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SUNDAY SERMON: What makes a miracle?

Rev. Stephen Baldwin

OT: Exodus 14.19-31

NT: Matthew 18.21-35

My sister is particular about her coffee.  Offer her a cup of your favorite gas station or fast food coffee, and watch her nose turn up faster than a Mountaineer whose child goes to Pitt.  She’s a coffee quality expert.  That is her love and her passion, so she is particular about it.  

We’re all particular about those things we love.  Have you ever been on a long car ride with someone who is particular about music?  Don’t even think about touching the dial, because they’ve already planned every note and lyric you will hear.  

I’m not particular about much; just look at my desk if you don’t believe me.  But I am particular about…chocolate chip cookies. Too crispy? No. Too much chocolate? No. Too flat? No. Too thick? No. You might say a cookie is a cookie, and I’ll fight you over it! They should be underbaked, soft, light on chocolate, and the bigger the better. 

We are all particular about certain things. Some silly, some quite serious. I think it’s important that we are particular about the words we use. Not only are they symbols of what is in our heart but they are roadmaps for the actions we take.  The words we use shape who we are and how we treat people.  

This idea was reinforced to me by my mother. She outlawed the word “hate” in our house.  We could say that we “disliked” something or someone, but we could not say we “hated” them.  At the time, I did not understand why, but I’ve come to learn that words matter.

In our studies of the Bible, words matter.  One small change in a word here or there can make all the difference in our understanding and application of a Biblical principle, right?  That’s especially true with miraculous stories like the parting of the sea.  It’s undoubtedly miraculous, but what makes it so? 

My favorite preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, says this:  “Those were the good old days: burning bushes, angels of the Lord, pillars of fire, parted seas, all those unmistakable signs of the presence of God.  What wouldn’t we give for one clear direction from the Lord, one burning bush to call us by name and tell us what to do?  At least that is what I think I want.  I stay so busy sometimes I wonder if I would see it; I wonder if I am so focused on my list of things to do that I would not notice a burning bush until I was scorched by it.”  

It’s true.  We long for the clarity of God’s voice, as if it were some thing of the past. We long for miracles, as if they don’t exist anymore. 

The miracles of the Old Testament are more than distant memories.  They are present realities if we listen closely.  

Take today’s story of the parting of the sea.  When the Israelites left Egypt, they should have taken the interstate, such as it was then, known as Via Maris (the great road) from Egypt heading north used by armies and travelers and traveling vacuum salesmen.  But they took the road less traveled, wandering through the wilderness instead, which led through the Red Sea (or “Sea of Reeds” literally).  Was it a trap for the Egyptians?  A stroke of good luck for the Israelites?  

We don’t know, but as a result they end up with only one way to go. Through a sea of water. They were cornered, without a way out. 

Then, God makes a way. The waters recede, the Israelites cross, the Egyptians follow behind, but by then the water begins to rise…and the Israelites escape harm. They survive the exodus, and God’s people live. 

What’s the miracle? That the water somehow receded, or that God made a way? We always want to focus on the water, but the real miracle is that God made a way. It was the water that day. It was the burning bush before. It would be the storm on the sea later. The empty cross. The list goes on and on. 

Because a miracle is God revealed. A miracle is a moment where God is revealed. It’s not about the moment or whatever stuff is in that moment–the water or the wine or the cross or the tomb–the miracle is about God. And God will always find a way. 

We are here today as two congregations, one mission. Two congregations, one denominations. Two congregations, one ministry. Two congregations, one love. Two congregations, one church. 

And in some ways, we are like the Israelites. We are out wandering in the wilderness seeking the will of God, trying to be better people, trying to be more faithful, trying to look to the future. But our backs are against the wall too. Fewer people go to church. Fewer people live in our state each year. Fewer people make loving their neighbor job #1. 

We too are in need of a miracle. We desperately want God to be revealed. And so we do what we normally do when we look for a miracle, we look for changes in the stuff of the moment–the people, the churches, the numbers. Remember that’s not what a miracle is made of. A miracle is God revealed. It’s not always big and bold and flashy. Sometimes it’s a still, small voice. Whatever it looks like, the source is the same. God, revealed. 

I don’t know what the future holds, but as we work together, worship together, serve together, help others together, learn together, sing together, and pray together, it feels miraculous. It feels like God revealed. It feels like God forging a new path. It feels like being assembled together on the water’s edge with an uncertain future ahead and with an unwavering faith in God revealed at our back. It feels like this, and it feels miraculous. Amen.

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