also for the strength and the patience to see it through, to deal with the struggles of adjusting to a changed life.
Think about how when someone gets serious about recovery from alcohol addiction or substance abuse, there are ripples of resistance and even outright sabotage throughout the family system when codependent relationships are threatened.
Sometimes surviving the aftermath of a miracle is a miracle in and of itself!
Sometimes staying true to a miracle, not sliding back into how we were before God crash landed into our lives, requires as much prayer discipline as we had in the long years we waited for healing and change.
Is it possible that in a really difficult relationship in your life, someone with whom you cannot seem to get along and who drives you up a wall—is it possible the struggle is because that person is trying to work out an unfinished miracle in their own lives?
Is it possible we’re the problem because we’re resisting the uncomfortable upheaval of grace in this other person? It’s worth thinking about.
But here is the remarkable fact about this story and about Jesus’ presence in our lives: he does not leave us to navigate the aftermath of our miracles alone.
Listen to what our gospel story says: “Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’”
Jesus heard that they had driven him out and Jesus sought him out.
Jesus dropped what he was doing and came to this man, to take him to the next and final step of the miracle, which was his final conversion.
Take note here of three important things.
First, Jesus comes to us, finds us, stands with us when we’re struggling to make our miracle real in our lives, floundering as we try to hold fast to what God is calling us to do and be.
And second, the change or healing in our lives is only the first part of a miracle.
The second part is the disruption to our lives and our community as a result of God’s work in our lives.
And the final part is Jesus coming to us and leading us to a deeper faith.
The miracle is not complete without all of these steps.
Change, struggle, deepening—these are the three steps of a miracle.
It’s a lot more than flashing lights and thunderbolts from heaven. It’s a remodeling of our very hearts and souls.
Are we really prepared for that? Do we even want it?
It’s all too easy to think that miracles only happened in the Bible, especially if we’re narrowly confining our definition of miracles to supernatural events.
But you are a beloved child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ—welcoming miracles is a part of your job description. It’s not optional.
If you think you can be faithful to God and not have anything change about yourself or your life for the next forty years, you are barking up the wrong tree.
Think about the words we say at the close of the Nicene Creed each week: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
And we make those statements unqualified by time and place.
We don’t say “the resurrection of the dead at the apocalypse” and “the life of the world to come but only after we personally are biologically dead.”
No. Resurrection and new life, life that resembles nothing we could anticipate or control, is what we are looking for and expecting right now.
Father Davies has preached to us: “Expect miracles.”
And I will echo that and add onto it: “Expect miracles, and expect the aftermath of miracles to be messy, and expect Jesus to find you right in the mess and lead you deeper.”
And I’ll tell you the very next miracle that’s going to be manifest in your life, and you tell me whether you’re expecting it and preparing for it.
It happens in exactly three weeks.
It’s the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Easter Day!
Dear friends, if you think you can not just experience, not just welcome, but undergo Easter without being changed, once again, you are barking up the wrong tree.
But most of us don’t approach it that way.
When we think of Easter, we’re thinking things like, “When am I going to find time to stuff the plastic eggs with chocolate for the kids?” or “Ten bucks says Aunt Milly wears that terrible Easter hat again and brings that wretched glaze for the Easter ham to dinner on top of it.”
Those may be very normal and even appropriate thoughts, but they are not the thoughts of people preparing for a miracle to explode into their lives.
Lent is our season of preparation for Easter, which means that Lent is our season of preparation for miracle in our lives, full and complete miracle.
And full and complete miracle means new healing and change, a struggle in the aftermath as we face resistance to that change, and Jesus seeking us out to lead us deeper in faith and spiritual growth. Change, struggle, deepening–the three steps of a miracle.
What are you going to do between now and April 16 to make ready for God crash landing into your life with a messy and difficult healing that nonetheless makes your heart sing with joy?
I ask you to pray about that in the days to come.
And what would our community look like in June of this year, in October of this year, by Lent next year if we took this call to the full journey of miracle at Easter seriously?
Is the resurrection of Jesus Christ real to you?
Do you anticipate it happening within you?
And are you prepared for the struggle you will face in the aftermath of the miracle?
These are the questions we face, and they are tough.
But we have the capacity to tackle them with prayer, with faith, even with joy.
All we need is a miracle.
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