First Evangelical Lutheran Church
February 8, 2015
I love fantasy fiction. I grew up on the fairy tales, and later discovered the enchanting worlds of Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. I raised my children on it, and they have now introduced me to the wonderful world of the Marvel Avengers. These stories take me to places of delight and intrigue, exotic worlds filled with outrageous and marvelous creatures and happenings. I would probably like to cook if I could wave my magic wand and have potatoes peel themselves, as Molly Weasley’s do in Harry Potter’s world. I would like to have a Pensieve, a particularly appealing magical device. When my brain is fatigued from overload, I could simply remove difficult strands of thought with my magic wand and swirl them into the Pensieve. When I was in a better and more rested frame of mind, I would call up the memories from the Pensieve and re-experience them, helping me to ponder and work through them. Such are the delights of magic.
Magic is the art in which, through a prescribed ritualistic combination of words and actions, a particular effect is produced. If I have the proper magic wand, and know the proper words and actions of the spell, I can make my potatoes peel themselves. Magic is about having the power to manipulate the physical world and its inhabitants for a particular purpose. In the ancient world, magic was a part of religious beliefs and practices, in which a skilled magician was believed to have the power to manipulate the gods by bribing them with the spells that pleased them, thus producing the desired effect. In their primitive faith, they believed it was the proper incantation to the god of the storm which produced rain, rather than the convergence of the proper atmospheric conditions.
We, however, live in a world of scientific and rational thought. We understand the science of weather, and know that there are not demi-gods of sunshine and hurricanes to appease for the human race to survive. We know that genetics and trauma, rather than demon possession, produce mental illness. We know that the proper combination of soil, fertilizer, water and weeding produces a good crop of wheat, not because of magical incantations, but because of the science of wheat production. Discarding magic in favor of science can test the faith of modern Christians. Biblical accounts of otherworldly happenings are foreign to us because they generally are not a part of our experience. This story about multiplying two loaves of bread and five fish sounds suspiciously like magical nonsense in a secular and scientific society. This is one of those stories that cause people to ask Christians, you don’t really believe that stuff, do you?
If our faith does not have strong roots, we will get tripped up on these kinds of questions. How can an intelligent person in a world of scientific understanding believe in fairy stories filled with magic? We don’t, so we wonder what the Bible is really about in relating these accounts of supernatural happenings. But these are not magic stories, they are miracle stories and there is a vast difference between magic and miracles. Magic requires one skilled in the art of spells and charms to bend a demigod into doing one’s will. But a miracle is a manifestation of the power, will and sovereignty of the Almighty LORD of creation. No one manipulates YHWH God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus the Christ, God the Son, is the source of divine power and will from which these miracles emanate. He is manipulating nothing, but is creating something new and glorious for the benefit of his people. Magic is hocus-pocus; miracles are divine power and glory.
There are few today who espouse the power of magic. It has been replaced with the modern concept of coincidence. The ability to discern divine miracles where others see only coincidences or nothing rests in faith. Some people can look upon an extraordinary, inexplicable, frightening occurrence and panic because they only believe in chance, and leaving them no possibility of hope. Others look at the same occurrence and call it a miracle, knowing that they are not alone and whatever happens, all things work together for good for those who love God. It is faith that allows us to discern the miracle and the truth of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. We do not understand the process by which Jesus did it, but by grace, through faith, we know the truth of it.
This is the only miracle of Jesus reported by all four Gospel writers and each has a different emphasis in the telling. Matthew emphasizes the crucial responsibility of discipleship in his telling. Disciples do more than learn—they do. Sometimes, for divine miracles to occur, God chooses to reveal his will and power through human beings, which means disciples have to do a lot of work. This is one crucial difference between the disciples and the crowds, between fans who watch from a distance and true disciples who live their faith. Faith is about hearing and obeying, You give them something to eat. Disciples cannot forever sit at the feet of the Master Teacher marveling at his wise teachings. And they cannot stop at merely writing checks. They must get their hands dirty in doing the will of God among the people. The source of the feeding is God, but the resources are human. God works the miracle through human hands.
Do you hear the sacramental words of Jesus in Matthew’s telling of the miracle? Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, gives it, and they ate and they were filled. The miracle was not in the transformation of physical matter, but in the mystical sharing of the people with Christ and with each other. This is what we experience in the miracle of Holy Communion. A profound and mystical transformation takes place at the Table of the Lord, where all eat and are filled in Christ’s abundance, a transformation not of packaged bread and wine, but of the people who gather around the Table.
On that hillside, all who showed up and asked for food were given it, with basketfuls leftover. But few were aware of the miracle that produced it. Only those close to Jesus knew that he took a meager and private stash of food and miraculously fed a hungry crowd of people. Most were content to simply take what they needed for themselves, ignoring others, blissfully unaware that Jesus was anything more than a good organizer. That is a tragedy, to miss the glorious mystical connection to our Lord because one’s vision is so small. But it happens all the time around this Table, where most of us simply go through the motions, taking what we need only for ourselves, avoiding eye contact and touch with others, keeping our heads down, only whispering, if we say anything at all. We miss the presence of the Living Christ here, because our vision is so small.
My friends, this is the joyful feast of the people of God. It is not magic but a miracle in which we participate in and become the mystical Body of Christ. In so doing, we are given the mystery of our faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We do not believe in magic, we believe in the sovereign God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who makes us one around his table today. Do not miss the miracle that is happening right here and now.
To God be the glory.
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