Sunday, January 17, 2016

Epiphany 2, 2016: Do whatever he tells you

Lectionary: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

The big picture behind our lectionary readings today can be summed up in this quote from Mother Theresa: “When you know how much God loves you, you can’t help but radiate that love.”

The reading 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.

Let’s listen again to what we read from Isaiah: ‘For you, God’s people, I will not keep silent… I will not rest, until you are freed from all blame and your freedom shines like the dawn, until your deliverance from the consequences of sin shines like a burning torch. Everyone will witness this and the powerful in the world will see your glory. You will have a new identity which God will give you and you will be a crown of beauty, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No one will call you forsaken or desolate. Instead, you will be known as the one who delights God and you will be fruitful because you will be one with your God and your oneness will be a source of joy for God who rejoices over you.’

People of Redeemer, you are - right now -being given a new name, a new identity, and in this newness of life, you are a crown of beauty, a royal diadem: beautiful, valuable, and precious in the hand of God. Your new identity is grounded in a union with God, an intimate and permanent union, one that is a source of joy for God and, by your very presence in the world, a witness to the world of God’s love for the world.

And not just you, but all of Christianity – all people who are followers of Jesus. Look out at the world. It’s the same out there as it is in here.

Today’s psalm sings of the ridiculous abundance of the love of God which reaches to the heavens, is strong, just, given for the whole world, priceless and a place of refuge in times of trouble.

Then the letter to the church in Corinth describes how the love of God is expressed through the people of God as gifts given to individuals who live in a community of faith – and why. As Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The light of God’s love radiates into the world through the church. Each community of faith is given gifts as the Spirit chooses so that they are able to address the needs of the world in their time and place.

It has always been this way, as the gospel shows us. An ordinary event, a village wedding, 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 shame for the host family - and mentions it to her son. Jesus’ response, as rude as it sounds, was typical response for an adult male of that time, firmly supported in the cultural position of gender superiority: Madam, he says to 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 by Jesus’ public display of arrogance and immaturity, Mary told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” And Jesus obeyed her, telling the servants to fill the water jars with water, then bring a taste of it to the master of the feast - kind of the Mr. Carson (from Downton Abbey) of the party. The water had been turned into wine – a wine of the finest quality and it was in ridiculous abundance – which is how the love of God looks when manifest in the world.

In addition, Jesus’ mother, who was just a woman, initiated this sign by saying something extremely profound: “They have no wine.” Was she talking about the drink made from fermented grapes? Yes. But this is Scripture, so there’s always something more, something spiritual. For example, our perspective allows us to connect this with the events of the Last Supper where our Savior shares a cup of wine which he declares to be his blood of the new covenant, shed for all for the redemption of sins.

“They have no wine” Mary said, and she was right – and Jesus knew it, so he humbled himself for the first time, and gave them their first taste of the New Covenant – and it was delicious and abundant.

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.”

The deeper meaning is this: Jesus, who is the firstborn of the marriage, that is, the real and intimate union of human and divine, is letting the fullness of himself be revealed for the first time in this moment. This story of the wedding in Cana marks the beginning of the disciples believing in him as the Messiah of God.

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. This violates his cultural gender norms.

Serving the best wine last at the wedding also violates cultural norms, but that’s how Jesus rolls – over and over again – and this the first indication of a pattern Jesus will repeat and calls us to repeat in his name. It’s the one the prophet Isaiah describes like this: “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain… made low,[and] the uneven ground shall become level...” (Isa 40:4)

Another important part of this story is the direction the action takes. When Jesus was at the wedding he wasn’t aware of the moment presenting itself. When his Mother pointed it out, he thinking was about himself (My hour has not yet come), until Mary re-directed him to think of others (They have no wine). This is the direction we who are followers of Jesus must notice and practice.

Mary’s voice 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?’” (Source)

This is the direction, it seems to me, our primates in the Anglican Communion lost sight of this week as they gathered in Canterbury, England. Their concern seemed to focus almost exclusively on themselves: how the issue of sexuality affected them, their culture, and how they live out their Anglican identity. The Archbishop of Nigeria commented that this issue is a one of cultural difference – African culture being very different from American and European culture. ( I guess he forgot how many times Jesus violated cultural norms for the purpose of manifesting the kingdom of God in the world.

I didn’t hear a single primate, besides our own (God bless ++Michael Curry), speak of how all of this was affecting believers, especially LGBTQ believers around the world. I also didn’t hear much from our primates about how we Anglicans, in all our diversity, could serve the needs of the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, or the needy around the world. So many in the world have no wine. What are we doing for them?

One of the most precious memories I will take from my time at Redeemer is our ministry partnership with Living Waters and the witness that gave to our local community. We didn’t agree on practically anything theological, but we served the hungry together, and that was enough to form lasting bonds of friendship as we manifested the kingdom of God here in Shelby.

There are people right now in our neighborhoods who have no wine. There are people right here in this church who have no wine. This is why, in the words of Isaiah, I can’t keep silent; why I haven’t been able to rest - and why you can’t either.

People of God at Redeemer, you have been chosen by God and gifted for a purpose. You are a crown of beauty, a royal diadem in the hand of God. Let no one – not even you - call you desolate.

Your hour, your time of blossoming, has come. I pray you allow the fullness of God’s love which dwells in you to radiate with the brightness of Christ’s glory as you serve in his holy name. I pray you recognize, nurture, and use your many gifts because so many out there have no wine and you have it in abundance.

I know some of you don’t feel ready, but have faith, which as Dr. King says, “is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” You are followers of Jesus who has promised to be with you always, leading you, loving you. Do whatever he tells you. Amen.

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