Second Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the God of abundant life. Amen
Today Jesus turns water into wine.
It’s one of his most well known miracles or signs
even among those otherwise uninterested in Jesus
but who are fascinated at the possibility of this power,
‘oh the savings they cry as they buy yet another bottle of wine,
if only I were Jesus, all I would need is some water… ‘
which as wonderful as that may be
misses the point of the story entirely.
The wine is not the point,
it’s what the wine is for,
the restoring of relationships
which Jesus does in abundance.
Jesus and his friends and family are at a wedding,
just as with now
weddings in ancient times were complicated social affairs
lasting days if not a week
during which the families of the bride and groom
were to provide appropriate refreshment,
an important act of hospitality to be sure
but also a way of gaining social capital
in an honor shame society.
Gaining honor or being shamed
had serious social and even economic consequences
so it was important for the new couple
to start their life together in good standing with their community
by providing a good wedding feast
of course including wine.
Which is why it is a crisis
when the wine runs out
before the end of the feast,
the couple’s standing in the community is at stake.
who knows he can do something about this
points out the situation to Jesus
and while he is initially reluctant to act
he does what his mother asks,
telling the servants to fill the big stone jars with water
then to draw some out and take it to the chief steward,
the one in charge of running the party,
and when the steward tastes the wine that the water has become
he goes and honors the groom for saving the best wine for last
and the relationship between the new couple and the community is restored,
Now of course Jesus didn’t just make a little of this wine,
John tells us that the six stone jars hold 20-30 gallons each,
180 gallons of the best wine.
When Jesus gives,
he gives abundantly
and the abundance of God
leads to restored relationships.
And that is the essence of Jesus’ mission in the gospel of John.
in John 10:10 Jesus says
“I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
It’s his mission statement,
the guiding principle of his life,
providing abundant life for all.
Now when we think of abundance
we tend to think in material terms,
a lot of wine, money, land, cars, those kinds of things
and often the getting or having a lot of things
is attributed to the blessing of God,
or interpreted as a sign of God’s favor.
But we are well aware
that many people who have a lot of stuff,
who are rich in material goods
do not act in ways that please God
an abundance of things is not an automatic sign of the favor of God.
As Jesus shows us in the gospel of John,
abundant life is much more holistic,
abundant life happens when relationships on all levels are in harmony,
abundant life happens in community.
Karoline Lewis, a professor at Luther Seminary says this about the communal nature of the abundance of God:
“Abundance, as it turns out, is never just about you and Jesus alone,
as much as we want it to be that way,
hope it will be that way,
but about bringing us into relationships when once rejected,
into a community when once abandoned,
and into life, true life, abundant life, once thought to be lost forever.
What difference does this make?
Well, it means that abundance can never be an individualized affair.
It’s not just that abundance is not yours to keep;
it’s that abundance reorients your way of being in the world.
Abundance is known in relationship.
Abundance cannot be realized
unless it is experienced in relationship with others -- and fundamentally, with God.
Because being on the receiving end of abundance
is never for abundance alone,
especially yours alone,
but is for the sake of seeing the absence of it in others
and doing something about it.” (Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 1/13/19)”
The abundance of God is received and lived out in community.
We as a community are living in a time of abundance.
At our annual meeting after service
we will reflect back on the abundant life of the last year
and we will look to the future
which holds exciting things.
we have been given a monetary gift to start an endowment
that will allow us to do something when we see a lack of abundance in the lives of others.
I am very excited about this but we’ll talk about it more in a bit.
But more important
is the abundance found within the people of this community.
In our second lesson
Paul talks about the gifts of the spirit,
who has given a gift to everyone for the common good.
We all have gifts to share.
The spirit gives a different gift to each of us
and brings us together in community to work together-
Paul goes on to liken this to a body,
many members and different parts
that work together to be a whole,
with each different part necessary for the good of the one body.
Each of us has different gifts
God doesn’t expect us as individuals to be good at everything,
God does expect us to live in community
with others whose gifts are complimentary
and all together as a community
live lives turned outward,
sharing the abundance of God.
The spirit has given us many gifts as a community,
each of you,
with your gifts make this community what it is
and as we welcome more people as members
all of us become richer in the gifts of the spirit.
We are living in a time of abundance as a community,
our big stone jars are filled to overflowing with the best wine,
it is time for us to both savor the taste of God’s grace
and find ways to share the abundance with others,
especially those who lack.
Together we will listen to the call of the holy spirit,
dream about how the abundance of God in our lives can be used to serve others
and then, as one body with many members
we will share the abundance entrusted to us
so that in the name of Jesus,
all may have life and have it abundantly. Amen
Baptism of Our Lord
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who comes in judgment. Amen.
Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus,
which all the gospels agree
is the start of Jesus’ public ministry.
John the Baptist has been preparing the way,
preaching in the desert
getting the people excited about the coming messiah
and Jesus comes out to the wilderness,
and Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us
that the heavens open,
the Holy Spirit descends like a dove
and the voice of God is heard affirming Jesus as beloved son.
That’s the general outline of the story
that we think of when we refer to the story of Jesus’ baptism
But each gospel writer
puts their own spin on the story
and in Luke we have the first part of our gospel reading
where the people ask John if he is the messiah he’s been preaching about
and John says: "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
and only then does Jesus come and is baptized
and the heavens oven,
the holy spirit comes down in the bodily form of a dove
and the voice of God is heard naming Jesus beloved son.
And the thing is,
it’s so tempting to skip the first part,
John’s depiction of the judgement by the coming messiah,
we’d rather jump straight to the baptism,
we’re Lutherans after all,
we love baptisms,
they give us the warm fuzzies
and this is Jesus’ baptism,
so let’s get right to the good stuff,
and skip the talk of unquenchable fire,
we’re really not fire and brimstone people
we can’t really truly talk about baptism
and what it means for us
without talking about judgment.
Because the truth is that the world is messed up
and that we are messed up right along with it,
if it weren’t we wouldn’t need a savior.
and the truth is
that there is good in the world and good in us
but that good doesn’t seem able to override the bad,
we need help
And that’s where God comes in
God who created the universe,
who is merciful
wanting to look for the good over the bad,
we have a God who is committed to this creation
and making it work,
there was that one time we hear about in Genesis
where God got so frustrated with the evil of humanity
God sent a flood to wipe everything out
and start over with Noah and his family and a boat of animals
but after the flood waters went down
God realized it wasn’t such a good solution
and promised to never do that again.
God is merciful
and committed to this creation
and God is committed to justice,
and since God is committed to justice
there must be some judgment,
the separating out the good from the bad,
that is God’s job.
too often, however,
Christians have taken it upon themselves
to play the role of God
and judge others
- and not surprisingly the people they say God decides against
are the very people that they themselves don’t like
so we tread carefully with talk of judgment,
We also get uncomfortable with judgment talk,
even when it’s all God’s job
because we have this idea that it’s an all or nothing thing,
and even what I call popular Christianity
has made judgement an up or down thing,
judged good you go to heaven,
bad to hell, often associated with fire,
and while there is some biblical basis for this
- see Matthew 25 and the sorting of the sheep and the goats,
it’s always much more nuanced-
than the straight up or straight down version
which is wielded as a weapon of fear
to exact strict social behavior in the image of those wielding the weapon
and very rarely is there talk of the mercy of God.
The picture John is paints
with his talk of the coming messiah
is much different,
the way John tells it
the judgment of the messiah
is a process throughout life,
the one who is coming will sort the good from the bad
in each person
and uses fire for purification rather than punishment.
John uses the process of threshing wheat as his analogy,
after the wheat is harvested the grain needs to be separated
from the straw and the husk around it- the chaff.
In Jesus’ day
animals would walk over the harvested grain
and their weight would separate out the kernels from the straw
then the harvester would take the winnowing fork
kind of like a shovel
and throw scoops of the straw and grain in the air,
the wind would blow away the lighter straw and chaff
while the heavier grain would fall down to be collected for use.
The wheat and the chaff are two parts of the same plant.
One part is more useful than the other
and it takes some hard work to separate the two.
There is good and bad in all of us,
and it takes some hard work to separate out which is which,
and that is what Jesus came to do.
As we encounter his teachings,
his stories and parables
we face the refining judgement of Jesus,
a life of discipleship
is a life of separating the wheat from the chaff.
And that is hard and painful work,
as anyone who has done any amount of work on themselves will tell you,
it’s hard to let go of old resentments,
it’s hard to separate out prejudice from truth,
it is tempting to give up,
no matter how great the promised outcome may be
separating out the wheat from the chaff in ourselves
can seem impossible,
and frankly on our own it is
and that is where baptism comes in,
a sign of the mercy of God,
who says I claim you as mine
no matter what
because I love you and I will be with you throughout the painful parts of life-
we heard God telling the Israelites this
in the passage from Isaiah,
God never promises that life will be easy
what God does promise is to be there through it all.
In baptism we are claimed by God,
who promises never to leave us
whatever life brings
and we are joined to Jesus the messiah’s death and resurrection,
which means that in the end
God judges us as if we were Jesus,
in a word perfect.
In baptism we are made saints 100%
and yet we are still 100% sinners
And while the math doesn’t work out
we know in our hearts
the truth that God loves us
and that we are in need of the refining judgement of Jesus
in Jesus we are set free to live both of those truths,
we are freed to live a life
where love is the law that guides our actions,
a life where we are held secure in the love of God as we are refined,
we are free
all because of Jesus,
the son of God,
with whom God is well pleased. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.