2018

January 14

Scripture: John 2:1-11

Sermon Title: The Life of the Party

Oh that the stone jars could tell their story. What would they say? There they were, standing off to the side of the room like six obedient soldiers.  The all-important first stop of the evening.

It was the custom… religious ritual. First thing’s first: pay homage to the purification jars. Dip in the cup, pour the clean, pure water first over one hand and then the next… careful, careful… nothing dirty comes in contact with the water… people’s hands come into the room dirty – contaminated with who knows what… unclean! Unclean! Not welcome to the table. Not welcome to the feast until they visit the stone jars. That’s how important they were.

     All night long they worked faithfully, these jars, doing what they had always done. Accomplishing the task they were ordained to do… until that moment when everything changed.

What was inside them became totally new. And then, what a dramatic turn of purpose!

     People no longer came to them to be made clean. What was inside them was taken out… enjoyed, celebrated… The stewards enthusiastically dipped, served and returned to them for more and more…

People seemed genuinely surprised and amazed by what they tasted – they couldn’t get enough. What these jars held now was refreshing, desired…

They had been transformed… from the inside. And what they offered now changed the whole room.  Ordinary jars became extraordinary vessels… dispensers of something fine, something noteworthy. No longer off to the side visited out of obligation, they became the life of the party.

     What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people.

⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆

So begins John’s story of Jesus’ public ministry – not in the synagogue or on a mountaintop – not preaching or teaching – but at a wedding – a family celebration shared with the whole community.

     He was there with his mom and his disciples, as a guest alongside all the other common folk of the village. And this is the first sign of his glory, his excellence, his brightness, splendor, dignity, majesty… revealed… epiphanied – only to those close to him and the servants and us (the readers of John’s gospel). To everybody else, it was just another wedding – except for that amazing wine that came out after awhile.

     But we, we have seen his glory, the glory of a Father’s only son.

     This is what we’re in for in the gospel of John – over and over again – glimpses of God’s glory revealed in Jesus among us.

They’re signs – pointing to something bigger and fuller… signposts of that which is other and outer, C.S. Lewis says… or what theologian Stephen Webb calls blessed excess.

     God’s grace, God’s love is never just enough, but always, over the top. One of those jars would have given another cup of wine to over 400 people – instead 6 jars were filled to the rim – and not 3-buck chuck, but the best wine.

     I came that they may have life and have it abundantly, Jesus said. Come and See.

⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆

     Can we learn to imagine more than we know, Stephen Webb asks,
Can we say more than we dare to believe,
act more boldly than we know is wise and rational,
see more than realism displays,
hope more broadly than the facts would allow?

     When the wine gave out at the wedding, his mother said: They have no wine.

     The wine came up short… failed to be enough. She made a rational observation… stated a fact. And the she in this case was his mother. A voice of human authority — to Jesus – spoke definitively: It’s done. It’s gone. The party is over. There is no. more. wine.

     And Jesus aware of an authority greater than his mother’s, answered with a question – literally What to you to me. It’s a Semitic idiomatic phrase that might best be translated: – What’s this to us?

     That’s the generative question in this story: the question that gives birth to all that happens next:

     What’s this to us?

     What’s this problem to people of hope?

     What’s this insufficiency to people of faith?

     What’s this limitation to people of light… people of life… people of God?

What are failures and dead-ends but resurrection opportunities… stone transforming possibilities… moments of epiphany… God’s glory – God’s blessed excess revealed?

⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆⍆

     Tomorrow night our City Council will once again vote on a proposal before them – the next step toward allowing the former Herrick Manor to be repurposed as transitional housing for women and children. A place transformed with new life.

They’ve voted against it once already, despite Promedica’s desire to gift the facility to Neighbors of Hope a non-profit ministry well experienced in managing housing and services for people in need… despite the city zoning commission’s recommendation to approve it… despite meetings held before rooms full of supportive city residents.

     Rumors abound as to the reasons some council members may not support it.

Some think there’s prejudice, racism or fear lurking under the surface. Others see politics and economics at play.

     Meanwhile there’s an empty facility and families in need of  shelter and a future with hope.

     Several of the pastors in town signed a unified statement of support last week, printed in the Herald, encouraging the city council to vote in favor:

Within our churches are volunteers standing at the ready, we wrote, eager with open hearts and willing hands to reach out with love. Through this proposal, we have the opportunity to come together to provide realistic and practical support for families in need of temporary housing. Secure shelter and compassionate neighbors can pave the way for restored hope and dignity, leading to a stronger future.  

     Still, the fact remains, the vote could come up short tomorrow night.

There could fail to be enough members on the council in support. The mayor could put down the gavel and effectively say: there is no more wine.

     If this happens, and it might happen,

     What’s this to us? As people of faith, hope, light and life… As people of God:

     What’s this to us?

     Can we learn to imagine more than we know?

     Can we see more than realism displays?

     Can we hope more broadly than the facts would allow?

     Can we act more boldly than we know is wise and rational?

     Can we dare to believe that Jesus meant it when he said:

     I came that they may have life and have it abundantly…

     What are failures and dead-ends in our personal, professional, religious or civic lives but resurrection opportunities… possibilities for new beginnings… for long-held traditions and institutions to be made new from the inside out… for stone cold hearts to be broken open … for moments of epiphany to burst forth… revealing God’s glory?

     Glory. The Greek word is doxa from which we get our word Doxology:

     I do not seek my own glory, Jesus said, If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my father who glorifies me. It is for God’s glory that the Son is glorified, he said.

     And then, in his farewell prayer recorded in the gospel of John, he said this as he prayed for us:
The glory you have given me I have given them.

     If God can be glorified through stone jars, how much more can God be glorified through our lives… through our church… through this town? In ways we’ve never even dreamed of.

     They are out of wine. Really? Look again.

     From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace upon grace upon grace.

     Let us see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God, the real life of the party that never runs out.  

January 7

Scripture: John 1:35-51

Sermon Title: Come and See

When you’re new to a town, you want to at least pronounce the name right. And when you’re interviewing for a job in a new town, you want to know how to say it before the interview – so you look like you did your homework.

        I grew up in a town named by French traders. Great White is the English translation and it should, by all rights, be Grahnd Blahnc – but to the locals, it’s Graand Blaanc – and you want to know that going in. So just over four years ago when I moved here, I asked people in the Maumee Valley Presbytery how to pronounce the name of this town – knowing even as I did that they were from Ohio where they have Layma and Bewsayrus and Versales.

        The people I asked were split in their opinions so I still wasn’t sure.  I asked Siri. She’s confident it’s pronounced Tecumseh. When I say Tecumsee into the phone, all Siri hears is To Come See. As it relates to name pronunciations, I’m not sure Siri even bats 500. Although being the First Presbyterian Church, To Come See is pretty great.

        Speaking of seeing… this weekend, Christians around the world are celebrating Epiphany. Traditionally, the gospel reading is from Matthew – about the Magi following the star – seekers looking for a special child.

        In Germany, young people – singers- in groups of three — go house to house dressed as wisemen, carrying a star. They give treats to each house, collect donations for worthy causes and mark the top of the door frame with chalk as a blessing. They write: 20+C+M+B+18 – the initials of the traditional names of the wisemen: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar inside the year.

        In the Philippines, children put shoes outside their doors on Epiphany Eve and the Wisemen leave candy and money in them.

        In Puerto Rico, children leave grass under their beds for the camels – along with a wish list for los Reyes – the kings.

        I don’t know what you did for your Epiphany parties, but this year, I went on a star scavenger hunt throughout Tecumseh – buying up all the stars I could find for 50% off. I decorated my house with stars, and hosted an Epiphany dinner party for the church staff.  Everybody got a keepsake star ornament and we topped off our dinner with starburst candies.

++++++++++

        Epiphany literally means to show forth… to appear. That which was hidden, is now seen. We say we’ve had an epiphany when we experience a revelation or a flash of brilliance – a breakthrough – a moment of clarity – brand new vision. John doesn’t talk about Magi, wisemen or kings in his gospel and there aren’t any stars, yet his is a whole story of epiphany – starting with the opening verses:

        The Word was made flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

        Come and See, Jesus said, in the opening chapter of John’s gospel. Come and see, Philip said to Nathaniel. Come and see.

        John’s whole gospel unfolds as an invitation to follow Jesus and open your eyes. Where the other gospel writers give descriptive accounts of the events of Jesus’ life, John wants his readers to see themselves in the transforming stories – to see not just with our eyes but with our hearts – to look beyond the surface at the epiphanies beneath. Come. What you’ll see defies words.

+++++++++++

        Come and See, Mother Teresa often said when people asked about her work in Calcutta. How is it going? What is it like there? Come and See.

        In his book The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne talks about what he saw when he did.

        What are you looking for? Jesus asked his first followers. I’m looking to see Christianity really lived out, Shane Claiborne would have answered.

        Discouraged with the church of his youth, Shane went to Calcutta to see. It was, for him, one epiphany after another. About his visit to a leper colony, he wrote:

        There are no famous lepers. It is a disease of the outcasts, the untouchables. Oftentimes lepers don’t even know the words ‘thank you’ because they have never needed to say them. That gives new meaning to the story Jesus told about the 10 lepers he healed and only one returned to give thanks…

        But then, wrote Shane, there was this leper community called ‘Gandhi’s New Life’. Years ago the land had been given to Mother Teresa and she began caring for lepers. Then the lepers began caring for each other. Now there are over 150 families teaching each other ‘thank you’. They grow their own vegetables, raise animals and fish. They make their own shoes and sew their own clothes. They make saris for the sisters, blankets for the orphanage and bandages for the medical clinic. Some of the lepers who’ve been treated are doctors for other lepers.

        Shane wound the cotton bandages into balls each day as he followed the doctors during their rounds.

        I would watch intently, Shane wrote, fascinated by their love and compassion. One afternoon as things were winding down, one of the doctors had to leave early, but there were a few patients still waiting to be seen. He looked at me and emphatically said: “you know how this works; you have been watching. It’s your turn.”

        I came forward and sat in the doctor’s seat and began staring into the next patient’s eyes. I began carefully dressing the man’s wound. He stared at me with such intensity that it felt like he was looking into my soul. Every once in a while he would slowly close his eyes. When I was finished he said to me that sacred word I have come to love: “Namaste”. I smiled with tears in my eyes and whispered “Jesus”. He saw Jesus in me. And I saw Jesus in him.

        The lepers had shown me a glimpse of what God might have in mind for the world, Shane wrote: a people on the margins giving birth to another way of living, a new community marked by independence and sacrificial love.

++++++++++

        Come and See. It’s that good. A compelling vision of love in action. Words don’t do it justice. Jesus went from town to town inviting people to open their eyes and see it for themselves – see it and be it.

        A few years ago, I revamped the new member class around following Jesus.

Eventually we cover our particular identity as Presbyterians and specifically this family of faith, but we start where they started – with his call to come and see.

        It’s in our mission statement as a church too.

        Let’s read it together:

We are a loving community of faith
following Jesus Christ,
where everyone has a place
and a face,
a story
and a voice.
Our minds, hearts and hands are engaged,
as we humbly serve our neighbors
near and far.
Come and See

        Without the Come and See, the rest would just be words. Good words. Great words. But just words.

        Come and See means we want to be authentic and real and practice what we preach – not play church but be church.

        Come and See means we believe in the incarnation – that Jesus is God’s Word made flesh and we are his body here and now – his hands, his feet, his heart, his mind.

        Come and See means we trust that God is at work in our midst in and through every person – each one a work in progress – being shaped and formed in the image of Jesus.

        Come and See means we believe so much in the transformative power of the Spirit of Christ and the kingdom of God that we can’t keep it to ourselves. We want to learn and practice and teach and say: You know how this works, you’ve been watching. It’s your turn.

        Come and See means we bear witness to a story that is bigger than our own individual life stories – that is even now being written by the author of life – and it’s a drama so magnificent as to cast each and every person in it.

        Come and See implies commitment, expectation and revelation.

        Come and See holds out the hope and the promise of epiphany.

        We are the First Presbyterian Church, To Come See. To come see and feel and be the love of Christ in this place, in this time, we pray, to the glory of God.

Advertisements
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close