It was early but the Chicago rush hour traffic was already thick when I took the exit ramp off of Lake Shore Drive. A row of cars had stopped ahead of me, all waiting for the light to change so we could turn onto Fullerton Avenue. I sat idly in my car, probably listening to the radio since this was long before cellphones, let alone CD’s or iPods. I remember looking in my rear view mirror and noticing that a car, exiting onto the ramp behind me, was not slowing down. As if in slow motion I pulled my car into the other lane and watched as that oncoming car smashed into the car that had been in front of me. My car was not impacted by the collision. Despite a full-on collision no one was seriously injured, although there was damage to several of the cars. I remember thinking that it was a miracle that I had looked up and somehow taken notice of impending danger and moved my car. However, what was a miracle to me was not a miracle for the others who had been hit.
What constitutes a miracle? Even in our gospel reading from John only a couple of people realize that Jesus has performed a miracle, turning water into wine. Listening to the conversation between Jesus and his mother and it seems that even for her this was not going to be a miracle, just Jesus, her son, being who he was. As if he had been changing things from one substance to another or healing people or whatever, but doing stuff like this at family gatherings his entire life. She knows what he’s capable of and calls him to rise to the occasion. She even tells the servants, “do whatever he tells you.” It was no miracle for her. It was no miracle for most of the guests, who may not have even noticed what they were drinking. It was however a miracle for the close friends of Jesus who saw for the first time what he was capable of.
I bet we all have examples of something or some time when we said, “That was a miracle!” A time when it was miraculous on a personal level, but when no else may have even noticed.
Or more likely we all have occasions when we prayed for a miracle. Oh please, God! I need a miracle. As one of my friends says, God, BE GOD! Do what you do, okay???… because a miracle right about now would be perfect.
I wonder how many people purchased Powerball tickets with that hope in mind, the need for a miracle! I didn’t buy a powerful ticket, and besides, I’m not sure playing would have helped my odds anyway. But, I still fantasized a little about what it would have been like to win. I wonder how many people did play with the hope that winning would solve ALL of their problems. Except I’ve read that Lottery winners often end up in bankruptcy because, as it turns out, winning may not be a miracle, but a curse.
So miracles may be some event that a person or even a group of people experience together, but not all of them will experience it as a miracle. Some will just experience what happened as kindness or generosity or entitlement or luck, or a given or even a curse. Miracles may not be all that amazing, they may be just ordinary events that are experienced in extraordinary ways, like the impulse to move out of the way of an oncoming car.
Perhaps what really makes something a miracle is not an event, but a feeling, a sense of gratitude, that makes one say, Oh Thank You, Jesus! I finished that paper. Thank you Jesus, I made it to the gas station before I ran out of gas. Thank you Jesus, it’s a miracle. A miracle may be nothing more than that which inspires a sense of gratitude.
The weather held out, the drive was less stressful than anticipated, the flight was made on time, a neighbor brings over casseroles, a friend invites one out for coffee, ordinary things that, given the circumstances, can all make one feel grateful, can all feel like a miracle.
A church leaves its doors open for the mail carriers to come in out of the cold and use a bathroom - on some of the worst days, it feels like a miracle to the mail carriers.
A church offers food for hungry families and gives them a Kroger gift card on top of it, for some it literally is a miracle. A church helps a neighboring church collect drinking water to combat a local water crisis, for those families, it’s a miracle just to have water.
A church gives another church nearly $100,000.00 to help build a school, a relationship was forged across the globe, and the school is well on its way to being completed. No doubt it is a miracle.
A church redesigns its interior to be more accommodating to people with wheelchairs and walkers and it redesigns its entrance way and offers free outdoor summer concerts. A church commits itself to being a teaching congregation and mentors lay people and newly ordained people into priests for the wider church.
A church, our church, has done all of these, because we have chosen to live with gratitude, to be, in as full and rich a way as possible, a Community Centered Church and to fulfill our mission to feed people in mind body and spirit.
Like Jesus, when we are true to who we are, when we do what God is calling us to do, when we live with gratitude, then, call it what you will, but the truth is, that’s when miracles happen.
(A reflection on the reading for Epiphany 2C: John 2:1-11)