The Miracle of the Mine.


(This sermon was delivered after the miraculous rescue of the miners in Chili, on Sunday October 17th)

Just like the rest of you, I too have been glued to the coverage of the events that occurred over the past few weeks in Chili.   I watched the footage of the miners, one by one, being pulled to the surface after spending 69 days deep inside the earth.  It is rare to turn on the news in the last ten years and hear anything good, let alone a story as wonderful as we were able to see and be part of.   The story made the world stop for just a moment.   In the end, I couldn’t help but feel the sacredness of the moment when each miner celebrated their release in their own unique ways.  

I laughed when one freed miner led the crowd in a Chilean soccer chant.    I got all watery when I saw a young boy, likely the same age of my youngest, break into tears after finally seeing his dad alive and smiling.    I sat in reverence of the miner whose first impulse was to fall to knees and give thanks to God.  I was taken by the vividness and the joy of the moment, right alongside the millions across the planet who saw it too.

As a result of the sheer power of the stories and images from Chili, I imagine that this Sunday I will not be the only one talking about the Miners from the pulpit.    It is almost too easy to see the many lessons and sermon illustrations rolling forth from the countless hours of video coverage.    On the ABC news show 20/20, one reporter stated that the joy and excitement of the crowd was at inconceivable levels.   She said it was like watching the resurrection.   I must admit that I made an audible gasp when I heard her comments.  After thinking about it, however, I realized that although this moment was very different from that moment 2,000 odd years ago, we were witnessing a moment that was indeed different and significant.   In light of what we have seen and heard, It’s hard not to assign some sort of divine meaning or providence to all that we have witnessed.  I guess in the end, you can rest assured, that this morning there are countless Pastors and Priests chomping at the bit to add their own theological twist to the things that have occurred over this past week.

Some pastors will certainly talk about deliverance and redemption.  They will talk about 33 men, cast into a pit of absolute darkness and complete despair.    They will use the absolute nightmarish images that have crept into our minds to talk about the power of God.   They will remind their parish that we believe in a God that stands on the edge of the pits that lead to our own darknesses.   They will talk about our need to allow God to pull each of us out of our own black holes.      They will celebrate the lessons that the mine teaches us of God’s redemptive power, and they will sing hymns of deliverance.

When one miner was released he told the assembled reporters that in the darkness of the mine there was a moment of decision.    He said that he was in the mine with the devil and with God.    He told the world that he chose God.   Maybe there us a  young man or woman in Seattle, Boston, Belize, or Baghdad, who is facing that same choice.  Perhaps in hearing those words, that one person will make a better choice.   Perhaps they will indeed choose God.  Maybe the pastor will remind us that we have the ability to make that choice too;  in our darkness we can choose the darkness or we can choose God.

Other pastors will talk about the saving power of community.    They will talk about a place where neighbors do not let neighbors go without a fight.   They will talk about how a global community rallied together to bring the miners back home.    They see the struggles, the determination, and the drive to rescue these lost men, and want to celebrate what is possible when a community stands firmly together and with conviction makes a difference.    

They will point to the everyday people who refused to let go, and then point to those in the pew and declare that you and I should never let go either.   Maybe they will talk about the need to increase giving, to sponsor the new building project, or to sponsor a new missionary as the only justifiable response to events of this past week.  For many pastors, this will be the message and the miracle of the mine.

Others still will certainly get more creative in their message.   Maybe they will talk about those that gathered on the fringe of the rescue camp for the past few weeks.     They will point to those who pretended to be family members to receive some small part of the loot that millions donated from across the globe.  

Maybe they will talk about the black hearted strangers who told their kids to say to rescue volunteers that “Daddy was in the mine” so they could get the free toy that would eventually be sold for quick cash.      Maybe they will point to the infidelities of one of the miners that was only discovered when he was no longer able to cover his missteps and broken choices.      Maybe in the events of the Chilean mine, some pastors will see the brokenness of man as clearly as they see the joy of the miners.   They will likely point to those in the pew before them, and stress our need to fix those that exist on these fringes.   Maybe they will point to a particular politician or social position as the source of the solution or the place to cast their collective blame.

Some will preach that real and lasting change happens now.    They will point to the moment that despair turned to fame and talk about the new danger the miners all now face.    They will no doubt mention the reports that are already surfacing about quarrels about money and television time, and wonder aloud about the dangers and snares of the world.    They will mention that those men have been out of the mine for only a few days, and already the money is flowing.   There are requests for appearances at soccer matches and for paid speaking engagements.   A Greek businessman has already given them each of them a sizeable sum of money as a welcome home gift.   They are being pursued by requests for book deals and movie rights.   The city of Athens has offered an all expense paid, luxury trip through the city in exchange for press and public appearance.   Maybe in the reality of this new found fame, Pastors will sense and speak to the risk that each man finds himself, now that they have been freed from the well.  

Some pastors will make the connection to our own faith journeys, and implore us to realize that getting freed from our pits of despair is only one part of the journey.     The steps and the choices we make, once freed, are life changing ones.   Don’t believe they don’t matter.

Countless well meaning men and women of the cloth will stand up and tell millions on this Sunday, that the mine teaches us this or that.    They will make it cut and dry.    They will tell the world that this or that is the only lesson.  In the end, they will make the story easy.   They will make the situation in Chili easy to stomach and easy to digest.     They will type up their sermon notes, their blogs, and their newsletters, and they will sit back and smile, because they see it so clearly.    They got it right.   

To be frank, I would love to be so self assured to my own understanding of what happened in Chili to embrace any one of these as the divine message we are supposed to hear.    If only it was that easy.   If there is one thing that I have grown to believe in my own faith journey, is that the easiest answer is usually not the correct one.

Today, I am called to remind each of you that there are no easy lessons to be gained from this moment.   There is certainly a need to offer our prayers of thanksgiving and to share in the joy, hope, and celebration with the rest of the world, but there is more.    There is something special and unifying in the  witnessing of what could be so clearly argued as divine intervention, yet there is so much more that remains.   What we see in this brief moment in time rings of the miraculous, but also leaves us guessing.

Together we witnessed 33 miners who woke up one morning, and in a terrifying instant everything changed.    In an instant a normal, regular, everyday went south.   How can we not ask those questions?

When we hear their story, we come face to face with all types of questions.   How can we not ask why?  What happens if I leave home today and everything changes?   What happens if I kiss my wife goodbye and everything changes?    What happens if the world around me collapses, like it did for the 33?   What happesn if the truck swerves in my direction, the doctor’s report comes back bad, or the boss calls me into his office?   In the story of the Chilean miners we are faced with the very real truth that there are bad days. Some days are catastrophically bad. There is little we can do to avoid it.

One national religious leader stated that the events of the last 69 days were “a sign from God”.     The release of the last miner from the pit, was an “proof positive that God answer’s prayer” and “that God intervened”.   Certainly I don’t want to discount that thought, but I cannot help but ask where does that leave us?    In the end, is this really any different from saying that God brought Hurricane Katrina or the Haitian Earthquake?  If God brings the good as blessing, doesn’t that mean he must, by definition, bring the bad as curse?

There are times in our lives when the floors fall out from beneath us, and the roof collapses on our lives, and we are left in the darkest of pits imaginable.    In these moments we pray, we beg, and we plead with God, but things still hurt.   Loved ones leave, people get sick, and we lose our jobs.  Are we just not praying hard enough?    Are we someone less genuine in our tears?

Are our prayers any less important?   Are our prayers ignored, and other’s answered?   Why did 12 miners die in the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia and all walk out alive and rejoicing in Chile?    Does God listen to Chileans and not West Virginians?   I have a pastor friend that leads a Latino congregation who likes to jokingly say that God’s native tongue is Spanish.  Could that be it?  I want to know why God hears the prayers of the family in Chili and answers, but remains silet when they come from the devastated family in Chesterfield?

There are a whole slew of answers, theories or theologies that I could put forth.   In the end, if we do, we fail.   When we stop asking the questions we change from the faithful disciple into the lazy one.   We must come to grips with the very real, and very painful reality that despite how piously or how intensely we ask, sometimes things will hurt.   When asking why, we will never get the reason why.    Don’t let yourself get trapped in easy answers to the questions that have no answer.

My faith is strong.   I have chased after God every day of my life for years.   I have dug through my own rubble and the rubble of those around me, in search of a clue, in search of meaning, and in search of the reason.   In the end, I am still searching.    I am still searching, because in the search is where one finds hope.

One of the greatest theological debates since almost the first days of the church, has been focused on the eternal question;   where is God when it hurts?   Why does God allow pain and heartache?  I have theories and conjecture  yet in the end, on simple truth remains;  I simply do not know.  I don’t have the answers we need, despite my willingness to give up everything to obtain them.

But there is one thing I know, and that one thing is enough for me.   Where is God when it hurts?   God stands beside the hurting.   He is standing beside you in the pit.   God was beside the miners when there was no hope.   God was beside the workers 2,000 feet above, when they had no idea and faced giving up.  God stands beside the parent on the fringe, who thinks its okay to have their child tell unthinkable lies in exchange for a few dollars.  God stands beside the wife of the miner who has to fight between the emotion of fear for her husband, along with the anger that was born and bred in his infidelity.  God is beside the miner a year ago, when he contemplated touching a woman that wasn’t his wife.

God is with the entire world as we jump in excitement as the miners are brought to the surface.    God is with the crowds as joy and celebration surround everyone.    God is with the little boy, from West Virginia, whose father will never come out from his mine shaft.

And God is with you and me.   He is with us, when the world opens and swallows us.   He is with us when we read that doctor’s report for the first time.   He is right beside us when the one we love most in life leaves.  He is right beside us when we clutch that pink slip.    He is right beside us when we are in the deepest and darkest pits of our own life.

In the end, that’s the only lesson I am capable of embracing.    In the end, it’s the one that I am building my life around.     In the end, it is the portion of my faith that I am most confident in, and believe with the fullness of who I am

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