Our Gospel lesson begins with a problem. Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine.” This was not just a comment about the refreshments – and Jesus knew it. Wedding celebrations in Jesus’ day went on for many days – maybe even a week. Everyone was invited. And lots of people would be expected. So maybe the hosts didn’t plan properly. Or maybe they weren’t well off. Maybe they didn’t have a big store of wine. It was also expected that the guests would bring gifts of wine and food. Maybe the lack of gifts of wine was an indication that this wedding couple were not being supported – for whatever reason – by the community. Water wasn’t an option - it used for washing rather than drinking because it wasn’t always clean… And it certainly wasn’t used at a celebration. The result, for the wedding couple, would have been shame and public humiliation.
I love that John shows that Jesus is a little irritated at his mother –this makes Jesus sound like a real human son. But… he also solves the problem. He turns water into wine…the best wine and lots of it.. And only the servants know.
Like at the wedding at Cana, there was also a problem in our Old Testament reading that the prophet Isaiah addresses. The book of Isaiah is really long, and scholars believe that it spans the time of three prophets – all called Isaiah. It may have been an honor to take on the name of the last prophet – like Popes often take on a new name when they are installed. But it is confusing for scholars so scholars call them 1st Isaiah, 2nd Isaiah and 3rd Isaiah.
Last week, I preached on the promise that prophet 2nd Isaiah proclaimed to the people of God. After Israel was conquered by the Babylonians, the people of God, especially the leaders and their families, were exiled to Babylon as slaves. A generation passed and the exiled people of God started to forget that they were the people of God. They started to blend in, signed their kids up for sports teams with the Babylonians, and, not surprisingly, the generation of kids who were born in Babylon started thinking of themselves as Babylonians rather than as the people of God. 2nd Isaiah chewed them out, reminded them of who they were – that they were God’s people – and that God loved them and would bring them home.
Meanwhile, there had been a change in the government of Babylon, and they were free to go. The people of God got excited, packed up their bags – and headed home. Except…. When they got to Israel, things had changed since they had left in chains a generation earlier. The walls of the city of Jerusalem were destroyed; the temple was in ruins. And they were not welcomed back with open arms. Their cousins who remained there had started blending in with others who were left in the countryside of Samaria, and were even taking on the name “Samaritans” - much like many of the exiled people had started to blend in with the Babylonians. This was not the homecoming that they anticipated. Instead, they were told to go “home” to Babylon. This was no longer their home.
The prophet Isaiah – this time 3rd Isaiah - speaks to their grief and hurt and anger in an honest lament to God. We only have the end of the lament in our lesson today. But basically the prophet is asking, “Why God? Why bring your people back if you aren’t going to support them? Why should they be called forsaken, the people that God left and the land that you promised them be desolate and be called the land that God destroyed?”
God responds to this honest anger, lament and sorrow by proclaiming, quoting now from another translation: “you will have a new name, which the Lord himself will give you. You will be like a beautiful crown in the Lord’s hand, like a king’s crown in your God’s hand. You will never again be called the People that God Left, nor your land the Land that God Destroyed. You will be called the People God Loves, and your land will be called the Bride of God, because the Lord loves you.”
This is a beautiful piece of poetry in the Hebrew Bible. But, honestly, it had never really connected with me when I was growing up. My growing up years were stable: I was not an exile. I grew up in a stable family, and, while we had our challenges, really…we had a good life.
But at my first “real” job after college I went to work at Augustana, an inner city church that had an outreach ministry called Crossroad. Ethnically there was a mix of people from all kinds of heritages – including African American, Native American, Scandinavian American and others too. Most of the women were living on welfare – as had their mothers.
Augustana/ Crossroad did a lot of good work with the kids – and with the neighborhood moms, but nothing seemed to change for them until we hosted a weeklong Spiritual retreat called a Cursillo in which messages of love and grace are poured out in such an overwhelming fashion that it’s hard not to feel the love of God. We did this retreat especially for the inner city moms.
When the moms heard this passage, “You will have a new name… you will be like a beautiful crown in the Lord’s hand… you will never again be called the people that God left… no longer be called forsaken… You will be called the people God loves…the Bride of God...” They began to cry. They wept. No one had ever called them God’s beloved before. They never heard the promises of God as meant for them.
I wonder if this is the problem in our world, in our country today. We are divided about so many things – race, immigration, the changing climate, what it means to be an American and maybe even… who is a child of God.
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I really wish it wasn’t a day off for children from school. I think it should be a day in which children are taught and all of us are called to listen to the lament of people who feel as if they have been left behind and the hope and vision of what could be.
Martin Luther King Jr as a pastor and as a leader was an eloquent voice for a people who had been enslaved and wondered if God had abandoned them, not unlike the people of Israel returning from exile and not unlike the mom’s group in Minneapolis who felt stuck in hopelessness and poverty. He spoke many good words… but these spoke to me for our time today:
With the voice of a prophet, Martin Luther King Jr proclaimed: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And he calls us all to faith, saying, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
This past year, we proclaimed our baptismal verse – to let our light shine. Now this year, we as a congregation need to think about that next step… even when we do not see the whole staircase, the rest of the journey.
The Wildfire pastors have been meeting to think and pray about how our congregations can reach out into our community in meaningful ways so that they too may have the chance to hear that they are not forsaken, they are also the beloved children of God.
God works in mysterious ways. Jesus provides an abundance of the best wine at a wedding – his gift to keep them from shame. The Isaiahs of the Old Testament proclaimed God’s surprising presence and care for God’s people. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed the need to respond to God’s gift of love and light by our showing love and light for the neighbor. The question I have now… is how is God working in our neighborhood – and how can we and our Wildfire partners be a part of God’s abundant love for the sake of the world?
Let’s pray about it: Gracious God of abundance, God of light and love. Help us to proclaim your love and shine your light so that, with our neighbor, we can not only love kindness but do justice. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
January 20, 2019
1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4 And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.