Epiphany 2 NL4
January 15, 2018
Introduction to the story:
Today we continue our journey through John’s Gospel. Until now there has been a lot of set-up: on Christmas Eve, we heard the prologue of the Gospel, where John identifies Jesus as “the word made flesh,” God incarnate, God here, concrete, among us. Then John the Baptist points him out, and people start following, and inviting others to “come and see” God among them. Today we will hear about Jesus’ first public act of ministry, which John will call his first “sign.” So before we get to that, let me ask you: why does John call it a “sign”? What is a sign? … Just like a sign on the road directs you or points you toward something, Jesus’ “signs” in John point us toward something. What is that something? … God! Today’s is the first of seven such signs. Some of the signs are miracles, like today’s, but the most important thing is that they point us toward some truth about God. They help us to see and understand something about God – which makes them perfect to think about during Epiphany, during a season when we talk about “God made visible.”
We’ll read the story now. As you listen, think about what this story has to show us about who God is for us. Please rise now for the Gospel reading.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I learned this week about a book called, Let’s Kill Sunday School Before it Kills the Church. Dramatic title, certainly catches the attention! In it, the author talks about how to put faith instruction back into the home, how to help families talk about faith around the dinner table, or before bed. The core of this effort is called Faith5 – five steps to guide a multi-generational, faith-forming conversation. It’s pretty simple and straightforward: you begin by sharing your highs and lows from the day, the best and worst parts of your day. Then you read together a Bible story. Then you talk together about where God’s story, the Bible story you just read, might speak to your highs and lows. In other words, where was God during the course of your day? Then you pray together, thanking God for the highs, and asking God to be with you in the lows. And you finish with a blessing, even something as simple as, “God be with you.”
I’m pretty excited about this way of engaging with scripture – and I warn you, this will not be the last you hear of it! And I think it is a really cool way to read scripture during the season of Epiphany, because Epiphany is a season during which we are always looking for ways that God is made visible, and this is a really down-to-earth way to watch for that. I was so taken with it, in fact, that I found myself applying it to my own week, which was a week with some very high highs, and some very low lows. And so this morning, I hoped you might come along with me, as we see together how you can apply this earthy way of engaging with God’s story to the story of your daily life. Wanna come? Okay, let’s go.
First, highs and lows. I had a lot of highs – got to see a lot of people, had a lot of laughs – but by the end of the week, the lows were more heavily on my mind. The week started off with a funeral that was difficult because I really loved the woman, and ended with a funeral for someone I did not know but who died quite young and tragically. Both were emotionally draining, for different reasons. In between, I had several late nights out in a row, I barely saw my family, I had several things I had looked forward to doing that I couldn’t even start, and on top of that, 1-year-old Isaac decided it would be a good week to cut some new teeth, which caused loss of sleep for all of us. Although there were many moments of joy and laughter during the week, the overwhelming feeling when I got to the end of it was fatigue. I was exhausted. My heart and my body ached, I was irritable, impatient, sad and discouraged. Anyone else ever felt like that when you get to the end of a long week? Exhausted, irritable, and impatient? Yeah, I thought you might relate.
Enter: the story of the wedding of Cana. To recap, Jesus goes to a wedding, and by the third day of the celebration, the wine has run out. At an event that should be the picture of celebration and hospitality, the very symbol of those things has run dry. At the urging of his mother, Jesus has some folks fill up some empty jugs with water, 150 gallons, and miraculously this water turns into the finest wine!
So there, you’ve heard the two stories – my story, and God’s story. Now: where do you see my story in God’s story, or God’s story in mine? Any ideas?
This is where I saw my story: in those empty jugs. I saw it in the lack of wine, the lack of blessing and celebration and grace. I saw it in the “not enough” where the story begins. I asked before if you’d ever felt at the end of the week like I did – exhausted, irritable, and impatient. Maybe you’re feeling that way today. Do you look at those empty jugs and think, “Yup, that’s about right”?
Yes, that is where I see myself in God’s story.
But it isn’t where I see God.
Where I see God, is in the fact that those jugs didn’t stay empty. The wine situation did not remain. The jugs get filled up, and by Jesus’ power, what once was empty, what once was lack, suddenly becomes full of grace and blessing. God took the emptiness and filled it up with blessing.
Having recognized this, let’s look back over my story, through the lens of recognizing that God takes emptiness and lack, and fills it with grace and blessing. Here’s my week: I had the opportunity to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to aching people, to speak a word of love and grace into brokenness. I was blessed to visit with several other people going through various trials, and offer them the hope that is in Christ. I taught some teenagers about praying with the Psalms, and not only did we laugh a lot, but I also caught a glimpse of some of their hearts that I had not seen before. I heard people’s raw and real stories, and prayed with them. And in the middle of the night, I felt the soft breath of my son on my chest, and smelled his hair, while my daughter asked me to hold her – what gifts!
At the wedding at Cana, we usually say Jesus turned water into wine. But the story that I read this week, is that Jesus turned emptiness and lack into blessing and grace – just like I now see God turned my emptiness and fatigue into blessing and grace. God turned my exhaustion into opportunity. God turned my lack into abundance.
I asked you before you heard the reading to think about what this sign is pointing to, what it tells us about God. Well, this is it, at least part of it: It points to the abiding truth that God fills us up, taking our emptiness, our brokenness, our lack, even our endings and deaths, and turns them into fullness, wholeness, blessing, beginnings and life. Sometimes we don’t see that come to its full fruition in the course of a few days like I did this week. Sometimes we don’t even see it come to fruition in the course of a few years, maybe not even until we are at the gates of heaven. But eventually, it does happen, because that is the business of God: to fill up the emptiness with love, grace, and blessing.
You see how transformative this “Faith5” process can be! I hope you will take it home and give it a try. Share highs and lows, read a Bible verse or story, talk about how God’s story can speak to your story, and then pray together and offer one another a blessing. See how God might be working to transform your life, as families, and as brothers and sisters in Christ. And now, let us pray together…
God of abundance, we give you thanks for being with us during the highest points of our days, and ask that you would be with us also in our lows. Help us to see how you are present and visible to us, and in all things, grant that our emptiness and lack would be filled up by your love and grace. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen