1515) Missing the Miracle

Adolf Behrman - Talmudysci.jpg

Talmud Readers, by Adolf Behrman (1876-1942)

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The Talmud and the Midrash are ancient writings that interpret and comment on the Hebrew Scriptures.  In Jewish religious tradition they are second only to the Scriptures in authority.  The following story is from Shemot Rabba, a midrash dating to the 11th and 12th centuries that is a commentary on the book of Exodus.  This retelling is based on the story as it is told in Eyes Remade for Wonder, by Lawrence Kushner (pages 11-12).

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     The dividing of the Red Sea, according to Jewish tradition, is the greatest miracle ever performed.  And yet we have one midrash that mentions two Israelites, Reuven and Shimon, who had a different experience.

     Apparently the bottom of the sea, though safe to walk on, was not completely dry but a little muddy (like a beach at low tide).  Reuven stepped into it and curled his lip.  “What is this muck?”

     Shimon scowled, “There’s mud all over the place!”

     “This is just like the slime pits of Egypt!” replied Reuven.

     “What’s the difference?” complained Shimon.  “Mud here, mud there; it’s all the same.”

     And so it went for the two of them, grumbling all the way across the bottom of the sea.  They never once looked up to see the walls of water miraculously divided and held up on either side of them by the power of God.  Therefore, they never understood why on the distant shore, everyone else was singing and dancing.  God had provided for their escape and they were freed from the oppression of their slavery.

     But for Reuven and Shimon the miracle never happened.

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     In his 1938 play Our Town, Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) describes how we often fail to appreciate the gift of life, and therefore also miss the miracle.  The play was written about events that occured in the very early years of the 20th century in a small town called Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire.  The main character of the story is named Emily.  The story deals with the preciousness of time and the gift of life, the meaning of which we often miss.

     Emily dies, and in a conversation she has with the saints departed, she asks to go back to Grover’s Corner for one day.  She chooses her twelfth birthday.

     She goes back in a form invisible to those on earth.  She watches what happens in the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, and outside the house.  She notices that people, even the people in her immediate family, don’t seem to notice one another.  They go about their busy lives preoccupied.  She finally cries out, as if her mother might hear her, “Oh, Mama, Mama, just look at me, look at me for a minute, as though you really see me, just for a moment now, while we’re all together.  Mama, let’s be happy.  Let’s look at one another and really see each other.”  But their life goes on, preoccupied and fleeting.

     Emily turns to the stage manager, the character off to the side, who plays a very important role, and she says, “Life goes so fast.  We don’t even have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize this while I was living.  We never noticed.”

     At the end, almost broken-hearted, she asks to be taken back to heaven.

     As she’s just about to leave, she looks back, over her shoulder, and she says, “Goodbye world, good-bye Grover’s Corner, good-bye Mama and Papa, good-bye good taste of coffee, good-bye new ironed dresses and clocks ticking and hot baths, good-bye sleeping and waking.  Oh life, oh life, you’re too wonderful.  Why don’t we realize?” 

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Exodus 14:29-31  —   The Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.  That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.  And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

Acts 17:25b  —  (God) himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

Psalm 139:14  —  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

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PSALM 136:1-3…26:

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.

O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever…

O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.

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1090) A Different Kind of Healing

 

Tony Campolo  (1935- )

By Tony Campolo, Let Me Tell You a Story, pages 34-36.

     A couple of years ago I was at a church conference in South Africa.  The other speaker was one of the founders of the movement often referred to as the Toronto Blessing.  This is a movement that very much believes in a theology of signs and wonders.  Those engaged in this ministry contend that miracles are part of the witness that we should have to an unbelieving world as we try to win people to Christ.

     This particular evangelist was very respectful of me, even though miracles were not any part of my ministry.  When he asked if I was into healing people, I explained to him that when I’m with people who are sick, I always pray for them to be healed, but to be perfectly honest, I hadn’t ever seen anything spectacular happen.  My friend jokingly reminded me that not seeing anything spectacular happen hadn’t deterred me from being a preacher.  We both laughed, even as he affirmed that the ministry of Christ was to preach, to teach, and to heal, and that all three of those things should be part of what we do in our everyday service for the Kingdom.

     The next week I was back in the States and preaching at a church in Oregon.  On impulse, as I ended the service I said to the congregation that if anyone wanted to remain behind for healing, I would be glad to pray with them.  I told them they shouldn’t expect much to happen, because nothing much happens when I pray, but if they wanted to give it a try, I’d be willing to pray as hard as I could.  Surprisingly, about thirty people stayed behind and waited patiently as I prayed for one after the other.

     I did not want to do this healing thing fast, like some of the healers I see on television.  I wanted to really talk to a person before I prayed and get a feel for what was on that person’s heart.  I wanted to hug each person and connect with him or her as deeply as I knew how.  I did that with each of the people who stayed behind, and in each case I put some olive oil that I had brought along with me on each of their heads.  It took me more than an hour to pray through that little group.  But I did it!  What intrigued me was that most of the people who had come for healing had nothing physically wrong with them.  One woman wanted healing for her marriage.  One man needed healing for an addiction to pornography.  Someone else asked healing for anger.  But there were a few who did have physical illnesses.

     Four days later I got a telephone call, and the woman at the other end said, “Tony, on Sunday you prayed for my husband. He had cancer.”

     When I heard the word “had” my heart quickened a bit. “Had cancer?” I asked.

     The woman answered, “Well, he’s dead now.”

     When she said that I thought to myself, “A lot of good I do.”

     Then the woman said, “You don’t understand.  When my husband and I walked into that church on Sunday, he was angry with God.  He had cancer and he knew he was going to be dead soon, and he hated God for letting it happen.  He wanted to see his grandchildren grow up more than anything.  At night he would lie in bed and curse God.  It was horrible.  And, the angrier he got toward God, the meaner he was to everyone around him.  It was unbearable to be in the same room with him.  His nastiness just kept getting worse and worse and worse.  But then you laid hands on him on Sunday morning and you prayed for him.  When he walked out of church I knew there was something different.  I could feel it.  He was a different person.  The last four days of our lives have been the best four days we’ve ever had together.  We talked and laughed.  We even sang hymns with each other.  It was a good, good time.”

     She paused, then added something really profound.  She said, “Tony, he wasn’t cured, but he was healed.”

     I hung up the phone, knowing I had learned something about the work of the Holy Spirit.

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II Corinthians 12:7-10  —  To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

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O Father of all mercy and God of all comfort, strengthen and uphold me by your Spirit, until you reveal to me the purpose of my tribulations.  For it is your will that we, at times, be troubled and grieved.  Indeed, you do not permit any evil to be done, unless you can make it serve a good purpose.  You see my distress and weakness.  I pray that you help and deliver me.  Amen.  

–Martin Luther

74) Don’t Miss the Miracles

     If you go to the downtown area of any big city you will see street musicians.  They will be leaning up against a building, playing their guitar, saxophone, violin, trumpet, or whatever.  Their instrument case or hat will be lying open on the sidewalk ahead of them in hopes of receiving some coins or dollar bills from appreciative (or sympathetic) people walking by.  Some of these musicians are better than others.  Some are enthusiastic and entertaining; others have that ‘hangdog’ look, and you can tell they have pretty well given up on life.  But they are probably hungry, and desperate for the few coins that might be thrown their way.

      A while back a man quietly took his place against a wall in a subway station in Washington, D.C.  He took out his violin, placed his hat on the ground, and began to play.  For this day he had chosen six selections by Johann Sebastian Bach.  During this sidewalk performance, several thousand people walked by.  A few stopped to listen briefly, and some slowed their pace; but most of the money in the hat came from people who did not slow down at all.  They just dropped something in the hat as they rushed by, perhaps out of pity, but certainly not in appreciation for the music that they did not even stop to hear.

     On several occasions little children stopped to listen, but every time they did the parent would pull them on, much like one does with a dog that wants to stop to sniff at something.  Maybe it was for the kids just a child-like curiosity.  Or maybe, like a sniffing dog, the children sensed something special was there.  Actually, it was something very special.  The street musician that day, that shabbily dressed ‘beggar,’ was the world renowned violinist Joshua Bell.  The violin he was playing is valued at 3.5 million dollars.  Just two days before, people had packed a Boston theater to hear him, paying an average of $100 per seat.

     That day in the subway station Bell made a total of 32 dollars.  When he finished, there was no applause, no standing ovation like he usually receives, nothing at all to acknowledge the magnificent talent that had just been on display.  For nearly an hour, greatness had appeared in that otherwise bleak subway station, but no one noticed it.  People just rushed by, unaware.

     This interesting little experiment was carried out by the Washington Post, but the same thing goes on every day, everywhere, for everyone.  There is greatness, beauty, magnificence, and miracles all around us, but we are usually blind to it all.  The Bible says the heavens and all creation declare the glory of God, but we usually miss it.

     Once in a while we might get a glimpse.  The other day I say a wonderful photograph of a leaf.  It was just an ordinary leaf off a tree, but the photo showed its tremendous beauty.  The leaf had for the most part decayed and disintegrated, and all that was left was the intricate system of little veins going out from the center stem to the outer edges.  The photographer had the leaf held up against the sun, the light was shining through the silhouetted veins, and it was beautiful.  This was just a common leaf.  How much more wonder is all around us all the time?!

     I am always amazed to see an old Michael Jackson video, seeing his moves, especially the way he could do that incredible moon-walk.  But the most amazing thing is to be able to walk at all, and most of us can do that.  A full description of the actual process would fill a library.  There first must be two living legs, the tissue being maintained by outside energy that is processed in the digestive system and the respiratory system, and delivered by the circulatory system.  The exhausted energy must then be delivered back by the circulatory system to other organs that process it for elimination from the body.  So far, this is all just to maintain the tissue.  Then the movement must be commanded by the brain, another miracle, with the message being delivered by the nervous system, and the command carried out by a precise arrangement of muscles, ligaments, and cartilage, with the necessary structure and support of the skeletal system.  There are a million things all must work together, all at once, in order for you to put one foot in front of the other.  If there is even a small glitch anywhere in the system you are in a wheelchair or even dead.

     Eight centuries ago St. Francis taught the world to see the extraordinary blessings and miracles of God in the seemingly ordinary things of the natural world all around us.  The hymn All Creatures of our God and King, based on a poem by St. Francis, describes how nature itself sings praises to the glory of God, with the sun and the moon, the clouds and the wind, water and fire, fruits and flowers, all declaring the wonder of God’s creation.  God has chosen to reveal himself in the ordinary.  If you look for God there, in the ordinary, you will see him all over the place.  Think of that the next time you take an ordinary step, and give thanks to God for the miracle of your ordinary body.  And give thanks to God for Jesus, who promises an even more perfect body, one that will last for all eternity.

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Psalm 19:1 — The heavens decla re the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Psalm 139:14-15 — For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

II Corinthians 5:1 — Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

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Lord, make me see your glory in every place.  Amen.   –Michelangelo

39) Sometimes Miracles Hide

Cover of "Sometimes Miracles Hide"

     Bruce Carroll is a multiple Grammy and Dove Award-winning artist.  He is also the worship leader at his church.  In 1992 Carroll recorded the song “Sometimes Miracles Hide” which he had written with C. Aaron Wilburn.  The song tells the story of a pregnant couple who learn from tests that “things aren’t right.”  They were “badly shaken,” but they move past the disappointment and fear, and eventually learn that God “wraps some blessings in disguise.”  It is a wonderful song, and it has touched the lives of many people who have special needs children.  Many of these folks wrote Carroll to tell their story and thank him for his song.  In 1999 Carroll published several of these letters in a book also called “Sometimes Miracles Hide.”  In today’s meditation there is a video of the song and the lyrics.  Upcoming meditations will contain letters from the book.  You may hear the song and watch a video at:

http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=9JJ9MCNU

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SOMETIMES MIRACLES HIDE
By Bruce Carroll and C. Aaron Wilburn

They were so excited, it was coming to be
Two people so in love, now soon there would be three.
For many years they’d planned it
Now it would soon be true.
She was picking out the pink clothes
He was looking at the blue.

The call came unexpected,
The doctor had bad news.
Some tests came back and things weren’t right
He said, ‘You’re going to have to choose
I’ll wait a week for your decision.’
Then the words cut like a knife,
‘I’m sure everyone will understand
If you want to take it’s life.’

Though they were badly shaken
They just had no choice.
They knew God creates no accidents
And they were sure they had His voice saying
‘Sometimes miracles hide
God will wrap some blessings in disguise
You may have to wait a lifetime
To see the reasons with your eyes
‘Cause sometimes miracles hide.’

It seemed before they knew it
The appointed day arrived.
With eager apprehension
They could hardly hold inside.
The first time they laid eyes on her
Confirmed the doctor’s fears,
But they held on to God’s promises
‘Cause they were sure they both could hear,
‘Sometimes miracles hide
God will wrap some blessings in disguise
You may have to wait a lifetime
To see the reasons with your eyes
‘Cause sometimes miracles hide.’

Though she was not like the other girls
They thought she was the best.
And through all the years of struggle
Neither whispered one regret.
On the first day that she started school
And took her first bus ride
They remembered the words that God had spoke
And they both broke down and cried.

See, to them it did not matter
Why some things in life take place
They just knew the joy they felt
When they looked into her face.

Sometimes miracles hide
They say, “God has wrapped our blessing in disguise
We may have to wait this lifetime
To see the reasons with our eyes
But we know sometimes miracles hide”

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Hebrews 4:16  —  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

II Corinthians 9:8  —  God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

II Corinthians 4:7-9  —  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

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Make my life a happy one, O Lord…
     Not by shielding me from sorrow and pain, but by strengthening me to bear it if it comes.
     Not by taking hardship from me, but by taking all cowardice and fear from my heart as I meet hardships.
     Not by making my path easy, but by making me sturdy enough to tread any path.
     Not by granting unbroken sunshine, but by keeping my face bright even in the shadows.
     Not by making my life always pleasant, but by showing me where others need me most and by making me zealous to be there and to help…
God, make my life a happy one.  Amen.     –source unknown