Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Good Wine: a sermon Epiphany 2 Year C 2016

“The Good Wine”
Year C Epiphany 2, January 17, 2016
St. Thomas’ Episcopal, Richmond, VA

I will be the first to say, this has not been the best week. Pop icons have died. Our beloved Church has been smacked down by our supposed brothers and sisters. Personally I have not been the best physically. And no one here won the lottery. But if you did, the Stewardship Team would love to take you to lunch today!

And the readings this week, they are an interesting mix. We see Jesus turning water to wine. We hear Paul speaking of the gifts of the Spirit. We hear God calling those who were sent out back home. All nice. But nothing earth-shattering or surprising. Not at first glance anyway.

You see, looking at the week we have just had, and looking at the Scripture passages for this week, what comes out to me is not the jump up and down hurrah, but that the closer we get to the messiness, disappointment and problems of life, the more we zoom in on it, we see that God is already there, no matter how minute our range of vision. If we take our spiritual telescope, God is waving back at us from across the galaxy and if we take our spiritual microscope, God is present and affirming and calling us home.

You see, to be intentionally vulgar for a moment, God gives a damn. For the rest of the sermon I will suffice it to say that God Cares. But, you will know what I mean.

Does the death of David Bowie really truly affect me? Yes and no. My whole life he was a fixture. He starred in movies I liked, was on tv I watched, and many of his songs are present on the soundtrack to my life. Alan Rickman, my favorite bad guy bar none. Die Hard or Harry Potter, I loved how good he was at being bad. I will miss them both. But does God care? Yes. God does. God cares that I care, because we have a caring God. When my daughters cry in a movie my heart is touched, and I may even get choked up myself. I love them, and I love that they love and care and have depths of emotion in them. You think it is any different with God, who loves us even more than I love my kids?

God cares because we care. Jesus had to put up with it, too.

At the wedding we see Jesus hanging out with the disciples he had, and his mother. His ministry had started, but had not gotten into full swing. While there, Mary points out to Jesus that they had run out of wine. And then he so pointedly declares:  "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come."

But for whatever reason, and maybe it was because his mother cared so much, Jesus steps out of the normal and performs his miracle, revealing his glory as the Scripture declares. She instructs the servants to just do whatever he tells them to do. They do, and the result is that here is declared the Good Wine. What came before the guests thought was good, but this, they saved the best for last.

This story, as I have said, may seem insignificant, but the joy of the story, the heart of the story, is that Jesus cared. He cared about the groom’s embarrassment. He cared about the servants fear of being in trouble for not being prepared. He cared about his mother, and her worry over the matter. Jesus cared, and in his caring, the miraculous happened.

But immediately you could counter with a couple of things:

  1. People just do not believe in miracles any more.
  2. Jesus did not care, and shows us so when he asks his mother what business is it of hers or his.
  3. The underlying assumption of this whole sermon is that God cares when we can all think of so many times when horrors took place, and we did not see God at work.

Let’s go through these one by one.

ONE: You may think that people do not believe in miracles any longer, and that they are no longer relevant. But I have news, that is pretty incontrovertible.  How many people thought this week that they could make $2 turn into $1.5 Billion? I heard all kinds of analogies. If 1,000 chances were pennies, and all those 1,000 chances were stacked up as tall as the Empire State Building one penny yanked out would still be 1 in 1,000 chance. Or if you had a banana for every chance, the bananas would wrap around the entire globe at the equator and then continue to stretch into space for another 10,000 miles of bananas. Needless to say, there was a lot of hope stretching out Wednesday night that a few bucks would put somebody well into the 1%. Tell me people do not believe in miracles. They hope and wish and pray for them every day. But maybe the sad part is that they do not anticipate them any more.

There were a lot of people praying, hoping for the miracle of numbers this week. And please hear me, we should not plan, prepare or budget with a miracle in mind. But as we often joke about on Thursday mornings at our Food Pantry, “We are in the miracle business.” Like Miracle Max from Princess Bride. Maybe the miracle of today’s world is seeing God at work when the world is screaming otherwise.

TWO: Jesus obviously said he did not care about the situation, and told his mother as much. Now trust me, I am going to bring this story back to Jesus.

I loved the acting of Alan Rickman, and in reading articles about him this week, I learned something new. When he was portraying Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, they started filming those after only three of the books had been published. In the early books his character is seen as horrible, and the worst sort of teacher imaginable. Early on, author J.K. Rowling pulled Rickman aside and let him know some things. Ambiguous. Vague. But enough with an actor’s imagination to run with. It was said that with more than one of the directors of the movies, he refused to follow their instructions citing, “I will not do that. The character would not do that. I know things that you don’t know.” You see, throughout all the nastiness and meanness he had to portray, Alan Rickman had to have the end game in sight. He had to make sure that he was consistent and true to the outcome he was to have.

And now, we bring it back to Jesus. I tend to see this in much the same light. Jesus did not live up to anybody’s expectations about what a Messiah was supposed to be, not even his mother’s. Jesus may have been about his father’s work, and yes, maybe it was vague and ambiguous to him at this point, or crystal clear. We do not and cannot know. But he did know that winemaking was not he had come to do. But his mother asked. Who knows whose wedding this was? It could have been close friends or relatives. How do we know that Jesus cared? He did it. Even though it may have been off the grand scheme or vision he had of his calling, even at a party he was able to do good, even though it was none of his business.

THREE: Jesus may have cared, but how can I say God cares when all of us can point to at least 100 times when when bad things happened and we wondered where God was. And this whole conversation is brought together in the theological term Theodicy. A simple way to think of it is the problem of evil.

While there are many approaches to this question, for me it is not so much as to why evil exists but rather why isn’t there more. For me, my eyes of faith see it very differently than “Where was God when bad things happen?” I see it more from “Where might things have gone if God had not been at work?” I believe this is more than the glass is half-full or half-empty argument. It is the idea of the miraculous. God is at work, right here, right now. It is the difference between wine and the Good Wine.

Think about it. Most of us live lives of moderate choice, moderate ease, moderate affluence, especially in comparison to most of the rest of the world. In this party we call life in Richmond in 2016, we expect wine. We expect to be comfortable and cared for. When God steps in though, we begin to get a taste of the Good Wine. The Special Reserve has been brought out. There is a substantive change. While we could have settled for what was, when God steps in the old is past and the new has come.

For Jesus, this was why he did not step forward. His time had not yet come. But he was brought forward nonetheless, and God’s way broke through. The good became the best. Even at a wedding celebration, the world was turned upside down. The best comes out after the mediocre.

For me, that is the miracle. How we see what it is that we are about. If I view much of my life without the eyes of faith, it could be seen as Myah. However, the riches of the gifts of the life of faith are far greater than I could have hoped for or imagined. Thanks be to God.

Like turning the ordinary into the extraordinary, Jesus took water the most basic of things and made the extraordinary. Maybe the miracle that can happen for all of us is to see the miracle in the mundane. Our perception can be that we have been given the Best when all we expected was more of the same ole’, same ole’.

Those who have eyes to see, let them see. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock