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Do You Believe in Miracles?
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If you’re of a certain age, the title of this week’s post immediately takes you back to the 1980 Olympics and the “Miracle on Ice.” Al Michaels’ iconic call as the seconds ticked down on the improbable upset of the Soviet hockey team by a bunch of plucky American college kids is arguably the greatest moment in American sports history.

 

I remember seeing the original televised replay of the game which, in the days before the internet, meant that you didn’t know the outcome in advance. The whole nation sat down to watch it at the same time. I was a high school sophomore, with plenty of things going sideways in my life at the time, but that moment was transcendent in its mixture of joy and shock. The memory of it still brings a catch in the throat and a tear every time I watch it again. Oh, heck, here it is again:

 

 

I’m not crying, you’re crying…

 

Looking back on this strictly as a longtime hockey fan, however, I now realize that it wasn’t really a miracle at all. It was largely the product of a young American team simply outworking an overconfident Soviet squad (and why would they not have been–they beat the Americans 10-3 in Madison Square Garden in an exhibition game a couple of weeks before the games started). Stuff like that happens in hockey and in all sports. Sometimes David catches Goliath on an off day and knocks him down for the count.

 

Al Michaels captured the mood of the moment, however, and cemented in the American psyche what miracles are all about. More was going on in that arena than a hockey game and Michaels knew it. That momentous game took place in the midst of the Cold War, Iran still held Americans hostage, America itself was in economic doldrums, gas prices were sky high…it was a hard time. People were looking for hope wherever it could be found, and it was found in a small arena in Lake Placid for one magic night.

 

You could argue that we’ve circled back to a kind of national depression that feels a whole lot like 1980. The Russian invasion of Ukraine takes us back to a Cold War footing and talk of a nuclear conflagration, which had gone dormant for about 30 years, is back in the news. We’re coming out of a two-year pandemic that has left the country in a perpetually depressed and nasty mood. Our political divisions are deeper than ever, and the constant hammering of social media drives us to distraction (something we didn’t have to deal with in the pre-internet era of the early 80s). And, oh yeah, gas prices are skyrocketing again, too.

 

Truth is, we could use another “miracle.” The reality, however, is that we’re going to have to look somewhere else to find it. In 1980 the whole country gathered around the TV to watch the Olympics–not a stretch since there were only three or four channels to choose from unless you were lucky enough (and wealthy enough) to have cable. The ratings for the Olympics this year were dismal. There’s just too much else to watch. Back in the day, we all got our news from the same three sources, and if Walter Cronkite said it, well, then “that’s the way it is.” Now everyone chooses their news based on their personal preferences. You can choose to only hear what you want to hear. The times where one event could bring every American together (short of war, which historically seems to be the only other thing we tend to get behind as a nation) seem to be gone. Miracles are fewer and farther between.

 

Or are they? Yeah, maybe the kind of national psyche-changing kind of “miracle” is passe, but the everyday proliferation of miracles still occurs if we’re willing to look for them or, better yet, to ask for them.

 

As I’ve been working on this week’s sermon in our series “Jesus the Stranger,” one of the things that keeps jumping out at me as I look through the healing miracles of Jesus is that these displays of divine power are all grounded in certain commonalities. They involve desperate people who are willing to ask Jesus for something–people who have come to at least a minimum amount of faith that Jesus can actually do something for them. They experience miracles, in other words, because they’re specifically looking for them and asking for them. I’ll be unpacking all of that via the story of Jesus’ dual healing of Jairus’ daughter and the bleeding woman in Mark 5:21-43.

 

Jesus wasn’t trying to soothe the national psyche of Israel or provide them with one big unifying “win,” though it seems that’s what many wanted in a Messiah. Many people in Jesus’ day imagined a scenario in which plucky little Israel could take down the Roman empire in the ultimate upset. Jesus, on the other hand, was demonstrating a different way. His healing miracles were signs of God’s ultimate Kingdom breaking in, but it was happening subversively, personally, in small places and with broken people. Jesus is still at work in the power of the Holy Spirit, still healing, still restoring, still rebuilding broken people. His advice to us in these hard times, whether we’re fretting over the state of the world or the state of our own health or that of our loved ones is the same he gave to Jairus: “Do not be afraid. Only believe.” It’s that kind of simple faith that can change a life, change a community, and change a world in miraculous ways.

 

It’s the kind of faith that begs the question and answers with a joyous call:

 

Do you believe in miracles? YES!!



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