1 Kings 18:20-39
It’s a miracle, right? As in something we cannot explain – something that goes against our understanding of natural or scientific laws – something that defies our mind.
YHWH lights the altar on fire, while Baal does not.
The sick man is cured without Jesus even seeing him.
What other great miracles can you think of happening in the Bible or throughout time?
… parting of the red sea; the plagues on Egypt; Jesus’ resurrection; feeding of the thousands; walking on water…
Now a days, there are holy places where people go to pray for curing. Chimayo is full of crutches where people have touched the dirt on the chapel floor and been cured. There are miracle workers – priests and pastors who lay on hands and bring healing to the desperate.
And then there are people, some in this very room, who have had a prayer answered, witnessed a miracle, and they don’t know how to explain it. The experience lies cherished on their hearts like Mary kept her’s, or whispered to just a few, like the disciples kept their’s.
Miracles, right? Unexplainable.
Not everyone agrees. Not in the least.
Professor John Littlewood said a miracle — something so rare we can’t process it with our minds — is actually super common. It has to due with very large numbers. So let’s say the odds of any particular rare thing happening to you is 1 in a million. Say you witness one thing a second for the 16 hours you are up a day. Sometime, in the next 35 days, the 1 in a million chance will happen.
How rare is 1 in a million?
About the odds of being crushed by a meteor, or hit by lightening. That is 1:700,000. We tend to know someone hit by lightening, but a meteor? Same odds. Just shy of 1 in a million chances.
Littlewood uses math to predict that once among any 35 days we happen to experience something that is one in a million. So that, everyone, about every month and a half, has a weird coincidence, event, or oddity. It just is because of rare odds and big, big numbers. The most outrageous things are actually common!
So, if four million people visit Chimayo a year, at least four are going to be spontaneous cured there just because there’s a 1 in a million chance for them to be cured there, or anywhere, that year. Strange, strange things happen all the time. We just get to see 1:1millionith of it. So we often don’t notice.
For people like Thomas Jefferson and John Littlewood, there are no miracles. Jefferson added, if there ever was a miracle, we couldn’t ‘prove’ it anyways, because miracles, as he understood them, go against nature. So they can’t be measured or proven or recorded.
Take this Baal case for example. On the surface, it looks like the impossible has happened: Elijah has told the priests of Baal to call upon their god to make the offering for Baal ignite. Nothing happened all day long. Elijah even teased them and mocked Baal — but nothing happened. Then Elijah made an altar for YHWH, he even drenched it, and when YHWH was called upon, the entire thing went up in an inferno so that even the liquid in the ditch around the altar caught fire. A miracle, right?
… Or an accelerant. Kerosene and gasoline sure look like water. But boy oh boy do they catch fire way better than water. Oil wouldn’t have fooled anyone back then, but kerosene sure would have.
Maybe God lit the altar on fire. Or maybe Elijah pulled a fast one.
Now, Jesus’ story today sounds like a miracle too, right? There is a man so, so sick he is near death. His non-Jewish master goes to Jewish elders and asked them to talk to Jesus on his behalf for the servant. As Jesus goes, the master sent friends this time to tell Jesus — please don’t bother coming in. I’m not worthy. Just speak and my servant will be healed.” Jesus is amazed at the faith. People go back to the house and find the servant is just fine. It’s a miracle!
Or is it?
… What if they guy was just faking being deadly ill?
Or, what if the master wanted to prove Jesus wouldn’t help non-Jews like himself: a centurion. A commander of a hundred men who occupy the Jewish country. So he told his Jewish friends a sob story about his slave being ill. His friends went and told Jesus. Then the master hears THE Messiah is coming to HIS house where HIS lie is written all over the slave who is perfectly fine — and that Jesus really WILL help all, Jews and non-Jews alike — the master backs out of his lie. People go and check on the slave and find that sure enough — he’s perfectly fine! It’s a miracle!
Many of the miracles of the Bible can be explained. The Israelites followed smoke by day and fire by night? They were walking towards a volcano. Jesus was resurrected? His body was stolen and people worked in his name. Mary was a virgin? Virgin at the time was the same word for any girl who wasn’t married. Jericho’s walls fell with the sound of a trumpet? Yes. And we use sound today to crush rocks still.
And, many things we do today would seem miraculous back then, but we don’t call them miracles. Cell phones – little rocks we can use to speak with each other all over the world. Electricity – harnessing the power of God’s storms to keep our meat cold year around. Penicillin – making what is rotten – mold – cure what is rotting, our bodies. But we can explain how these things work. Or if we can’t, we know someone can. Since we can explain them, we often exclude God from them.
If we can explain the miracles happening today and that makes them common… does that mean if we can explain the miracles of the Bible, they no longer are worth anything?
As soon as some event is explainable… does it lose all value? Is God no longer present in it?
Jesus warns us that others—fake prophets— can do miracles. John warns us that these miracles can lead us astray.
The miracles themselves are worthless, useless, no good if they simply are the end of the event.
Hear me out: it was the end of the event for those who saw the slave alive and fine, and they went back home with a shrug. It was the end of the event for the people at the altars who said, “That was interesting. Let’s find some more entertainment.” and they sought a new prophet or new gathering.
Miracles, in the Bible, are signs. And usually are even called signs and not miracles! Signs tell you something. Signs give you information. Signs point you somewhere, tell you to do something, change your actions.
Jesus said his miracles were signs of God’s in breaking reign of the Earth.
Elijah said the altar miracle was sign Baal is a false god and YHWH the true god.
It doesn’t matter if we can explain them or not: what matters is if we stop to read the sign rather than just observing and/or dismissing the event.
Knowing how something works doesn’t make it stop being a miracle.
Something being common doesn’t make it stop being a miracle.
A miracle is ONLY no longer a miracle when it doesn’t work as a sign: when it doesn’t pass on information, point, direct us towards God.
We frequently say the birth of children is a miracle. This isn’t because we can’t explain where children come from; nor is it because children are rare. Instead, seeing a little baby is a sign: it points us towards the promise of rebirth, of life, of love, of family, of God. It is a miracle because children are signs of God’s presence with us.
What about miraculous, beautiful sunsets? The sun sets EVERY night! It isn’t a common event at ALL. Nor is it hard to understand how it happens — the world turns, and we are now in the shadow of the round world at nighttime while the sun shines on the other side of the world. But when that sunset is a sign: a sign of God’s creativity, of God’s love, of God’s majesty, of God’s created world… then that sunset is a miracle.
In hospitals, I’ve heard doctors and nurses whisper about miracles. Miracles are that which they cannot explain — why? Because it makes them look outside of text books, outside of knowledge. The healing they witnessed worked like a sign, pointing them beyond.
But it doesn’t have to be only that which can’t be explained. Any and every thing that points us towards God is a miracle.
We are blessed, drenched, with small signs and big signs, rare signs and commons signs, personal signs and public signs of God — each and every one of them is a miracle each time they make us pause and focus, believe, and testify in God.
Watch this week! Watch this month! The signs of God are all about you! Let them be miracles! Amen.