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Tempted

(a sermon for  March 10, 2019, the First Sunday in Lent, based on Luke 4:1-13

It is very interesting to me that one of the key words in our text for this morning is also one of the smallest:  “IF,” as in “IF you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread,” “IF you will worship me, it will all be yours,” and “IF you are the Son of God, thrown yourself down from here,” for the angels will protect you.  It’s very relevant, this word “if,” for you see, not only did the devil tempt Jesus to material satisfaction, great power and popular glory during those 40 days in the wilderness, he also tempted Jesus to question his very identity, and that’s arguably the worst temptation of all; for how horrible is it for any of us to have doubt cast upon who we really are?

Many years ago now back when I was in seminary, I was actually assigned to write and present a sermon on this very text, about the temptation of Jesus, for a preaching class I was taking.  It was an assignment I will never forget, because being both a beginning preacher and a fairly young person at the time, I really struggled to find a way in that sermon to convey something of the biblical understanding of temptation in such a way that was relevant for people of today (and, yes, so I could impress the professor and get a good grade in the process!).  Eventually, I ended up falling back on a few of the typical little temptations we all face in life: you know, the bag of cookies in the kitchen cupboard that seems to be calling our name; the chocolate bars we’ve stashed in the desk drawer “in case of emergency;” the midnight run to any fast-food joint for so-called “comfort food.” And if you noticed a pattern there, you’re right:  this sermon could easily have been titled, “Temptation, Thy Name is Food!”  But it seemed to work, at least for me; and besides, it connected – however peripherally – to Christ’s confession that “One does not live by bread alone!”

Now as I recall, when I preached this sermon for my professor and fellow students; well, let’s just say they were… kind. And I learned a lot from the critique; but the lesson I remember to this day came from a comment made by a classmate, who was not particularly impressed with my homiletical eloquence.  He said to me, not unkindly, but nonetheless quite firmly, “Don’t you realize, Lowry, that what for you is a minor annoyance is for some of us a lifelong battle?”  He then went on to describe for all of us in that classroom how for many years he’d struggled with a food addiction; how at one point he’d had almost died from overeating; and about how now, though he was healthy and moving on with his life (which included answering a call to pastoral ministry), nonetheless the temptation to go back to that was still a day-to-day, moment to moment thing in his life. This was, he said, like an ongoing assault on his very identity:  in the end the decision to resist that temptation, or for that matter, succumbing to it had everything to do with what kind of person he knew he really was and felt called to be in his life; not unlike, he added, how Jesus wrestled with the devil in the wilderness, and affirming his own identity in the process.   Likewise, my classmate explained, in enduring and resisting the temptation that food and eating held for him his own true identity was affirmed.

Suffice to say I learned a lot that day…

Ultimately, you see, temptation is less about the lure of life’s so-called riches (fattening or otherwise), than it is about a challenge to one’s true identity and all that that implies.  David Lose writes that though the devil tempted Jesus with “bread, power, and safety,” for us it could just as well be “youth, beauty, and wealth. Or confidence, fame, and security.”  The truth is that the temptations we experience are usually pretty specific and very concrete, and yet it can also be said that all temptations are pretty much the same, in that they seek to draw us away from ourselves and who we truly are.  It is, in the truest sense of the term, an attempt on “identity theft,” most especially “in our relationship with God and the identity we receive in and through that relationship,” that of being a true child of God!

I don’t think I have to tell you just how pervasive a thing is temptation in our lives: I mean, from the time we’re teenagers grappling with “peer pressure” to engage of all manner of reckless behavior all for the sake of fitting in; to the all-too adult crises of morality, ethics and faith that accompany so-called “opportunities” for personal advancement, financial gain, social acceptance or… something else.  But whatever the temptation happens to be, the common denominator here is about abandoning one’s identity to embrace another that seems to us at least in that one moment to be easier, more advantageous and pleasure-filled.

The Rev. James Lawrence, one of the Deans at Pacific School of Religion in California, refers to this as the “ferocious and… constant” temptation to serve the “lower ego” rather than “that which the kingdom of heaven is all about.”  Now, lest you think I’m overstating this, friends, consider this:  some years ago there was a best-selling book entitled Success!  which was essentially a self-help manual on how to make it in the business world; it remains infamous to this day in large part because of the moral parameters the author, a man by the name of Michael Korda, set forth in the very first chapter:  “”It’s OK to be greedy,” he wrote. “It’s OK to look out for Number One. It’s OK to be Machiavellian if you can get away with it. It’s OK to recognize that honesty is not always the best policy.” Success, Korda writes, means getting over worrying about the moral content of what you do, because “morality has very little to do with success.” Success, according to this book, is getting to the top of the ladder without caring much what that ladder is leaning against, or who you are in climbing up there!

That in a nutshell, friends, is the very nature of temptation!   And, I might add, it’s an attitude diametrically opposed to the gospel!  Because it does matter what our ladder is leaning against; what is that Jesus said?  “What does it profit them if them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?”  (Mark 8:36) You see, that’s the primary danger of being “led into temptation;” for the sake of that which might at that moment seem like everything (but also inevitably passes in the next moment!)you risk losing yourself, that wonderful, irreplaceable one of a kind person that God has created and intends for you to be!  And to lose that… well, that is everything!

But as we said before, in this world such assaults on our identity and ongoing, and temptation is always going to be a part of our lives;  the question is how we’re going to resist it!  I’m reminded here of the story of the little boy who’d been misbehaving mightily all day; and finally, his mother, exasperated at the depths of his naughtiness in that particular moment, asked her son (lovingly, mind you!), “Why do you act this way?”  And the little boy says, “Momma, sometimes I feel like I’ve got two great big dogs fighting inside of me;  one’s good, but the other one is really, really bad!”  And the mother asks, “Well, which dog is winning?”  To which the boy respond, “It depends on which one I feed!”

Well, I would suggest to you this morning, friends, that for you and I who have to regularly face the temptations of this life we would do well to feed on the example of Jesus.

Each year at the beginning of the Lenten season we in the church are scripturally reminded that before beginning his public ministry and eventually “turning his face toward Jerusalem” and the cross that awaited him there, Jesus spent forty days facing and resisting temptation; learning, as Frederick Beuchner has aptly put it, “what it meant to be Jesus.”  And ultimately, that’s our journey as well: spending these moments with Jesus in the wilderness, we also have a place for us to re-learn what it means to be who we are in the face of all these temptations that come as an assault on our identity as God’s children.   Just as our Savior came to grip with his “human nature” in the wilderness, his temptation before the devil can help us to stay true to who we are before God even when we are sorely tempted to abandon that precious identity for another, lesser, personage.

And how does this happen?  Well, to begin with, remember that each time when Jesus resisted the evil one’s temptations, he did so with his mind set on the Word of God: command a stone to become a loaf of bread?  “One does not live by bread alone.”  All the kingdoms of the world?  “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”  Protection of the angels so that “you will not dash your foot against a stone” (notice that by this time, the devil was even starting to quote scripture (Psalm 91:12, to be exact!)?  “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  Understand, Jesus did not flip through his handy list of anti-temptation texts; he’d enveloped God’s Word for his life and knew it as his own.  And so it should be for us, responding to the challenges of temptation first by being “attentive” to God’s Word and its application to real life!

Granted, there are many grey areas in this life, times when it’s not altogether clear which way we should go, not to mention those times when we’re mired in moments of utter weakness (did you notice, by the way, that just prior to the devil coming on the scene, we’re told that Jesus “ate nothing at all… and… he was famished?”); it’s in times just like these that the line between goodness and evil can easily blur, and we need God’s Word as the pivot point for how God wants us and our lives to be.

What’s more, friends, remember that when Jesus was in the wilderness, he also kept God close as well. Jesus, Luke tells us, went there filled and led there by the Holy Spirit and moreover, in at least one other version of this story (from Matthew), God’s angels ministered unto him in his isolation and hunger.  Simply put, our lives need to be lived within the shelter of God’s love and protection; which means we need to pray, which means we need to sufficiently quiet ourselves so that we can truly listen… listen to how God answers so that we can know and trust how God is leading us.

How many of us, I wonder, make our choices in life without benefit of prayer?  More than once over the years, I’ve spoken with people who, long after the fact, found themselves deeply regretting some choice they had made in the past.  And more often than not, in recalling that temptation, they’ll say, “I should have known… I should have known because it didn’t feel right from the start.”   Call that instinct if you want, or 20-20 hindsight, or else confess to not actually paying attention to what the Lord was trying to say to you in that moment; but the fact is, we can’t make use of God’s spiritual armor if we’re going to make ourselves absent from God!  As it says elsewhere in scripture, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:7-8).

The bottom line, friends, is just as the Holy Spirit led Jesus in the wilderness, so that Spirit leads us; and the good news in these times of temptation that come to us all is that we do not have to be in this thing alone. I’m reminded here of a the story about a man who applied for a position with the New York City Police Department, and who in the application process, was interviewed by a panel of officers who tested this candidate’s ability to react in a variety of situations.  The man had done extremely well, however, and finally came the last question of the day:  “What would you do,” one of the officers asked, “if you had to arrest your mother?”  There was a long silence, but then the man replied, “I’d call for backup!”

To know who you really are, to affirm your unique God-given identity amongst all the temptations of this life, does sometimes require calling for backup!  But the good news is that as children of God, we always have back up.  After all, isn’t that why we pray every Sunday to God our Father in heaven, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…?”

Thanks be to God, to stands with us in times of trial and temptation; and to whom is the power and the glory forever.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on March 10, 2019 in Jesus, Lent, Ministry, Sermon

 

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In the Moment

(a sermon for March 3, 2019. the Last Sunday after Epiphany and Transfiguration Sunday, based on Luke 9:28-36)

Some years ago I was the officiant at a wedding at which there were eight – eight (!) – professional photographers commemorating the event!

Now, the reason for this was not because it was any kind of celebrity wedding invaded by paparazzi (!) but rather because the couple in question had won the grand prize at a bridal show some months before! And despite my initial misgivings – after all, from a pastor’s perspective it’s one thing to have a photographer in the sanctuary taking pictures all through the wedding ceremony but quite another to have eight of them crawling around (!) – it turned out to be a worthwhile experience for everyone involved.  Not only were these photographers all true professionals and not at all disruptive but each one had his or her own specialty and brought a unique artistic eye to the celebration which made for a one of a kind portfolio of wedding pictures.

Afterward one of the photographers, I guess as a way of saying thanks for granting them full access, sent me a packet of some of the photos they’d taken around the church that day; and they were all amazing!  But as good as the formal portraits and the ceremonial pictures all were, I have to say that hands down my favorites were all the candid shots: you know; the pictures that got taken when nobody was looking.  You might remember a few weeks ago we were talking here about how old photos have a way not only of revealing how we were back in the day but also tend to show who we are; well, these candid shots were the wedding pictures that showed forth the true joy of two people deeply in love and of the people who love them!

Actually, you know, the only problem I’ve ever had with someone taking pictures or shooting a video at a wedding is that I don’t want the bride and groom to be distracted from what’s happening.  After all, whether it’s a professional photographer doing the job or somebody’s clicking off a shot on their cel phones, when we notice that someone’s about to take our picture it’s only human to suddenly feel a little self-conscious!   Oh, no… were my eyes closed?  Was my tongue sticking out?  Is my hair alright?  Let’s try this again; I’ll be ready to smile properly next time!  It’s a perfectly normal response, but it’s too bad to have one’s mind wander to such things at a time when the bride and groom ought to be wholly focused on each other (of course!), on God (hopefully!), and on this quintessential moment of their lives!  Better to be wholly in the moment; to revel in it and to soak in every feeling, every nuance of it; because it’s a moment that will pass in a heartbeat, and this is what you’re going to want to remember!  In fact, I remember one young couple, and this was years ago, who were determined not to have any pictures or video taken at all – professional or otherwise – during the wedding ceremony itself precisely because it was for them a unique and sacred time and they wanted the memory of it to remain solely in their minds and hearts.  As they explained it to me at the time, they wanted to be wholly “in the moment,” so that moment could indeed be holy.

The truth is that such moments are not reserved merely for wedding days or, for that matter, for baptisms and funerals, graduations and retirements or any one of countless other major life events I could name.  What we know in faith, friends, is that there are holy, truly sacramental moments that can happen to us almost anywhere and at any time; God’s presence and power is to be seen and heard and felt in all of the varied and utterly wondrous experiences of our lives.  But the question is, how often in our all-too-human preoccupation with things nonessential do we end up missing out on that divine presence and what it means for our lives?  When have we been not wholly “in the moment,” and thus lose a moment that is holy?

Our text for this morning is Luke’s account of a holy moment that was truly one of a kind: the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain.  Scripturally speaking, this a story that actually reveals a great deal about Jesus: about his power and authority; about his being the fulfillment of all that is contained in the Law and what was promised by the prophets; and about his quite literally being the light which was coming into the world (C.S. Lewis actually said it quite well when he described the transfigured Jesus as “the light streaming forth from God just as light is emitted from a lamp.”).  It’s also another story of divine proclamation, in which Jesus is affirmed as God’s own Son, “the Chosen,” one whose word was to be heeded.  So as such, this story of the transfiguration is of a true “holy moment;” but that said, we also need to add that it’s also a story about how those three disciples on the mountain with him – James, John,  and most especially Peter – were very nearly not “in the moment” at all!

As Luke recounts the story, Jesus and the three disciples had gone “up on the mountain to pray,” and that “while he was praying, the appearance of [Jesus’] face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”  And in the midst of that light, two great men of faith – Moses and Elijah – appear “in glory” and they speak with Jesus about “his departure,” (actually, by the way, in the original Greek, “his exodus”), that is, what was about to befall him now that Jesus had turned his face toward Jerusalem.  Now, while all this is going on we’re told that Peter, James and John are all “weighed down with sleep;” so that in and of itself tells us that their attention to what was happen was “fuzzy” at best; but even though it must have seemed to be something like a dream to them, they were at least awake enough to see and behold this glorious and radiant moment.  But then, what’s the first thing that Peter says as the moment draws to a close and Moses and Elijah are departing?  “Master, is this great or what!”  (That’s my translation, by the way!)  Quick, Peter blurts out without thinking, “’Let’s build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” [The Message]  What Peter wants to do is to build a monument;  so to somehow capture this incredible moment so it could last forever (no doubt if this had happened today, Peter would have been the one recording the whole thing on his cel phone to post online!).

To be fair, Luke is quick to point out that Peter didn’t know what he was saying; but as that Peter had immediately become so focused on trying to preserve the moment, he wasn’t in the moment the way he could have been, and should have!  Perhaps this is one reason why almost as soon as Peter had uttered those words, a dark cloud swept over the mountain “and overshadowed them” to such an extent that all three of the disciples were immediately moved from awe to sheer terror;  and why in the moment that followed all they heard was the sound of a heavenly voice saying to them, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!”

The thing about “holy moments,” you see, is they include at least two main components: the first is the moment itself – in which the divine enters wholly into our experience and demands our whole attention – and the second is where that moment ultimately and inevitably leads us.  At a wedding, for instance, the “moment” is all about love expressed and vows exchanged; but where it leads, what follows after the wedding kiss, is the marriage itself and the forging of a loving relationship over the course of many years.  A truly holy moment, whatever it might entail, includes both what is and what’s to come and in the end that’s what Peter and the other two disciples were missing.  They were so busy seeking to preserve that truly mountaintop experience that they were totally missing what even in that moment was being revealed about what awaited them in the valley below.  Actually, considering the fact that the gospels were composed well after the resurrection of Jesus, and given that we’re also told by Luke that after their shared experience on the mountain the disciples “kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen,” you have to wonder if any of them really understood at all what had just happened to them; or if years later – after Jerusalem, after the cross, after the empty tomb – there was another moment when they looked at one another and said, “Oh, yes; that’s what was happening!”

It’s very fitting that this particular story is one that’s traditionally shared by the church on the Sunday at the end of the season of Epiphany and just before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of our shared Lenten journey to the cross.  Epiphany is all about the “holy moments” of Jesus’ coming into the world and our discovery of what that means for our lives and our living; it’s about Jesus calling us follow him, to leave everything to be his disciples and be fishers of people.  But the season of Lent is about where those discoveries are going to lead us; it’s all about coming to understand that that being his disciples also means taking up our crosses to do so.  It’s the other component of all the holy moments that are ours in following Jesus, and the point for you and me today is, just like those three disciples up there on the mountaintop, that it’s often a difficult thing to discern where and to what Christ would lead us as his disciples.  More often than not, you see, the answers we’re seeking as what’s to happens next don’t come to us in a burst of shimmering glory, but rather in the small bits of revelation that come to us along the journey.  Faith is a journey, beloved; discipleship is developed and deepened by the pathways we choose to walk.  But I would suggest to you this morning that it all begins by being wholly “in the moment” with the one who calls us forth.  For how are we to walk with our Lord, even unto the cross, if we don’t first attune ourselves to his presence and his power?

It is interesting to note that the Greek word we translate as “transfiguration,” admittedly not a term that we use every day, is actually metamorphose, which is where we get our word “metamorphosis.”  It’s not only an apt description of the “shimmery and shiny” appearance of Jesus on that mountaintop, but it also serves to describe what happens in these (holy) moments with our Lord; indeed, it is in the times that we spend alone with God in prayer and in the eloquent reflection of our souls before God that we also are transfigured, and thus transformed.  While our outer selves might not shine a dazzling white as did Jesus, within our hearts we do shine; and in the process we undergo a metamorphosis, becoming persons and a people who are equipped and empowered to walk with Christ along the adventurous way of faithful discipleship.

In another wonderful quote of his, C.S. Lewis once compared our own discipleship to… an egg; which, whatever else you can say about an egg, never ever stays the same.  Either, wrote Lewis, that egg is being transformed into a chicken, or else it slowly and inevitably rots away.  Much the same can be said for you and me in our faith:  either we are growing in our experience with God – in character, in knowledge, in maturity, in wisdom, in action – or because of our inattention to everything that God has set before us, we find ourselves missing out on that which is good and purposeful and full of the glory that comes from a walk with the Lord.

I pray that as our journey continues, yours and mine, that we will be attentive to God’s presence and power as we go.  May we truly be in the moment with our Lord, even now as we begin our journey with him to the cross; ever heeding that voice speaking to us as surely as it spoke from that particular mountaintop so many years ago:  “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

So might it be, friends… and thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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More Than a Miracle

(a sermon for January 27, 2019, the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, based on Isaiah 62:1-5 and John 2:1-11)

After having now officiated at 250 some-odd weddings over the years – including two within my own family this year – I think I can say with great certainty that at just about every wedding ceremony, something almost always goes wrong!

Mind you, it’s usually something very minor:  the groom stumbles on a line in the marriage vows; the flower girl panics, starts crying and refuses to walk down the aisle; the musicians miss their cue, leading to several moments of awkward silence as the processional is supposed to begin!  You know, just little mishaps that are barely noticed, much less remembered; but then, there are also things that happen that everybody sees and no one ever forgets!

Like at the wedding I attended with my parents years ago, long before I was a pastor: where literally moments before the ceremony was about to begin the church organ broke down and my father (who would be providing music for the reception) was asked if he could possibly bring his electric organ over to the church so that there could be music for the ceremony!  And so my father and I immediately rush over to the fire station where the reception was being held, lift that Hammond B3 organ on the back of the truck, head back to the church and very discreetly roll it into the sanctuary where the church organist was waiting, sheet music in hand; all of this in the space of ten minutes!  But we’re running late, and so after hitting the power switch, Dad and I go back to our seats and the organist sits down to begin playing the processional music.  Except – and this is an important piece of the story – that particular instrument was equipped with an electronic rhythm maker, AKA an automatic drumming machine which somehow in transit had inadvertently been switched on (!); so the moment the organist set her hands to keyboard to begin playing “O, Promise Me,” immediately the sanctuary was filled with a rousing and incredibly loud swing beat!  No matter the years that have gone by, I will never forget the sight of my father, red-faced and slinking down the church aisle, amidst riotous laughter (!), to turn off that automatic drummer so that the wedding could proceed!

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a great lesson for a young pastor-to-be, but not the one you might think.  For you see, I also noticed that day that while we all laughed at what had happened, at the end of it all what people remembered the most about that particular wedding day was how beautiful the bride was, how great the ceremony was, how much in love she and her groom looked to be, and how much joy there was in their starting out on this journey of life together.  So often, you see, at a wedding – as in life, actually – there’s so much more to what’s happening than what you can actually see.

In our text this morning from John’s gospel, we’re told that “there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee” and that it was attended by Jesus, his disciples and, as it happens, also Jesus’ mother.  And under the heading of something always going wrong at a wedding, during this celebration the unthinkable happens: the host runs out of wine to serve all of his wedding guests. Understand, this was no mere faux pas; in a culture where hospitality meant everything, it was literally humiliating for a family to run short of wine; indeed, this was the kind of mistake that would tarnish their family’s reputation for years to come. So with a bit of prodding, shall we say, from his mother, and even though in his own mind it was a bit early to “go public,” that his “hour has not yet come,” Jesus changed six stone water jars, each one holding some 20 to 30 gallons of water, into wine for the celebration; and not just wine, but good wine, the kind of wine that any right-thinking host would have brought out for his guests early on in the evening.

This was Jesus’ first recorded miracle, and on the face of it, changing water into wine seems to be a great act of hospitality and celebration (I always loved the story about the little boy who heard this Bible story in Sunday School, and afterward when his mother asked him what he’d learned that day, the little boy replied, “I learned that if you’re going to have a party, make sure you invite Jesus!”).  And moreover, the fact that there’s this little exchange between Jesus and his mother just makes the story for me; not only is it truly funny and delightfully real (“They have no wine,” Jesus… “Well, what’s that got to do with me, Mother? Will you please just stop pushing me!”), but also, in all seriousness, it hearkens back to everything we read about during the Advent and Christmas seasons:  Mary’s knowledge, from the very beginning, of who Jesus was and why he’d come, not simply to this wedding celebration but indeed for humanity itself.

So, no doubt, there’s great significance in this miraculous changing of water into wine; but as we heard this text read this morning did you notice that it’s never actually referred to as a miracle?  That’s right; in fact, none of the miracles Jesus performs in John’s Gospel (and there are seven of them) are called miracles but rather signs.  In other words, in this story – as with so many other stories about Jesus, especially as they’re given to us in John – there is much more happening than simply what we see.  The miracle, as it were, is meant as a sign that points us beyond the miracle itself to what we’re supposed to see:  Jesus’ power and his glory.

More than a miracle, you see, as great as that is, it’s a proclamation of everything that Christ’s coming brings to the world!

For instance, it’s worth noting that those six 30-gallon jugs of water Jesus sent them to fill were containers used by devout Jews to fulfill the law as regards ceremonial washing; even and especially at a wedding feast, there were rituals of cleansing that needed to be followed.  So these six jars were not have simply been filled with buckets of well water, but with the purified and undefiled water of the Pharisees; this is what served as the “vessel,” so to speak, of Jesus’ miracle, and in doing so Jesus transformed these symbols of an older time and older way into a harbinger for the future and the imminent arrival of a “kingdom” of God!.

I mean, even the idea that Jesus would transform something tired, worn out and empty (like, old jars of water) into that which is rich, fragrant and ripe with the fullness of joy (as is new wine for a wedding feast) points so clearly to power of God; a power manifest in abundance where once was scarcity; celebration where uncertainty had once prevailed; the salvation of God’s own people symbolized by new, good wine!  You see?  Ultimately, it’s not about water becoming wine per se, any more than it is about a harried father of the bride saving face at the reception!  It’s more than a miracle, but a sign which reveals glory of Jesus, who takes the old and makes it new;  in whom a seemingly dead end of living becomes a new life filled with purpose, both now and eternally.

And the best part is that just as in the aftermath of this wedding celebration and everything that happened there, “his disciples believed in him,” even now, these are the signs by which we also come to know him… and believe.

Alyce McKenzie, Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Texas, makes a point of saying that in John these “signs” of Jesus happen when “human resources are at an end.”  At the wedding at Cana, there is no more wine left; likewise in the other miracles recorded in John, for instance when “humans have come to an end of their medical skills, supply of food, and supply of courage, Jesus heals, feeds, and comforts amid the storm.”  Even and especially in the cross, we bear witness to the Word made flesh coming to an end of his earthly life – it is his hour of death – and yet even in death, “God who sent him will flow into him with resurrecting power that will result in his glorification.  A miracle of supply where there is only lack.”

McKenzie’s words are a reminder to us that most often in our lives we are unaware of the glory and power of Jesus in our lives until those moments that we have no other resources in our lives, or from within ourselves, to draw from.  It’s only in those times when we’ve come to realize that the old lives we’ve led have nothing more to give that we discover, much to our surprise and amazement, that there’s been something new and transformative happening all along! I mean, how is it that there are moments in each of our lives when despite the cacophony of competing voices all around us and the many contradictions that would seemingly assault us, we still can stop in the silence of a new morning and know that it is a gift at the hand of the divine? How is it that the person in the midst of their own struggle of life and living – whatever that struggle happens to be – has had every bit of strength and courage tapped out of them, and yet still wakes up in the morning secure in the knowledge of what’s expressed in that wonderful hymn, “deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome some day.”  How is it that any of us can look to the nations of the world as they currently exist, with all their division and hatred and evil seeming to run unabated, and yet still be confident to our very souls that in the end truth, and justice, and dare we say, love will prevail?

It is because ours is the God who has given us a sign in the person of Jesus, who is the Christ; and who is the one who is the very fulfillment of those hope-filled words of prophecy we heard this morning from Isaiah:  “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… 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, get this:  “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.”

Sounds like it’s time to break out the new wine, because there’s going to be plenty of it!

Beloved, it’s as simple and as all-encompassing as this: Christ has come into the world not to leave that world as it is, nor to leave you and me standing alone in the midst of life’s sorrow and its emptiness.  Christ has come that we might be filled up as surely as were those stone jars with water that became wine.  Christ has come that you and I might begin to recognize the signs of his presence and power; and in doing so start to behold his glory: in our worship, in our work, in our prayer and service, in our relationships with one another, and in life unfolding.  And the thing is, when it happens it might just seem like a miracle; but in truth, it’s much more than that.  It’s the place where by God’s good grace life – true life – begins!

That each one of us here might discover that wondrous truth for ourselves is my prayer for us today.  May it be said of you and of me , just as those wedding guests discovered in Cana, that the best was indeed yet to come.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2019 in Epiphany, Jesus, Life, Ministry, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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