Published by Ronald Steed,
Sermon for Epiphany 2 (year C), January 20, 2019
St. James, Poquetanuck & Grace Church, Yantic
Illumined by God’s Word and Sacraments, may we shine with the radiance of Christ's glory.
The Wedding at Cana story is the first of seven "signs" that are placed throughout John’s Gospel. The transformation of water in to wine is a "hint" or "clue" about what Jesus is up to, and it raises a lot of questions for us as disciples in 2019, just as it must have for John’s community of early Christians. Why does Jesus seem to have so much "tone" in his response to Mary’s worry about the wine giving out, and why does Mary persist in thinking that, indeed, Jesus’ hour for caring about someone’s poverty has in fact arrived, even after Jesus himself seems to think otherwise? What is the significance of the water, and what does it mean that the water got transformed to wine, and not just any wine, but the good stuff… the best wine… the wine that delights the Steward of the Feast in such an unexpected manner? Is it significant that the Steward does not know where the wine came from, or for that matter the bride or the bridegroom? But the servants (the diakonos in the original Greek… the "Deacons") they sure know what happened to that water! Yep… Deacons get to see, hear, and know things! What do these hints, clues, and signs mean, and are there signs about what Jesus is up to today just as there were during his earthly ministry? Are there "thin places" around us in Southeast Connecticut where we might be able to see heaven and earth joined together and interlocked in small but equally surprising ways? Maybe there is a wedding in Poquetanuck or Yantic that we might get invited to along with Jesus… who knows?
One way in which we might see this story, is as a sign about how Jesus’ own ministry is going to transform from the water of his baptism to the blood of his death. So while this marvelous transformation is a delight to the wedding guests, it hints of something much darker. It suggests that there is a bloody end coming that is going to be cross-shaped perhaps. And you can bet that if this is a clue about the trajectory of Jesus’ own ministry, it just might have something to say about our own transformation as disciples. Something that hints that we ourselves are going to get transformed throughout our lives, from that day of joyful baptism to the point where we sit as disciples who are like a fine merlot. And, if we are anything like Jesus as disciples, that transformation is going to be cross-shaped too. It might hurt on a lot of levels.
So how does that happen, this transformation from baptized newbie into mature disciple? We’re fortunate today that one of the readings is from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Paul gives us a hint of his own about how water gets transformed into wine. It is through gifts, services, and activities that are prompted by the Holy Spirit. Paul is suggesting that the Spirit pours these gifts into our hearts. And not just any gifts… gifts that are intended to serve the common good… intended to serve God’s healing, reconciling, and restoring mission in the world. Paul is also suggesting that the Spirit distributes these gifts unequally across disciples. In other words, our gifts differ from one another. And I think that is a hugely important idea. None of us is given a complete package of gifts. It is as though the Spirit intentionally short-changes us just a little so that we have to come together in order to have a complete package of gifts to do God’s mission. And, it is only when we come together during Lenten Fish and Chips or during Chicken dinners for example, when we weave and interlock our various gifts, that we are able to be God’s instruments in the world, instruments through which the sick are healed in mind body or spirit, when family anger gets transformed into collaboration, and broken people get resurrected with new life. This need to come together in order to actuate our gifts is not a "bug" in our spiritual programming as Christian disciples; it is a "feature"!
The need to come together works on many levels. As individual disciples, we are constantly being given gifts by the Holy Spirit. And sometimes, these are NOT the gifts we think we need! We might think that we need to be great leaders or super organizers or financial wizards to be able to do God’s mission. But the gifts we are actually given, secretly in our hearts, might be to be empathetic listeners, or conduits of healing. It might even be that we won’t KNOW what our gifts truly are until we come together so that others can see them manifested in us. Has that happened to any of you? Has anyone ever told you something about yourself that surprised the heck out of you? "You know Jane, you’re such a calming influence in other people’s lives." And no one would be more surprised to learn that than Jane herself, who thinks that the opposite is closer to the truth. Sometimes, the gifts that the Spirit is pouring into our hearts are the very ones we think are in our shadow… the place in our personality that we don’t want to claim as our own! The American Poet, Mary Oliver died this week. One of here most famous lines is this: "Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift." Oh yes, sometimes the gifts the Spirit gives us seems like a box full of darkness… but those are gifts too. The dark gifts might be a little too cross-shaped for our liking.
On another level, this Parish has had all kinds of gifts poured into the hearts of its members. You should know and believe, that this Parish has almost ALL the gifts it needs to do God’s mission in the world, and to do it to the eternal delight of Jesus. You don’t need to wait a moment longer on another person to walk in those doors and sit in these pews for that to be true. All that is needed to actuate those gifts, is to find partners out there in the world to work with. Maybe those partners will be another Episcopal Parish, or a congregation from another denomination, or a congregation in a synagogue or mosque, or a not-for-profit organization. Maybe we are called to come together with people who aren’t very spiritual or who are hard-core atheists… do you think God can’t work through that? God will have the church that God needs to do the healing work that God will do. The only question for us is whether we are going to be a part of that church or not, and who do we need to team up with to do it?
As a diocese, the Episcopal Church in Connecticut has ALMOST all the gifts it needs to do God’s work in the world. The only question is, how do we bring those gifts together and who are the partners we need to seek out so that we have the whole package? We never escape the need to seek out others, because the Spirit seems to design it that way. Do you think that The Episcopal Church as a denomination has a compete set of gifts? No. How about the whole of Christianity? No. An African Bishop once told a group I was in that "It takes the whole world to hear the whole Gospel of Jesus, and you Episcopalians need to remember that!" At every level you can think of from just you and me as disciples, to the whole universal church, the Spirit has wired it so that we have to come together with outsiders to do God’s mission.
So we’re back to the Wedding at Cana. It took Mary to help Jesus realize that, in fact, the time was right to do God’s mission. It took Deacons, servants, to fill up those jars of water. It took one to carry a dipper of wine to the Steward. It took the Steward to recognize what an extraordinary wine he had just tasted and to praise a bridge-groom who could not have been more surprised to hear about the generosity he had just manifested for his guests that he did not know that he had had. And it took Jesus once he was out of his funk, with the Holy Spirit’s help to hear what Mary was saying, and to manifest that sign in all of them. That’s the way the water of baptism got transformed into the wine of crucifixion in Jesus’ day, and that’s the way our own baptism gets transformed into the best wine in 2019. We have to come together with others. Nothing will happen if we don’t. And if we do… well… we just might shine with the radiance of Christ's glory. Amen.