Sermon
July 30, 2000
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

John 6:1-15      After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" 10 Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."

    15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

 Psalm 145:1-21     Praise. Of David.

    I will extol you, my God and King,

        and bless your name forever and ever.

    2 Every day I will bless you,

        and praise your name forever and ever.

    3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;

        his greatness is unsearchable.

    4 One generation shall laud your works to another,

        and shall declare your mighty acts.

    5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,

        and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

    6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,

        and I will declare your greatness.

    7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,

        and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

    8 The LORD is gracious and merciful,

        slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

    9 The LORD is good to all,

        and his compassion is over all that he has made.

    10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,

        and all your faithful shall bless you.

    11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,

        and tell of your power,

    12 to make known to all people your mighty deeds,

        and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

    13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,

        and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

    The LORD is faithful in all his words,

        and gracious in all his deeds.

    14 The LORD upholds all who are falling,

        and raises up all who are bowed down.

    15 The eyes of all look to you,

        and you give them their food in due season.

    16 You open your hand,

        satisfying the desire of every living thing.

    17 The LORD is just in all his ways,

        and kind in all his doings.

    18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,

        to all who call on him in truth.

    19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;

        he also hears their cry, and saves them.

    20 The LORD watches over all who love him,

        but all the wicked he will destroy.

    21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,

        and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever. (NRSV)

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Sermon: What Makes a Miracle?

 From the Miracle Mets to the Miracle Mile;

to the church in Danbury that advertises “the place where miracles happen”;

to the Orlando Miracle of the WNBA, edged out 73 to 66 by the Monarchs last Thursday;

to the Miracle Method Bathroom Restoration @ www.miraclemethodusa.com/;

it seems we are surrounded by miracles!

 

What makes a miracle?  Not much, or so it would seem today.

 

Maybe the word is so abused and overused we should banish it from church, but then what would we do with a story like the one we read this morning: Jesus feeding five thousand people with just five loaves of barley bread and two fish.

 

Actually, in the English translation we read, the word “miracle” was banished and replaced with the word “sign”.  Compare the King James version of John 6.14 with the New Revised Standard Bible:

 

King James: Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did…

 

NRSV:  When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

In fact, although we might like the word miracle more, the word sign is a better translation, and it points to a central part of what makes a miracle, at least in the Bible if not in the Miracle Method Bathroom Restoration.

 

A sign directs us to something else; the point of the sign is not itself but what it directs us to.  This is true of miracles in the Bible – they do not happen for their own sake, but serve as pointers, windows, openings into something greater.  And I would say, in the case of the feeding of the five thousand and other Gospel miracles, there are three things we are pointed to, or three ingredients that make a miracle.

 

1.       1.   the person of Christ

2.       2.   the power of love

3.       3.   the potential of life

 

The person of Christ is, of course, central to our faith.  We believe that in Christ we see the truth about God and the truth about our own humanity, or as the traditional creeds put it:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.


Truly God and truly human, revealing the purpose and power of God and the problem and potential of humanity – that is the person of Christ.

 

And what does the person of Christ reveal about the power of God.  Christ reveals that God is love.  Christ reveals that love is not diminished when it is given away, that love does not die when it pours itself out, that love never ends.

 

Now if the word “miracle” is overused and abused, what can we say about the word “love.”  Maybe we’ve heard it so many times that we are immune to its significance in this setting.  But let’s try and consider it fresh and new here this morning.  Let’s open ourselves to the miraculous meaning of this familiar line of scripture: 1 John 4:16b   God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (NRSV)

 

Have you ever known love?  Then you have known God.  Why complicate the issue.  You have known God, you have abided in God, and God has abided in you.

 

The significance of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as a sign of love was expressed so well in a children’s song by Malvina Reynolds called “The Magic Penny”

 

Love is something if you give it away,

you end up having more;

it’s just like a magic penny,

hold it tight and you won’t have any;

lend it, spend it, you’ll have so many,

they’ll roll across the floor.

 

Love, given away, multiplies itself, like five loaves and two fishes that feed five thousand.   Love shared is love increased.  Love held back is love diminished. 

 

Love makes the miracle.  Do you recall the saying of Mother Theresa - "It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving."  And I believe she also said “We can not do great things. We can only do little things with great love.”

 

The miracle is not the great thing, but the little thing done with great love.

 

The famous author Rabbi Harold Kushner makes a similar point many times.  He talks about the grand “miracles” of the Bible like the parting of the Red Sea and the fall of the wall of Jericho, but he says these are almost more like special effects than true miracles.  He goes on to say that the family who might have been somewhat self centered and focused on fun and please and taking life for granted who are suddenly confronted with serious illness or disability and who, in great love, turn their lives around and give their lives in service and care for another – on these occasions, he says, we witness the true miracles of life.  

Little things, done with great love, make a miracle.

How does this translate into daily life?  Here, I think, we can be sidetracked by a merely romantic notion of love.  Love, in the Biblical sense, certainly encompasses romance and family, but it’s scope also includes elements of hospitality, justice, and plain old civility.

 

There are many pressures in daily life that work against love, even here in our church life, in our time of worship.  In theory we set aside a special time for hospitality in the fellowship hour, the coffee hour, that follows church.  But if life is fragmented to the point where that coffee hour after church is the only time in the week where you are catching up on news with friends, or if the whole time is taken up with trying to arrange for your child to spend the afternoon with a school mate, or if we simply don’t make the effort to break out of their our groups, then a time for fellowship can work against hospitality as newer people feel left out on the edges.

 

This may seem like a little thing, but in a sense it is loaves and fishes held tight, not shared, not multiplied and spread out so that all are fed.   And remember, little things, done with great love, make a miracle.

 

So the person of Christ, the power of love, those are the first two ingredients of this miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.   The third ingredient is the potential of life.

 

The miracle of the loaves and fishes reveals that the potential of life is not bounded by death, but that of life which is poured out in love, passes through the hour of death and lives on.  The miracle reveals this, not by itself, but because it is a sign of what is to come in the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross.

 

This may not appear clearly at first glance at the story of the loaves and fishes, but with the help of some careful reading we can see this connection, especially in the Gospel of John.

 

First we have to consider that John sets this story at the time of Passover.  The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe the public ministry of Jesus as lasting only one year, ending in Jerusalem at the time of Passover.  In John’s Gospel the public ministry of Jesus is described as lasting three years, and during those three years Jesus gives many signs of his person and power, usually in the setting of a religious festival or celebration where he takes the main theme of that holy day and applies it to himself. 

 

The Passover theme is set early in the gospel when John the Baptist sees Jesus walk by and says: "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

 

By setting the miracle of the loaves and fishes at the time of Passover, John is giving the reader a hint, a clue, a foreshadowing that this miracle, this sign, is about much more than nourishment for the body.  Here, for those who have eyes to see, here is revealed a fundamental truth about life, death, and deliverance.

 

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus celebrates the Passover in the Upper Room with his disciples at the Last Supper.  The scene of Christ breaking the bread at this Passover table has been made famous in countless paintings as well as in the sacraments of the church.  How many times, in the course of a month, do you suppose that ministers and priests take the bread and say: This is my body, broken for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.

 

But did you realize that those words never occur in the Gospel we read this morning, the Gospel of John?  In John, at the Last Supper, Jesus does not break the bread and share the cup.  In John, the story goes like this:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him… John 13:3-5

 

John does not have Jesus break bread in the Upper Room because he has already told this story in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.  And John has added an additional element – not only is the crowd fed, but when everyone was “satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.”

 

What does this little detail mean?  The fragments that are gathered up, the twelve baskets full, has long been interpreted as the gathering of the church by the twelve apostles, carrying forth the life of Christ in the same world that rejected him and tried to put him to death on the cross.

 

Since Christ poured his life out in love, the power of death in the cross could not destroy it.  It merely transformed it from a single life to the life of a people, a people who continue to this day, a people who gather in this house of prayer this morning and listen once again to the story of faith in Christ, of love in God, of hope overcoming death.

 

Yes, faith, hope, and love – that is what makes a miracle.   That is what draws us here.  But the greatest of these is love. Amen

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