“A Course in Miracles” was a sermon preached on the weekend of July 5, 2020 by Pastor John Valentine as part of our continuing sermon series on Exodus. The particular text is Exodus 14:1-30.
“A Course in Miracles”
Pentecost 7 NL2 John B. Valentine
Exodus 14:10-30 July 5, 2020
“A COURSE IN MIRACLES”
It must have been a decade ago now that I ran across an article in a magazine ...
An article which detailed a lively ... make that a ‘heated’ ... conversation ... that was taking place in the country of Nigeria ... about “televised religious miracles”.
For apparently Nigeria’s National Broadcasting Commission had made a decision to ban the advertising and broadcasting of “unverifiable miracle healings” on the idiot box ... and the whole country was in a tizzy!
I kid you not ... folks. Just because you didn’t hear about doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. A nation of some two hundred million people got totally worked up over whether or not there was any place at all for miracles on T.V.!!
You see ....
• Some asserted that the government was right to ban “Miracle TV” because most of the miracles being shown were “deceptive”.
• Others claimed that freedom of speech and freedom to worship should trump governmental concerns.
• Still others claimed that the problem was that certain TV preachers and religious leaders had focused their ministry on these so-called ‘miracles’ as a way to prey on the poor.
• Others complained that the “faith healers” were advertising their services as a viable alternative to the doctor ... some even allegedly offered treatment for HIV and AIDS.
• While another retorted: “So where do you draw the line between Christian and secular advertisements. Coca Cola says its drink does this. Pepsi says its cola does that. How many of the things they say of their products are actually true?”
Now the reason I bring this up is NOT because it sounds like a precursor of what’s been going on our society ... although there are some curious parallels betwixt those Nigerian ads and some of what we find promulgated by some of Facebook and Twitter and the Dark Web in recent days.
Rather ... the reason I bring it up is because it invites us to consider how WE might answer questions about miracles. I mean:
• Do “real” miracles still happen?
• Are so-called “miracle workers” all frauds?
• Did the miracles in the Bible really happen at all?
• Are miracles really just curious coincidences or is there something more to them than that?
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You know ... of all the places in the Bible wherein we could begin to ground an understanding of the purpose and the place and the possibility of miracles ... I’d venture to guess that today’s Scripture reading wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
I mean ...
• If you ever saw Cecil B. DeMille’s production of The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston ...
• If you ever watched Dreamworks’ animated production of The Prince of Egypt ...
• If you ever took a backlot tour of Universal Studios down in Hollywood ...
You KNOW that the story of the parting of the Red Sea is about as miraculous a miracle as there could possibly be.
• How the Israelites survived the last of the plagues by painting the blood of a lamb on their doorposts ...
• How ... at the direction of Moses ... they fled eastward with not much more than the clothes on their back and some undercooked bread ...
• How the Pharaoh called out his armies to put down this uprising ... and how most of the Israelites immediately had a change of heart ...
Which all leads up to the story that Henry read for us a little bit ago.
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I mean ... consider that situation from the perspective of Moses ... for he is truly a man who has painted himself into a corner ... with NO WAY OUT.
• He’s got the Pharaoh ... arguable the most powerful man in the world at the time ... out to get him for all the trouble he’s caused.
• He’s got the Israelites ... those whom God asked him to liberate ... thinking that they’d all been scammed.
• He’s got Pharaoh’s armies bearing down from the west ... ready to wreak their revenge.
• He’s got the voice of God ringing in his ears telling him to soldier on.
• And he’s got a massive body of water at his back ... and water is rarely forgiving.
For all intents and purposes ... as Chick Hearn used to say about basketball games ... “This one’s in the refrigerator: the door is closed, the lights are out, the butter's getting hard, the eggs are cooling, and the Jell-O's jigglin'!”
• His goose is cooked.
• He’s about to be pwned.
• Moses is toast.
But then ... in short order .. Yogi Berra’s assertion that “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” is the one that turns out to be true!
• Pharaoh’s armies getting a swimming lesson ...
• Pharaoh himself is foiled ... and
• God’s children go free.
And this event ... this saving event ... becomes the lens through which all of Israel’s history ... all of Christian history ... all of OUR histories ... are seen.
But every time we read a story like this from the Bible ... somebody invariably asks me ... “Pastor John, do you think that that story really happened?”
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As a pastor ... I often get asked about miracles ... and about the reality of miracles.
In fact ... I’ve even been asked to judge whether a particular occurrence was something “miraculous” or not!
And the first thing I always want to say in response to questions about miracles is that miracles are NOT “party tricks”.
The purpose of miraculous events in the Bible and in our world is never simply to say “Cool trick, God” ... or even just “Wow!”
No ....... the truly miraculous stuff in the Bible and in our lives invites responses like "Thank you, Lord!" ... and "My Lord and my God!"
They invite confessions of faith and of trust and of thankfulness.
• opportunities for us to acknowledge a God who does for us what we can’t do for ourselves ...
• opportunities for us to acknowledge that God is active and alive and at work in our midst ...
• opportunities for us to acknowledge that God is bigger than our rationalized perceptions of God.
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But another thing that those questions about miracles seem to get at is that ... most of the time ... most of us operate with what I tend to call “a theology of scarcity.”
You see ... a theology of scarcity presumes:
• that God is that of a tight-fisted banker who has a vault full of good stuff up in heaven ... and we ... for our part ... down here live in a world where none of the good stuff is ... and
∙ that prayer is the fine art of pleading with that tight-fisted God to open up the heavenly treasury and see if perchance there’s something in there that God could do without ... and
∙ that miracles are about God somehow dropping one or two of those unneeded extras down here for us because we need them more than God does.
This theology of scarcity stuff looks like “pennies from heaven” ... like us waiting, hoping praying, begging ... that just this once something good might come our way.
And most of the prayers of people who operate from a theology of scarcity sound like ... “God ... this is what I really, really, really need in my life right now ... and I’m wondering if ... maybe just this once ... you could help me out a little bit.”
But over against that “pennies from heaven” way of looking at things is what we might call “a theology of abundance.”
You see ... in a theology of abundance ...
∙ God is constantly and consistently blessing us ... with things like food and clothing, homes and families, work and income ... peace and health, true friends and neighbors ... stuff like that. It’s about a God who gives and gives and gives some more.
∙ And prayer ... in a theology of abundance ... is primarily not about asking for things from God that God has not already given ... but rather about thanking for the things that God has already done.
∙ And miracles ... seen from that same perspective ... are mostly about God opening our eyes to what its is that God has done ... and is doing ... and will do ... for us and for our world ... and echoing the ancient words of a fellow named Augustine who said “Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.”
And most of the prayers of people who operate from a theology of abundance sound like ... “God ... I can’t believe how good you are to me ... and how undeserving I am of the abundance that you’ve poured out on me ... and I just want to tell you how thankful I am to you.”
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Do you sense something of the difference between those two ways of looking at things?
Not that’s it is easy for us to give up our cherished ways of doing things and thinking about things from a “theology of scarcity” perspective ...
But the WHOLE of salvation history ....
• from Adam and Eve in the garden ...
• to Noah and the ark ...
• to Abraham on the mountaintop ...
• to Moses here at the Red Sea ... and ultimately
• to Jesus on Easter morning ...
Is testimony to the fact that God doesn’t deal with us out of scarcity ... but out of abundance!
And NOTHING is more at odds with the biblical witness than our contorting an abundantly good God into a miserly miracle monger!
Think about it this way.
You know the old “Rheem Rocks”???
Those rocks that overlook Nation’s Burgers and the old Rheem Theater and Starbucks and TJMaxx? The rocks that are constantly getting a new paint job??
Now ... from a logical perspective ... those rocks peeking out from that hillside could have gotten there one of two ways. Either:
a) They were just randomly deposited there hundreds ... or thousands .. or maybe millions of years ago ... just plopped down there for no apparent reason. Or ....
b) They are reminders that there are lots and lots of rocks ... bedrock even ... underneath the surface terrain that we see ... and that occasionally ... one of those rocks juts up through the hillside as a reminder of the abundance of rocks below.
You got that?
• Either there are relatively few rocks ... scarcely and randomly appearing ...
• Or the presence of some rocks on the surface is a visible reminder of the abundance of rocks beneath the soil on which we live.
Any idea which it is? It’s option “B” ... isn’t it?
There are lots of rocks underneath the surface of these hills amid which we live ... and the occasional rock that we see ... is a reminder ... if we take time to remember ... of all the rocks that we don’t see beneath our feet.
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It’s the same way with miracles ... folks?
People in his day ... and a whole lot of people in our day ... were and are under the impression that they were trinkets dropped down from heaven by a tight-fisted miserly God ... a miracle here ... a miracle there ... just every once in a while.
But what Holy Scripture is trying to get folks like us to see is that God isn’t like that!
Rather ... the occasional miracles that we do see ought to serve for us as reminders of all the unseen, unappreciated, unrecognized work of God that supports and undergirds and sustains us every day of our lives.
For ... as Albert Einstein of all people once 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.
Think on these things!