Be part of the Miracle

ZethuDuring the war between Germany and Czechoslovakia, the Germans lost a huge number of their soldiers. They then captured the Czechoslovakians as Prisoners of War. Their intention was to use them to manufacture bullets to use in the war, as they were also running out of bullets.

The Germans started using the bullets manufactured by the prisoners of war but they soon discovered that the Czechoslovakians’ aircrafts they were firing at were just riddled with bullets but they did not explode. The officials ordered an investigation. They discovered that the prisoners of war did not put explosives in the bullets but they put messages. In these messages it was written: “This is the only way we could assist you”.

A miracle in deed and these prisoners of war were part of it.

This is what I want to talk about today.


Sometimes we need a miracle. Sometimes we pray for a miracle. This is usually when everything has been tried and nothing has worked. Only a person who has been that desperate to pray for a miracle would understand what a miracle is. If you are fortunate and have never been desperate for a miracle I do not expect you to understand what a miracle is.

For the benefit of the latter, what is a miracle? A miracle is a phenomenon not fully explained by known laws of nature, or an act by some supernatural entity or unknown, outside force.  A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader.  In the New Testament Jesus explains that miracles are performed by faith in God. You need to have faith that we have been talking about the whole week-end. The whole weekend we have been talking about faith.” If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, move from here to there and it will move.” (Gospel of Mathew 17:20). You cannot even begin to think this can happen if you do not believe.

I would like to base my talk on one of the miracles that Jesus performed. The one where Jesus feeds the 5000. This story is not told merely once, not twice, not three times, but four times in its variations. It is the only Gospel miracle, which is told in its fullness in all four Gospels.

In many of the miracles that Jesus performed he asks the people with him to do something. He involves them. He wants them to be part of the miracle, for an example, Mark 2:1-13 Jesus heals a paralytic. The 4 man carrying the paralytic man open the roof as they could not get closer to Jesus. They let down the bed and when Jesus saw their faith, he says to the paralytic man. “Son your sins are forgiven you.” Unknowingly they became part of the miracle that the paralytic man had been praying for.

In this case, Jesus wants to feed a crowd of 5 000 men. We are told that the women and children are not included in this 5 000. There could be a reason for this. To make you understand this let me give you a bit of a background of the attitude of the Jewish men towards women at that time.

The Jewish attitude towards women was less than ideal. They did not recognize them at all (does this not sound familiar). To express how they feel about women a Jewish man would start a day by expressing thanks to God that he was neither a Gentile, a slave nor a woman.  They did not talk with women in the street not even their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. A man was allowed to divorce his wife if she was found familiarly talking with men. There was even a segment of church leaders called Bleeding and Bruised Pharisees because when they saw a woman approaching, they would close their eyes, hence, were running into things constantly. In today’s world they would even prefer to be knocked down by a car than lay their eyes on a woman. (What a pity, not being able to look at the most beautiful creation ever created by God).

With this background in mind notice that to carry out this miracle Jesus uses 5 loaves of barley bread and two fish given to his disciple willingly. But who prepared this barley bread and fish?  A woman, the least expected person to do something good, in that community. Someone who was not even expected to be next to Jesus. No Jewish man expected anything good to come from a woman. Have a picture of this woman (preferably in the rural setting) who woke up that morning to mix dough for barley bread probably using the last bit of flour in the house. Barley bread was associated with the poor. She finished mixing it, put it aside and waited for it to rise before baking. I can see her collecting wood to start the fire, preparing for the journey to be taken by her son. She continued with her daily chores and then took the dough to bake it in the oven. She then took the fish started cleaning it then fried it. She put the bread and the fish in a lunch box for her son. While doing all this it never crossed her mind that she was going to be part of a big miracle. She was not aware that the barley bread she prepared with her own hands would feed 5 000 men and their families (women and children). Nothing could have prepared her for this. In this miracle Jesus uses someone very insignificant, an outcast in the community, a person that these men would not even speak to. What an honour. How many of us here have missed such an opportunity, being part of a miracle, because we wanted to find out first who would benefit from this. If I use my last bit of flour where will I get bread for tomorrow? How many of us have missed an opportunity to bring about a change in someone’s life because we do not care about anybody else except ourselves. Think of that woman, that child, that man who is still waiting for a miracle because you refused to be used by God.

 Today these men and their families are saved by the person they despise. Jesus is embracing the excluded here.

God is inviting all of us as UPWF members to be partners in the miracles that he will be performing in the next three years. It said that for any programme to run effectivelyyou need partners, probably those who have been in the business long enough. I am saying to you today here is god asking you to partner with you. Note that it’s the other wayround here. We as the newly inducted leaders of the UPWF feel honoured that we have been called by God to be his partners for the next three years. I am also inviting each and every one of you sited here to journey with us in this exciting journey of changing people’s lives. No one should be a spectator or an observer. We all have something that we can bring to the table. We should willingly allow ourselves to be part of these miracles. As stated in the General Secretary’s report the baton has been handed over to us and we need to run with it.

How many women are crying in our congregation’s day in and out and here we are sited here having not done anything about that?

How many women and children go to bed hungry every night because we are not bothered? They pray for a miracle every day and the person keeping that miracle from happening is you and you and you.

How many families have left the church because they have lost hope and yet you are the person that can bring hope to them but you are not doing anything about it?

I can go on and on but let me stop and give you a chance to think if you really want to be part of the miracle. We need to work hard in bringing a change in other people’s lives, until those who do not believe say: Now I have seen Jesus in action.

As Presbyterians we are part of the Reformed Tradition. Being part of the reformed tradition is about being a church that is embracing something new all the time. We cannot stick to the old. We need to be open to change. Something new all the time. We should be welcoming change with great excitement rather than resist it. In other words we need to embrace change. We need to know though that you cannot begin to convince someone to embrace change without some preparedness to go into his/her own space. We need to embrace like Jesus embraced everyone.

Our problem is that we like to exclude. This one is not like me therefore I’m going to exclude her, this one does not think the way I do therefore I’m going to exclude him, this one does not dress like I do therefore I’m going to exclude her. Miroslav Volf in his book titled: Exclusion & Embrace proposes the idea of embrace as a theological response to the problem of exclusion. He says that exclusion is increasingly becoming the primary sin, skewing our perception of reality. He says this causes us to react with fear and anger to all those who are not within our ever-narrowing circle. Each and every day we add names to the already long list of people we do not want to be associated with.

Today we need to step out of our comfort zone, step into someone’s space. Be part of a miracle.

Let us be like Jesus. He met the Samaritan woman in her own space at the well. He got into her apace and posed a few questions after which the Samaritan woman was saved. We need to meet the women in their own space and be part of the miracle. This actually means we cannot begin to be part of the miracle if there are people we cannot mix with, people who are not part of our circles.

Think of the women in your Presbytery, think of the women in your branch, think of the women in your sub-branch who are suffering in silence because they want to belong. If they begin to share about their burdens they risk being excluded, they risk being labelled. We need to step into the space of those whom we have labelled, those women whose sons and daughters are alcoholics and drug addicts. Those women who have to think twice before they go to the Prayer meetings on Thursday (Umanyano) because they know that they will come back the same if not worse, because there are issues we avoid talking about. Step into the space of those who are living with HIV, those that are no longer with us today, we do not want to be associated with in case we are also labelled as being HIV +. Step into their space and let them say: A miracle happened today.

Step into the space of those with whom we do not share a space. I am talking here of our sisters. Let us be intentional in embracing others and joining together with others in the search of what God wants us to do and to be. Even if it means giving up something or allowing yourself to be absorbed by the other, as long as you are part of the miracle. I am asking you to even put aside the uniform and wear clothes that are familiar to everyone if it is this uniform that is dividing us.

Two things that we need to do in a commitment to be part of the miracle:

Let us stop a bit and take note of who is with us and who is not. Look around even now.  Let us ask again what it is that God requires us to do to embrace each other.

Would it not be a miracle for all of us to suddenly find a reason to want to share spaces with those we are known to have vowed never to embrace?

Everyone here has a lunch box to feed a thousand or more. We have got what it takes to feed the hungry. We might not have realized it, but think again. Who became part of a miracle to feed the 5 000? A woman and a little boy.

All the women who will be taking over the leadership at all levels for the next three years, we have a lot to do. What makes it easy though is that the ground has been prepared for us.

We have to make sure that no women and children in our congregations and communities go hungry. We have all the recourses and let us allow the women to access them. Start those Co-ops.  No Presbyterian children should not be able to realize their dreams. We have Bursaries that we are contributing to, let us make use of them.  Let us find ways of sharing a space with our fellow sisters.

The General Assembly has taken a decision to bring external mediators to resolve issues we have between us and our sisters. Even during those sessions I am asking you to remember that you need to be part of a miracle.

In conclusion I would like to quote from Miroslav Volf’s book again titled: Exclusion & Embrace where he says: (I quote) “Christians must learn that salvation comes, not only as we are reconciled to God, and not only as we learn to live with one another but as we take the dangerous and costly step of opening ourselves to the other, of enfolding him or her in the same embrace with which we have been enfolded by God”. (Unquote)

To all the leadership of the UPWF, at all levels, for the next three years I say, Do not go where the path may lead but go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. I am asking you to go to your Presbyteries and branches and be part of the miracle. 

To everyone here please do not greet your grave with your dreams unfulfilled. Be Part of the Miracle, for the next three years. 

General President, Zethu Xapile - 29 July 2012

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