Sunday, January 20, 2019

Year C Epiphany 2 2019 Best for Last

Year C 2nd Sunday of Epiphany, 20 January 2019 
St. James the Less Episcopal 
“Best for Last” 
Collect: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 
Isaiah 62:1-5 
For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, 
and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, 
until her vindication shines out like the dawn, 
and her salvation like a burning torch. 
The nations shall see your vindication, 
and all the kings your glory; 
and you shall be called by a new name 
that the mouth of the Lord will give. 
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, 
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 
You shall no more be termed Forsaken, 
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; 
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, 
and your land Married; 
for the Lord delights in you, 
and your land shall be married. 
For as a young man marries a young woman, 
so shall your builder marry you, 
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, 
so shall your God rejoice over you. 
John 2:1-11 
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 
The book group here at the church has been reading Watership Down. It is and has been a favorite since I was forced to read it in 6th grade. I say forced because that is the way it seems when assigned in school too often. But as we tuck ourselves into the narrative, and see how Richard Adams wove a tale and a whole mythology together where the story affects the action of the world he is describing, and in so doing, it affects how we see and act in our world. It shows and illuminates the power of narrative, the role of story in our lives. We are the storytelling creature. Animals communicate, some very elaborately (like honey bees, elephants, and dolphins, and probably more we just have not figured out), and animals use tools (like chimps, and octopi). So all the other things that used to be the delineation between us and animals comes back to this, we tell stories. Our lives are shaped around stories.  
Now the bunnies use story in Watership Down, but we are projecting human traits on them. My favorite use of story is how they express fear over a repeated motif used in the stories they tell. At the end of the book, what they thought was fearful turns out to be the exact opposite. So often our fear drives us. But I truly believe, like the rabbits learn, that what we have is NOTHING compared to WHAT WILL BE. We have been trained by this world to be fearful. 
I turn on the News, between the words they say I hear, “FEAR. FEAR. FEAR.” We have been conditioned from our earliest days of being human to not trust, to be hesitant, to fear. We instill it in our kids, STRANGER DANGER. I think of the world of relative freedom when I grew up, with the imperative to be home before the streetlights came on, up against how I raise my kids. A different world, that is more fear-based than mine was, and that was the height of the Cold War! 
But in the novel we are reading we are shown that our fears are our stuff. Worries projected onto reality. More and more I am feeling the pull of my faith is to hear and repeat the call of the angels throughout Scripture. “FEAR NOT!” I have heard it said that this phrase is repeated 365 times in the Bible, because we need it every day. Now I agree we need it every day, but have not done the homework to check yet that it is there 365 times. Fear Not. Fear Not. Fear Not. I cannot say it enough. 
From our Isaiah reading this morning, when Israel was afraid of what was to come, the prophet promises: 
The nations shall see your vindication, 
and all the kings your glory; 
and you shall be called by a new name 
that the mouth of the Lord will give. 
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, 
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 
New names, true names from the MOUTH of GOD. 
A beauty in God’s own hand. 
Does that sound like fear? 
It sounds like hope to me.  
There is a story told of a new priest coming into their parish, and many showed up the first Sunday to hear him and see if he was as good as they had heard and they all hoped. So, to a packed house the new priest preached a pretty good sermon and did well celebrating. People loved it. They shook his hand , and told him how much they liked the sermon and looked forward to hearing him again. 

The next week, riding on the coattails of the first, people came back wanting to hear more. Even more people showed up, excited about the new day in their parish. But somehow, the new priest must have misplaced his notes, because he preached the exact same sermon that he preached the first week. While still good, people were a bit disappointed. No one said anything hoping things would get better, or thinking that some simple mistake had taken place. 
The third week, fewer were there, but most gave him the benefit of the doubt. When he climbed into the pulpit many were shocked that he gave the sermon for a third time. People were polite leaving, but they were not overly friendly. Having had enough, the Senior Warden pulled him aside after church and asked if he knew that he had preached the same sermon three times in a row! “Of course,” said the priest. “I was just waiting for you all to actually start doing what I said.” 
Let those who have ears, let them hear! The message throughout Scripture comes back again and again because we seem to not have gotten it yet. Fear Not. Perfect love drives out all fear. Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age. Sorrow and fear will be no more. God has to keep saying it because we seem to have missed the point. Again, and again, and again. 
Jesus tells the parable of the Vineyard, and the owner kept sending messengers to those workers who ran it. The messengers were ignored, beaten, killed, and finally the owner had to send his own Son to make the point. Sound familiar? 
Now at the front end of things, according to the way John tells it, we see Jesus fresh from the baptismal waters heading to a wedding. He picks up some followers along the way. And then we see him revealing himself as the Messiah for the first time, “and his disciples believed in him.” And what was the revelation? He had some special power that they had never seen. But also, that he saved the best for last.  
It was unbelievable to the steward, bringing out the good wine after the point when anybody cared about flavor. Water to wine. Good to Better. First and Last. 
Jesus often taught that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Biblical scholars often call this the Great Reversal. And at the wedding in Cana, he made the Great Reversal a reality in this miracle. He served the top shelf stuff after the house quality. It would be ridiculous if we did it, but I think he is showing us that is how God rolls. The miracle of the incarnation is that Jesus shows us what God is like. We do not have to fear what is to come. It will only get better. God is there and preparing the way. The first quality is what is to come, at the last, and last quality, what we are experiencing now, is what we deal with first. So Fear Not. God saves the Best for Last. 
Things will be better than before. When days are dark, and we have hit bottom, know that there is a bottom, and it is solid. And there is a way out.  
On Facebook this week I put up a phrase, and actually got a little push back on it. It stated, “It is okay to be scared. Being scared means you are about to do something really, really brave.” Now a buddy of mine said, that it could also have finished, “because you are about to do something really, really stupid.” Loses the sentiment with that. Another response that fear is not from the Lord. Now, from all of my sermon, I hope you know that I agree. Fear not, I have echoed God, again, and again, and again today. But being scared is an emotion. And we have our emotions. We feel them. As we grow, we recognize and acknowledge them. But as we mature, we have our feelings, but we do not reside there. We do not let them control us or our choices. Being scared is a natural response. Fear is a choice to stay there, to stay being scared. Fear not. Let that triggering of being scared be a call to more love, deeper courage, and deeper faith. 
St. Paul said, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 God saves the best for last, even in us, and through us, and for us. Amen. 

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Blessings, Rock