Sunday, January 20, 2019

Epiphany 2C, 2019: Our next-born identity and destiny

Lectionary: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Our reading today from Isaiah has the prophet clarifying in no uncertain terms the identity and destiny of the people of God. Isaiah tells them how much God loves them and that God’s purpose for them will be fulfilled in and through them despite how impossible that seems in the difficult circumstances they are experiencing.

In this passage, love compels God to promise: ‘I will not keep silent or rest until you, my delight, my crown of beauty shine with the fiery glow of freedom. Your oneness with me will be so apparent that everyone will see it and you’ll have a new name, a new identity. You’ll become known as those in whom I delight.’

One of the blessings of interim time is that we discover that we too are being given a new name, a new identity which is grounded in our relationship with God, one another, and the neighbors among who God has placed us. However we may have been known before, our new name will be the result of what people see in us now. Because of our union with God, one another, and our neighbors, we will become known as that church in whom God delights.

Isaiah talks about this relationship between God and God’s people in terms of a marriage – an intimate union where two become one. The gospel story picks up on this metaphor in the story of the wedding at Cana.

Jesus is at an ordinary event: a village wedding, which becomes the setting for an extraordinary event: the first manifest sign of the marriage, that is, the intimate union, of the human and the divine in Jesus and what that means for the world.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, notices that the wine has run out - something that would cause public shame for the host family. Mary was paying attention. She noticed what was happening around her and cared about how the circumstances of the moment would affect her neighbors. In order to protect their dignity (remember here our own Baptismal vow), Mary intervened risking her own moment of public humiliation as a woman.

Jesus’ response, as rude as it sounds to us now, was a typical response for an adult male of that time, firmly supported in the cultural position of gender superiority: “Woman…” he says, Notice Jesus is addressing Mary as his inferior, a woman, not as his mother. “…what business is that of mine? My hour has not yet come.”

That phrase, ‘My hour has not yet come’ can also be translated as: ‘The time of my blossoming, the moment of my reckoning, has not yet come.’ Well, that’s what Jesus thought anyway, but apparently, his mother knew better.

Undaunted and unashamed, Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Remarkably, Jesus obeys Mary, (to obey is to hear and respond) telling the servants to fill the water jars with water, then bring a taste of it to the master of the feast, who was kind of like Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson at the party.

To everyone’s surprise, the water had been turned into wine! But more than that, this wine was of the finest quality and it was in ridiculous abundance – which is how the love of God looks when manifest in the world – even when conveyed through human hands.

To most who were there and most who read this story in Scripture, it looked a simple event. There’s a wedding, the wine runs out, Jesus is there, so he makes more miraculously. But, as the evangelist tells us, only his disciples came to believe in him as a result of this sign. Most everyone at the wedding had no clue what was going on – except for the servants who also obeyed Mary when she told them: “Do whatever he tells you to do.”

This story of the wedding in Cana marks the beginning of the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah of God. Jesus shows himself to be the “firstborn” – the first fruit of this real and intimate marriage of the divine and human.

It’s also the beginning of the revelation of how Jesus does things and how that will transform the world. Stepping down from his lofty position of male privilege, Jesus humbly and publicly obeys his mother which not only bends cultural gender norms but also reveals how we, the next-born, can influence God on behalf of the dignity and welfare of our neighbor.

Mary’s voice in this story is echoed in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose holiday we celebrate tomorrow, who once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

There are people right now in our neighborhoods who “have no wine” - students, migrant workers, the working poor, to name just a few. This is why we too can’t keep silent; why we can’t rest.

We have been chosen by God and gifted by the Holy Spirit for a purpose. We are a crown of beauty, a royal diadem in the hand of God, and our hour, our time of blossoming, has come. Indeed, it is always now.

My prayer is that we allow the fullness of God’s love which dwells in us to radiate with the brightness of Christ’s glory as we serve in his holy name. I pray we recognize, nurture, and use our many gifts because so many out there have no wine and we have it in abundance.

I know some may not feel ready. The liminal time between rectors is a time of uncertainty; but as Dr. King reminds us, faith “is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” In fact, we will never see the whole staircase, that’s God’s domain; but our Task Forces are prayerfully clarifying for us our first steps, steps which will glorify God and serve the welfare of God’s people among whom God has placed us.

Like Mary, we will risk our own moments of public shame by taking these steps. Dr. King was also no stranger to that, was he? Did you know that following his “I Have a Dream” speech, the FBI sent the president a 64-page memo which contained the following?

“In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech yesterday he stands heads and shoulders over all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negros. We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.” Source: “Broken, The Troubled Past and Uncertain Future of the FBI” by Richard Gid Powers, Free Press, NY, 2004), 251.

The world looks at love with suspicious eyes.

A few years ago during Lent I practiced a spiritual discipline of smiling – something I have always needed to do more of. Not really wanting to engage with strangers, I obeyed my inner sense that God was asking me to do this. So every day that Lent I smiled at someone.

I was surprised at how many people found that suspicious. As the days of Lent went on, I was intentional not just about smiling, but about finding the person whose face was screwed up into a scowl, or who had the saddest or weariest expression and smile at them.

I was still often met with suspicion, but every once in a while, someone smiled back at me and a connection was made. As fleeting as that moment may have been, there was an eternal connection made: human to human, wrapped up together in a moment of divine love.

What happened as a result of those connections is staircase stuff – God’s domain. Being true to the steps God was asking me to take was my domain.

We are followers of Jesus; we are the next-born who shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory so that the whole world may know the steadfast, caring, intimate love of God for all creation. This radiance is a gift in abundance here at St. David’s and our hour has come. Our oneness with God compels us to make these connections: human to human, wrapped up in divine love.

It is our identity… our destiny. God bless us as we obey.


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