Rev. Danielle K Bartz August 6, 2023
Matthew 14:13-21 “A Few Thoughts on Miracles”
The third sentence in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” reads as this: “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come from the story I am going to relate.” I actually prefer the way this line is translated for the ‘Muppet Christmas Carol’ – “That one thing you must remember or nothing that follows will seem wondrous.” My Beloved Community, God is active in the deeds of humanity. That one thing you must remember or nothing that follows will seem wondrous. Nothing seems wondrous in this world if God is left out of the equation. But, here is the question we must ask ourselves – is anything wondrous possible if we are left out of the equation? This is ultimately a question about miracles. Is a miracle something that otherwise could never conceivably happen? In other words, is a miracle something that can only come about through the sole work of God, and humans have nothing to do with bringing that miracle about?
Or, are miracles God’s power and influence working in collaboration with an open and willing spirit of a person or people? Are we partners with God in creating miracles? Now, I don’t know the answer to this question of course. And while I have an opinion that does not mean I am right, and if your opinion differs you are not wrong. But, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of miracles this week and I have decided that this question is an important one. Because I come down on the side that we, you and I, are partners with God in creating miracles. I don’t think miracles just happen to humanity, I think miracles are something we can create, and the more open our spirits are to the influence of God, the more miracles can happen.
This became a passionate debate during my clergy group this week as we were discussing this very familiar text. Because this is a miracle text – the feeding of the masses with just five loaves of bread and two fish. In fact, this may be one of the most important miracles in the Gospels – not only is it repeated a few times, but it is told in all four Gospels. Further, you don’t have to be Christian or attend worship services regularly to know this story, it is one that has a foot-hold in secular society. But, what is ultimately happening here? Is this a miracle devoid of human agency – something extraordinary that can only occur because of God’s blessing shared by Jesus? Or is it more complex than that? Is this a story of human generosity, sparked by the influence of God through Christ?
An argument can be made that this was a human-made feeding of the masses. The scripture says there were about 5,000 men, and an untold number of women and children – which is why, by the way, I think we should stop calling this story the feeding of the 5,000; the scripture explicitly says that there were more than 5,000 people there, it is just that the women and children were not officially counted. It seems preposterous to assume that no one in the crowd had food with them. At the very minimum we can safely assume that the women brought food for their children. So, when the disciples began to share their five loaves of bread and two fish, it is easy to imagine that everyone else in the crowd started to share what they had as well. And even though people may have thought there wasn’t enough to go around, once people started to share what little they had, it turned out to be more than enough. A fear of scarcity turned out to be a celebration of abundance.
That explanation of this feeding miracle makes total, logical sense. Any good Vulcan would be proud of that theory. However, what that explanation does is remove God from the equation. It removes the wonder. So, on the other side of the coin, we have the idea that it was God and God alone. That, somehow, some way beyond human understanding those five loaves and two fish multiplied enough that 15-20,000 people were fed until they were satisfied. That is an explanation that is nothing but wonder. And perhaps for you that is what a miracle is. Something that we cannot explain. And I don’t think there is anything ‘wrong’ with that. I think it is a good thing to leave room for the grandness and unexplainable nature of God.
I tend to fall in the middle however. I don’t want to remove the unexplainable nature of God from the equation. But I also don’t want to remove human agency. Because I think miracles happen when a person or a people are open to the influence of God upon their Spirit and are willing to take actions that they may have otherwise never have. I believe God works through and with humanity, you and me, to create miracles. Sometimes, yes, we are the recipients of miracles that we had nothing to do with. And sometimes we are the ones who create the miracles, with the help and influence of God, for other people.
Something I had never noticed in this text before, at least in the way this story is told in Matthew, is that it is not Jesus who gives out the food. It is the work of the disciples. First, the disciples tell Jesus that he needs to send the people away because there is not enough food to feed them all. Jesus says no, they don’t need to leave. He said to the disciples that they were to feed the people. The disciples pointed out to Jesus that they didn’t even really have enough to feed themselves, how were they going to feed thousands. I mean, let’s face it – having a dinner party for 10 takes some planning. A dinner party for 15-20,000? That would take a couple of month’s worth of planning with a substantial budget to work from.
Jesus tells the disciples to bring him what little they had. He blessed, and then he gave it back to the disciples who then shared it with the people. It was the disciples, those very flawed humans just like you and me, that were the ones who actually shared the miracle with the people. A miracle was created because the disciples were open to the blessing and influence of Christ, and I believe the people, also open to the blessing and influence of Christ, began to share. I think this miracle, like so many of the miracles of the scriptures and the ones we experience today are evidence that God can do wonders when people are open to it.
Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” When I am my best self, I choose to live a life filled with miracles. I am so often in awe of what people can do if they are open to the power of God working through them. I don’t think we need to wait around for a miracle to happen. I think we can make miracles happen by working together in partnership with one another and with God. And we live in a world in deep need of miracles. Climate change, hunger, health disparity, poverty, racism and sexism – these and so much more are the places where the power of miracles can really be felt. But that does not mean that we must sit around and wait for them – taking away our own power and responsibility. But, if we can realize that we do have what we need, that we live in a world of abundance if, and only if, we are willing to share freely and not hoard, and being open to the power of God, willing to do things that we may not otherwise have done – then miracles can and will happen.
So, let’s open our spirits to God and go where God is nudging us. And let’s celebrate the ways that God is working through others, helping where we can. Let’s look at this world as if everything is a miracle, and add to it. My Beloved Community, God is active in the deeds of humanity. That one thing you must remember or nothing that follows will seem wondrous. Amen.
God of abundance, you have created this world to be a place filled with wonder and awe. You have created us to be partners with you in this world. For all of this, we are so grateful. And it is in this spirit of gratitude that we come before you now in prayer.
God, when we look around, help to see everything as a miracle. The miracles that you have created and the miracles that you have helped us to create. Give us a spirit of celebration that will help us to open our spirits to your power and influence, and help us to take steps in the creation of miracles that we may otherwise never have taken.
One of the ways God, that we open ourselves to you is through quiet moments of prayer. In these moments of silence hear our prayers for ourselves, our neighbors, and our strangers – trusting that you do hear and respond…
Good and Great God, with you everything is possible, and we worship your possibilities. We pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who blesses what little we have in ways that create miracles for ourselves and others. And we pray in the way he taught…Our Father…