Sunday’s sermon: Living Water: Geyser of Grace

Text used – John 4:1-42

  • Old Faithful. Probably the most famous geyser in the world, right?
    • Located in Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park
    • Blasts 200˚F water and 350˚F steam anywhere from 100-180 ft. into the air every 60-110 mins. (ends up erupting 20 times a day)
      • Hot enough that early pioneers actually used the water to wash their clothes before Yellowstone was made a national park
    • Evidence surrounding Old Faithful and around the rest of Upper Geyser Basic speak to the long and established history of Native Americans with the land[1] → Old Faithful “discovered” by Washburn Expedition (i.e. – white people finally found it) in 1870[2]
    • But of course, Old Faithful isn’t the only geyser in the world. → in general[3]
      • Geysers are hot springs that erupt under geological pressure
      • Geysers made from tube-like holes that run deep into the Earth’s crust → tube fills with water → magma near the bottom of the tube heats the water → water begins to boil and is eventually forced upward as super-heated water or steam
      • After the eruption, water slowly seeps back into the tube and process starts all over again
    • Geysers also found in other parts of the U.S., Russia, Chile, New Zealand, and Iceland[4]
    • Truly, y’all, geysers are an awe-inspiring force of nature! How many people here have seen a geyser in person?
      • Geysers are powerful
      • Geysers are somewhat unpredictable
      • Geysers come from a deep, deep place
  • Today’s Scripture story = another story of amazing, awe-inspiring water → water that’s a lot like those geysers: powerful, somewhat unpredictable, and unfathomably deep → I have to say that, although I know it’s a long portion of Scripture to read on a Sunday morning, I’m so glad that the Narrative Lectionary highlights this entire story because it’s such a powerful witness. I think this story – another one that’s particular only to John’s gospel – gives us a really interesting insight into Jesus.
      • Both interesting and important that our text starts off by telling us that Jesus “had to go through Samaria”[5]
        • Jesus is traveling back to Galilee – back to his home territory – after spending some time in Jerusalem and Judea → makes me wonder why Jesus “had” to go this way
          • Gr. = literally “it was necessary to go through Samaria”
          • And yet, this is an area that would have been diligently and deliberately avoided by faithful Jews. Samarians were those with mixed blood – part Jew and part Gentile. More specifically, part Assyrian. After the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 721 BCE, the Assyrian rulers planted some of their own people among those left in Israel, and some of the remaining Israelites intermarried with some of those Assyrians.[6] The Samaritans were the result of those marriages, and for that transgression – for daring to marry outside God’s chosen people – the Samaritans were completely and wholly despised by the Jews. So why did Jesus have to go through Samaria?
            • Maybe it was geographically shorter … but surely Jews at the time were used to skirting this scorned territory
            • Or maybe it was necessary for a reason that had absolutely nothing to do with physical distance and travel time.
  • And from this route divergence, we get what might be my favorite exchange in all of Scripture! Jesus and this Samaritan woman have this incredible back-and-forth discussion in which she plays, not the part of the subservient woman but the rhetorical counterpart to Jesus.
    • Jesus asks for a drink → Samaritan woman’s response = spirited, not subservient: “Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”[7] (I like her already!)
    • Jesus begins to tell Samaritan woman about living water → But this woman is having none of this crazy Jewish man’s ramblings! – text: The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you?”[8] → So not only does she attempt to call his bluff, but she also takes the time to remind this Jew – whose people have looked down on her people for centuries – that, in fact, they have a shared history … a shared ancestry. Truly, this is diplomatic discourse at its best!
    • Jesus extolls the eternal and plentiful nature of this living water → Samaritan woman comes back with a fabulously practical reply: “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water!”[9] → Drawing water from this well for cooking, for washing, for household chores, and for everything else is no small task that needs to be done every single day. This is a practical and pragmatic woman who knows she has other things she could be doing with her time! C’mon, Jesus … help a busy girl out!
    • Jesus turns the debate tables a bit when he pulls out the “husband” card[10]
      • Instructs the woman to go and get her husband
      • Woman’s response: “I don’t have a husband.”
      • Jesus: “You’re right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband. You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”
      • This part of the exchange piques the Samaritan woman’s interest, at least a little bit … but even in this interest, she holds her own, using her response to first flatter this Jewish stranger a bit (“Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”) before taking a bit of a jab at one of the things that separated the Jews from the Samaritans: “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”[11] → Can’t you just hear the ”What do you think about that?” that goes unspoken at the end of this exchange? This woman has guts, and I gotta say I cannot help but admire her for that. But we also have to admire Jesus in this exchange. He doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t get dismissive. He doesn’t get self-righteous. He doesn’t get up and leave. He stays in it. He stays.
    • Jesus finally drops his ace in the hole: The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.” Jesus said to her, “I Am – the one who speaks with you.”[12] → Now, we’re not really used to Jesus declaring his identity because he doesn’t really do that in any of the other gospels. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it’s everyone else who declares Jesus as the Messiah – the cast-out demons, the sinners, the Gentiles, those who have been healed. But not Jesus. But here in John’s gospel, Jesus is clear … clearer than we may even realize.
      • Jesus’ response – “I Am – the one who speaks with you” = same language that God used when giving Moses God’s own name at the burning bush: “I Am Who I Am”[13] → This is that most precious, most revered, most sacred name of God – the name that isn’t even spoken or written in Jewish culture, both then and today. And Jesus is applying this name … to himself. It’s a name the woman would have absolutely recognized. And in that moment, she believes.
        • Runs to tell the rest of the villagers about this life-altering Rabbi
        • Bring them all to the well to see this Jesus
        • Text: Many Samaritans in that city believe in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.”[14]
        • Jesus stays in the city – in this Samaritan, despised, Gentile city for two more days – text: Many more believed because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this one is truly the savior of the world.”[15]
  • We said that geysers were powerful, and in this incredible exchange between first Jesus and the unnamed Samaritan woman and later between Jesus and the entire Samaritan town, we see just how powerful the living water of God can be.
    • Powerful enough to grab hold of this Samaritan woman and quench a thirst she may not even knew she had: a thirst for acceptance and community → I remember reading somewhere once (probably in one of my commentaries, though I don’t remember exactly where) that the fact that this woman was coming to the water by herself indicated that she was something of an outcast.
      • Most of the water-gathering was done in a group → time for the women of the village to come together and chat/catch up with one another/gossip → And yet, this Samaritan woman shows up to the well alone. She isn’t part of the group.
      • Most of the water-gathering was done in the early part of the day before it got too hot BUT Scripture tells us this woman showed up around noon, the hottest part of the day → indicates that she deliberately went to the well at a time when it was unlikely that others would be there
      • Also important to point out what the text doesn’t say here – scholar: The text does not say the woman is a prostitute; it says she had husbands, not customers. We have no idea if the husbands died, if she was divorced, if Levirate marriage was involved. The text does not say. … The main point involves Jesus and this woman having a deep, rich theological debate that allows them to form an intimate connection across real and perceived differences such that the woman receives the first theophany (manifestation of God) in the Gospel of John and then evangelizes her community.[16] → Through this discourse with Jesus, she becomes so overwhelmed by her belief that she runs back to her village – the village that has shunned and excluded her – to share the news with them. And in that sharing – first, her intimate sharing with Jesus, then her public sharing with her village – she finds that community that quenches her lonely spirit.
  • We also said that geysers were somewhat unpredictable, and this whole story is somewhat unpredictable.
    • Unpredictable in that Jesus, a faithful Jew, chooses to not only journey through Samaria but to stop in that despised territory, first for a drink of water, then for a few days so he could teach this village about God’s love and grace – about God’s living water
    • Unpredictable in that the focus of this sophisticated political and theological back-and-forth is not a fellow Rabbi or even a Pharisee … but a woman → hear the unpredictability of this in the disciples’ sole (short) appearance in this story: Just then, Jesus’ disciples arrived and were shocked that he was talking with a woman.[17]
    • Unpredictable in the outcome that the majority of this Samaritan village – this Gentile village – come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah after just two short days
    • At the same time, this story is wholly predictable in that it shows us once again that indeed, God’s living water – God’s unearnable grace and unquenchable love – are available to all.
  • And we said that geysers came from a deep, deep place – the kind of place that brings the Incarnate God, the Messiah and Savior of the world, to a humble well for a life-changing interaction … the kind of place that births profound revelations of faith … the kind of place that inspires an ostracized woman to witness to her whole village … the kind of place that can renew our faith again and again and again.
    • Brings up the major difference between geysers and this living water that Jesus presents in our story today: Geysers are rare. They need exactly the right geological conditions to occur. They need hot rocks below, an ample source of groundwater, a subsurface water reservoir, and fissures (those tube-like formations) to deliver the water to the surface. The confluence of all these conditions is so rare that there are only about 1000 geysers around the world.[18] But God’s living water? God’s living water is not rare. God’s living water of grace can wash over us no matter the circumstances. There is no heart too distant, no spirit too broken, no person too alone, no life too lost for God’s living water to spring up in you with all the power and hope and transformation of a geyser of grace. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from. No matter what you bring with you. Let God’s living water flow! Amen.

[1] Richard Grant. “The Lost History of Yellowstone: Debunking the myth that the great national park was a wilderness untouched by human hands” from Smithsonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lost-history-yellowstone-180976518/.

[2] Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan. “About Old Faithful, Yellowstone’s Famous Geyser” from the Yellowstone National Park official website, https://www.yellowstonepark.com/things-to-do/geysers-hot-springs/about-old-faithful/.

[3] https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/geyser/.

[4] Hobart M. King. “What Is a Geyser?” from https://geology.com/articles/geyser.shtml.

[5] Jn 4:4.

[6] Alyssa Roat. “The Samaritans: Hope from the History of a Hated People” from https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/the-samaritans-hope-from-the-history-of-a-hated-people.html.

[7] Jn 4:9.

[8] Jn 4:11-12a.

[9] Jn 4:15.

[10] Jn 4:16-18.

[11] Jn 4:20.

[12] Jn 4:25-26.

[13] Ex 3:14.

[14] Jn 4:39.

[15] Jn 4:41-42.

[16] Jaime Clark-Soles. “Commentary on John 4:1-42” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/the-woman-at-the-well/commentary-on-john-41-42-3.

[17] Jn 4:27.

[18] King, https://geology.com/articles/geyser.shtml.

Sunday’s sermon: Seeing God’s Kingdom

Text used – John 3:1-21

  • The scene opens on a dark side street. One man stands there alone, apparently waiting patiently, but he’s soon joined by another man. The newcomer seems nervous and uneasy. He keeps looking furtively around like he’s afraid someone will see him with this patient stranger. There are no streetlights around, so the only light that illuminates this hidden meeting is the light cast by the moon above. One of the men comes with questions. The other comes with more answers than his companion even knows to seek.
    • Sounds like it could be the opening scene for all sorts of different blockbuster movies, doesn’t it?
      • International spy thriller … a lá James Bond or Jason Bourne
      • Explosive-packed action movie … a lá “Die Hard” or “Air Force One”
      • Strikingly similar scene toward the beginning of “Star Wars: Rogue One”
    • And yet it’s not a scene out of any such script. It’s a scene straight out of our Scripture reading this morning – the scene in which we meet Nicodemus. → Nicodemus = really interesting character in Jn’s gospel
      • Today’s passage = 1st of 3 appearance made by Nicodemus throughout the text
        • 2nd appearance (which we’ll read in a few weeks) = ch. 7 Nicodemus speaks up on Jesus’ behalf in the midst of some controversy after Jesus taught in the temple[1]
        • 3rd appearance = with Joseph of Arimathea at the tomb following Jesus’ death but before his resurrection It’s Nicodemus who brings the necessary items for ritual burial – the myrrh and the aloe, “nearly seventy-five pounds in all”[2] – to prepare Jesus’ body.
        • And it all begins with today’s encounter – this moment when Nicodemus seeks out this new and radical rabbi from Nazareth in the middle of the night.
  • Rev. Dr. Patrick Hartin (in Exploring the Spirituality of the Gospels): Jesus’ dialogues with many individuals lie at the heart of John’s gospel. In each encounter, Jesus challenges the individual to enter into a spiritual relationship with him. In illustrating these encounters, John shows the level of their faith relationship.[3]  As today’s encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus is just such a dialogue and relationship – the first that we find in the gospel, in fact – let’s talk a little bit more about Nicodemus as a character this morning.
    • Only in Jn’s gospel that we meet Nicodemus at all isn’t mentioned or named in any of the other three gospels
    • Who Nicodemus was in society = given at the very beginning of today’s passage: There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader.[4]  These two titles – “Pharisee” and “Jewish leader” – may not seem like much to us, but they indicate that Nicodemus was a rather powerful person within the Jewish hierarchy.
      • Pharisee = experts in Jewish law scholars who knew and interpreted that law for the general population
      • “Jewish leader” = tells us Nicodemus was one of the Sanhedrin sort of like the Jewish Supreme Court at the time It was up to the members of the Sanhedrin to not only interpret the law but dole out judgments and appropriate punishments according to that law when it was broken. Ultimately, it is the Sanhedrin that will accuse and convict Jesus and demand that Pilate crucify him.
    • Who Nicodemus was as a person = two important insights that we get from today’s text
      • FIRST: Nicodemus was conflicted – text: [Nicodemus] came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”[5]
        • On one hand, Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness
          • Can’t be seen
          • Can’t be recognized
          • Sure seems to indicate that he’s concerned about this meeting – that he’s worried about it
        • On the other hand, Nicodemus addresses Jesus with respect
          • Calls Jesus “Rabbi” (cultural and respectful way to address a learned teacher)
          • Also admits that “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God” pretty significant admission, partly because of Nicodemus’ role as a Pharisee and partly because of how early we are in Jesus’ ministry At this point in John’s recounting of Jesus’ ministry, not much significant has happened.
            • Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist
            • Jesus has called a few disciples[6]
            • Jesus has performed the miracle of changing water to wine at the wedding of Cana[7] (which we talked about a few weeks ago)
            • Jesus has overturned the tables of the merchants and money changers in the Temple[8] (which you read with Rev. Erica Schemper last week) passage that ends with a vague reference to “the miraculous signs” that the people in Jerusalem saw Jesus do[9]
            • That’s it! Being the omniscient observers that we are – the ones who already know the rest of the story, know the other miracles that are coming (including the ultimate miracle of Jesus’ own death and resurrection) – we know just how amazing Jesus is and the salvation that will come through him. But at this point, Nicodemus doesn’t know any of that yet. And still, here he is! Who Jesus is and what he has done has already been powerful enough for Nicodemus, the Pharisee and Sanhedrin member, to seek him out in the dead of night to learn more.
      • Leads us to 2nd insight we get from our text about Nicodemus personality: he is a curious man, a man who seeks answers
        • Initially comes to Jesus under the cover of night because he has questions – questions he knows only this rabbi sent from God can answer
        • Continues to question Jesus further every time Jesus gives him a new answer: “How is this possible, Jesus? How is this possible? How are all these things possible?” In these questions, we see the Pharisee in Nicodemus coming out. As far as we can tell, he’s not asking in any kind of challenging, contentious manner. But he’s been trained to understand even the smallest, most insignificant elements of the law – understand them inside and out so that he can interpret them for others. Like a lawyer, it is engrained in him to ask questions, not just from one angle, but from all angles so that he can best understand whatever problem or situation is in front of him.
          • Scholar (describing Nicodemus): [One who keeps] the rules but [knows] something is still missing.[10]
        • And in this way, are any of us so different from Nicodemus?
          • Probably one of the most relatable characters in the whole of Scripture for this reason In the course of this strange midnight encounter, Jesus tells Nicodemus some incredible things – things about needing to be born anew, about being born of water and the Spirit, about earthly things and heavenly things, about God’s own Son being sent into the world, about darkness and light, about truth … enough incredible things to fill a whole year’s worth of sermons! Things that we’re still wrestling with … still trying to understand … still unsure about … still asking questions about 2000 years later! So when Nicodemus asks Jesus over and over again, “Jesus, how is that possible?” we feel like we could be standing right behind him nodding and voicing our agreement. “Yeah, Jesus. How is that possible? Please … please … explain it to us. But in ways we can understand.” Because we are desperate to understand. Our hearts and our minds and our spirits are yearning to understand. Society is pushing us to understand – even to understand to the point of being able to “prove it.”
            • Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis (Lutheran pastor, author, chair of Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul): Believing for the characters in the Fourth Gospel is a verb and is subject to all of the ambiguity, uncertainty, and indecisiveness of being human. Having an incarnate God necessitates an incarnational faith: believing is just as complicated as being human.[11]
  • And that’s the really hard and challenging part of today’s Scripture reading: John gives us all of Jesus’ flowery, theologically dense explanations … but it’s still not super clear, is it? Not as clear and concise as we’d like it to be, anyway.
    • Jn = challenging gospel to read and study and preach because it is so theologically entwined Remember, John was chronologically the last gospel written. It was written around the turn of the 1st nearly 70 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. There was a lot of doctrine and dogma that had developed within Christian circles by the time John was written, so there’s a lot to unpack even within this gospel.
    • That being said, there’s something that stuck out to me at the very beginning of Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus in today’s reading – something seemed to sort of shelter a lot of these theological ideas under one unifying theological umbrella: seeing God’s kingdom. – text: [Nicodemus] came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”[12]  From the outset, Jesus makes it clear to Nicodemus that The Point – the whole point of all of it: birth and baptism, ministry and miracles, teachings and trials – the whole point is seeing God’s kingdom.
      • Point of “being born anew” – text: Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.”[13]  Being born anew in the Spirit allows us to tune our hearts and our lives and our souls to the moving and working of God’s Holy Spirit in the world around us – those thin places where we feel God moving and see God’s kingdom shining through in the people and interactions around us.
      • Point of Jesus life and death to come – text: No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.[14] Jesus alluding to sort of obscure story out of Numbers in which God instructs Moses to mount a bronze image of a snake on a pole so that any Israelite who had been bitten by just such a snake in the wilderness could look upon the bronze serpent and be healed … Turning eyes to the One lifted up in order to be healed … to be saved … to be made whole. Resting our hearts and our hopes on the One lifted up reveals God’s kingdom in salvation and extraordinary grace.
      • And, of course, seeing God’s kingdom in love that familiar text that, while so many know it by heart, few remember that it’s part of Jesus’ secret nighttime conversation with a Pharisee who believes – text: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.[15]
  • Jesus knew that Nicodemus was a man seeking answers. But more than that, he was a man seeking Truth – the kind of Truth that would help him not only see the kingdom of God breaking through all around him but also embody that kingdom of God in the ways that matter most: through an openness to the Holy Spirit, through faith, and through God’s unending love and grace. Jesus gave Nicodemus all that he sought and more. Jesus opened his eyes before he even fully understood how and why they needed to be opened. So where is Jesus inviting you to open your eyes … to open your hearts … to open your faith and see God’s kingdom today? Amen.

[1] Jn 7:50-51.

[2] Jn 19:39.

[3] Patrick J. Hartin. Exploring the Spirituality of the Gospels. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2011), 67.

[4] Jn 3:1.

[5] Jn 3:2.

[6] Jn 1:35-51.

[7] Jn 2:1-12.

[8] Jn 2:13-25.

[9] Jn 2:23.

[10] Brett Younger. “John 3:1-8 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – John, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 59.

[11] Karoline Lewis. “Second Sunday in Lent – John 3:1-17 – Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 73.

[12] Jn 3:2-3 (emphasis added).

[13] Jn 3:5-6.

[14] Jn 3:13-15.

[15] Jn 3:16-17.

Sunday’s sermon: Expecting the Unexpected

“Water to Wine” by Hyatt Moore

Text used – John 2:1-11

  • There’s a show that I used to watch with one of my roommates during my senior year of college. Friday nights were laundry nights for us, so we’d sit there folding our laundry and watching this show.
    • Show on TLC called “What Not to Wear
      • 2 fashion experts would ambush someone (with the help of their friends and family) and present them with a choice: you can have this $5000 gift card for a shopping spree BUT you have to …
        • Come to NYC with us
        • Bring your entire wardrobe
        • Let us throw away anything we want to from that wardrobe
        • Shop by our rules
      • Before getting to the shopping, though, they would do this part of the show where the person receiving the makeover would put on a couple of their favorite outfits, then stand in what they called the “360˚ mirror” – literally surrounding them with an octagon of mirrors. → hosts would point out things about what they were wearing that were undesirable: poor fit, clashing colors/patterns, clothes that weren’t age appropriate
      • Shopping
        • Short time of shopping with the hosts following their “rules” (mostly about finding the right fit or finding different cuts and styles that flattered that person’s particular body)
        • Short time of the person trying to shop on their own (always ended disastrously)
        • Finished up with the hosts swooping in helping correct some of the mistakes made during the person’s solo shopping excursion all 3 of them finishing out the shopping spree together
          • Clothes that were appropriate for the workplace
          • Clothes that were appropriate for a night out or a special event
          • Clothes that were appropriate for hanging out at home
      • Makeover portion new haircut/color and makeup
      • 1st reveal = person showing off their new look to the hosts
      • 2nd reveal = person showing off their new look at home to their friends and family It was always fun to watch that last part – the looks of shock and amazement on the faces of the person’s friends and family as they showed off their new look and the comments that their friends and family often made:
        • “She looks even more like herself now than she did before!”
        • “It really seems like his appearance on the outside matches his personality on the inside now!”
        • And those comments really get to the crux of it – of why we enjoyed watching the show so much. In the end, it wasn’t about making everyone who appeared on it a cookie-cutter copy of the fashion plates of the day. It was about helping them express their uniqueness and individuality – helping express what was special about them – in ways that made them look and feel their best. In the end, it was always fun to see the people simultaneously the same but changed at the end of each episode.
    • Today’s gospel reading from the beginning of Jn = interesting story of Jesus who begins the story in one way but ends the story changed
  • We’re pretty near the beginning of John’s gospel at this point, so not much has happened yet.
    • Sun. before Christmas read beginning of John – “the story of the Word,” as the CEB Study Bible[1] titles it: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.[2]  This is as close as John gets to any kind of birth narrative in his gospel.
    • Following that = story of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus culminates in Jn’s account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River[3]
    • Then story of Jesus calling first disciples: Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael[4]
    • And straight after that calling, we come to today’s story: The Wedding at Cana.
  • I love this story because it’s such an odd little story within all the gospels. I think it presents such a human side of Jesus. begins the story as just another guest at the wedding
    • Come to celebrate
    • Come to enjoy the day
    • Come to be with his community – just another member like any other
    • As far as we can tell, Jesus doesn’t come to this wedding with any miraculous, divine intentions. As far as we can tell, this was a pretty normal wedding. – text: On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.[5]  There are so many spaces left for wonder in this story – so many places I want the gospel writer to pause and fill in some details for us.
      • Whose wedding was it? A cousin, perhaps? A neighbor? Or a friend from Jesus’ childhood?
      • What was the celebration like? Was it a days-long affair of hospitality and dancing, feasting and blessing?
      • Were Jesus and his disciples having fun?
      • I know these aren’t necessary details. The gospel writer’s task is to move the story along to the “good part” – the miraculous part – but when we open our imaginations into this Scripture story, we still have to wonder, don’t we?
    • The problem of this story – the main issue or conflict that our main characters are up against – is presented in short order. Just after telling us that Jesus, his disciples, and his mother are all present at this wedding celebration, we’re also told that the wine has run out. Sure, this sounds like a problem at any celebration – running out of refreshments.
      • Have to remember what a big deal this would have been in that culture – culture that places the highest emphasis and importance on hospitality Yes, running out of refreshments at a wedding before the night was over would be sort of embarrassing today. But back then, it would have been shameful. It would have been dishonorable to your guests – an insult, even. It’s an oversight that would have been unforgivable – one of those occurrences that would have haunted the entire family for generations to come, that people would have talked about and talked about and talked about.
      • Brings to mind for us all the times we have “run out”
        • Run out of something physical that we’re trying to provide, sure à run out of food or drink at some sort of gathering or event
        • Run out of ideas or inspiration in the middle of a project
        • Run out of energy or drive in the midst of some large undertaking story of Jen and I walking the 3-Day almost 7 yrs. ago and running out of stamina after the 2nd day
    • Text makes it plain that even in the face of such a social catastrophe as this host who has run out of wine too soon, Jesus doesn’t expect any sort of out-of-the-ordinary experiences at this wedding Jesus’ mother (who’s never actually called “Mary” throughout John’s gospel) approaches Jesus and informs him that the wine has run out, and Jesus’ response is more disinterested than we are used to hearing from Jesus
      • No proclamations of who he is
      • No promises of God’s goodness and faithfulness
      • No lesson wrapped in the narrative folds of a parable
      • Just a simple dismissal: “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.”[6]
        • Important to note that, while this may seem like an odd response to us – even disrespectful in the way that Jesus speaks to his own mother – it is, in fact, a fairly colloquial way for the two to converse This is one of those bits of Scripture where the nuance has been lost to us through the work of translation and the passage of time. Jesus addressing his mother in this way is not nearly as disrespectful and dismissive as it sounds.
        • And yet … pastor, author, and scholar Rev. Gibson “Nibs” Stroupe puts a finger on the challenging aspect of this exchange between Jesus and his mother: There definitely is tension in this conversation. Jesus’ mother … has an idea about her son’s power, and she is hoping that he can rescue the situation. Jesus seems hesitant or irritated (or both) at this request. Perhaps he wants his first sign to be a bit more glorious or controversial … Maybe he is even beginning to imagine how long the list of requests for action will be, once the word gets out that he has special powers. His answer to his mother – “my hour has not yet come” – indicates that this miracle is a bit premature for Jesus.[7]
    • But despite Jesus’ reluctance, his mother’s faith never waivers. – text: His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did.[8]
      • The expectations (or lack of expectations) of those around them didn’t matter to Jesus’ mother
      • Even the lack of Jesus’ own expectations didn’t matter to Jesus’ mother
      • All that mattered to her was that she believed in her son. She believed in his ability to bring aid in the midst of a difficult situation. She believed in his purpose to help and to provide and to embody the goodness of God. She believed in all that her son was and all that he would be. Jesus’ mother believed, and her believe was met with breathtaking abundance.
        • 6 stones jars that held 20-30 gallons each
        • 6 stone jars that, even when empty, would have taken more than one person to move them
        • 6 stone jars that the servants filled with water all the way to the brim
        • 6 stone jars that Jesus turned to wine à Without a word. Without a gesture. Without any recorded movement or hint from Jesus, all that water was suddenly and inexplicably turned to wine. And not just any wine, but the best
          • Abundance of quantity
          • Abundance of quality
          • Abundance that left even Jesus changed – a different man, at least in perception, than he was when he and his disciples walked into that wedding
          • Abundance beyond expectation … well, almost all expectations, anyway. – scholar: The mother of Jesus is a woman of remarkable faith and insight. Her words to the servants indicate her own trust in the words of the one who is the divinely-human Word. They are words for us today to hear and to ponder: to build our lives upon.[9]
  • And so, friends, let us look to Jesus’ mother in this story. In the face of all that appears and feels and is lacking in the world around us and even inside ourselves, let us hold tight to the faith of Jesus’ mother.
    • Not a directing faith
    • Not a conditional faith
    • Not a faith restrained by caveats and “what ifs”
    • In preparation for the abundance, Jesus’ mother doesn’t give the steward contingencies – no Plan B or Plan C. She doesn’t micromanage either his actions or Jesus’ actions with her own ideas or directions or micro-expectations of what is to come. Her faith in Jesus is open-ended and full and sure: “Do whatever he tells you.” And that is our call still today. To come before God. To kneel before Jesus. To open ourselves up to the workings of the Holy Spirit with the words of Jesus’ mother as our surest hope and motivation: “Do whatever he tells you.” It’s daunting. It’s uncertain. It’s full of the unexpected. But through that openness, miraculous things can happen. Amen.

[1] CEB Study Bible. (Nashville: Common English Bible, 2013), 170 NT.

[2] Jn 1:1.

[3] Jn 1:19-34.

[4] Jn 1:35-51.

[5] Jn 2:1-2.

[6] Jn 2:4.

[7] Nibs Stroupe. “John 2:1-12 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospel: John, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 47.

[8] Jn 2:5-8.

[9] Dorothy A. Lee. “Commentary on John 2:1-11” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/wedding-at-cana-2/commentary-on-john-21-11-7.

Sunday’s sermon: Good News: Then, Now, Always

Text used – Matthew 2:1-12

  • Stars are fascinating, aren’t they?
    • So many stars in the whole of the sky that we can see that we can’t even begin to number them … let alone the vastness of the universe that even our most powerful space telescopes can’t capture!
      • Illustration from Facebook[1]: On Sept. 3, 2003, the Hubble Space Telescope began pointing its camera at a small area in the night sky …
        • “The area, about a tenth the size of the full moon, appeared to be complete blackness with no stars visible to the naked eye.” → PICTURE: full moon in a black sky full of stars with a tiny, completely black box of sky highlighted
        • “Hubble kept its camera pointed there for over 4 months, taking in all the light it could. This is what Hubble saw …” → PICTURE: I’m going to walk this picture around so you can see it for yourselves. And for those of you at home, I’m just going to pop it up instead of our video feed for a few minutes.
          • Each dot in this image is an entire galaxy ENTIRE. GALAXY. full of stars!! Up to 1 trillion stars each, to be more precise. And if our galaxy is any indication, each star may have a system of planets around it. In this photo alone, there are over 10,000 galaxies.
          • There’s a particularly large galaxy. In the picture, it’s in the bottom right corner. It’s yellowish in color and sort of spiral-y looking. Scientists have figured out that this single galaxy contains 8 times as many stars as our Milky Way Galaxy. “It’s so large, it technically shouldn’t exist according to current physics theories.”
        • And just in case your mind isn’t blown enough already, “These are the most distant objects ever photographed. They’re more than 13 billion lightyears away.” → Imagine for a minute just how old the light from these stars is. Think about it. The light from our own sun takes 8 minutes to travel from the sun to earth. Light travels at 3 million kilometers per second, and the sun is 150 million kilometers away from Earth.[2] So the light from the Sun is already 8 minutes old when it reaches Earth. And while looking back in time 8 minutes may not be quite so exciting, when we apply that same principle to the rest of the stars, things get really interesting.[3]
          • Arcturus, one of the brightest stars that we can see from Earth (located just off the handle of the Big Dipper) is just under 37 lightyears away → So the light that we’re seeing when we find Arcturus in the night sky is just under 37 yrs. old. When we look at that light, we’re looking back 37 yrs. into the past.
          • Betelgeuse (makes up the upper left shoulder of the Orion constellation) = 642.5 lightyears away → So when we look at Betelgeuse, we’re looking 642½ yrs. into the past.
          • Rigel (makes up the right foot of the Orion constellation) is just over 864 lightyears away
    • It’s easy to understand why space … the night sky … the heavens … whatever you want to call it has fascinated so people for so long – millennia, really. It’s both concrete and mysterious. We can see space with our eyes. We know that it’s there. That it’s real. With the help of first rudimentary telescopes and eventually infinitely more complicated apparatuses, we can see what’s out there in greater detail. And yet, we also know that even the mind-boggling vastness that we can see is nothing compared to what’s truly out there. We know that there’s so much more that we can’t see. And thinking about space like this – as both concrete and mystical … as seeming to exist, at least to some extent, outside the normal bounds of time – sheds a whole new light on the celebration of Epiphany and Matthew’s story of the magi, doesn’t it?
  • Now, I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to read a fairly large passage from one of the commentaries that I was looking at this week.
    • Commentary: Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 1[4]
      • Explain what a commentary is – BASIC
      • Explain why I like this particular commentary series
    • This passage: written by Rev. Dr. Susan R. Andrews, now honorably retired in the Presbyterian Church (USA) but served multiple churches throughout her more than 4 decades of ministry as well as serving as the moderator of the 215th General Assembly in 2003 → Dr. Andrews did such a beautiful, eloquent job of highlighting the mystery and the majesty of this Epiphany passage that I wanted to share it with you.

         When I was in college I fulfilled my science requirement by taking astronomy. Our main assignment for the semester was to study the stars, to carefully draw the changing heavens over a four-month period. So every night, with a flashlight, mittens, and my dog-eared notebook, I would climb to the roof of my dorm and gaze starward. Soon the close and holy darkness began to pulse with wonder. It became clear to me how reasonable the skies are, how predictable the patterns, and how logical the language of those glowing gases inching themselves across the sky night after night after night. It also became very obvious when something did not fit the pattern – a falling star or an airplane light or a meteor streaking across the sky.

          Those wise men from Arabia would have easily spotted the strange star so long ago, and having exhausted the reason of nature, they would quickly have turned to a second kind of reason: the reason of knowledge. What would other wise seers in other parts of the world know about the stars, and what was written down about the truth of the heavens? This is how they ended up in Jerusalem, picking the brains of Herod’s scholars. …

          In order truly to follow the star, the wise med had to move beyond reason to intuition. They had to move beyond science to faith – trusting the journey even though they did not know where they were going, trusting a wisdom beyond their own to take them where they needed to go. Yes, the wisdom of the wise men was a wondering, wandering kind of wisdom that ended up in worship, in their offering homage to the wider and more wonderful Wisdom of God.

          In these postmodern times, many within the younger generations are moving away from the rationalism of their parents and grandparents. Through incense and meditation and experience and beauty, they are seeking mystery and embracing wonder. Rather than doctrine, they seek delight. Rather than ideas, they explore imagination. Rather than rationality, they yearn for relationship. Like the magi, they are willing to take risks and explore the unknown in order to find the Holy. Ask and keep on asking. Seek and keep on seeking. Find and keep on finding. Their faith is a Jesus faith – a journey faith – and like the wise men, their intellectual curiosity and spiritual hunger give them courage to leave behind all that is familiar.

          Biblical scholar Ken Bailey has opened our hearts to a fresh understanding of the Christmas story, based on his own experiences living and studying in the Middle East. Jesus was not born in the cold stink of a barn, rudely marginalized by an insulting innkeeper. Instead, consistent with the ethic of hospitality ingrained in the cultural DNA of Arab and Semitic peoples, Mary and Joseph were warmly welcomed by their relatives in the countryside of Judea. They were invited to sleep in the warmth of a big family room – a gracious, but well-used space commonly shared with the animals of the family. Yes, Jesus was born in a living room – and continues to dwell in the living room of our lives.

          What this means, of course, is that the wise men followed their intuition and their hearts to this same living room – discovering the meaning of the star not in the corrupt halls of Herod’s power, but in the swaddled heart of everyday life. So, in the fullness of time, wholeness was born. Mind and heart, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, powerful and simple: they all meet in the living room of God’s imagination – God fully alive in the fragile familiarity of flesh. Incarnation can be understood only through intuition and imagination, through the real stuff of real living. …

          Albert Einstein captures the necessity of wonder: “The most beautiful emotion was can experience is the mystical. It is the source of all true art and science. The one to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.” – Susan R. Andrews. “Matthew 2:1-12 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 14, 16, 18.

  • Today, friends, I encourage you to remember to hold space for the mystery of faith – for that “beautiful emotion of experiencing the mystical,” as Einstein put it. Too often, we find ourselves feeling like we have to explain everything – every belief, every action, every decision, every movement – in such exhausting detail. We forget just how powerful mystery can be. We forget how moving the unknown can be. We forget how freeing it can be to be completely without all the answers … or even any More than 2000 yrs. ago, a light shined down on a brand-new family in the little, backwater, nothing town of Bethlehem. Knowing what we know about stars, I have to wonder how old that light was. Light from the beginning of time, perhaps? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word, nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.”[5]
    • The Word … past, present, and future … then, now, always → The Word that spoke to people then … that speaks to people now … that will always speak to people ready and open to listen.
    • The Light … past, present, and future … then, now, always → Light that drew people to the Savior then … that draws people to the Savior now … that will always draw people in need of and seeking a Savior.
    • The Good News of the Gospel: that God’s Love Incarnate came into the world in Bethlehem that night more than 2000 yrs. ago to make us all children of God, to bridge a gap that we as humans couldn’t bridge on our own → the Good News of the Gospel … past, present, and future … then, now, always. → Good News that changed lives then – the lives of shepherd, the lives of magi, the lives of a simple woman and her husband, the lives of disciples and those seeking healing and those yearning for a new way. Good News that changes lives now – the lives of those seeking hope and those yearning for a new way, the lives of those who have had a relationship with God from birth and those who find their way into that relationship later (sometimes much later) stumbling, crashing, aching, and rejected everywhere else. Good News that will always change the lives of those with willing hearts and eager spirits. Amen.

[1] https://www.facebook.com/Lovebyabhisar/photos/pcb.4144558385647954/4144556648981461.

[2] https://www.scienceabc.com/pure-sciences/are-you-looking-into-the-past-when-you-look-at-the-stars.html.

[3] https://www.google.com/search?q=how+far+away+is+the+star+rigel+from+earth&oq=how+far+away+is+the+star+r&aqs=chrome.2.69i57j0i512j0i22i30j0i390l3.7678j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8.

[4] Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press), 2013.

[5] Jn 1:1-5.