WORSHIP THIS WEEK: This Sunday, December 11, we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent. This week we turn to Mary’s story – the stunning word she receives from the angel Gabriel and the powerful way that she responds. Join us for worship, either in person or via livestream here: https://youtu.be/Z-YSB5FJy9s
ADVENT MIDWEEK WORSHIP: Our Advent midweek worship continues on Thursday, December 15 from 7:00-7:30pm with a beautiful service that uses Holden Evening Prayer to nourish our weary souls. Together we’ll ponder the mysteries of the season and root ourselves in the hope, love, peace, and joy represented by the Advent candles. Thursday, December 22, we will have a Service of Comfort and Hope to help us carry the grief that we often experience at this time of year.
I spent a lot of time yesterday following the awful story from Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three other congregants were taken hostage during their service, a crisis which lasted all day and into the night. One hostage was released in the early evening, and then – thank goodness – by the time I was climbing into bed, all of the hostages were free and safe. Physically safe, at least. That kind of trauma will be with them always.
I feel so helpless in these moments, daunted by the magnitude of the hate in the world and the ways it keeps finding new forms of violence with which to threaten people I care about. Yesterday I could only watch the news, pray for a peaceful resolution, and reach out to my Jewish friends and colleagues. What I could offer seemed so small in the face of what was happening.
What could my ordinary prayers and text messages possibly do to stem the tide of antisemitism?
In the face of extraordinary fear, the ordinary doesn’t seem like much.
This morning we find Jesus and his mother attending a wedding at which Jesus pulls off one of the best party tricks of all time. He turns six stone jars of water into wine – each jar holding 20 or 30 gallons. That isn’t a little bit of wine. That’s somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of wine. What begins as a crisis of scarcity ends in a celebration of abundance.
At first glance it seems like an odd choice. Usually Jesus pulls off miracles like casting out demons or healing the sick. Keep in mind that in the Gospel of John the miracles of Jesus are not actually called miracles. They’re called signs. They’re called signs because they point to who Jesus is and reveal something about what he has come to do.
One of my favorite parts of this story is the way that Jesus seems to need his mother’s encouragement to carry out this sign. She’s the one who sets it all in motion merely by stating: “They have no wine.” At first Jesus shrugs it off, asking in what I imagine as a teasing tone of voice, basically “What’s it to us?” But he adds this other comment: “My hour has not yet come.” That sounds to me like a version of “It’s not time. I’m not quite ready to show all these people who I really am or what I am here to do.”
I always feel love for Jesus, but in moments like this one, I also really like him. I like to imagine him hanging out in a corner at the wedding reception, hoping against hope that no one busts out with the chicken dance, and wanting nothing more than to go unnoticed. And now his mother is nudging him to out himself as not-just-your-ordinary-wedding-guest.
But if you’re going to choose a first sign to point people toward your identity as the messiah, what could be better than changing water into wine? Enough wine for everyone at the wedding to have their fill with tons left over. Apparently it was good wine too, good enough that the steward in charge of the banquet comments on it.
If Jesus seems uncertain about doing this sign, this changing of water into wine, then I feel better about my own reluctance to act in much smaller ways.
I think a lot about what holds us back from living into the gifts and abilities that God has given us. Sometimes it’s self-doubt. We’re not sure our gifts are worth much. Sometimes we’re in settings where others might be threatened by our gifts, and we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. Sometimes we’ve internalized criticisms from our past, so we carry around these voices that keep us silent and small. And sometimes we’re just plain scared or intimidated.
Sometimes it seems easier just to let the water stay water, to say, “Hey, it wasn’t my job to make sure there was enough wine at this wedding.”
And then we remember. We remember that, even though it might have taken some encouragement from mom, Jesus does not hold back. He does the work of transformation as only he can. He restores joy to the party, allowing people to dance and celebrate into the night. He does all of this with only water. Plain, ordinary water.
In John’s gospel the mother of Jesus only shows up in two places. The first is at this wedding. The second is at the foot of the cross. The cross where Jesus gives everything for our sake and for the sake of the world. The cross where he holds nothing back. When I think about the magnitude of that gift, I feel encouraged to offer my own, however ordinary my gifts can seem.
This weekend, as we reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, we are rightly in awe of his gifts of leadership and oratory that moved the cause of justice forward for African-American people in this country. But there are so many people whose names we don’t know, the ones who don’t end up in history books. The people who prepared food for those who were out there protesting. The people who prayed late into the night. The people who arranged transportation for friends and neighbors during the long months of the Montgomery bus boycott. The people who traveled the highways and byways to register every new voter they could find. Those were all ordinary people. Ordinary people who took what God had given them and put it to work for the sake of their friends, their neighbors, their communities, their country.
At the end of today’s service we’ll sing one of the songs at the heart of the Civil Rights movement. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was first sung on February 12, 1900, by 500 schoolchildren at the Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida, at a celebration of President Lincoln’s birthday.[i] The school’s principal, James Weldon Johnson, wrote the words, and his brother set them to music. The song spoke about courage and commitment in the face of danger, which was especially timely as the Ku Klux Klan was gaining power at the turn of the century.
Those simple gifts – a poet’s love of words, a brother’s flair for music, children’s voices joined in song – all came together to echo across the decades and became an anthem for all who seek justice.
The final stanza of “Life Every Voice and Sing” addresses the God of weary years, the God of silent tears, praying that God might keep us on the path toward the light. Keep us forever in that path, the song cries out, “lest,” it says, “lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee; lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.”
Isn’t that one of the dangers? That we will get drunk with the wine of the world and forget God altogether? That we will let ourselves be distracted or numb to the injustices in our time that cry out for our action.
May we instead drink from the wine of Jesus’ making, a wine that brings abundance where we thought there was none to be found. A wine of grace and mercy overflowing. A wine that fills us with the Holy Spirit and empowers us to share what we can and do what we can and then watch what God does to multiply it.
We might only be able to take baby steps, but a lot of people taking baby steps soon becomes a parade.
Let us march on ‘til victory is won. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
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Join the fun this summer as we experience the ride of a lifetime with God!
Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.
Monday through Thursday, July 16-19, 9:30 am – 12:15 pm
Click here for registration form: