Sacramental Illumination

A Sermon for Epiphany2; Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

In Mission Impossible Fallout a terrorist organization steals plutonium cores and plans to use them to wreak havoc. The hunt (pardon the pun) is on; agents are searching major cities all over the world. They are surprised when the terrorists are located high in the Himalayas. Julia, Hunt’s partner, realizes nuclear explosions here would contaminate water for as much as half of the world’s population. It’s an interesting thought that the loss of water, after all, we have so much of it, could be a major crisis. And then I read an article in the New York Times about the Tuyuksu glacier which supplies water to 2 million people. It has shrunk by miles, and a water shortage likely in the next 20 years. When you look at all Central Asia, the Tibetan Plateau, Himalayan, and Karakoram shrinking glaciers are the source of water for millions. It may not be a nuclear blast. but changing weather patterns are threatening the lives of millions and millions (Ruby and O’Neil).

In our Gospel readings for the last two weeks, water is significant. Last week Jesus is baptized (Luke3:15) in the waters of the Jordan River (Matthew 3:11). This morning Jesus turns water, reserved for rites of purification, into excellent wine. One aspect of this miracle is its Eucharistic, and sacramental, overtones (O’Day). By an act of the divine muse, this connected to a phrase from today’s collect illumined by your Word and Sacraments. I got to thinking about sacrament as illumination.

You recall that a sacrament

 is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace (BCP 857).

Pondering all Jesus’ miracles, you might notice a common trait, they all involve something extraordinary happening, something that is unbelievably beyond human possibility, something spiritual. Grace is defined as

God’s favor, undeserved, unearned, by which our sins are forgiven, our hearts stirred, and wills strengthened (BCP 858).

Grace, in part, is a sort of spiritual mitochondria. Mitochondria are the parts of cells that produce the energy they use, sort of little power plants. Grace is, in part, a spiritual power plant, that enables us to do those things that are beyond our human abilities.

Certainly, the transformation of water into wine is beyond human ability, so, by grace empowered spiritual action Jesus transforms water into wine. However, we get to easily distracted by the transformation; much more is going on here. The water was set aside for purification. In the Bible, purification rites are how an unclean person is restored to the enjoyment of religious privileges, and daily life. (Easton). It can be as simple as washing hands and goes from there. Our practice of baptism in part is developed from this concept (Sakenfeld). It is what John is referring to last week when he tells the crowd I baptize you with water (Luke 3:17). Another connection in this morning’s story is the revelation of Jesus as a presence of divine glory (Gaventa and Petersen).

When Jesus’s mother tells him about the wine crisis his response is What concern is that to me? It’s a good question, he isn’t the host (The Living Church). Jesus is a guest, and guests are supposed to bring food and wine as a sign of their support for the marriage, a shortage could be a sign of a lack of community support for the groom and bride (Trozzo). It was also customary to invite as many as people as possible to a wedding feast. To run short of wine would be a major hospitality blunder, shaming the whole family (Keener and Walton). In Jesus’ day water was not safe to drink, wine was the usual and customary drink, so, the lack of wine could be a public health issue (Trozzo). Beyond all these kinds of reasons there is scripture; Psalm 104:14 reads

You make grass grow for flock and herds and plants to serve mankind; that they may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden our hearts (The Living Church).

One of God’s attributes is bringing wine to gladden our hearts. In Proverbs and Hosea, the abundance of wine is an eschatological (end of time) image, of restoration (Trozzo). Biblical marriage ceremonies are also symbolic of the last days and the celebration of God’s future reign (Gaventa and Petersen). One final bit, when needs are met even commonplace needs like the one in Cana that day somehow joy follows, and that joy flows from the revelation of the glory of God (Hoezee). Which may be the point, the wine problem is a concern for Jesus, because in meeting the need of an everyday event, like the wedding feast, God’s Glory is revealed.

So, how does all this connect to sacraments? You know there are two great sacraments; Baptism and Eucharist, and several other sacraments: confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation of a penitent (better known as confession) and unction (anointing of the sick) (BCP 860). The Catechism goes on to say

God is not limited to our rites, they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us (BCP 861).

So, any time we are confronted with someone else’s problem, there is the opportunity for us to follow Jesus example and meet a common need, and in doing so reveal the presence and glory of God. And when the challenge is beyond our human abilities we can rely on the mitochondrial energy of grace, to empower such a spiritual sign. Any time the presence and glory of God are revealed is a time of illumination, spiritual illumination.

Last week I read of a bus driver being called a hero because she saw a 2-year-old in a diaper and onesie walking into the street, she stopped her bus, got out, picked up the child and carried it to safety. This is a moment as full of grace as Jesus’ transformation of water to wine, it is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, it is a spiritual illumination, revealing the presence of God. I believe such moments are present to us all the time; we just don’t see them as such, because we have limited our understanding of ‘the ever-present’ to time excluding geography; yes, grace is present all the time, and ~ grace is also anywhere and everywhere.

May this season of Epiphany, this season of light, this season of illumination, reveal the opportunities for it to be your concern, to draw on the power of grace, meeting a common need, revealing the glory and presence of God, in a sacramental illumination moment.


References

Easton, Matthew George. Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. WORDsearch Corp., 2008.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 1 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 2:1-11. 20 1 2019.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Richter, Amy. “The Frist Sign Epiphany 2.” 20 1 2019. Sermons that Work.

Ruby, Matt and Claire O’Neil. “Glaciers Are Retreating. Millions Rely on Their Water.” New York Times (2019). <https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/01/15/climate/melting-glaciers-globally.html&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

The Living Church. “Many Gifts and the One Gift of Joy.” 20 1 2019. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

Trozzo, Lindsey. Commentary on John 2:1-11. 20 1 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

Simple Acts – Extravagant Grace- Transformative Belief

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Epiphany: Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10
1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

You all know the story of the Wedding in Cana. Jesus is invited to a wedding, and the host is running out of wine. After being prompting by his mom, he asks some servants to fill up jugs of water. The water becomes wine, very good wine, and there are lots of it something like a thousand bottles (Lewis, 2016). This is not the only ancient story of a supernatural production of wine in the ancient Mediterranean world (Harrelson, 2003). I suspect it’s extravagance exceeds the others.I’ve preached and suspect you’ve heard about the glory and extravagant abundance. You might have explored the implications of a wedding feast as not so much a family event but a village event. It is a time when everyone takes a break from the endless drudgery of daily, weekly, and monthly, labor (Cox, 2016). It’s a time to eat and drink abundant food and wine. It is a time to celebrate the bounty of harvests past and, more importantly, the harvest to come. Throughout scripture, a wedding is symbolic of the last days and God’s future reign (Gaventa & Petersen). Not all the elements are bright. To run short of wine is seen as running short of blessing (Lose, 2016).

This morning two short almost throw away phrases caught my attention: “and they took it” the other phrase “and his disciples believed.”

Imagine you are a servant at this feast. You know wine is running short. You are a part of that background buzz in a social event at the edge of calamity. You hear a guest say something to another. His answer lets you know he is her son. His answer that his hour, his time has not come is cryptic, but that is none of your concern. Then she turns to you; the eye contact is direct. I image the tone; it is rare, it is not commanding, not acquiescent, not even specifically directed at you. Still, there is an air of expectation: “Do whatever he says.” Without explanation, Jesus says to fill the water jars. The guests use the water to purify – or to wash their hands, so there is water there. But they are large, and there are a lot of them, and you have other responsibilities to tend to. Nonetheless, you help your colleagues fill them. When you are done, he says “Take some to the chief steward.” You note he didn’t taste it. You don’t taste it; you just do as you were told. You notice the steward’s amazement as the wine is tasted. You witness his summoning the bridegroom for an off to the side conversation; you can overhear the stewards’ praise for the quality of the wine being served after the guests won’t likely realize it’s quality.

We’ve been so trained to hear this story one way it is easy to overlook some gleanings. Think about how easy it is to be a part of sharing grace. The servants’ tasks were very simple. There are no decisions just do as ask. The same is true for us in just doing as we are asked we can be a part of sharing abundant grace. Notice that Mary has no authority over the servants, she asks, well speaks, and they comply. Notice also how few of the recipients know the source. None of the guests, not the steward, not the bridegroom, only Mary, Jesus, and the servants. Sharing grace is often a quiet even unnoticed effort.

I know you have heard it because I have said it experiencing God’s grace more often than not happens in usual and customary places. Being a part of serving God’s people doesn’t take anything special, just a willingness to participate when opportunities arise, especially when you cannot see the connection between the source of potential troubles and the offered solution. Part of witnessing God’s grace is learning to see differently. While not as specular as a thousand bottles of wine moments of divine grace happen all the time. And when you are involved in sharing grace, you never know whose looking. And that brings us to second phrase “and his disciples believed.”

Of Jesus disciples at the wedding two were following John, one is unnamed. The other, Andrew, goes and gets his brother Peter. Down the road, presumably on the way to the wedding, Phillip and Nathanael accept Jesus’ invitation to “come and see.” That makes five disciples: two heard John’s proclamation about Jesus identity. Peter is invited by his brother to meet the Messiah; Philip and Nathanael accept Jesus’ invitation to come and see. None have any real direct experience of Jesus. All this happens in the three days.

I’ve been to a few swanky weddings, but I’ve never seen anyone arrived with five additional guests. I never have seen someone just shown up uninvited. Without making any insinuations about social protocol, there does seem to be a quality about Jesus that draws people to follow him anywhere. It doesn’t take much to imagine that they have shared the stories of how they came to be with Jesus. They would all know the possibility that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. Although he does not seem to have any of the expectations; he is not a mighty warrior, he is not from Royal blood, at least not obviously, he is not from the prophetic tradition, he is not of a priestly clan, he is just a man going to a wedding. There is John’s proclamation, but John is a bit of an extremist, living in the wilderness; still there is something about Jesus that makes it is easy to follow him. When I’ve been to big parties where I don’t know anyone, I’ve tended to keep the person who invited me in sight. It doesn’t take much to imagine the disciples are aware of the impending flummox over the shortage of wine. It is possible they overhear the conversation; so they may well know the whole story. We know that, at the least, they witnessed something because John tells us they know Jesus miraculously provides lots of really good wine for the rest of the wedding feast. We know what they saw leads them to believe in Jesus. Two heard John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God, which has messianic implications. And we heard Andrew tell Peter that Jesus is the Messiah. What that means, at this point we don’t know. I’m not sure they know. I am not sure it is important. What is important is that they came to believe, they came to have faith in Jesus.

Of all the places one might say is the place where you came to believe in Jesus as God’s Messiah I don’t imagine a huge party would be high on anyone’s list. So if you want to see Jesus, my experience is that folks witness the presence of God more often than not in the mundane and ordinary, grocery store, school, an office even a wedding.

Two points: If you are seeking God look in the places you are every day. If you are really seeking God, try the street corners, back alleys, homeless shelters, food pantries, charitable clinics, refugee camps, and transition houses. Go anywhere folks are reaching out to the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the oppressed, the depressed, those who are abused or otherwise marginalized and driven by society to the edge of life. Go any place where there is risk and the potential for tragedy. In the bible, this is where Jesus spent almost all his time. It is also the places from which God calls almost all the kings, prophets or other to lead his people.

Neurologists know our brain is configured to recognize and instantly react to danger, fear, scarcity and so on. I know that media and advertising businesses play on that reality. I see and hear every day how politicians use it. Much of what we hear every hour of every day deliberately pokes at our fear, danger response. We need, God’s people need stories of grace and abundance, stories of extravagant abundance and amazing grace for all (Lose, 2016).We need stories like this one. We also need to be a part of the story; we need to experience, to witness grace and abundance freely shared with all. And you can, they can, we can all be a part of sharing God’s grace and abundance. It is not even hard. Like the servant sharing is as simple as doing what we are asked by God, or by someone else, in a moment of observed or unobserved risk, tragedy, fear, or need, perhaps without analysis or deliberated consideration. It is as simple as St. Stephen’s Friday Families, our support of community ministries. It is as simple as sitting next to a visitor who wanders into God’s house. It is as simple as asking them to share a cup of coffee after worship.

So, while the story is set in a wedding in Cana, it is not just about a wedding with catering problems. The story is about simple acts that reveal extravagant grace, which leads to transformative belief. It is a continuing story you are a part of, sometimes as the servant, sometimes as the witness, sometimes as both. It is a story of how we proclaim the Kingdom of God is right here, right now.


 

References

Cox, J. (2016, 1 17). Come and Dine, Epiphany 2(C) – 2016. Retrieved from Sermons that Work.

Ellingsen, M. (2016, 1 17). Retrieved from Lectionary Scripture Notes: http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/

Epperly, B. (2016, 1 17). The Adventurous Lectionary. Retrieved from Pathos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly

Gaventa, B. R., & Petersen, D. (n.d.). New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville.

Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Hoezee, S. (2016, 1 17). Epiphany 2C John 2:1-11. Retrieved from Center for Excellence in Preaching: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu

Lewis, K. (2016, 1 17). Embodied Epiphanies. Retrieved from Working Preacher: workingpreacher.org

Lose, D. (2016, 11 1). Epiphany 2 B: What Grace Looks Like! Retrieved from In the Meantime: 17

Pérez-Álvarez, E. (2016, 1 17). Commentary on John 2:1-11. Retrieved from Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/