In the week since we last gathered, a lot has happened. We have celebrated the life of Jim Mallon, we have grieved the passing of George Kirby, and the powerball jackpot reached unprecedented heights at 1.6 billion dollars.
Now you’re probably thinking one of two things right now...either that I am the most insensitive priest you’ve ever met to talk about the passing of two of our members and the powerball jackpot in the same sentence OR that I have lost my mind because these are three completely unrelated events. But I’m going to ask you to hang in there with me for a moment.
Our gospel lesson today is the story of the wedding at Cana. It’s a fascinating story, and a difficult one to preach. There are a couple of notable things in this story from the second chapter of the Gospel of John:
--John begins the story “On the third day”...this is a literary element that calls to mind a later passage in the gospel narrative...on the third day, Jesus is raised from the dead. So the gospel writer is cluing us into the fact that something miraculous is about to happen.
--This is one of two episodes in the gospel of John that Mary is present. It serves as one bookend of the ministry of Jesus...the other being when she is present at the cross.
--This is the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus and it’s not a miracle that points to the life of the poor, the widowed, the orphaned or the outcast...it’s in the category of “nature miracles” (like walking on water or stilling the storm) and doesn’t necessarily benefit anyone...except the party guests.
And while all of this is interesting, none of it explicitly appealed to me in terms of preaching. Where is the good news in this story? That Jesus can turn water into wine--while it makes for funny pictures on the internet of mis-shelved water bottles--it’s not probably the first thing that comes to mind when we think about salvation and the Kingdom of God.
But it did make me wonder...where do we see abundance when it seems that there is only scarcity? The “gloom and doom” of the media and some of the people who are vying for candidate positions in national politics would have us believe that there is no such thing as abundance, and that where there is abundance, it must be because someone cheated, manipulate or seduced “the system”. But the story of Jesus turning water into wine is not gloom and doom, it’s not a story of manipulation or cheating...it’s the story of the beginning of public ministry, it’s the story of gifts given in love, and it’s ultimately the story of a miracle.
On January 3, in celebration of the feast of the Epiphany, I asked you to write down on notecards what gifts you have to offer. So here’s how you responded according to some themes I noted:
Compassion, love, caring, forgiveness, acceptance & understanding: 28 responses
Peace, joy, hope, kindness: 17 responses
Teaching, leadership, helpfulness: 7 responses
Time & service, friendship, devotion, responding to others in need: 15 responses
Money: 1 response
You could organize these in any way you wanted really...no one gift is better than another and all of them are necessary. If you don’t believe me, check out the list in 1 Corinthians:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
So what does this list of gifts mean in the context of the gospel? Have I forgotten my ridiculous connection between the end of life and the powerball?
Here’s how they connect…
Sometimes we have to be prompted, pushed, nudged to remember that we all have gifts to offer. Jim had the gift of leadership, kindness, patience, and laughter to offer all those he worked with...whether in sports, as a school principal or working with the Boy Scouts. As a naturopath, George had the gift of healing and medicine, and a faithful friend to those who knew him. His devotion and prayer life were among his greatest spiritual gifts. Sometimes our gifts are obvious to ourselves and those around us, and sometimes they are private, hidden, or tucked away and need a little encouraging to become more public in nature. Perhaps this is what Mary was up to when she brought it to Jesus’ attention that the wine had run out...she knew he had a gift and she was encouraging him to share it...even if he did so begrudgingly at first. But his sharing--his miracle--allowed for the rejoicing and celebration of a new life between two families to continue.
And the powerball lottery...I was so amazed at how my friends and colleagues all across the country were responding to the question “what would you do if you won the powerball lottery”. Among their responses (and admittedly, this includes mine) in no particular order:
--set up a spiritual retreat center
--buy a permanent place for the homeless shelter
--make sure my parents had arrangements to be taken care of in their old age
--support arts education in the schools nationally
--create housing to be used as transitional or low-income housing
--support local charities
--support church endowments
--pay off student loan debt
--support refugee resettlement
--take a friend to lunch
None of these responses were about quitting a job, travelling around the world, and living in the biggest house one could find with the nicest car one could buy. All of the responses were about creating miracles for other people...providing for families, friends, and neighbors, providing for children, the elderly and the displaced, and ultimately working for a better community.
Isn’t that the point of gifts--to bring about the Kingdom of God? Isn’t that the point of miracles--to get glimpses of the Divine in our midst?
Yeah, it might be a stretch to connect the events of the last week to the gospel, but I’m going to go with it...To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.