Monday, January 18, 2010

Miracles of Wine and Spirit

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

I Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

It always made me wonder: why did Jesus make so much wine? I mean, 6 huge pots that held 20 to 30 gallons each? That’s a prodigious amount of wine. Well, I’m going to explain why they needed so much. Marriage at the time of Jesus wasn’t a religious celebration so much as it was a contract between two families, with the prospective groom paying the bride’s father for the bride at the betrothal. The contract, or ketubah, was signed and given to the prospective bride, setting out the financial arrangements and terms of maintenance of the marriage. The wedding took place as soon after the engagement as the groom could prepare a home for the bride.
The actual wedding was a procession of the groom and his friends to the bride’s home, where they met the bride and her friends and family, and then everyone returned to the groom’s house to party, and I mean party. Jewish wedding feasts of that time went on for a full seven days! The bride and groom would go into seclusion during part of the time, but the guests continued to party and feast for the whole week. So, lots of wine would be expected and necessary. So much for the trivia, let’s take a close look at this exchange between Jesus and his mother.
To remind you of the sequence of things, Jesus had gone to the Jordan River and been baptized by John, at which time God announced from the heavens that Jesus was His son, in whom He was well pleased. The Gospel of John doesn’t mention Jesus’ temptation in the desert, but has him beginning to gather his apostles the very next day. And today’s reading begins, “on the third day” – so in John, this first recorded miracle occurs just two days after Jesus’ baptism. No wonder our Lord didn’t feel ready!
Theologians through the ages have argued back and forth over things we aren’t told in the Bible: Did Jesus know he was the Son of God while he was growing up? Could he and did he perform miracles as a child? Or was it at his baptism that it came fully upon him what he was and what he was called to do? From our story it seems as though Mary is telling her son to make more wine for the wedding, but if we didn’t know the story and were merely eavesdropping on this scene, it’s possible that we might expect Jesus’ next action to be to tell the servants to come with him to the wine shop to help carry the amphoras of wine back to the party. But by what he does, I believe his mother knew him well, and had no doubt of what he could accomplish.
Even though he says he isn’t ready, Mary expects her son to mind her request, and like any good Jewish son, he listens to his mother. As he performs his first miracle, it seems to be almost against his will. Jesus, like any of us human beings when called to a great and unusual task, tried to put it off, to say, not yet, not now, not me. Isn’t that what we most often do, when we are challenged to do something that is beyond our comfort zone, a bigger task than we’ve ever attempted before? Or something totally new and different that seems difficult? No, you don’t really mean me, do you? Oh, no, that’s a job for someone else, or maybe a committee needs to take this one on, not me.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians which Karen read to us earlier, Paul teaches them, and us, about spiritual gifts. He says that there are different types of gifts, and service, and activities in the kingdom of God, the Holy Spirit brings all these gifts; it is God who gives these abilities, and He gives every one of His children spiritual gifts for the common good. Every one: that’s you, and you, and you, and me. We are all given gifts, and we are to use them to serve God and our fellow man by doing different activities that our gifts suit us for to grow the kingdom.
In this particular passage, Paul speaks of the gifts of the Spirit: Some of us are given the ability to speak wisely and give good, Godly advice to those around them. Others can share their knowledge and have a natural talent for teaching; some people are endowed with great faith, and their quiet trust can be an example to us all. There are those here who have the gift of healing: who have a healing touch and a comforting way, and believe it or not, there is most likely at least one person here who could perform miracles, if they believed they could.
Prophecy is one we frequently misunderstand: it is not telling fortunes or foreseeing the future, it’s speaking the truth – telling people what is going on in the here and now that we might not realize or notice. It’s calling people out to be their best selves, and it is a great and fearsome gift, one that is not easily accepted, as we know by reading about the prophets in the Bible: people rarely want to hear the truth about themselves.
Paul speaks of discernment of spirits, and I found this explanation in the writings of the Rev. Murray Spackman: “The dictionary defines “discernment” as being able to see clearly, to distinguish, discriminate, to see or understand differences; to have clarity of mental insight. When this word is linked with “spirits” some may begin to think we are getting a bit spooky, but stick with me. Discernment of spirits then, is the ability, the God given gift, of being able to distinguish in a given situation, whether there are human, divine or demonic forces, spirits or powers at work. Discernment of spirits can operate from the very ordinary to the very spooky, but we need to be aware of the full range.
St. Paul, writing to the church in Thessalonica says – “”Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of the prophets, but test everything…” This is a good sound principle for the Church – test everything! Don’t just take at face value everything that is said or proposed, or spoken, even if a person claims to have a word from God. Check it out: test it! Someone will make a statement and it may sound fairly good and correct, but sometimes, how it is said, or the exact content of the statement, or the implications of what is said will cause a disquiet within one or some of those who hear it. That person may not be able to put their finger on exactly WHAT it is that gives them this disquiet and unease, but they will know that it doesn’t seem right. That is the gift of discernment of spirits at work. It is interesting that often those who are generally very quiet verbally are given this gift, and it is tremendously beneficial for the church. So, if you are one of those people who often sit quietly in meetings and don’t say much, but within your spirit you feel at some point a strong impression, either for good or of disquiet, then I encourage you to exercise your gift and share that feeling or impression. It may well be an important warning or signal for the church. So the gift of discernment of spirits, at its simplest level, can help us to discern when something is motivated by God’s spirit or else motivated by our own human spirit, and as we know, our wisdom doesn’t always follow God’s wisdom.”
Now the gift of tongues is one we Episcopalians know almost nothing about. And some Pentecostal churches that insist you aren’t saved unless you have this gift don’t seem to know much about it either. It is my understanding that the gift of tongues is something like the language of angels, and usually has a strong message for the church. Most often, the person speaking in tongues has no understanding of what the meaning of their utterance is: it is just gibberish to them. The way we know that it’s more than just noise is that someone truly speaking in tongues is always accompanied by another person who has been given the gift of interpreting what is being said. I’ve never seen this happen, but St. Paul says that the Holy Spirit activates these gifts just as surely as the Spirit activates all the others, just as the Spirit chooses.
Scripture tells us that we all are given gifts of the Spirit, and some of us even have the gift of doing miracles! All of these gifts are miraculous in their own way, and when God gives us something, we are to acknowledge it and use it to his glory and for the furthering of his kingdom on Earth.
God calls us. Sometimes He calls us through our friends. Perhaps he will call you through your children, or something you are asked to do here. Maybe you younger ones will be called through your Mother or your Father. Maybe we’ll argue, like Jesus did to Mary—“What do we have to do with this? It’s not my time.” Maybe you’ll say no for years. No, you don’t really mean me, do you? Oh, no, that’s a job for someone else. I know I said no for years, and kept doing the easy stuff, hoping God would say it was enough. But He kept at me until I gave in, gave myself to him completely and said yes. The funny thing is, though my life is different than I thought it would be, I’m happier and more full of joy than I ever knew it was possible to be. I didn’t have to give up anything that really mattered to me; I didn’t even have to really change at all. All that I did was surrender my life to Him, and let Him lead me, and oh, what an amazingly wonderful ride this past five years has been! I call you, on behalf of our Lord God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of Life, come! Give your life over to Him, and open your hearts to whatever gifts He has for you. My friends, you have a glorious life ahead of you! Say yes, say yes…Yes, Lord….Come, Lord Jesus…Amen.

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