What kind of miracles do you pray for? What miracles do you expect to happen? When we read the Bible it seems like there is a miracle every time we turn the page. God knows most of us could use a miracle. We all need some part of us healed, some situation resolved miraculously, some broken relationship restored against all odds. Wouldn’t you love a miracle to heal your husband’s cancer? Or to help you forgive the church member who hurt you so badly? Wouldn’t we all love a miraculous cure for mental illness so there are no more mass shootings in theaters, churches, schools or military recruitment centers?
And what kind of heroes do you seek? We are always seeking heroes –to save us; to make us feel better about ourselves; to stick it to those who are hurting people; to meet our needs. Many think Edward Snowden became a hero by exposing the CIA, even though he weakened the US by revealing its strategic secrets. Many Mexicans think El Chapo is a hero because he has used his wealth to help poor people, unlike the government, despite the fact that he is a confessed assassin with a huge ambition for power. People sometimes follow bad heroes for good reasons and good heroes for bad reasons; and no hero is all good all the time.
So let’s be clear about what we really want: we want God to meet our deepest need, not just to perform a supernatural miracle or give us a heroic savior. 5000 people surrounded Jesus in today’s Gospel because he performed miracles. All those hungry people ate more than enough food that day, so they wanted to take Jesus by force and make him their hero, their king. He withdrew from them because they wanted to follow him for the wrong reason.
Some of you are wrestling with desiring a miracle on the one hand, and realizing that God is bigger than that on the other. John tells us that the people on the mountain with Jesus were looking for a miracle. In next week’s passage, Jesus responds rather harshly to his followers, "You seek me because you ate your fill, not because you understood the miraculous signs.” In John 6 Jesus is revealed not as a god that satisfies surface desires, but as one who awakens our deepest yearnings so we are no longer satisfied with little miracles, but seek the satisfaction of our deepest longings. It’s not always about what we want. It's about what we need at our core.
At first look the Psalmist doesn't seem to understand this. He writes: “The hand of God feeds us; God answers all our needs." Is the Psalmist blind? Or a shameless liar? The whole earth is soaked with the tears of the suffering. We don't suffer when our desire is satisfied. We don't cry when our needs are met. A need is something we can't live without - like food, water, clothing and shelter. But these aren’t our only needs. We need education, nature and art. And we need people we love to share it all with. The martyrs show us that a person can die in the body and still live, as long as her soul is nurtured and sheltered by the love of God. Even in our worst suffering, what we most need and desire is God. That’s why the Psalmist concludes that ‘God is near to all who seek their divine lover.’
So when we really think about it, we realize that the most significant miracles are the ones that transform the human heart. Jesus didn't just cure peoples' ills. He transformed their hearts. Is curing a lame leg more or less miraculous than curing a hardened heart or a desperate soul? Is magically multiplying loaves and fishes more or less miraculous than melting the hardened hearts of the crowd to share their bread? If we're honest we go back and forth on this. At times we believe in the deeper miracle; but sometimes we would really like a straightforward supernatural miracle. Many in Jesus’ generation and our own have been taught that magic is more valuable than healing the heart and feeding the body, and that reflection is a luxury, or work we shouldn't have to do.
The irony is that the people who understand this best are those who haven’t been corrupted by religion. The little boy in the story didn’t hesitate to give his lunch to feed the crowd. Andrew was in between. On the one hand, in his innocence, he mentioned that a boy had five loaves and two fish. But he didn’t want to look naïve, so he added, “But what are they among so many?” followed by nervous laughter. Children and young people understand something about the God of abundance that many adults, especially religious ones, have forgotten.
I’ve told before Marcus Borg's story of the 3 year old girl. She was the first born. Her mother got pregnant. One night her parents went to the hospital and returned with a new baby brother. She was excited to have the baby home. She asked her parents if she could be in the baby's room alone with the door shut. The parents had an intercom so if anything weird happened they could be there in an instant. So they said yes. They heard the footsteps & imagined her over brother's crib. She said to him, "Tell me about God. I've almost forgotten." Children understand the nature of God in ways that many adults, especially religious ones, have forgotten.
Jesus wanted to free people from religious delusions that led them to accept breadcrumbs and occasional cures instead of the more challenging new community characterized by reconciliation and justice. So he gave them experiences of the new community. He invited the ones who had brought a lot of food to sit with those who had little or nothing, and to share what they had. And they did. Maybe that was the miracle. Those who were on the receiving side understood that a miracle had taken place.
What are people seeking today? What are you seeking? Where are the people who used to come to church today? In the mall? At home? In the park or at the beach with family or friends? Perhaps a more important question is, Why are we not with them? Why are we here? Are we looking for something different? Or are we looking for the same thing in a different place? What do people think they will find -here or there? Something or someone that will meet our desires without demanding anything of us? We know that what satisfied in the past doesn't really satisfy. But it's better than nothing. And nothing is always a possibility. That terrifies us.
What happens when Jesus is offered simply as an alternative to something we might get at the mall or on TV? Is Jesus just our best friend? Is Jesus the real thing? If a famous athlete believes in Jesus, does that make Jesus more satisfying? None of that really satisfies, and we know it. We have turned Jesus into a product and church members into consumers.
But Jesus didn’t call consumers to follow him. He called disciples. What would happen if Jesus appeared and addressed us - in the church, the mall, movies, the park or the beach? We would probably get scared and run away, just like the people did at the end of the Gospel story because Jesus dared to question their level of satisfaction. I don’t often quote Republicans in my sermons, but I was impressed when I read that two years ago, in the wake of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, John Kasich, the most recent Republican to throw his hat in as a candidate for President, voted to expand Medicaid in Ohio. The reason he gave for doing so impressed me: “Now, when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer. ” I couldn’t agree more.
It's a long journey toward acknowledging that what we really need, and what we most desire at the deepest level, is not going to materialize with the next diet, exercise, drug, or religion. We're going to have to dig deep, walk long, and seek earnestly. As we do, Jesus will meet in ways we will recognize and value. So when we leave church today, singing “In the help we give our neighbor, God’s will is done. In our worldwide task of caring for the hungry and despairing, God’s will is done” let’s mean it. “He decidido seguir a Cristo, mi cruz levanto y sigo a Cristo, la vida vieja ya he dejado, no vuelvo atrás” vamos a tomarlo en serio.