The Second Sunday After the Epiphany

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 20, 2019
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; I Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

From the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John, “(Mary) said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     One of the first things I learned upon moving to the South almost twenty years ago, is how rules of etiquette – that system developed over the centuries defining who is well-mannered and cultured and, therefore, worthy of honor – vary by region. From when to wear and, more importantly, never wear white shoes, to what the host really means when their invitation reads “casual attire,” rules of etiquette strive to define correct behavior. To help us out, countless books are available that provide guidance, so we do things just right. After all, everyone wants to fit in and be a welcome part of the community. No one wants to be an outsider. Sadly, the stranger among us is never quite sure what is expected of them or whether their gifts and abilities will be welcome, let alone honored. Yet, here’s the amazing thing about strangers: in my own experience, it is often the stranger that shows me a new way of living the Gospel, a new way of hearing the words of God, a new way of experiencing God’s life-changing bounty.

     And that really is the crux of today’s gospel lesson. See, our reading begins with a lesson in etiquette. 1st century Palestinians had a very clear-cut hospitality custom– a rule of etiquette – that when someone marries, you invite the entire village to attend including their extended family and any sojourners or strangers in town: folks, John tells us, like Mary, Jesus, and his disciples. They, too, are welcomed as honored guests. Now those same rules of etiquette required that in addition to providing fresh water so that everyone could purify himself or herself, you know, wash up before entering the building, a good host made certain there would be an abundance of food and drink for everyone. To do otherwise was a major faux pas, a social blunder that would bring shame to the bridegroom and his family not just that day, but forever. On the surface, our Gospel lesson appears to be about how Jesus, the stranger in the crowd, used a miracle to bail out a bridegroom who was facing permanent humiliation for his failure to provide enough wine at his wedding. But there is a deeper meaning to this text. It is about the extravagance of God’s gifts of abundance and how we should respond to that extravagance as people of God.

    Our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah picks up as the people of Israel return from captivity. They have come to the City of Jerusalem where they find their homes and their beautiful temple in ruin. They are devastated because everything they hold dear and precious is gone. Isaiah uses this as an opportunity to assure them that God always vindicates and restores his people. God, Isaiah says, will once again delight in their nation and rejoice at its beauty. Isaiah says that God never forsakes us nor does God forsake our cities. God knows us intimately and gives not what we expect or deserve, but rather, far more than we can ask or imagine. God gives extravagantly and abundantly to his people and does so with a purpose.

     The Psalmist give us a hint of that purpose when he speaks of the extravagance of God. He describes God’s love as reaching as high as the heavens, God’s righteousness as strong as the mountains, and God’s justice running as deep as the ocean, and so should our love, our righteousness, and our justice. The Psalmist goes on to describe God’s people as rejoicing in the abundance of God and drinking from the endless river of God’s delight and grace. That is what happens when love, righteousness and justice know no limits.

     The depths and purpose of God’s abundance is at the heart of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul says that God has not limited his bounty to a few people, but rather, the Holy Spirit makes present to all of us a wide variety of spiritual gifts, services and abilities “for the common good” of the Church. The utterance of wisdom and knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, discernment and more come from the same source and, therefore, no one should ever think their role in the church is less important than another’s. Paul says we should revel in these gifts, honor and welcome them because they come to us from out of the abundance of God who activates these gifts in us. In other words, no single person has all the skills and abilities needed in the Church. Every member is important to the parish’s livelihood and ministry. Remember, each of us marked as Christ own in baptism has been called by God, and called by name saying, “You are my daughter. You are my son. You are beloved and in you, I am well pleased.” Paul says that it is through everyone exercising our various gifts and serving together that we not only become the Church, but we carry forth the mission of that Church so that all may experience the richness and extravagance of God’s bounty and grace and be restored to unity with God and one another in Christ.

     It is in this context of abundance and the possibilities that abundance offers us that the story of the Wedding at Cana really hits home. The wedding reception is about to be declared a total disaster when Jesus, the outsider in the story, steps forward and performs his first miracle. He sees six jars that once contained water for the purification rites. These were no simple mason jars. They were 30-gallon vats that were poured out in abundance so that every guest, whether friend or stranger, could be thorough in washing up. Jesus tells the stewards to refill the jars with water - that’s 180 gallons of water and more than enough to slake anyone’s thirst – and then he turns that water into wine: not just any wine our lesson says, but the best wine. This best wine is suddenly available and seemingly endless: there is enough for everyone because everyone is welcome, and everyone is valued. And so it is with God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s love, righteousness and justice: there is enough for everyone.  And that is the crux of this first miracle of Jesus. See, it goes beyond etiquette: it is about grasping that God’s way of life fosters abundance, welcome, honor, and community and God’s way of life, Jesus shows in this his first miracle, should be our way of life.

     There is so much more I could say about this wedding feast at Cana. There is all sorts of Eucharistic imagery here and the abundance of God’s hospitality in Christ that covered the sins of the whole world, just as there is a foretaste of that Heavenly banquet described in the Book of the Revelation where all feast at God’s table. But for now, let us focus on etiquette and consider adopting a new rule of etiquette: a rule, our scripture lessons tell us, that comes from the heart of God.  

    Our Collect this morning asks God to illumine us by his Word and Sacraments so that we might shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory and lead others to know, worship, and obey our Lord. I wonder what sort of church we would be if everyone recognized the diversity of our people and their gifts as a blessing of God and then, together, offered our God-given talents, gifts, and abilities in service to God and this Parish? What if every one of us heeded Mary’s words, “Do whatever he tells you” not just his words at the Wedding at Cana, but everything Jesus said? Imagine a community whose only rule of etiquette was to love as deeply and compassionately and as dignifying as God in Christ has loved and continues to love us. Following such a rule would birth a new experience of discipleship here in this parish because we would begin to see one another with all our differences and quirks, and all our gifts and skills, as partners in mission and ministry and cherish the relationship we have with one another, a relationship born out of the abundance and grace of God.

     “(Mary) said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” May God grant us the wisdom to heed those words, to embrace them as our standard of etiquette, our way of life, as a community of faith and as people of God, and, thereby, be and bring the Light of Christ wherever we are and wherever we go. God grant us the grace so to do. Amen.