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ACTS 9:36-43 | THE PROBLEM (BLESSINGS) WITH MIRACLES

THE PROBLEM (BLESSINGS) WITH MIRACLES

ACTS 9:36-43

APRIL 17, 2016

 

 

 

SEVERAL CHURCHES AGO THE CONGREGATION I WAS SERVING HAD A PRESBYTERIAN WOMEN’S PROGRAM – CIRCLES THEY WERE CALLED – AND ONE OF THE LONGEST RUNNING CIRCLES WAS A QUILTING CIRCLE.

 

THE LADIES WOULD MEET EVERY THURSDAY FOR PRAYER, A SHORT DEVOTION, AND THEN WOULD SPEND THE REST OF THEIR TIME QUILTING, EXCEPT FOR A BREAK FOR LUNCH.

 

USUALLY THEY WOULD BRING SACK LUNCHES, BUT EVERY SO OFTEN THEY WOULD DO A SORT OF POT LUCK LUNCH, AND IF I WAS FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO BE IN THE BUILDING AT THE TIME, THEY WOULD INVITE ME TO EAT WITH THEM.  IT WAS GREAT!

 

EACH WEEK THEY WOULD SET UP THEIR LARGE QUILTING FRAMES – SOMETIMES ONE, SOMETIMES TWO, AND THEY WOULD QUILT AND TALK AND SOLVE THE WORLD’S PROBLEMS (AND SOMETIMES THE CHURCH’S PROBLEMS TOO).

 

WHEN KAREN’S MOM, JUNE, RETIRED FROM BEING A DIRECTOR OF MEDICAL RECORDS SHE, A SEAMSTRESS AND UPHOLSTERER ALL HER LIFE, JOINED THE QUILTING CIRCLE AS WELL.

 

THE CIRCLE WAS MADE UP OF A COUPLE OF OLDER SISTERS WHO NEVER MARRIED, A FAIR NUMBER OF WIDOWS, AND A FEW MARRIED WOMEN, SEVERAL OF WHOM BECAME WIDOWS THEMSELVES OVER THE YEARS.

 

THE LADIES WOULD QUILT ON QUILTS OF THEIR OWN; OR ONES THAT HAD BEEN COMMISSIONED BY SOMEONE ELSE; AND OCCASIONALLY THEY WOULD FINISH A QUILT THAT SOMEONE STARTED BUT NEVER GOT THE CHANCE TO COMPLETE.

 

EVERY COUPLE OF YEARS THEY WOULD HAVE A QUILT SHOW WITH DONATIONS AND THE PROCEEDS FROM RAFFLING OF ONE OF THEIR QUILTS GOING TO SOME CAUSE IN THE CHURCH OR SOME MISSION WE SPONSORED.

 

THESE LADIES CARED DEEPLY FOR EACH OTHER, AND OVER THE YEARS AS ONE OR ANOTHER OF THEM WOULD DIE, THEY WOULD DISPLAY A QUILT AT THE WOMAN’S FUNERAL;

 

AND ON AT LEAST A COUPLE OF OCCASIONS, A QUILT WAS USED FOR THE PALL ON THE CASKET OF SOME OF THEIR MEMBERS.

 

SO I HAVE NO TROUBLE PICTURING THE EVENTS OF THIS MORNING’S PASSAGE:

TABITHA, A WOMAN OF GOOD WORKS AND ACTS OF CHARITY, BECOMES ILL AND DIES.

 

EVIDENTLY SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO REALLY LOVED HER SENT WORD TO PETER BELIEVING THAT HE COULD STILL DO SOMETHING FOR HER, OR FOR THEM, EVEN THOUGH SHE WAS DEAD.

 

WHEN PETER ARRIVES, WE ARE TOLD, A GROUP OF WIDOWS STOOD ALL AROUND HIM, SHOWING HIM TUNICS AND OTHER THINGS TABITHA HAD SEWN.

 

(I CAN SEE THE LADIES OF THAT QUILTING CIRCLE RIGHT NOW, QUILTS IN HAND, MOURNING THE DEATH OF ONE OF THEIR OWN.)

 

PETER EVENTUALLY SENDS EVERYONE OUT OF THE ROOM, KNEELS AND PRAYS, AND THEN TELLS TABITHA TO RISE, WHICH SHE DOES, OPENING HER EYES, SITTING UP, AND SEEING PETER.

 

HE HELPS HER UP, TAKES HER OUTSIDE, AND SHOWS HER TO BE ALIVE;

 

AND WORD OF THE MIRACLE SPREADS THROUGHOUT JOPPA, AND ACTS TELLS US THAT MANY BELIEVED IN THE LORD BECAUSE OF THIS MIRACLE.

 

A GOOD DAY’S WORK – ALL IN ALL.  A BLESSING, TO BE SURE.  A MIRACLE.

 

BUT HERE’S THE THING – I WONDER IF THE MIRACLE STORIES IN THE BIBLE DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD.

 

THEY ARE SPECTACULAR STORIES, MOST OF THEM, AND THEY BRING A LOT OF COMFORT AND JOY TO BOTH THE RECIPIENT OF THE MIRACLE, AND TO THOSE WITNESSING THEM.

 

MIRACLES REMIND US THAT THINGS ARE NOT ALWAYS AS THEY SEEM, OR AS THEY WILL ALWAYS BE, AND THAT THERE IS GREAT POWER AVAILABLE TO US THROUGH OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD, AND FOR US, THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.

 

IN MIRACLES THE KINGDOM BREAKS THROUGH; FOR A MOMENT WE GLIMPSE THE FACE OF GOD; AND IN THEM WE CATCH A SNEAK-PEEK AT THE KINGDOM COME, AND THE KINGDOM TO COME.

 

BUT THEN THEY ARE OVER – JESUS (OR IN THIS CASE PETER) GO BACK TO WHAT THEY WERE DOING; THE ONCE SICK, BLIND, DEAF, OR DEAD PERSON WALKS OFF TO GET ON WITH HIS/HER LIFE; AND THE CROWD DISPERSES, GETTING BACK TO THEIRS.

 

THE PROBLEM WITH MIRACLES IS, THAT HAVING WITNESSED THEM, EVERYONE WANTS ONE OF THEIR OWN, AND IF NOT FOR THEMSELVES, THEN FOR SOMEONE THEY KNOW AND LOVE.

 

EVERY ONE OF US KNOWS SOMEONE WHO IS SUFFERING, SOMEONE WHO IS SICK, WHO IS DYING, WHO COULD USE A MIRACLE RIGHT ABOUT NOW;

 

BUT MIRACLES ARE HARD TO COME BY; IF THEY WEREN’T, WE WOULDN’T CALL THEM MIRACLES.

 

WHY THEM AND NOT ME?  WHY HER AND NOT HIM?  WHY THEIR FAMILY AND NOT OURS?  WHY IS THIS ONE HEALED, AND NOT THAT ONE?

 

DESPITE OUR FAITH, RELIGIOUS PEOPLE CAN’T STAND THE RANDOMNESS OF MIRACLES AND SO WE SPEND A LOT OF TIME TRYING TO FIGURE OUT THE FORMULA.

 

SURELY THERE IS A SECRET FORMULA!  TWO PARTS FAITH AND ONE PART PRAYER.

 

PERHAPS THERE IS A RECIPE FOR MIRACLES: A PINCH OF PRAYER, A DASH OF HOPE, AND A HEAPING CUP FULL OF FAITH.

 

MAYBE ITS OUR ASKING OTHERS TO PRAY FOR US, OR FOR THOSE WE KNOW AND LOVE AND WHO NEED A MIRACLE IN THE WORST WAY, THAT MAKES THEM HAPPEN.

 

MAYBE ITS THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE PRAYING THAT WILL DO THE TRICK – SO WE SEND OUT WORD – FAR AND WIDE – HOPING THAT THE SHEER AMOUNT OF PEOPLE PRAYING WILL CAUSE A MIRACLE TO OCCUR.

 

WE GO BACK AND READ THE MIRACLE STORIES OF THE BIBLE HOPING TO GLEAN WHAT THE SECRET FORMULA IS THAT CAUSED THE MIRACLE TO HAPPEN FOR THE BLIND MAN AT BETHSAIDA; OR FOR THE MAN WITH THE WITHERED HAND; OR FOR TABITHA OR LAZARUS IN BEING RAISED FROM THE DEAD.

 

WE’LL DO JUST ABOUT ANYTHING TO SECURE A MIRACLE FOR THOSE WE LOVE.

 

THE ONLY PROBLEM IS, THERE IS NO SECRET FORMULA; AND GOD RARELY DOES THE SAME THING TWICE IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO MIRACLES.

 

THE TRUTH IS, MOST PEOPLE DON’T GET THE MIRACLES FOR WHICH THEY ARE PRAYING FOR THEMSELVES OR FOR OTHERS;

 

AND ONE OF THE MEANEST THINGS BELIEVERS DO TO OTHER BELIEVERS IS TO BLAME THE LACK OF A MIRACLE ON A LACK OF FAITH.

 

WHEN MY FATHER WAS DYING FROM PANCREATIC CANCER AT THE AGE OF 52 (I WAS 16 AT THE TIME), MY FATHER’S SISTER, A CHRISTIAN SCIENCE PRACTITIONER CAME TO SEE HIM AND BASICALLY TOLD MY MOTHER THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH MY FATHER.

 

IF HE WOULD JUST GIVE UP WHATEVER SIN HE WAS HOLDING ON TO, AND IF ALL THE REST OF US WOULD JUST HAVE ENOUGH FAITH, MY FATHER WOULD GET WELL, AND WOULD NOT DIE.

 

HE DID DIE.  IT WAS SEVEN WEEKS FROM DIAGNOSIS TO DEATH.

 

MY MOTHER, BEING THE LADY SHE ALWAYS WAS, HELD HER TONGUE, THOUGH I’M SURE WHAT SHE REALLY WANTED TO DO WAS TO TELL HER SISTER-IN-LAW “WHERE SHE COULD GO” WITH HER RANTINGS AND RAVINGS.

 

I DON’T DOUBT THAT MY AUNT MEANT WELL, BUT I ALSO HAVE NO DOUBT THAT HER THEOLOGY WAS MIXED UP, BECAUSE SHE DIDN’T UNDERSTAND MIRACLES AT ALL.

 

AND I HAVE SEEN THIS TIME AND TIME AGAIN THROUGHOUT MY MINISTRY;

 

INDIVIDUALS, CONGREGATIONS, PRAYER GROUPS, FAMILIES, ETC. BELIEVING THAT FAITH MAKES MIRACLES HAPPEN.

 

FAITH DOES NOT MAKE MIRACLES HAPPEN, GOD MAKES MIRACLES HAPPEN.

 

PREACHER, PROFESSOR, AUTHOR BARBARA BROWN TAYLOR HAS AN EXCELLENT ANALOGY FOR THIS KIND OF MIXED UP THINKING AND THEOLOGY.

 

SHE SAYS, UNFORTUNATELY, TOO MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT MIRACLES WORK ALONG THE SAME LINES AS THOSE STRENGTH TESTS AT THE COUNTY FAIR.

 

YOU KNOW THE ONES THAT LOOK LIKE A HUGE THERMOMETER, AND YOU HIT THE LEVER WITH A SLEDGEHAMMER, TRYING TO RING THE BELL.  IT’S ALL A MATTER OF HOW HARD YOU HIT THE THING AS TO WHETHER OR NOT YOU RING THE BELL.

 

IF YOU WERE REALLY STRONG, YOU COULD RING THE BELL AND WIN A PRIZE.  AND IF YOU WEREN’T, WELL, TRY, TRY AGAIN AND BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME.

 

IN OTHER WORDS, THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE MIRACLES ARE SOMETHING WE CAN CONTROL; SOMETHING WE MAKE HAPPEN.

IF YOU ARE SICK AND GETTING SICKER, IT MUST BE YOUR OWN FAULT.  YOU MUST TRY HARDER, PRAY HARDER, BELIEVE BETTER.  PUMP UP YOUR FAITH AND RING THE BELL (THIS WAS MY AUNT’S THEOLOGY).

 

IMPRESS GOD WITH YOUR AMOUNT OF FAITH, EXPONENTIALLY INCREASE THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE PRAYING FOR YOU, AND CLAIM YOUR MIRACLE AS A REWARD.

 

ONLY THIS IS IDOLATRY, DON’T YOU SEE?

 

THIS IS ONE MORE PITIFUL WAY WE TRY TO WORK THINGS AROUND SO THAT WE SEEM TO BE IN CHARGE OF OUR LIVES INSTEAD OF OWNING UP TO THE FACT THAT EVERY BREATH WE TAKE IS A FREE GIFT FROM GOD.

 

FAITH DOES NOT WORK MIRACLES.  GOD WORKS MIRACLES.

 

TO CONCENTRATE ON THE STRENGTH OF OUR OWN BELIEF IS TO PRACTICE MAGIC.  TO CONCENTRATE ON THE STRENGTH OF GOD IS TO PRACTICE FAITH.

 

THIS IS WHAT THE WIDOWS AND OTHER SAINTS DID WITH REGARD TO TABITHA.

 

THEY CONCENTRATED ON THE STRENGTH ON GOD TO WORK A MIRACLE THROUGH PETER.  IT WASN’T PETER’S DOING.  IT WASN’T THEIR FAITH’S DOING; IT WAS GOD’S DOING.

 

THERE’S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BELIEVING THAT OUR LIVES (AND THE LIVES OF OTHERS) ARE IN OUR HANDS, AND BELIEVING THAT THEY ARE IN GOD’S HANDS.

 

GOD, NOT FAITH, WORKS MIRACLES, AND EVEN THEN, NOT EVERY TIME.

 

AND YES, I KNOW THAT THE RANDOMNESS OF IT ALL BOTHERS US A GREAT DEAL; AND WE WILL PROBABLY STILL TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THE SECRET FORMULA IS; WE’LL DO ALMOST ANYTHING FOR THOSE WE LOVE.

 

IT HELPS ME TO REMEMBER THAT TIME WHEN JESUS PRAYED FOR A MIRACLE FOR HIMSELF;

 

IN THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE, ON THE NIGHT HE WAS BETRAYED, ON THE NIGHT BEFORE HE WAS KILLED; JESUS PRAYED FOR A MIRACLE:

 

“FOR YOU ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE,” JESUS PRAYED TO HIS “ABBA” FATHER.

 

“REMOVE THIS CUP FROM ME.”  ONLY WHEN JESUS OPENED HIS EYES THE CUP WAS STILL THERE.

 

DID JESUS LACK FAITH?  I DON’T THINK SO.

 

THE MIRACLE WAS THAT HE DRANK THE CUP, BELIEVING IN THE POWER OF GOD MORE THAN HE BELIEVED IN HIS OWN.

 

PRACTICALLY EVERY NIGHT FOR SEVEN WEEKS I PRAYED JESUS’ PRAYER FOR MY FATHER – THAT THE CUP OF DEATH WOULD BE TAKEN FROM HIM – BUT I ALWAYS INCLUDED THE REST OF JESUS’ PRAYER AS WELL: “NOT MY WILL, BUT THY WILL BE DONE.”

 

WHEN I WAS FINALLY HONEST WITH MYSELF, I REALIZED I WAS SORT OF HOPING TO TRICK GOD INTO HEALING MY FATHER BY THE SHEER SINCERITY OF MY PRAYERS.

 

(BUT THEN I WAS 16, AND I DIDN’T WANT HIM TO DIE.)  I TRIED TO RING THE BELL WITH ALL MY FAITH.

 

IT WASN’T THE LAST TIME I PRAYED FOR A MIRACLE – I’VE BEEN DOING IT FOR MORE THAN 40 YEARS NOW, FOR MYSELF AND FOR OTHERS;

 

I DO THINK I’VE GOTTEN BETTER ABOUT NOT TRYING TO TRICK GOD INTO DOING WHAT I WANT, OR WHAT OTHERS WANT ME TO GET GOD TO DO.

 

AND I THINK I’VE BEEN SINCERER IN MY PRAYERS ABOUT “NOT MY WILL (OR THE WILL OF THE ONE FOR WHOM I’M PRAYING, OR THE WILL OF THOSE WHO LOVE THE ONE FOR WHOM I AM PRAYING) BUT THAT GOD’S WILL BE DONE.

 

AND I’VE DEFINITELY GROWN IN MY UNDERSTANDING THAT IT IS NOT MY FAITH OR THE FAITH OF THE ONE IN NEED, OR THE FAITH OF THOSE WHO LOVE THEM AND ARE PRAYING FOR THEM, THAT MAKES MIRACLES HAPPEN.

 

ONLY GOD WORKS MIRACLES, AND MOST OF THE TIME, NOT;

AT LEAST NOT IN THE WAY WE THINK OF THEM.

 

  1. AL SULLIVAN, ONE OF THE DOCTORS WITH WHOM I WORK SIDE BY SIDE WITH DYING PATIENTS NEARING THE END OF THEIR LIVES OFTEN TELLS THEM:

 

“GOD HAS A PLACE FOR YOU…

 

BUT THAT PLACE IS NO LONGER HERE.”

 

I HAVEN’T STOPPED PRAYING FOR MIRACLES, AND I HOPE YOU WON’T STOP EITHER, BECAUSE THE WORLD NEEDS ALL THE MIRACLES IT CAN GET.

 

EVERY TIME WE HEAR ABOUT ONE, FIRST, LET’S BE HAPPY FOR THE PEOPLE WHO GOT THEM, AND NOT ENVIOUS OF THEM FOR THE TIMES WE DIDN’T.

SECONDLY, WHENEVER WE HEAR ABOUT A MIRACLE HAPPENING LET’S REMEMBER THAT WE ARE GETTING A PREVIEW OF THE KINGDOM COME, AND THE KINGDOM TO COME.

 

THERE’S SIMPLY NO FORMULA FOR SUCCESS, WHICH IS A REAL RELIEF FOR THOSE OF US WHO CAN’T SEEM TO RING THE BELL.

 

MAYBE WE CANNOT DO IT BECAUSE IT IS NOT OUR JOB.

 

“DO NOT FEAR, ONLY BELIEVE,” JESUS SAYS.  THAT’S OUR JOB.

 

THE REST IS UP TO GOD.

 

 

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