(A sermon for the people of Christ Lutheran Church in Prattville, Alabama)
It’s good to be back with you. Most of you know that I spent the last 10 days in St. Paul, Minnesota, attending class at Luther Seminary. It is supremely cold in St. Paul. -12 with a “real feel” of -33 when I checked this morning. Brr!
I love going to campus. Much of the time, I attend coursework online, which is a blessing. I wouldn’t be able to make school happen otherwise. But being present and in person for a couple of weeks at a time feeds my relationships with classmates, fuels my relationships with faculty and staff, and rejuvenates my faith. It’s the toughest, working hard-est “vacation” ever. At school we attend lectures for hours, read more than one would think humanly possible, and write more words than I ever think I could possibly pull from my brain. We worship daily, attend informal lectures by faculty during our “downtime” at venues off campus in events called “Pubs and Profs”, and are exposed to a variety of opportunities for interacting with a purpose, and we get up in the mornings and do it all over again. They don’t call them “intensives” for nothing.
But normally, the best, most life-giving time at school happens in the dorms after hours in a time of holy recreation, when we can gather with our friends and classmates and sing folk songs, or dye psyanky eggs, or play a card game, or enjoy a glass of wine and the pleasure of one another’s conversation as we share our deepest joys and lamentations. After all the events of the day are past, we gather together, folks from different communities, different economic backgrounds, different nations, and different races to dwell in the best time of the whole day. We save the best for last…and though it may look like nothing special is happening, this is, arguably, the most important time of the whole seminary experience.
This is the time when stories are shared, when we can talk with one another about our prides and our pleasures and our successes, our hurts and our wounds and our shortcomings….about the ways we’ve damaged ourselves or others. In other words, it is a time of communion with our brothers and sisters with whom we are bound through baptism into the body of Christ. A time when relationships are strengthened, when lives are changed as we bear witness to the power of God to change us. A time to welcome God into our midst and to ask God to make something new of us. To extend to us through the relationships in that place grace upon grace.
The gospel lesson today takes us to the very first public act of Jesus’s ministry in the Gospel according to St. John. Mary has been invited to a wedding, another place of holy rejoicing and recreation…and since Jesus and the disciples are in town, they are invited along, too. And it is here that Jesus performs his first act as a public leader, some of the gospels would call this a “miracle”. But the gospel writer calls it a “sign”. This is significant, because John does everything deliberately, with great purpose, and so to call these kinds of incredible doings of Jesus “signs” rather than “miracles” means something. A miracle might suggest divinity and call attention to the person of Jesus, but a sign points to something in particular. And so as we read or listen to this story, we have to pay attention to what the sign is pointing as Jesus points away from himself and toward something else.
As we read through the gospels, we see more and more stories of Jesus doing something really cool, more miracles and more signs, and in each other instance, the sign seems to be for a purpose. But in the wedding text, there seems to be no discernable purpose. We can wrap our heads around feeding the hungry as in the loaves and fishes or showing a particular object lesson to a doubting disciple…but here, what is the lesson? What is the point? A lesson on wine distribution? A lesson on grocery shopping? Jesus as party planner? “Always buy more than you think you’ll need…don’t want that party to end on a downer”
Nah. The overarching theme of John’s gospel is the “dawning of a new age. To John, the coming of Jesus as the Messiah has changed the world from what it used to be into something totally new and different.” And the overarching theme of this story is the illustration of “grace upon grace” as Jesus saves this couple and their families from certain social casting out (a serious deal in that time when livelihood depended on the support of the family and of the neighbor). Jesus provides wine which will save them from ostracizing by providing that which they need beyond “enough” into “abundance”.
In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”. And what is more treacherous than his legacy inscribed in stone is the fact that we do not talk about it. Every kid who walks through the front doors of that building is taught a lesson of acceptance of the ways things were and the way things are by our lack of conversation about all of this.
It is far easier and much more comfortable for us white folks to say, “that was a long time ago,” than it is for us to relive our national shame or for us to admit that we are still benefitting from a system designed to lift us up and to push down those who don’t “look like us”.
But as Martin Luther King, Jr. would remind us, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I don’t know about you, but I want to LIVE. And I believe with my whole heart that God wants us, all of us, to live, too.
Hear the good news: God is a god of change and renewal and grace upon grace.
By God’s mercy and grace we are able to change ourselves, our language, and our systems. We invited to become the wine and to point beyond ourselves to the dawning of a new age. An age where all people are equally valued and beloved not just by God but by all of society, and I believe that we are called to public ministry, to work in this direction until that day comes.
To welcome God to immerse Godself into our midst and to make something new of us. To extend to us through the relationships in this place grace upon grace upon grace.