Good morning and welcome to the Auld Kirk of Ayr; a warm welcome to our friends in St Nicholas Parish Church in Prestwick and of course to our listeners on the Dial a sermon service.
We begin our worship with "Restore O Lord"
Let us pray.
Almighty and sovereign God, great and wonderful,
all-powerful, all-loving, all-good,
once more we make time to worship you.
We come to remind ourselves of all you have done-
your mighty acts across the years, your coming to our world in Christ,
your transforming of countless lives won for him.
We come to rejoice in all you are still doing -
your faithful love reaching out to all people everywhere, your mercy offering new beginnings
where before there was only despair,
your saving purpose constantly being fulfilled.
forgive us for losing the sense of awe we once had.
Forgive us for forgetting how great you are.
Forgive us for bringing you down to our level, rather than rising up to yours.
Forgive us the smallness of our vision, the feebleness of our worship,
the weakness of our faith.
Enlarge our vision. Deepen our faith. Renew our trust.
Restore our sense of wonder before you.
Teach us that you are a great God above all gods,
Lord of the nations,
sovereign over space and time.
So may we offer to you our worship,
With glad and grateful hearts,
In Jesus name. Amen.
I would now like to invite Sandra Mullen to read our lesson.
Thank you, Sandra.
A man was driving along the highway and saw a rabbit hopping across the middle of the road. He swerved to avoid hitting it, but unfortunately the rabbit jumped in front of the car and was hit. The driver, being a sensitive man as well as an animal lover, pulled over to the side of the road and got out to see what had become of the rabbit. Much to his dismay, the rabbit was dead.
A woman driving down the highway saw the man and pulled over. She stepped out of her car and asked the man what was wrong.
"I feel terrible," he explained. "I accidentally hit this rabbit and killed it."
The woman told the man not to worry. She knew what to do. She went to her car and pulled out a spray can. She walked over to the limp, dead rabbit, and sprayed the contents of the can onto the rabbit. Miraculously, the rabbit came to life, jumped up, waved its paw at the two people and hopped down the road.
Ten feet away the rabbit stopped, turned around, waved at the two people again, hopped down the road another ten feet, turned, waved, and hopped another ten feet and repeated this again and again until it was out of sight.
The man was astonished. He couldn't figure out what substance could be in the woman's spray can! He ran over to her and demanded, "What was in your spray can? What did you spray onto that rabbit?"
The woman turned the can around so that the man could read the label.
It said: "Hair Spray -Restores Life to Dead Hair. Adds Permanent Wave."
One of the most difficult aspects of the Christian Faith for many, is the subject of Miracles. Did Jesus really feed 5000 people with only two loaves and five fish? Is it true that he walked on water? Could he really have raised Lazarus from the dead?
I have never had a problem with the subject of miracles. You see if you can believe in a God who made the Universe, then things like the Virgin Birth or Resurrection are child's play!!!
But for many the subject of miracles is a hard one to come to terms with in this supposedly scientific age; the fact that the majority of scientists would count themselves as Christian doesn't seem to register.
So, this morning I want to explore the subject of miracles.
The miracles recorded in the N.T. cannot be dismissed as the writers poetic license. We have to accept them and then try to understand them or we have to reject them and then try to salvage what we can from our Faith.
So, let's begin by looking at what we mean, when we say the word "Miracle".
We have become very lax in our usage of the word, because often we refer to miracles as things that are merely strange or unusual. e.g. someone recovering from cancer is deemed miraculous; now it could be, but it could also be down to the treatment; a company clinches a deal that saves the workforce from redundancy, is that a miracle or just good business practice; a bomb explodes and no-one is injured is that a miracle or just luck.
Then there is the way that we use the word "miracle" to describe anything we don't understand. Computers are miraculous; Thomas Hardy the writer thought that the telephone was miraculous; how a thermos flask knows how to keep hot things warm and cold things cool, is miraculous.
Then there is the poets view of the world; often they write about the miracle of day and night, the cycle of nature and so on.
But are these things really miracles or can they be explained. If in the middle ages you had shown someone a television, they would have regarded it as a miracle, but we can explain it now. If you had told a Victorian that one day man would walk on the moon, he would think of that as a miracle, but we know how to do it.
So, many of the things that we don't understand today and therefore regard as miracles, might well be explained tomorrow and therefore will not be thought of as miracles in the future.
Let me give you just one example of how knowledge can affect our view of the miraculous. When Lawrence of Arabia brought some of his followers over to the west, after the war, they were not staggered by the trains or cars, but by a simple waterfall.
To those men, whose whole lives were spent in the dessert, continuous running water was truly miraculous.
So knowledge isn't the whole answer to what makes a miracle. A better suggestion is to think of a miracle in terms of something that defies human skill to perform and which baffles human wisdom to explain.
In other words, something that we can't do and which we can't understand how it happened.
e.g. we can explain how a television works, but we can't perform or explain how the Feeding of the Five Thousand took place.
Something that defies human skill to perform and which baffles human wisdom to explain, that's a good place to begin, but it doesn't quite catch the whole flavour of what a miracle is about. For that, we must look at the N.T. view of miracles.
In the Gospels, two words are used to describe the miracles of Jesus. The first word is that used for Power. The power in question is that of God's; therefore a miracle is the act of God intervening in the world in a powerful way. e.g. the Flood or the case of Daniel in the lions den. God intervened and changed the course of creation.
Miracles have to do with God showing his power to change the way things are, by doing what only God can do. That then rules out much of what we often term miraculous, because it is something that we can do. Only God can do miracles.
The second word used in the N.T. is the word for Sign. True miracles show us something of the nature of God. e.g. the manna sent to the people of Israel in the dessert, shows the compassion and generosity of God.
Miracles are about pointing out who God is. Therefore, if anything we deem miraculous doesn't tell us something about God, then it isn't a miracle.
Power on its own is neutral, it can be used for good or evil; it is only when we see where the miracle points us to, that we can decide on who it comes from and whether it really is a miracle or not.
In the N.T. a miracle is an event that allows us to see into the heart of God and which show us something of his attitude towards us.
But while that might well be an adequate definition that hopefully we can all agree on, it still doesn't solve the problem of did the miracles actually happen?
What then is the available evidence?
Let's begin by looking at the suggestions that have been put forward doubting the validity of the miracles.
The first suggestion is that Jesus lived in a time of miracles. It has been claimed that the heathen and pagan followers could easily match and surpass the miracles of Jesus. e.g. the emperor Vespian healed a blind man and a cripple; the greek Apollonius brought a young bride back from the dead.
Since some of these miracles are obviously made up, it is claimed that the miracles of Jesus are suspect also.
But it could just as easily be claimed, that since this was an age of miracles, that people were ready for the miraculous to happen; they were conditioned to await and to accept the miracle; here was an age when hearts and minds were open to receive the divine.
Maybe if we were a little more open to the miraculous, then we would see more miracles happening around us today. I think we miss many wonderful acts of God, simply because we have closed our eyes to the possibility of miracles in 2016.
Miracles do happen today, if you have the eyes to see and the heart to believe. Who knows maybe the Church would a stronger Church if it could rediscover a belief in the miraculous!!!
Another accusation thrown at the miracle stories in the Gospels, is that of exaggeration. The writers added on bits to make the stories more compelling, to make Jesus seem even more impressive.
e.g. in Mark's Gospel when the women entered the tomb after the cruxifiction, they saw one angel; but by the time John wrote his account, there were two angels. Both can't be right, one has exaggerated.
But what you have to remember is that all the Gospel accounts agree on the central facts of the resurrection story; Jesus wasn't in the tomb, he had risen. They didn't differ on what really happened; that is that the resurrection actually took place.
Plus, if all the accounts had been exact, word for word, then that would probably have lead to the charge of collusion. Sir James Hope Simpson, a banker, once said, that if you ever had two exact signatures, then one was a forgery.
We have to remember that Mark wrote his Gospel some 30 years after Jesus' death; John around 70 years after. The reason they weren't written earlier is that they believed that the kingdom of God was going to arrive soon and since the Disciples were still alive, they didn't need to write things down.
So when they did write things down, little changes were made, because our memories of past events do change slightly, but not the central facts, nor does this change affect the truths that lie at the heart of what occurred.
Mark and John may differ on the number of angels, but they agree that Jesus rose from the dead and that he performed many miraculous acts and why should we doubt that.
Exaggeration is no reason to doubt to the miracles.
The final doubt I want to discuss is possibly the most challenging for Christians in the rational 21st Century.
This doubt says that every miracle has a natural explanation. e.g. the Feeding of the Five Thousand resulted from the people being embarrassed by the little boy offering his lunch. Everyone then chipped in and enough food was found for all.
That is a possibility in this case, but what about the time Jesus walked on water. Don't tell me that the fishermen in his group didn't know about any stepping stones just under the surface of the water!!! Or what about the resurrection, the Roman Soldiers knew Jesus was dead; how do you explain that one?
The attack of the Natural Explanation just doesn't hold water, we are still left with the fact that Jesus performed deeds that are called miracles. Deeds that defy human skills and human explanation; deeds that can only be done by God and which point to his character.
So what about the positive evidence for miracles?
Well, we have already looked briefly at Mark's account and found that even although it was written almost 30 years after the event, it was still probably very accurate in the central details. It has been suggested that it was Mark's mother's house that was used as a meeting place for the early Christians and so he would have heard all the stories about Jesus.
Add to that the fact that story telling in those days was far more important and more reliable than the written word. Stories were told and retold word for word, for centuries, without errors to the substance. Therefore a mere 30 years did not mean that accurate accounts of what Jesus did weren't available to be written down.
On top of that, Mark was Peter's biographer. In other words, his Gospel is an eye witness account of what actually happened.
Unless you are prepared to denounce the whole of the Bible as a fake and a forgery, then the evidence of Mark points to the fact that Jesus performed miracles.
The second piece of evidence that supports our belief that Jesus did in fact do the things recorded in the N.T., is that the Jewish Authorities never denied that he did miraculous things.
Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Ruling Council, came to Jesus with the words, no-one can do the things you do, unless God is with you.
Even the Jews recognised that Jesus could do miracles. If his sworn enemies didn't doubt his ability to do such things, should we!!!!
Thirdly, we have evidence that comes from outwith the Disciples and the authors of the N.T.. Quadratus was a roman, who wrote one of the first defences of the Christian Faith.
He wrote to the Roman Authorities defending the Christians, saying that the people healed by Jesus were still alive and could be produced as evidence.
Now when you were writing to the Roman Government, you had to be sure of your facts, because there is no question that they would have investigated such claims and if they found them untrue, then they would have made an example of Quadratus.
Here again is powerful evidence suggesting that however impossible we might think the miracles to be, that they did happen.
The final piece of evidence that suggests the miracles did happen comes from Jesus himself.
The only difference between Jesus and you and I, is that he was sinless. Now if we are capable of loving acts and of using God's power; then surely the one that is sinless is capable of even greater acts of power and love.
Jesus was sinless and because of that, he was able to acquire power that is beyond our reach, because he was sinless, he was able to use that power for good and not for evil.
Jesus was sinless and because he was sinless, he was able to perform miracles that we cannot do and which we cannot explain.
All his miracles demonstrate the power of God and they point us to the very character of God's heart.
Jesus is the best proof available that the miracles did happen.
The choice we are left with today is to believe the evidence that is before us about the miracles of Jesus and then to try and understand what these miracles tell us about our God.
Or we can reject them as impossible and irrational, which leaves us with no choice but to junk everything tainted with miracles and that includes junking Jesus as well.
If you reject the miracles, then really you have nothing left to hold onto in the Christian Faith, because denying the miracles is to see Jesus and his followers as frauds and charlatans and nobody would surely want to follow such people.
But if you accept that the miracles did happen, then you must then go on and answer the questions raised by the miracles. e.g. what do they tell us about the power and nature of God.
And maybe most important of all, why do some miracles happen today and others don't.
Accepting that miracles happen is only the beginning of the story, not the end.
Brian McInroy is now going to lead us in prayer.
Thank you, Brian.
And now may grace, mercy and peace; from God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, be with you, now and evermore. Amen.
God bless and keep safe.
We close with "Shine Jesus shine".