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Life has some Amazing Victories. In 1980, the victory was the Olympic Ice Hockey Team. Everyone knew the Russians (Soviets) would crush the Americans. Soviets supported their teams as a matter of national pride, and ice hockey was the man’s sport where Soviets were winners. The American team was guaranteed to lose. It was a dark time in the US. We’d been in the bitter Cold War for thirty years by 1980 – including the Berlin Airlift, the space race, and the mild-mannered President Jimmy Carter advised the US boycott of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The US faced a major recession, and the Iran hostage crisis was devastating to us. We needed something to go right.
Against all odds, the amateur American team beat the professional Russians. It was a Miracle on Ice that shook the world. The nation celebrated a hockey game that symbolized the hopes of the country.
A woman named Marian, who was raised poor on the south of Philadelphia experienced a similar dramatic miracle in her life. When a child, her mother took in laundry to keep food on the table for the African-American family. Poverty was crushing for Marian and her mother’s family, and racism was an unending battle in those years. Her life’s context was harsh. Even so, Marian sang for her Baptist church. She sang for God. She became popular. She gave everything to her music. Even after she was a recognized singer, she was denied permission to sing in Constitution Hall in 1939 because she was black, and mixed-race audiences were not acceptable.
It was for Marian as dark a day as one could imagine. That was the context for her life. Friends encouraged her. Against all odds including poverty, race, shaming and an unassuming character, Marian was brought to the Lincoln Memorial to sing on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. Present that day were 75,000 people standing in the cold and another four million who listened live on radio. She opened with a haunting rendition of “America.” She ended, with tears in her eyes, singing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” Who knew the trouble she’d seen? She knew. And, as the song says, “Nobody knows, but Jesus.” There she was, looking out on 75,000 faces with four million listening.She knew what a miracle she was witnessing as she sang with a voice that the great conductor Toscanini said came along “once in a century.”
The gracious songs of this unlikely woman cut through hundreds of years of racial tension on that cold Easter morning. Some say that Easter was the birth the civil rights movement. If you asked Marian, that moment was not her greatest triumph. Her triumph came much earlier in life when she overcame what could have been bitterness and rage. She was asked what was her greatest moment in life. She might have mentioned the countless rewards she eventually received. She sang for a President and the Queen and King of England. What was her greatest victory? As Chuck Swindoll tells the story in his devotional, Seasons of Life, Marian Anderson overcame all of that self-serving need for attention and simply said: Her greatest and most fulfilling day was when she told her mother she wouldn’t have to take in other people’s wash any more. Marian had saved her mother from a lifetime of backbreaking laundry. When you hear her sing, you’ll hear many Christian songs. I don’t know her religious commitments, but her songs were filled with the grace of worship from that childhood Baptist Church. Her bestselling autobiography was entitled, My Lord, What a Morning.
You see, miracles occur. Miracles are “impossible” events which have a life and meaning far larger than the event suggests. In Olympic hockey the Miracle on Ice was a triumph for freedom over against the harsh and cruel Soviet government. For Marian Anderson, her courage was a triumph of grace over a culture of harsh treatment.
How about you? Is there a harsh environment needing a miracle in your life? The obvious answer in May 2020, is, YES! The novel corona virus feels anything but novel five months after the first outbreak. We need a miracle. We are stretched and weary, fatigued from the change of pace, the isolation, the fear and worry and frustration. Economic hardships are settling in on many people. These are only some of many corona virus-caused problems we’re suffering. The context is severe for many people. This is a time that needs a miracle. As Christians we’re aware that God shines brightest in the dark of night. Jesus is raised from the dead only because there was a preceding death. God has a way of shining in the dark. I’m thinking we should keep our eyes open in this dark time because times like this are times where God can open eyes. Let’s look at one example. Jesus was the master of miracles for dark times. Some miracles are particularly subtle.
I will explain...
Sometimes we think of the miracle as the miracle – like healing a blind man. Wow! That was totally amazing! But sometimes the miracle was not the important part of the miracle The important part was the context of the miracle, like when a hockey game is only a hockey game, until it is in the context of international politics, and when a song is only a song, until it is Marian Anderson filling a cold Easter morning with songs of Christian grace and flooding a world of racial hostility with the Gospel. Context is everything in those cases.
Let’s take the story of a blind man. A healing is great, but the context is greater. In Jesus’ day blindness was considered a punishment from God. (See Gospel of John, Chapter 9, the entire chapter.) The Pharisees believed God would not heal a blind man. No way. God made him blind because of his sin. How could Jesus undo the punishment of God? “Not a chance!” they declared. Ooops. Jesus did heal the man. And what a mess it caused in that context. Jesus not only healed the blind man in front of him. He did far more – Jesus’s miracle implied that a man with blindness could become a man loved by God. “What? Really?” The Pharisees wanted none of that. They fought this bitterly. Read it in John 9.
--They complained that Jesus unlawfully healed on the Sabbath. (vs 16)
--They complained that a sinful man cannot heal – only God can heal. (vs 16)
--They complained that the story was fabricated, so they asked the parents to verify it. (vs 18)
--They attempted to intimidate the healed man’s parents and threatened blasphemy – a serious crime. (vs 23)
--They challenged Jesus’ technique. “What did Jesus do to heal you? How did he do it?” They were looking for a trap for Jesus. (vs 26)
--Then they mocked the poor man who was healed and attempted to humiliate him. (vs 28)
--Finally, as John 9 draws to a close, they were disgusted with the man and said the man was steeped in sin at birth and they threw him out. (vs 34)
When all the objections were defeated, the Pharisees were faced with the one thing they wante most to avoid: God saves sinners. Jesus was the agent of God to bring grace. The miracle, you see, wasn’t only about one man’s blind eyeballs. It included the blind eyes of the entire crowd who believed God did not care to forgive and heal blind people. Jesus was calling blind-hearted people to see again with the eyes of grace.
Context is everything, and God, it seems, wasn’t inclined to use a perfectly good miracle for just one common miraculous healing. Jesus wanted to heal the entire context -- in this case, the crowd of cruel Pharisees who did not want to see the grace of God at work in the life of a man they believed was a dreadful sinner. They need spiritual healing even more than the blind man needed physical healing. Like the Miracle on Ice and like Marian Anderson standing up to a lifetime of rejection, a miracle sometimes reaches further than the original event. Sometimes it becomes global. Praying for an end to the corona virus is fine, but maybe it’s a prayer too small -- asking for too little. After all, our context is an entire world in need of a savior. Instead of Pharisaical legalism and cruel racism and deadly political conflict, our context is an indifferent world which too often has forgotten that God can bring victory from defeat, can heal the sick, raise the dead, change hard hearts, cure loneliness and save souls. Sometimes we forget the entire world is in need of a healing miracle. Maybe today, a tiny virus will be the occasion for the hand of God once again to perform a global miracle. Certainly, as we share our church worship on the Internet and as our brave volunteers share food with needy people of the community, we will be participating in a healing far greater than we anticipated: a global healing for a sick world. Just as certainly, as you and I graciously share our faith with our neighbors and friends, we are participating in an old, old miracle. We declare that Jesus heals not only our hearts, but all who come to him.
Let our prayer be to see the softening of hard hearts and the saving of indifferent men, women and children by the God who knows the trouble we have seen and who knows how to dry the tears of our world.