Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  
 

Epiphany 2/8/2015

“Do you believe in miracles?” Some of you remember that that was Al Michaels’ call and question at the end of the “Miracle on Ice” hockey game back in 1980. He was the announcer for the Super Bowl last week too, but “Do you believe in miracles?” followed by the exclamation “Yes!” when time ran out was what first made Al Michaels famous as the amateurs from the United States beat the big, bad Russians. Even if you’re too young to remember you’ve probably seen replays of it or the movie or something. What people often forget is that that wasn’t the gold medal game. The Americans still had to beat Finland in the next game to win the gold medal which they did. I suppose the UP might have been more divided on that one.

In reading the Bible, “Do you believe in miracles?” is a question that you have to ask yourself, especially regarding Jesus who is described as performing many miracles, sometimes healing people or casting out demons as he did in last week’s gospel and again today, sometimes taming nature, calming storms…all of them things more out of the ordinary than a surprising upset in the world of sports.

Without question, at the time the gospels were written, back in the first century, their worldview was more likely to include superstition and magic, demons and the like, so the possibility of miracles was less likely to be questioned, but not entirely so. Even in some of the biblical accounts there is skepticism among some but certainly there are more questions these days.

Our worldview is largely based on science and technology and observable evidence so we are more likely to want to rationalize the miracles and either totally dismiss them as unreliable accounts or perhaps to figure them out and put them in categories that make more sense to us with the conclusion, “Here’s what must have really happened.” At worst belief in miracles can be seen as a litmus test for faith so that if you dare to question whether they’re historical, whether or not they happened just the way they’re described, you’re not a real believer.

The more important question though, is not whether or not the miracle stories are historical, it’s what do they mean. In particular, what do they tell us about the nature of the God revealed in and through Jesus? What do they tell us about ourselves and the world we live in?

In the first century, among worldviews rooted in superstition and magic, the gospels offered an alternative vision of the world where the reality of evil is acknowledged but in which God is at work combating its destructive powers. In the gospels, Jesus is the presence of God exerting his authority over the evil forces that are out there, forces represented by illness and brokenness of all kinds. Jesus is the presence of God as he demonstrates his authority over those forces, restoring people to their rightful place in the community. As they are restored, they are enabled to serve and be the people God would have them be. In looking for meaning then, the miracle stories have to do with revealing this God, a God who is not aloof and indifferent but one who cares about human suffering. They have to do with revealing a world in which God is not absent, but present and active, despite whatever contrary evidence might suggest.

In our time, the general worldview is different; we’re less inclined to believe in magic and demons, but we’re no less inclined to see the world as a place where evil exists. Because of that, we still need the vision that the gospel stories offer, the vision of a God who cares, a God who is present and active. It’s a vision that reassures us that God does have the power to overcome the forces of evil, a vision that says that it will happen, that it’s not just wishful thinking. Those forces cannot and will not have the final say.

It’s a vision of a different reality, one which by no means exists in full, but one which the gospel writers invite us to imagine. It’s the vision of a world where the God revealed in Jesus is at the center and with Jesus at the center we don’t just imagine the world differently, we live differently and a major piece of that different living is that it’s living that never loses sight of hope. But first, you do have to imagine it!

We’re near the end of the short season after Epiphany, there’s Transfiguration Sunday next week and then Lent begins the following Wednesday. The overarching theme of the Epiphany season has to do with the identity of Jesus being made known. That making known actually happens throughout the year but however it unfolds, Jesus as our source of hope is central to his identity. It’s central to Jesus’ identity because hope is central to God’s identity as it is revealed throughout the Bible and because of that our relationship with God is defined by hope. Envisioning and imagining the world with Jesus at the center we’re able to overcome the temptation to give in to despair and resignation, the temptation to think, not that God won’t do anything about the evil and injustice in the world, but that God can’t do anything about it.

When we lose the ability to imagine things differently, when religious imagination is stifled, we’re held hostage in a world where nothing new is possible apart from rearranging that which already is or already has been. But that’s another facet of miracles. With Jesus at the center new things happen, new things that the prevailing wisdom would say are impossible and unimaginable, new things that we might call miracles. Of course as soon as I start talking about imagination, you might think, is he talking about making things up or pretending that things are other than they are? No; religious imagination has to do with receiving and entertaining images that are outside the accepted givens. Imagination is a gift of the Holy Spirit that enables us to engage the possibility that we are part of something greater than human reason by itself is able to perceive, part of a world that might include miracles.

I don’t have much to say about Paul today as today’s reading from First Corinthians pretty much continues the Christian freedom theme from the past couple of weeks. But the whole of Paul’s thinking was very much predicated on the ability to imagine his Jewish faith differently, specifically the notion of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. That was a radical break from Paul’s religious tradition but he could make that move because of the tradition, especially the tradition as received from prophets like Isaiah.

In today’s first reading Isaiah was offering hope to people tempted by the same despair and resignation that tempts us. The causes were different, but in exile they saw themselves as a defeated people, trapped in a situation from which there was no way out, the temptation being to resign themselves to life in Babylon, separated from their homeland and separated from the Lord, their God. Isaiah called them to remember their God. He called them to have hope and to continue to imagine the world with their God at the center, a God who can and does make things new, despite any evidence that said that their God, the Lord, was defeated and absent. Isaiah essentially told the people not just to believe in miracles, but to expect a miracle! But first they had to imagine it and the poetry of prophets like Isaiah helped them to do that! Relating that to Paul, as a devout Jew he knew the words of the prophet and with those words as the background Paul could see the death and resurrection of Jesus as that expected miracle, a miracle of hope and new life.

One of the problems when talking about Jesus’ miracles is that they can make him seem like a super hero who encounters evil, puts on his super hero’s tights and cape, swoops down and fixes it. That leads to wondering why if he used to that, why doesn’t he always dive in fix the evil that we think needs fixing, be it illness or more systemic evil like what we see going on with ISIS these days.

Jesus isn’t a super hero; he is the revelation of God, the revelation of a God who is present and active in ways that we can’t always understand, especially in working to transform the situations of evil and brokenness that affect us. Jesus reveals a God who does create new possibilities and the miracle stories help us to imagine it. As we do so, we too are then invited not just to believe in miracles, but to expect them!

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

Previous Page

Home

Map

Newsletter

Calendar

Church Life

Sermons

Contact Us

“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

Website designed and maintained by Superior Book Productions