July 30, 2023

This is another joint sermon. It was written with a close friend of mine named John. I got to know John while he was incarcerated at the Concord Prison. He filled in for the Chaplain after the Chaplain moved on to San Quentin and we started writing sermons together. This sermon is different than the healing sermon I did two weeks ago. That sermon I started, John added his comments and I put it all together. This time John started the sermon and I added my reflections to it. A lot of this comes from John.

Miracles are an important part of Christianity and Christian life. If we are to believe that God’s love is present throughout our lives, then miracles are a visible sign of God’s love in our life. Though not all prayers are answered, answered prayers are a part of the miracle dynamic. Miracles and answered prayers are promises that Jesus has made to us as revealed in scripture. The Gospel of John 14:13-14 says to ask for what you need in the name of Jesus and it will be done. In verse 16:24, Jesus re-emphasizes that asking in His name will bring joy. Often, an answered prayer, or a miracle, brings joy.

So how about the miracles that come our way, that we don’t even ask for? Miracles are God’s grace, a reminder that God is thinking of us – even when we aren’t in touch with God. How often do we recognize these miracles as well – miracles? How often do we hear the words lucky, fate, or coincidence; as if trying to separate these miracles from God? What do we consider a miracle? Does a miracle have to be so opulent, so over the top to be considered a miracle or can someone offering a smile or seeing a beautiful sunset be considered a part of God’s love?

This reminds me of a miracle that I almost missed. Several years ago, while I was in seminary, I took a course on children’s Christian education. One of the assignments I had was to interview children about how they understood God. I interview a co-worker’s daughter. I remember her daughter telling me about a time when she was on an airplane and when she looked out the window, she saw the hand of God in the clouds. I told one of my classmates about this and she said that a boy she interviewed looked up into the clouds and said that he saw the hand of God.

For years, I kept thinking about the hand of God and I wondered why I had never seen it. I’ve had my fair share of inspirational and even miraculous moments, especially in nature, but I had never seen the hand of God. For years, I kept wondering why I had never seen the hand of God and even became envious of these children who had seen the hand of God, while I hadn’t.

A few years later, I was driving down Rt 2, and I noticed that the clouds had a very unusual pattern. They were almost feathery looking. I don’t recall ever seeing clouds that looked like this before and they were fascinating. I kept looking up at the clouds as I was driving. Suddenly, some of the clouds changed shape and they looked like the side of a cupped hand. I thought about the hand of God in the clouds, but I decided that my mind was playing tricks on me and I was just seeing things.

The shape of the hand turned back into clouds, and I thought yep, I’m just seeing things. Then the clouds turned back into the shape of a hand. I was still doubtful of what I was seeing. The clouds continued to change back and forth from clouds into the shape of a hand, and back to clouds. I continue to watch this transformation until my mind finally said, “That is the hand of God.” Immediately, the shape of a hand turned back to clouds and stayed that way.

This moment has always stayed with me, and I really believe that it was God’s way of showing me not only that God was present all around me, but that God knew the desires of my heart even desires I had never spoken out loud.

I also think about how easy it would have been to just think that it was all in my mind and not a sign from God, and I wonder how many other signs I may have missed because I doubted or wasn’t paying attention.

John told me that for a solid decade, while incarcerated at Concord, he kept a record of daily miracles and answered prayers in several volumes. He found that on the days when he wasn’t feeling God’s love, he would open up one of these books and be reminded that Jesus was always taking care of him – that Jesus was right there by his side. Recently, when he was transferred to Shirley Maximum Security Prison, he began that ritual again. In no time, despite being thrown to the roaring lion, Jesus was right there providing people for his protection, friendship and evangelization. When the DA transferred him to the Middleton Jail, the miracles never ceased. John says that Satan can’t hide or mask the miracles that Jesus sends us. Only we can stop the miracles when our secular vision prevents us from seeing and accepting the gifts from above. I asked earlier what is considered a major miracle and what is considered a minor miracle? Maybe our friend Bartimaeus in the Gospel of Mark can help us.

In the story of Bartimaeus, what is the minor miracle and what is the major miracle that occurs? It’s kind of a trick question. Bartimaeus is lined up to see who Jesus is, but unlike all the secular observers, Bartimaeus has a spiritual view despite his physical blindness. Though he can’t see Jesus, Bartimaeus can see that Jesus is from the line of King David, and just in case Jesus doesn’t catch wind of Bartimaeus’ plea for pity, a second call is made, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Even though Bartimaeus has spiritual insight his secular need to call a second time should never be needed if he is calling for Jesus.

Jesus calls Bart and immediately Bart springs forth throwing off his only cloak to join Jesus on the road. Bart approaches Jesus, but not before the secular world tries to silence Bart. Isn’t that a normal reaction from the secular world. They are in such misery not having God in their lives that they don’t want Bart to be well. Raise your hand if you have experienced that. You might have felt that in making your decision to come here today. People may ask why you go to church or say “You didn’t used to go to church,” but as John says “you’re right, I didn’t, but I wasn’t well then either.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. How many have been privileged to hear those words? If you haven’t, we need to change that. Right now, make the same request that Bartimaeus is about to make. Teacher, I want to see. That’s it! Transform your secular view to the spiritual world and you will see an endless supply of miracles. No more secular blindness. Just the pure unadulterated love of God. Bartimaeus can see. I want that for everyone here. Jesus tells Bartimaeus “Go your way, your faith has healed you.” So let’s answer one of the earlier questions. What was the major miracle and what was the minor miracle? Both answers are in verse 52. Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” Immediately Bart received his sight and followed Jesus along the way. If you said that Bartimaeus’ renewed eyesight was the major miracle, you wouldn’t be completely wrong. However, I say regaining eyesight is the minor miracle in this story. The major miracle is that Bart is told by Jesus to go his own way, but Bart instead follows Jesus. He will now see things happen he never thought possible. That’s a great miracle. The secular miracle of gaining eyesight leads to the spiritual eyesight of seeing all that Jesus has for us.

I invite you to ask Jesus for sight. Not for physical sight but for spiritual sight. Where is God leading you, this church, this community right now? What miracles or inspirations from God are around you right now? What miracles or inspirations have passed you by? If God were to take all of your missed miracles and put them in a box, how big would that box be? Would it be a small box big enough to only hold a few missed miracles, or would it be an enormous box, so large you would need a ladder to get to the top of it? You are in a place right now to decide which path you will take. These miracles might be a call to follow Jesus on the way.

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