April 19, 2015

Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:11-21
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is.

Miracles still happen. I can say that even though I don't think I've ever seen a supernatural occurrence that defies scientific explanation. Oh, we often talk about the miracle of magnificent sunset or a baby's giggle. We see miracles in nature all the time with the blooming fields of wildflowers in springtime and the way the land is restored after a disaster. It doesn't take very long for a forest to begin sprouting after a fire or a valley to recover after a flood. Even draught stricken regions of the world have turned green with new growth when it begins to rain.

Oh, there are those who scoff at the idea that those are miracles. They can easily be explained away. There is a always a sunset, and those brilliant days come because of the right conditions. A baby's giggle isn't anything extraordinary; babies laugh and cry all the time. The wildflowers will bloom year after year; they will be magnificent when the conditions are perfect. Fire is good for the forest, and that's why it recovers so quickly. Floods leave behind nutrients that get washed out of the earth and even draughts can provide positive effects. Where is the miracle?

We see miracles through the eyes of faith, simply knowing that God's hand is in the midst of everything in our world. We see Him as He touches our lives in subtle but very real ways. We see Him painting that sunset and that field of wildflowers. We see Him make good things happen out of the bad. They might not be miraculous miracles, but to us they are miracles. We are happy to settle for the little miracles because we believe that God can and does make incredible things happen every day.

We read the stories of Jesus and we are amazed. He healed the sick, cast out demons, made wine out of water and fed thousands on multiple occasions. He walked on water and stopped the storm. He made the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk. He cured leprosy and raised the dead. We don't see that kind of miracle anymore. Oh, we occasionally hear of something that is beyond our everyday experiences, but even then we can usually explain it away. Even medical miracles that surprise the doctors can often be discounted with questions.

When we do hear about an actual miracle, like stories from places like Africa of people being raised from the dead, we wonder if it could be true but think like Thomas: we will believe when we see it for ourselves. We don't doubt that God can make these things happen, but we want proof. We believe in Him, but there's no reason for us to believe in miracles because our faith is based on what Christ has done rather than on what He might do today. We know that the stories in the scriptures, both of Jesus and His disciples, helped to establish their authority to speak the Gospel to the world. We don't need these miracles to establish our credibility. We have the power of the Holy Spirit and as we speak, the Word does the work. Those who believe do so because the Spirit gives them faith. While it would be nice if we had the backing of miraculous works to put credibility to our words, we don't need them. The true miracle has nothing to do with supernatural occurrences. The true miracle is faith.

Jesus once said, "You will do greater things that these." They were amazed at His miraculous works, but Jesus assured them that they would do more. They did do miraculous works as we see in the story before today's first reading from the book of Acts. Peter saw a crippled man who was left at the gate to beg. He wasn't very enthusiastic about his 'work'; he didn't even look at those who were passing him by when he asked for money. When Peter called him to look, he paid attention because he thought they were going to give him some coin. Peter gave him something better. "Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." Peter helped him up and he was so excited to be healed that he danced around the Temple praising God. The people were amazed.

The miracle made the people pay attention. Isn't that what we want? Isn't that why we want the miracle? We want people to pay attention to us. However, it is very easy to get caught up in the fame and amazement of the crowds while losing touch with our true ministry. After all, Jesus didn't heal to make the crowd follow Him; He healed so that they would listen. As a matter of fact, how many times did Jesus tell those He healed to be quiet about it?

The healing definitely got the attention of the people in the Temple. They came running, surrounding Peter, John and the man. Peter asked, "Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this man? or why fasten ye your eyes on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him to walk?" It wasn't about Peter or John, or even about the man. It was all about the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the God of their fathers. It was all about glorifying Jesus. See, Peter didn't heal with fancy words but with the name of Jesus Christ. Peter went on to tell the people what really mattered: "Believe in Jesus."

See, miraculous healing, raising the dead, overcoming nature and the physical world is nothing compared to the real miracle: faith. Sharing the Gospel is the greater work that we are called to do, because in speaking God's Word of forgiveness and hope we give the people what they truly need: life. Amazing, isn't it: the one thing that was denied Jesus is the very thing He won for us on the cross. Peter uses this opportunity to tell the people that even though they missed the truth of Christ Jesus when He was alive, God was doing exactly what He intended so that they could see the truth. Jesus died at the hands of all those who rejected Him, but He has promised forgiveness for all who turn back to the God who loved them so much that He sent His Son to make all who believe heirs to the eternal kingdom.

This is love. Jesus loved all those He healed and raised. He loved those He fed and taught. He loved the disciples. He even loved those who sent Him to the cross. They did not recognize Him, even as many still do not know Him. Even the disciples weren't so sure in those first moments after the resurrection. We heard John's version of His appearance in the Upper Room last week. This week we hear Luke's. The disciples were startled and frightened. They thought Jesus was a ghost. Jesus showed them His hands and side, and just so that they would know that He was not just a spirit, He asked for some food. Though we do not know the kind of body Jesus had after He was raised, we know that it was a real, physical body. Then Jesus spoke to them again about everything He taught them along the way. He showed them clearly, with hindsight and twenty-twenty vision, that He was the fulfillment of the prophets. Peter took that knowledge with him when he went out to preach and teach in the synagogues.

It would be nice to experience a truly miraculous event in my lifetime, to see something happen that is beyond explanation. I wonder at times if we are truly living in God's Spirit, doing God's work since we are not seeing God's glory in the miraculous. However, we are truly doing the greater things because every person who hears God's Word and believes is not just converted to a religion; they are given a new life and made children of God. There will be a day when that makes a difference; there will be a day when those who do not believe will be judged. On that very day, those who do believe will become like God because we will see Him as He is.

The psalmist says, "Many there are that say, Who will show us any good? Jehovah, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us." The English Standard Version translates this, "Oh, that we might see 'better times!'" Miraculous events make life better. The lifelong cripple in the story from Acts saw that first hand. Instead of lying by the gate begging for pennies, he was able to walk and jump and praise God. We all want that kind of healing from whatever it is that ails us or we want it for the people we love. We want to see better times, that's why we look for the miracle.

But the true miracle is faith, and life is better here as we wait for the day when we will live forever in the presence of our God. Faith, hope, peace, joy, love, mercy, grace: these are things that come to us from the Author of life. He has rescued us from doubt, hopelessness, anger, sadness, hatred, greed, selfishness and made us His children forever. He has, by the power of the Holy Spirit, opened our hearts and our minds to understand His reality, giving us the faith to go out into the world and see His hand in everything. Most of all, He has called us to a life of sharing the Gospel so that others will hear and believe and become the children of faith who will dwell with Him forever.

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