So, let me ask: Do you believe in miracles?
We usually use that word “miracle” to describe fairly non-miraculous things, honestly – fourth-quarter comebacks or walk-off home runs. But I think today’s Gospel reading might make us stop short and ask whether we believe in the more amazing kind of miracle, when God empowers a change in the created order and makes a new reality possible in the here and now.
To me, miracles are theologically messy. We’d like for them to work in ways we can control or at least understand. We like certainty or, failing that, at least predictability. If I believe deeply enough or say the right prayers, it would be great if I could know God was going to do something miraculous in response. We’d like miracles to follow the rules of physics: for every spiritual action, there should be an equal and opposite spiritual reaction.
Of course, miracles don’t work that way. Sometimes healing comes, and sometimes it doesn’t – at least not in ways we see. Sometimes God’s power changes lives; sometimes those lives remain the same. And like the disciple Thomas, we’d find it much easier to believe in God’s astonishing power if we could see it and touch it for ourselves.
Now, Thomas gets a bad rap, being called “Doubting Thomas” because he demands evidence of resurrection. In fairness, he wasn’t asking for anything the other disciples hadn’t already received. The rest of them were together on Easter night, hiding out after hearing Mary Magdalene say that morning that she had “seen the Lord!” (John 20:18). If they’d believed her news, they wouldn’t have been hiding out from the authorities; they would have been out in the streets, telling everyone Jesus was alive. Instead, they were hedging their bets behind a locked door until Jesus himself passed through it and stood among them, showing his friends the nail wounds in his feet and his wrists. Thomas just wanted the same proof the other doubters got to see.
So, I think we might be forgiven, too, for wanting to see some evidence that resurrection happens. Even though Jesus explicitly blesses “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29), it doesn’t hurt if you get to see a miracle every now and then. So, let me share a couple with you.
One involves someone we see here at St. Andrew’s pretty much every week. First, a little background: One of our outreach partners is Welcome House, a place here in Kansas City where men struggling with addiction can begin a solid recovery. It’s a refuge of last resort for most of the 80 men living there at any given time. Guys come to Welcome House when they have no other option, once their disease has cost them homes and livelihoods and spouses and kids – and they go there seeking nothing less than a miracle, the gift of a new life.
So, Welcome House had its annual fundraising breakfast last Tuesday. I was there, along with other St. Andrew’s people. Each year at this breakfast, the organization honors someone who’s made a huge difference for the men Welcome House serves, someone whose story of enabling transformation for others qualifies him or her for what they call the “Miracle Award.” This year, the miracle story they highlighted belongs to our own Harold House.
As I said, we see Harold just about every Sunday, but St. Andrew’s is not his first stop. That’s because every Sunday, Harold begins his morning at a meeting at Welcome House, providing presence, support, and two dozen donuts for the men there. He’s done that for 25 years now, after graduating from Welcome House himself. And Harold is the one responsible for connecting St. Andrew’s with Welcome House, the one who brought our partnership into being.
Harold does this holy work in the world because he is a witness of the miracle of resurrection. He found new life through Welcome House, and he’s committed himself to sharing that hope with others on the same journey. If a miracle is, indeed, God empowering a change in the created order and making a new reality possible in the here and now, then I would say Harold’s story is nothing short of miraculous. And 25 years later, he lives that miracle by serving the guys God gives him to serve, week after week.
Here’s a second miracle story for you, one more distant geographically but close to our hearts. For more than 25 years, St. Andrew’s has had a partnership with St. Augustin’s Episcopal Church and School in Maniche, Haiti. The Diocese of Haiti started the school to serve families living on the other side of the river from the main population of Maniche, a community with no bridge across that river. For many years, St. Andrew’s provided financial support for the school’s operation, teaching maybe 100 kids a year in preschool through sixth grade. When we would go to visit, on mission trips, we’d see red-tinged hair among the kids there, a sign of protein deficiency. But you didn’t have to be a physician to notice many of the kids were listless and struggling to learn, simply because they were hungry.
So, 14 years ago, we took a risk. We decided to increase our support for the kids at St. Augustin’s by providing a hot lunch every day: nutritious beans and rice, a complete protein. Honestly, we didn’t know whether this effort would work. Would the supplies get there consistently? The road up the mountains to the village was demanding, and our partner priest had five other congregations and schools to oversee, too. Would the money be enough? Haiti is a place where food prices sometimes skyrocket unpredictably. Would the effort be sustainable? I mean, a single fundraiser for hot lunches is one thing; asking people to give over and over again is something else.
So, here’s the miracle. Over the past few years, the quality of the education at St. Augustin’s has earned it a strong reputation among the families there, and parents want to get their kids into it. So, enrollment has risen to 470 students in preschool through ninth grade. That’s almost five times more mouths to feed – 85,400 lunches each year. 85,400 lunches. But you all have come through, every year, with the Haiti Benefit Dinner, which happens tonight. Through ticket sales and your contributions, we’ll fund the hot-lunch program for another year, bringing hundreds of kids the opportunity for a life beyond subsistence agriculture.
If a miracle is God empowering a change in the created order and making a new reality possible in the here and now, then I would say the school’s story is nothing short of miraculous. And the participants in that miracle are sitting right here, right now; and we’ll gather again tonight for a fantastic celebration of life made new. As the years of this partnership go on, we’ll keep living out this miracle by serving the families God gives us to serve.
Now, I do not doubt God’s power to intervene in the created order and change things suddenly, with no rational explanation. After all, God is God, and we are not. But still, I think most often in our world, new life is a collaborative enterprise, with us blessed to take part in God’s miraculous work. That's not exactly the most efficient approach. So, why would God choose to do it like that? I think it must be because God likes it that way. Sure, God has the power to flip a switch and change hearts and lives at will. But how much more fun must it be for the One who creates us and redeems us and sustains us to draw us children of God into the miracle-working? As every parent knows, it’s much more rewarding, and much more formational, to let your kids do the work on their science-fair projects, rather than doing it for them.
In theological language, we might put it this way: Resurrected life is the mission of God in the post-Easter world. And amazingly enough, God invites us to carry out that mission, asking us to be agents of new life ourselves. The lives of the guys at Welcome House don’t change without the people who fund its operation, as well as people like Harold House who live the story of resurrection day to day. The future for the kids at St. Augustin’s doesn’t change without that school, and its teachers, and you providing the wherewithal for almost 500 kids to learn and eat well at least once each school day. Resurrection happens most often not by singlehanded divine magic but by divine collaboration. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his friends, and he gives them his peace, and commissions them as his apostles, the force of new life in the world. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus tells his friends, “so I send you” (John 20:21).
And, so God sends us on this mission – making life new by creating and redeeming and sustaining our world. Remarkably enough, it’s you and I whom God asks to do the work, blessing us richly, too, in the process.
So, do you believe in miracles? Do you believe in God’s power to make life new? I do. We may not see the marks of the nails today, but I see the Body of Christ here before me, living and active in the world. Just look around. Just come tonight. And just like Thomas, you’ll see Jesus’ hands and feet in the flesh.