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Sunday, July 8, 2012

How Do We Believe in the Miraculous?

Last week -  as my first sermon in this new appointment -  I preached from Mark 5:21 - 43. We talked about Jesus' cure of both the bleeding woman in the crowd and the raising of Jairus' daughter.  We also talked about how these two miracles come as part of a larger cluster of miracles that includes Jesus' calming of a sudden storm, and the restoration of the demonized man.  In fact the entire first half of Mark's gospel seems like one long account of Jesus' power.  We read story after story (and always "immediately") of Jesus' mighty deeds.

But this week (in my second sermon - I'm now established here, right?) we looked at Mark 6: 1 - 13 where Jesus goes back to his home country.  But, as the novel says, "you can't go home again."  The people there are scandalized at what Jesus has to say to them and at the stories they've heard about his miracles.  They are offended.

In these two stories from Mark we have two very different responses to Jesus: in the first we had people seeking Jesus for his miracle power and in the second people who refuse to believe and take offense at any claim to miraculous deeds.

And here's the point where some preachers might somewhat condescendingly ask "Now how will you respond?  In faith like those who searched for Jesus so that they might have a miracle, or in stubborn disbelief like those in Nazareth?"

But I don't like those kinds of sermons...

So instead I spoke a little about myself.  You see, I'm probably more likely to respond like the people in Nazareth; with skepticism and maybe disbelief because I have never seen a miracle. I have never seen a bona fide, certified, actual-factual miracle, never experienced an act of supernatural intervention by the Deity himself or by angelic agents acting on his behalf.

I know that the experience of other Christians is different.  Some seem to have a miracle every day of the week and twice on Tuesday.  They go to the grocery store and God provides a miracle by providing them with a parking space right by the door. But I, myself, have never had a supernatural experience of the miraculous variety.  And, if I may engage in a bit of speculation, this is the probably the case for most of us. Most of us, I think, have not had any great miracle.  After all, if miracles were occurring every day and twice on Tuesday we wouldn't think of them as "miracles."  They would be "regulars."

In his book Life of Jesus Ernest Renan wrote:

"Miracles are things which never happen... We reject the supernatural for the same reason that we reject the existence of centaurs and hippogriffs; and this reason is, that nobody has ever seen them."

In this we have moved from the idea that - I have never seen them, and no one I know has ever seen them so they must not exist.  This is a closed kind of universe wherein "history is a unity... a closed continuum of effects... this closedness means that the continuum of historical happening cannot be rent by the interference of supernatural transcendent powers and that there is no 'miracle' in the sense of the word." (R. Bultman)

But I do believe that God is both personal and transcendent - and that with a God of this sort miracles are possible - even if they haven't been my experience.

I believe that God is personal and that he (pronouns are weak when used for God) wants to know us and that he is interested in us, is concerned for us. God is not just some abstraction. God is not a vague force or entity at the edge of the universe.  And I believe that God is transcendent - that he is beyond the laws that govern the nature of the universe that he has created.  And with that kind of God - miracles are indeed possible - even if I've never seen one.

But the reality is that my faith (and that of most of you as well, I would bet) isn't based on any miraculous event save one - the central miracle of the Christian faith: that God became human and lived and died and was raised up from death so that we might live.  My faith isn't grounded in any miraculous intervention other than that.  That miracle was accomplished once and does not need repeating.

This song was meant to accompany the sermon.  You can download it for free.
In it I used the following sounds from the Freesound Project: 

Chant of the Motherboard

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