Monday, August 27, 2018

Winner or Quitter?

Reading: Psalm 84, Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, August 26 2018

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

The Word of the Lord came to Noah. "Noah. Build a boat. There's going to be a flood. I'll send the animals you need to save. Here are the dimensions." So Noah sets about building his boat. Along comes Mrs. Noah. "What are you doing? We can't afford a boat. How's that going to put food on the table."

Along comes one of his sons. "Dad, this thing with the animals. You want us to go out and catch them? Take a reality check. You can't put mice with elephants and zebra with lions. They’ll go crazy!” Along comes a daughter -in-law. "We were hoping to build a little cottage, y'know. Couldn’t find enough wood, y'know. Now look at him making a stupid boat, wasting all that wood, y'know. It's not right.” People from the town came by and just said, "Idiot."

So Noah takes a step back from his work, hears what everybody's saying and thinks; "Now if God was going to flood the world, I'm sure he'd let somebody other than me in on the plans. I must be confused! Let's get working on that cottage, son.” A few days later a huge flood wiped out every living thing on the face of the earth.

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

"Abraham" says God, "You will be the Father of a great nation." "That's good!" says Abraham. And the years went by. And his wife had no child. And the years went by. And his wife suggested he should father a child through her slave girl. Which he did. But that wasn't right. And the years went by.

Then God said, "Now, Abram, your wife is to bear a child!" Sara laughed in disbelief. She was 89 years old. Abraham said, "I don't think so. I'm going to head off into the sunset with that slave girl."

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

Joseph, (without his Technicolor dreamcoat), has been thrown into jail after spurning the unwelcome advances of the Pharoahs wife. In the jail cell are a butler and a baker who are being troubled by dreams. They want to know what they mean. For a moment Joseph imagines that he can understand.

But then he angrily says, "Dreams, Dreams. Don't talk to me about dreams. You think I'd be in this mess if it weren’t for stupidly trying to interpret dreams! That's what started all this trouble in the first place! I'm done with dreams." It wasn’t long after that Pharoah was done with Joseph.

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

Moses in Eygpt. He knows he's got a mission. As the kids sing at retreats; "Phaorah, Pharoah, Oh baby let my people go." And Pharoah says “Yes” and then Pharoah says “No.” Plagues of blood and frogs and insects and cattle-disease and boils and hail and locusts and darkness. And Pharoah says “Yes” and then Pharoah says “No.” The last plague; an angel of death striking down the first-born sons.

Moses goes into conference with Pharoah. "Smearing lambs blood over the gateposts, angels of death. Y'know Pharoah, I've been very wrong. I think it is the people’s destiny to be your servants. Anyway, they'll do nothing but complain the whole time if I try to lead them to the Promised Land. Can I come back to the palace and be a prince now?"

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

General Joshua is leading a successful campaign in the desert lands. He seems unstoppable. Then there's Jericho. Jericho, with its huge walls and powerful army. "Hmm. What about this one, Lord?" He receives the battle plan. Put the priests at the front. March around the walls seven times and on the seventh day a blast on the trumpets will bring the walls tumbling down."

General Joshua calls a meeting of his chiefs of staff. "Gentlemen" he tells them, "You know me pretty well. You can trust me. But even generals sometimes make mistakes. I'm stepping down from command and taking a vacation for a while. Battle fatigue. I just seriously considered a hair- brained idea that involved priests marching around blowing trumpets. I hardly think that’s likely to work!”

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

There’s a battle going on. The Philistines have a champion. A giant called Goliath. Everybody is afraid of him. Everybody except that anointed shepherd boy David. ‘Let me fight the rascal’ he declares. Boldly he steps out into the field, carrying nothing but a slingshot. He bends down and chooses a wicked looking stone.

But then he looks up and realizes that this dude Goliath is really big. Not big, but gigantic big. He starts doubting whether a stone could really knock him down. ‘Lions and Tigers and Bears – oh my,” that was one thing, but giants! So he turns to the Israelite army and says one word. “RUN!” And that’s why he never became King.

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

Ezekiel was a dreamer. Called of God to declare the Word of the Lord to God’s chosen people. One day, he was in the Spirit, and started to have this tremendous vision. It was all about speaking God’s word to some dry bones lying in a valley, and the bones all start clicking together and forming into skeletons. “The ankle bone connects to the shin bone, the shin bone connects to the knee bone, the knee bone connects to the thigh bone… oh hear the word of the Lord.”

And the bones take on flesh and become a great, conquering army. Ezekiel comes out of his dream and thinks, “If I tell people what I just saw, they’ll wonder what kind of spirit I’ve been influenced by. Anyway, they’ve never listened to me before. What’s the difference now?”

And so the Word of the Lord was never proclaimed to the people of Israel, and lacking in courage and insight, the nation ended its last days in captivity, never was a temple imagined, never was a Messiah anticipated, and Jerusalem was never built.

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

Daniel enjoyed his quiet time. Except it wasn’t very quiet. He used to pray three times a day, out loud, with his head sticking out the window. Then one day the King of Babylon made a new law that every body should only pray to him. At first Daniel wasn’t moved. But then some officious fellows came and told him he had to change his ways or they would throw him to the lions.

Daniel reckoned that even God would have a hard time protecting him from ravenous lions, so he decided to do as they said. And nobody ever heard of Daniel again.

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

Jesus is preaching in the synagogue. He’s talking about “Bread coming down from heaven” and “Eating his flesh and drinking his blood” and His disciples can’t get their heads around it. It’s too hard to understand. And we read in John 6:66 “Because of this many of His disciples turned back and no longer went about with Him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?"” One of them, Simon Peter, a man who had more than his fair share of triumphs and failures, but knew a winner when he met one, said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” But he could have said:-

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

Jesus praying in Gethsemane. “Lord, if it be thy will, let this cup of suffering pass by me.” Had there been no cross, for us there would be no salvation. Had there been no resurrection, for us there would be no victory.

Because He was not a quitter, we can be a winner.

Ever seen the movie “Cool Runnings?” It’s all about the Jamaican Bobsled Team. The very idea seems a joke. Sunny Jamaica in the Winter Olympics? But away they go. Against the odds they do really well. On their final run though, a disaster happens. They lose control on the very last turn and the sled turns upside down and grinds to a halt. “You dead man?” says one. “I’m dead man.” They climb out of the sled and to the applause and admiration of the crowd and their fellow competitors; carry it on their shoulders over the finishing line.

There’s more than one way to be a winner.

You’ll go to school and there will be a Math problem or an English assignment or a test and you’ll say, “I can never get the hang of this.” You’ll be playing on a team or involved in some task and fell as though it’s pointless, that there’s no hope.

You’ll never be a winner if you’re going to be a quitter.

That situation in work, that persistent habit that’s dogged you all your life, that dream you felt God had put in your heart but you never acted upon it, that situation that seemed to gigantic for your limited resources to deal with, that mountain you keep telling yourself you could climb, that relationship you’ve almost given up hope on, those times that you get to a dead end hear the word of the Lord;

“You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.”

Noah built his boat and now there’s a rainbow in the sky. Abraham became the Father of a great nation. Joseph became a prince in Eygpt. Moses led the people out of slavery to the Promised Land. Joshua conquered that land. David defeated that giant. Ezekiel’s vision empowered the nation. Daniel tamed lions and became adviser to a King.

Those disciples that didn’t turn back when the going became difficult, witnessed the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, saw miracles performed through the labors of their hands and built a church that today spans the whole world.

Neighbor. Hey Neighbor.
I don’t know exactly what you’re going through,
I don’t know exactly what you’re going to do,
But you’ll never be a winner,
If you’re going to be a quitter,
Though you are weak, the grace of God is strong
And the powerful love of Jesus, can move your life along.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Real Meat

 Readings: Psalm 130, 1 Kings 3:5-14, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-55
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, August 19 2018

Did you know that if you are a British person who has moved to live in America in the last twenty years that you are not allowed to be a blood donor? Why? In case your blood is infected with Mad Cow disease. It’s a disease that was a major health scare in the U.K. from 1986 through 2001 and is transmitted though eating beef that comes from infected cattle. “Mad Cow Disease”

That my family or I might be carrying such a thing in our blood is highly unlikely. Because of the scare over the disease and the fact that beef is expensive over in the British Isles, we didn’t eat a lot of beef and when we did the portions were small and were checked to see that they came from reputable sources. My good friend from Wales, Andy Smith, who has visited with us a number of times, was very impressed with the Beef Steaks over here. Not just the size, but also the reasonable price. ‘Real Meat’.

In our scripture reading from John’s gospel, Jesus is preaching to the crowds about how they can find real life through believing in Him. He uses picture words. He compares Himself to bread that comes down from heaven. He’s telling the people that to have life in all it’s abundance; they should feed their lives on His love.

In the past, yes, they had been led by God, but now God was doing something new in their midst. How through His crucifixion and resurrection, a new relationship with God would be made possible. That His love was the real thing, the ‘Real Meat’ upon which they could feed their lives. In John 6:55 he uses the phrase “For my flesh is meat indeed”.

What is the ‘Real Meat’ of being a disciple of Jesus Christ? The writer of the Book of Hebrews complained to those he wrote for that he couldn’t give them ‘Real Meat’ because they were still milk babies. “You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:13-14).

‘Real Meat’ is there described as having a mature faith, possessing the ability to not only discern what is right and wrong, but actually live in a righteous way. In the Old Testament passage (that is part of the readings for today) Solomon asks of God; “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil”. This task of sorting out the evil from the good, Solomon perceived as being the ‘Real Meat’; far more important when governing people than riches or having a long life. (1 Kings 3:9)

The same thing occurs with Paul offering advice to the Christians at Ephesus. “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17). Wisdom is praised. ‘Understanding the will of God’ opens the doorway to knowing the difference between what is right and what is wrong.

The temptation is always to go for what seems easiest or what offers the most instant gratification. “Buy now - pay later.” “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” “You’re only young once” “Go on. Live a little. You’ve deserved it, you’ve earned it.” “Stop being so hung up about whether it’s right or wrong. Just do it.”

In an experiment on self-control, a group of pre-school children were told that they could have a single treat, one marshmallow, right now. However, if they would wait while the experimenter ran an errand, they could have two marshmallows on his return.

Some preschoolers grabbed the marshmallow immediately; others were able to wait for what must have seemed to them like an endless twenty minutes. To sustain themselves in their struggle, they covered their eyes so they wouldn't see the temptation, rested their heads on their arms, talked to themselves, sang, and even tried to sleep. The kids who had found a way to wait received their two-marshmallow reward.

A follow-up of this study found that the children who were able to forgo instant gratification kept that same temperament throughout their adolescent lives. The more impulsive kids who grabbed the marshmallow were, as adolescents, more likely to be stubborn, indecisive, and stressed.

We all have needs. We are all tempted. The challenge for the Christian is to feed upon the ‘Real Meat’, rather than what appears to offer instant answers. The ‘Real Meat’ is developing a lifestyle that is molded, not by the passing fads and fashions of the day, but by the eternal truths of God’s Word. The ‘Real Meat’ is developing a passion for righteousness such as was so evident in Jesus life. The ‘Real Meat’ is having a heart to do the will of God… whatever it takes.

At first hearing, as Jesus talks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, we hear those words on an earthly level, and they sound gruesome. Yet Jesus was a master in His teaching. He could take everyday thoughts and actions and infuse them with new meaning.

And there is nothing more basic to human existence than the need to eat and drink. We know what it is to be hungry and thirsty. We know what it is to be full and satisfied. We know about taste and flavor and all the other sensual things that make a good meal a satisfying and enriching experience.

Jesus takes all those feelings and uses them to talk of our relationship to God. Just as we need to feed our physical bodies on physical food, so we need to feed our spiritual lives on the love of God. We know that when we take food into our mouths, it becomes a part of us, it nurtures us, it gives energy, and it satisfies needs. We need ‘Real Meat’.

How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” ask the confused hearers who first heard His words. They did not think of their relationship to God as something that could be so much a part of them as eating and drinking. God was the God who was out there, One who had to be placated through gifts and offerings, who was distant and terrifying.

This intimate experience that Jesus spoke of was something new, something unheard of.
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” “For my flesh is ‘Real Meat’ and my blood is true drink.”

The ‘Real Meat’ of Christian life is the cultivating of a close, heart relationship with God. That relationship will inform our life as to the will of God. Guided by the will of God, we can then make the right choices, discern what is good and what is evil, and know how we should live. Empowered by the love of God we can discover the resources within us, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, that will gently enable us to live God’s way.

Most of us are careful to watch what we consume. Particularly if there’s any chance we could catch ‘Mad Cow’ or any other Disease. In fact many of us are not only careful about what we eat, we are positively picky. There are things we like and things we don’t like. There are things we know will upset us if we eat them and things that we know will delight us.

If only we could be as discerning when it comes to the state of our souls! Feed them on the love of Jesus Christ and I believe we will not be disappointed. If ‘We are what we eat,’ then feeding on a diet of love, acceptance, righteousness and truth is going to have an immensely positive effect upon our lives.

Don’t satisfy your soul on fast food diets, or instant fix recipes. Feed your life on Jesus Christ. The ‘Real Meat’. Cultivate your soul and nurture your spirit by abiding in the One who proclaimed, “For my flesh is ‘Real Meat’ and my blood is true drink.”

And To God’s name be the Glory!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Bread Man

Readings: Psalm 51:1-12 , Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:35, 41-51
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, August 12, 2018

There were all sorts of people used to call at the house where I grew up in England. The milkman would bring the milk. The paperboy would bring the Daily News. The Postman would bring the mail. The little grocery store around the corner would deliver fresh foods. And there was also the Bread man.

The Bread man came in a big bread van, with a drop down step at the back. He usually only carried four products. White Bread sliced, White bread un-sliced, Brown Bread sliced, and Brown bread un-sliced. But on Saturdays, something special. Long French loaves. Fresh baked rolls. Cakes and Apple Pies. And, occasionally, if I'd been real good, mum would let me climb the steps, go in the van look around and choose something nice for supper. I can still smell the aroma of that fresh newly baked bread in the back of the van. Delicious.

These days’ things are different. You go to the supermarket and you are faced with a whole aisle of choices. Sliced, unsliced, white, brown, white bread that's really brown bread, bread for those on a diet, bread designed to enhance your energy. The list is endless!

Jesus tells the people in our reading that He is the 'Bread of Life'. He talks of the manna that the Hebrew people ate in the wilderness and compares Himself to that manna. He is bread that came down from heaven to nurture the people of God.

Bread sustains us. In the Lord's Prayer Jesus teaches us to pray that we may receive our daily bread. God knows we need material things for our physical well being. Jesus also tells us that we cannot live by bread alone, but need every “Word” that comes from the mouth of God. That life is not just a matter of seeing that our physical needs are met, but that there is a spiritual side of us that also needs nurturing.

There are more than enough folk around to advise us on our eating habits. Here in the United States obtaining our daily bread is not a problem for the majority of people. Maybe a culture like this should amend the Lords prayer to read, "Give us our daily bread .... and not a crumb more!"

Though materially wealthy, we can be spiritually bankrupt. The abundance of things that we fill our days with tends to obscure the need to nurture the spiritual side of our lives. We have many, many distractions that save us from even having to think about the health of our souls.

In those moments when we do contemplate life’s deeper meaning, there is a bewildering spectrum of choices that we can pursue in order to become spiritually healthy. Jesus is not the only 'Bread of life' on offer to us in today’s world.

Maybe in days gone past things were less complex. Generally speaking most people in the United States were, to use the term in a broad sense, "Christian". Admittedly there was a choice of denominational brand names that you could identify with, but in general terms, if a person wanted to nurture their spiritual life, the Church was the place where they would expect to turn.

That is no longer the case. These days there are more spiritual roads on offer that there are brands of bread on the shelves of Giant. There is Christianity and Islam and differing forms of Buddhist and Hindu religion. There are New Age philosophies, Wellness and Self-Awareness programs, there are secular philosophies that rule out the possibility of there even being a God; a thousand ways to satisfy the needs of your soul.

But was it really that much different when Jesus spoke of Himself as being the bread of life? The Greeks and the Romans embraced many different philosophies. Within Judaism there were different groups such as the Pharisees and Sadducees.

And for many folk the simple business of keeping bread on the table was one that occupied much of a person’s time. Maybe things were not as different as we some times imagine! The "Way" that Jesus spoke of, the Kingdom He preached, was even then just one option among many.

The message of the church, from its birth in Jerusalem until the present, has been that Jesus Christ stands apart from all the others. That there is about Jesus a “uniqueness” that demands our attention. That truly He is the “bread of life come down from heaven.” That commitment to Him fulfills our spiritual hunger in a way that nothing else can.

1. Jesus promises to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst.

I heard a lady on the radio describe her experience of becoming a Christian. "It felt like coming home!" she said. There was an old blues song that contained the line, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child." Back in the sixties the Rolling Stones sang, "I can't get no satisfaction. And I tried, and I tried and I tried and I tried. But I can't get no.. satisfaction. No,no,no!"

Dissatisfaction, feelings of somehow being alienated, dispossessed or far from home are common features of many people’s lives. People try to deal with those feelings in all sorts of ways. Some just get by and presume that's the way things are meant to be. Some try and party it out of their system. Some just evolve ways of dealing with it. But the feeling is still there that maybe, there's more to life than this!

"Come to me" invited Jesus, "And I will give you rest." "I am the bread of life, He who comes to me will not hunger, He who believes in me will never thirst." When we come to Jesus, we come home. We come to see how only He can satisfy the deepest needs of our souls. He encourages us to call on God in childlike faith, "Abba, Father." No longer do we need to feel like parentless children.

2. Jesus is the Bread that nourishes.

In our bible reading we heard the people murmuring against the idea that Jesus might be the One who could meet their needs – “The bread of life indeed!” “We know who He is. Mary and Joseph's boy, that's all!”

As the people murmur away, Jesus reminds them that their forefathers had eaten the manna in the wilderness. Where were they now? Dead and gone. What He was offering was something more than physical sustenance. He intended to nourish them, body, soul and spirit. What He could offer was not temporary refreshment, but eternal life. He was the bread they could eat and not die!

Of course He was not implying that they would never grow old or offering them some secret elixir of eternal youthfulness. Elsewhere Jesus proclaims, "I have come that you may have life, life in all its abundance." But, predictably, the people looked on things at the surface level only. They were far too preoccupied with life to consider what really living might entail!

Today, when the challenge to become a disciple is issued, often the first question that forms in peoples minds is, "Well all this sounds very good, but what do I have to give up in order to get it!" How pervasive is this idea that somehow we can do anything to earn the love of God. As though by our good behavior we can somehow slip into heaven. That if only we give up this and don't do that then God will see us all right at the end of the day.

Wrong! There is nothing we can do to increase God's estimation of our worth. He loves us unconditionally. It is a matter of Grace. The Grace of God that is greater than our sin. Asking, "What do we need to give up?" only reveals the emptiness of our souls. That we still believe love is something we can earn, rather than a gift to be accepted and embraced.

Whatever God may ask us to give up is for a reason. God has something better in store. We entangle our lives in stupid, unfulfilled, empty, trivial things. Jesus wants to nourish our soul that we become people who are richer, fuller, and more alive to God. God never asks us to give up something unless there is a better alternative. We don't always see it that way!

3. Jesus is the living Bread.

Jesus tells the crowd, "If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."

The people do not understand that He is here talking of His crucifixion and resurrection. At first hearing it almost seems like some morbid invitation to cannibalism! Later many would understand that He came and gave His life on the cross of Calvary that His love would become the bread on which they could feed.

As Christians gather around communion tables, and ponder those words about eating flesh and drinking blood, far from being some morbid remembrance, the actions and symbols of bread and wine, take on a deep significance. Under the touch and inspiration of the Holy Spirit every act of worship can be a renewing and enlightening influence that draws us closer to God.

I started out talking about the bread man that used to come to my mums house in his big bread van, and how I loved on a Saturday to be allowed to choose something special. The wonderful odor of newly baked bread!

There was only one way to really know if the bread was anything special. You had to eat it. You had to taste it.

Among the many religious and spiritual diets on offer in today’s world, there's only one way to discover if Jesus truly is the bread of life He claimed to be. Follow Him for yourself.

Take Him up on the terms He offers. Give your life over to His care because you have the faith that God's desire is for your life to enjoy God's richness. Nourish your life on His Word, through Worship, through working for God's glory as the Holy Spirit enables you to do.

Hear God's invitation. To "Taste and See that the Lord is good!" Trust in the Bread Man who gave His life on a Cross that you may be free and forgiven, the One who was raised to life, that through the daily influence of the Holy Spirit, you may really live!

Hear again His unique claim, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, he who believes in me shall never thirst!"

May the Holy Spirit lead us all to a deeper appreciation of God's love towards us!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Everyday Miracles

 Readings: Psalm 51:1-12, Exodus 16:1-15; Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, August 5, 2018

Our readings focused on 2 incidents, "Manna from Heaven" and Jesus teaching that He was "Bread of Life." I'd like to offer some thoughts on what I'm calling "Everyday Miracles."

Let's start with the Hebrew people. You probably know the story of how Moses led them out of Egypt into the Wilderness and how once they were there they started to complain, "At least in Egypt we had something to eat! We're starving out here." Moses promises them that sustenance will come, meat for the evening and bread for the morning. And so it was, quail for supper and manna for breakfast.

"Give us meat" they said. The quail came and everybody said it was a miracle.

Yet sometimes maybe the miracle we observe, is not the miracle we expect. Let me explain. Without wanting to diminish the sense of wonder or the ability of God to do amazing things, we know that nature herself can be a source of amazing provision.

Quails are found in countless numbers on the shores of the Mediterranean and their annual migration is still an event that causes great excitement as they move in vast flocks towards Africa. It's an exhausting flight, done in stages. When the birds stop to take a rest, they are so exhausted that they can easily be picked up and captured.

So maybe the miracle wasn't so much that the quail came, it seems they had an annual migration pattern, but rather that, as the people of Israel responded to the call of God, they were in that place, at that time, when the quails arrived and were easily picked up.

And then there is the manna. In the wilderness where the Israelites camped lives an insect known as Najacoecus Serpentinus. I'm not making this stuff up. Look it up on the internet. If it's on the internet, it has to be true. Right?

Now... the sap from the Tamarisk bush on which these insects feed is rich in carbohydrates but low in nitrogen. In order to aquire enough nitrogen for their metabolism to operate properly, the Najacoecus Serpentinus consume an enormous amount of sap.

The excess from this process passes from the insect in the form of honeydew excretions which the desert air changes into clumps of sticky solids, which turn a whitish yellow color.

These solid lumps are thought, by a number of bible commentators, to be the “manna” that the people of Israel collected and ate in the wilderness. The Hebrews called it a miracle. As with the quails, maybe the miracle wasn't so much that the manna was there, but that they were in that place, at that time, to receive it.

Our lives continue to be surrounded by everyday miracles, many of which, if we work hard at it, can be found to have a rational explanation. What we cannot explain though is how we happen to be in a certain place at a certain time when a certain thing, which has a certain outcome, takes place.

I cannot tell you, how many times, over many years of ministry, that as I've opened up to God in prayer and asked, “Lord, what's on Your agenda today?” I just happened to have been positioned in a situation where I could offer something.

This is something I learned early in my discipleship journey, not in seminary, but from ordinary people of faith. Long before I was a minster, as a young person, I was working on a job scheme, helping old folks tidy up their gardens. I recall visiting one particular lady, and she said, 'C'mon in when you have finished, I'll have your favorite cake ready.” (Which at that time just happened to be Ginger flavored.)

That's strange,” I thought. “Firstly, you didn't know I was coming today. Secondly, we have never met, so how would you know what my favorite cakes was?” But sure enough, when I went in, there was a piece of ginger cake! When I looked puzzled, the lady said, “Last night in my prayers, I asked God what to be ready for...and God put the idea in my head to provide ginger cake. As it's not my favorite, I figured it must be yours.”

A saintly lady of God, confined to her home, needing assistance to get through every single day... yet experiencing the faithfulness of and reality of God's presence and being a blessing to others!

For me that is that is the real miracle... the timing and provision of the Holy Spirit. Nothing less than the Grace of God. One of the essentials of discipleship is cultivating within ourselves the kind of spiritual sensitivity that discovers the sacred within the common occurrences of everyday life.

If we don't do that we will find ourselves in the same boat as the people in our New Testament reading, who came to Jesus and said to Him, "What miracle will you perform so that we may see it and believe in You? You know, our ancestors had manna in the desert!"

There they were, talking with Jesus, who was a flesh and blood sign of God's grace and presence in their midst, and they couldn't see it. Instead they are saying, "Let God knock us off our feet, astound us... and then we will believe."

Wasn't it enough that Jesus had healed broken hearts, made outcasts acceptable and drowned fear with a flood of love? Had they not already had overwhelming evidence of His capabilities? Even if Jesus had done some Divine magic trick, would it have made any difference? They saw nothing and they felt nothing because they lacked the capacity to discover the sacred within the common-place.

Jesus tells them, "What God wants you to do is to believe in the One He has sent." What God desired for them was not that they seek for some blinding light or dramatic experience but that they wake up to the fact that in the flesh and blood of human existence and in the everyday miracles of grace and life, they could discover the miracle of God's presence.

That is something that I believe we have to do as well. For most of us, most of the time, life goes on in a very ordinary fashion. We are not looking for, or expecting miracles. We are not expecting God to show up, because we are not always showing up for God! We allow our self sufficiency and pride to direct us, rather than recognizing our dependence on God's grace for every breath we take.

Before I left for some vacation time, last month the United States celebrated Independence Day. Somebody asked me if we have July 4th in my homelands of the United Kingdom. I told them of course we have it. July 4th is the day before July 5th. But do we celebrate an Independence Day holiday? Of course not. Losing that rebellion in the colonies wasn't exactly a high point in British history!

As people and nations we celebrate the good things, not the times we have lost out. That's why coming together as the people of God once a week for worship is so important for nurturing our Christian faith. We gather together to open our hearts and lives, to remind ourselves that without God, we are nothing, we have nothing and we need God's love, and God's Spirit and the message of Jesus Christ to experience the everyday miracles of grace.

"What God wants you to do" says Jesus, "Is believe in the One He sent." When we fail to practice disciplines of daily prayer, and fail to take the time to make worship an important part of our routine, friends, we forget. We forget.

From time to time I like to do this. Repeat after me.
There is a God” “There is a God”
And it isn't me.” “And it isn't me”

We don't need independence from God. We need to have a deeper dependence upon God. For our sake. For our families sake. For our communities sake. We cannot serve without being equipped for service, and it is in God's church that we are trained for service, called to practice loving each other, so we can love the world that Christ died for. Jesus came, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

The Hebrew people cried out to God "Help us out here in the Wilderness." God already had it all figured out. The quails and the manna were there but it took an act of faith to realize it. The people cried out to Jesus, "Show us a miracle and then we'll believe." But the miracle had already taken place. He was there, in flesh and blood, standing with them. But they lacked the faith to believe it.

So what of us as we go about our ordinary lives? Will we trust God to meet us in our needs? Will we recognize Him in the everyday miracles that surround our daily lives?

We are here surrounded by the Grace of God in the presence of His people, past, present and to come. Every weekend God lays before us an opportunity to worship, to seek Him to share our lives with Him. Christ died for our sins and was raised to bring us new life.

This is no little thing. Unless our hearts make it so. We need to recognize that it is through the ordinary that God seeks to do the extraordinary. "What God wants you to do is believe in the One He sent".

Believe in the capability of God's Holy Spirit,
to take the common things of life and make them miraculous.
Believe that the Christian message is the message for your everyday life.
Believe that being a community of faith, in age of unbelief,
is a challenge to be embraced, and a goal to work towards.

As we share together in worship and service may God renew us
that we may help others
discover everyday miracles
within them and around their lives.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.