By Paul Koch –
On my way home from Jiu Jitsu, tired after a night of rolling, I drive past a local church called The Miracle Center. My body aches – I feel old and very mortal – and I wonder about what goes on in there. Do they sell miracles? Do they give them out for free? Is there any guarantee that you’ll receive one? And what happens if you’re not satisfied with the one you get? I smile to myself and readily admit that I’m in the market for a good miracle or two. If I wasn’t so busy on Sunday mornings, perhaps I’d go check it out.
That church wasn’t always called The Miracle Center. I think it was originally something exciting like First Presbyterian, or some other bland rice-cake sort of name. But whatever it was, before it was The Miracle Center, the members of that church had redone the landscaping out front. They pulled up all the ivy and turned over the soil and eventually even filled their front yard with planter boxes. These raised garden beds scattered around the front of the church would explode with vegetables. Zucchini, bush beans, lettuce, and cucumbers could be spotted as you drove past.
I thought that was impressive. What a great thing to do with the grounds of the church building. They simply used the earth around them to grow food. I imagine they would harvest regularly throughout the growing season, providing healthy vegetables for their members and even giving to the local foodbanks for easy distribution to the community. But since The Miracle Center took over the place, things have changed. All the vegetables have been pulled up though the garden boxes remain. And what did they replace the vegetables with? Flowers. You might be thinking, well so what? They didn’t want to burden themselves with the maintenance of a vegetable garden. After all, there is a lot of work that goes into establishing and keeping up a garden. So instead, they planted flowers. At least it looks beautiful.
But as you drive by The Miracle Center, thinking about getting your hands on the latest miracle, you notice something about these flowers. They don’t ever seem to fade or wither. In fact, they don’t change at all. Even their coloring is a bit strange. They don’t match the normal wildflowers found around the area. They don’t match the colors of any flowers I’ve ever seen growing naturally. This is because of one simple reason: the flowers are fake. They are plastic flowers in bright, almost neon colors.
I find this troubling and more than a little sad. Someone may question the validity of the miraculous at The Miracle Center when they have plastic flowers out front.
But this is the way of our age. There is a constant desire to exchange the lowly for the glorious, the simple for the successful. A commonplace and unimpressive congregation that once grew food for their neighbor is exchanged for bright plastic flowers and promise of the miraculous. And so, we should not be shocked that simple water included in God’s command and combined with His Word promising new life is exchanged for believer’s prayers and testimonies of God’s intercession in one’s life. After all, even the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under bread and wine are dismissed as not central to our worship, and instead are replaced by jazzy solo pieces and inspirational quotes on the screen.
Perhaps the real miracle was that a group of believers actually worked together to build a garden to feed someone else. The real miracle is the unimpressive yet constant working of our God through the lowly and filthy things of this world. Under the form of opposites, God does his great work time and time again. Hardship and suffering and loneliness and even depression are not signs of the abandonment of our God. For God’s greatest miracle came in the form of the greatest suffering. It came in the form of a cross.
Let’s stop searching out the plastic flowers and pining for the elusive miracle that will make you healthy, wealthy, and wise. Instead let us rejoice in the God who comes to us in Word and Sacrament this very day, just as He came in a manger and upon a cross.