A sermon preached on The Third Sunday of the Epiphany at St. Thomas, Kefalas, Crete, 11:00 am January 20, 2019.
Mla the Crow and Athanasius the Alpaca were making their way to St. Thomas’s Church in Kefalas, when Mla asked, “Do you believe in miracles?”
“Why, yes, I do believe I do. Don’t you?” Athanasius replied.
“I’m not sure. I’m a pretty practical bird,” said Mla. “I eat things, I fly around. I sit in trees. I gather with my sisters and my brothers and my cousins. Those humans at the church, though, talk about miracles. The Red Sea thing. A donkey talking. Walking on water. You know, unbelievable stuff.”
Athanasius thought for a moment, and then said, “Well, there’s one miracle that you cannot doubt, and it is the greatest of them all.”
“Oh, what’s that.”
“The world,” the alpaca said. “The cosmos. The starry heavens above and everything beneath it. You and me, and all our relations. The grass in the fields and the mountains covered in snow. It is all wondrous and beautiful. Even the humans.”
“The Creator created,” said Mla, “and he saw that it was very good. Yeah, I can buy that.”
Athanasius said, “Look at the birds of the air – like you. You neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet the Creator feeds you. That’s a great miracle. Or consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”
“Or just get a look at me – is there anything more beautiful than a crow, eh?” said Mla.
“Umm, prossibly not,” said Athanasisus. “But if we can accept the idea of a Creator, well then, the idea that God is manifested in creation in marvelous ways is just a matter of degree, not of kind.”
“You’ve been reading theology again, have’t you?” said Mla.
Do you believe in miracles?
Our gospel reading today says Jesus turned water into wine. A LOT of water into a LOT of wine. The gospel states that this was the first sign from Jesus about who he was, accomplished at Cana of Galilee. Along with his walking on water and the feeding of the 5000, it is the proverbial miracle. Then there is the resurrection from the dead, the virgin birth, and all that.
As Christians we supposedly believe all of that. However, most of us are not only Christians, but people of the modern 21st century, practical and rooted in the earth. What are we to do with all those miracles, especially in a day when positivism and science is still the dominant way we approach the world?
A friend of mine – Elizabeth May, who just happens to be the leader of the Green Party in Canada, but was at one time pursuing ordination – pointed out in a sermon that we often say that only something miraculous will solve a problem, but when the problem is transformed and solved, we just explain them away.
In the realm of politics:
- the Good Friday accord in Northern Ireland that brought an end to the troubles.
- The peaceful transition from white supremacy to full democracy in South Africa
- The collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany
So miracles do happen. If we believe that God is behind the miracles, should we be surprised that God works through human beings to accomplish them?
In war, the miracle of Dunkirk. Did you see the film by Christopher Nolan with Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, and Harry Styles? Partly filmed on the very beaches of Dunkirk, it told the story of how 300,000 British soldiers were evacuated against all odds. The movie cleverly presents on three time lines – an hour in the air, a day on a small boat at sea, and a week on the beaches.
Unlikely, but it all happened. We tend to explain miracles away, coming up with reasonable explanations. In the miracles of the feeding of the 5000 and the 4000 some liberal theologians of the 19th century just said, “Well, everybody just had food with them, they only started to share it when Jesus broke the loaves and started to distribute so little to so many.” With respect to today’s gospel reading perhaps they thought, There was wine hiding somewhere in the village.
But if we believe in a God who can create the cosmos, larger than we can possibly imagine, then perhaps we can admit that sometimes God acts in ways that we will not understand, against all expectation, and with great timing. When I see miracles – healing, political, resolution of strife – I am interested in asking the how, but I am also simply grateful.
Perhaps the real miracle is the generosity of God in such things. In the wedding at Cana Jesus’s first miracle is not about transmutation so much as generosity. There is more good quality wine than necessary.
Thomas Troeger, a musician and theologian who teaches at the Yale Divinity School, and who is both a Presbyterian minister and an Anglican priest, wrote one of my favourite modern hymns about God’s generous love. It goes like this.
A spendthrift lover is the Lord who never counts the cost
or asks if heaven can afford to woo a world that’s lost.
Our lover tosses coins of gold across the mid-night skies
and stokes the sun against the cold to warm us when we rise.
Still more is spent in blood and tears to win the human heart,
to overcome the violent fears that blow the world apart.
Behold the bruised and thorn-crowned face of one who bears our scars
and empties out the wealth of grace that’s hinted by the stars.
It’s a generosity seen in creation, in the speaking of God, “Let there be light”.
It’s a generosity seen in the Word of God poured out and made flesh.
It’s a generosity seen in the Holy Spirit being given to all God’s people for the common good.
So, even if you have intellectual problems with aspects of the Christian story, pay closer attention to the core narrative of God’s love and care for us. That is the more remarkable thing in the long term, and it is what we ought to be emulating.
How shall we love this heart-strong God who gives us everything,
whose ways to us are strange and odd; what can we give or bring?
Acceptance of the matchless gift is gift enough to give.
the very act will shake and shift the way we love and live.