I Cor. 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
I cannot begin today’s sermon without saying something about the action by the Primates of the Anglican Communion last week in Canterbury, England. The Primates are the Presiding Bishops of all the churches in the Anglican Communion. I don’t know if all of you are aware that they voted to exclude the Episcopal Church from certain parts of the life of the Anglican Community. Specifically the Primates said, Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage… given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church should no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.
The statement came as a surprise, although it was not entirely unexpected. Many question the right of the Primates to even make that decision on behalf of the entire Communion. I am proud of our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, for standing up for justice, inclusivity, and the depth of our identity as Anglicans: Many of us have committed ourselves and our church to being ‘a house of prayer for all people,’ when all are truly welcome. Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.
Today’s Gospel is very relevant in light of this news. The wedding reception was rocking and the wine had run out. Not a good scene when the party was supposed to last for days. What to do? Mary asked her son to do something about it. When Jesus resisted, she told the servants to do whatever he told them, and then walked away. He told the servants to fill the water jars. But not just any water - the wash-water, the water used to ritually cleanse yourself when you entered a house. At the door of every Jewish house there were a series of water-jugs, usually six of them, which were kept filled with water. Upon entering, you had to first stop and wash your hands and feet, because they were usually covered with dust, and because you were obliged, ritually, to do this. By washing, you made yourself clean so that you could join the household and sit at table with them.
Jesus didn’t have much stomach for washing rituals. Religious leaders frequently criticized Jesus and his disciples for ignoring them. As if seeking conflict, he specifically told the servants to fill the jars used for the rites of purification, when any water container would have worked. Jesus was intentionally replacing the old rite of cleansing with a new thing - the Eucharist. Then we are told that the jars were empty! The jars for purification should NEVER be empty! Even the legitimate rituals had become empty! Rote religion, ritual observance, purity and advice don’t gladden the heart like the spontaneous celebration of life. In fact, too much ritual and purity can poop the party we’re supposed to be celebrating. We focus on the wrong things so both water and wine run out.
Jesus transformed the water of purification into the wine of celebration. Do you have any idea how threatening this was to those who truly believed that purification mattered to God. It turns out it was just as threatening as allowing same sex couples to have their own weddings.
The Episcopal Church believes along with many others that the new wine of God’s love means that everyone is welcome. No one is excluded from God’s embrace. But when that means including people who have previously been excluded by religion, some see it as doing violence to dogma and tradition. That’s what happened to Jesus. I’m grateful to be part of what our Presiding Bishop calls The Jesus Movement. The actions and decisions of that movement often scandalize religious leaders, surprise people who have loved the marginalized all along, and please the marginalized themselves, who can finally enjoy some good wine at the party.
Before all this happened I was going to talk about ministry, the theme of the lectionary on these Sundays. As I wrote in today’s Gazette, the Gospel lessons during the season of Epiphany focus on the early days of Jesus’ public ministry: his baptism, calling the disciples, turning water into wine and his inaugural sermon in Nazareth. The epistle lessons come from I Corinthians and deal with spiritual gifts for ministry.
On this Martin Luther King Sunday five decades after King’s “I have a Dream” speech, even the Episcopal Church doesn’t go far enough in struggling for justice on behalf of those who are still excluded from the dream: people killed by gun violence and police brutality; police who have become targets of assassination; immigrants, whose desperation often drove them here, find their dreams crushed by the deportations of fathers, mothers and children and the hate-filled rhetoric of a GOP gone rogue; Muslim and Sikh citizens, born here, are now the scapegoats of a society stoked on fear of the “other.” Meanwhile, many of us are soothed into slumber by the security blankets of tribalism, of homogeneity, of self-satisfied righteousness and surety of our own way - and armed to the hilt with guns designed to kill spectacularly.
What happened? In 1963 when King shared his dream the sense was that most Americans felt like they had access to enough. Most people could get adequate health care, a decent paying job, an education; and most of the time safety. Too many were excluded from having enough, and that was just beginning to matter. But most people believed there was enough to go around if they could achieve inclusion. Part of the power of King’s dream was that it felt possible. But today, it’s not just certain sectors that feel like they don’t have access to enough. Most Americans feel that way.
The apostle Paul had a vision that seeks to heal that reality. It is a vision of the church as the community of the Spirit: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” I want to briefly summarize three dimensions of that: the illusion of scarcity, the truth of enough and the door to the truth.
First then, while it’s true that we can’t count on all the things we did 50 years ago, we have more of an illusion of scarcity than a reality of scarcity. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they “were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.” Could that be applied to us as well? Have we been enticed and led astray to lay our paychecks at the feet of things that don’t really satisfy?
Secondly, Martin, Paul and Mary all speak the truth of enough into the illusion of scarcity. King said, “Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.” He didn’t say what people had to do. He said “Go… knowing.” He said it to people who kew that nothing ever changed for them. Paul didn’t tell people how to use their gifts. He said, “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” He said it to people who believed they were lacking the most significant spiritual gifts as they dreamed of God’s reign. When Mary learned that the wine had run out at the wedding, it was enough to tell Jesus about it. She didn’t argue with him when he said “My hour has not yet come.” She simply turned and said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She said it to folks with no reason to believe wine would come out of water jars. All three believed that the universe is for us, not against us; that there is enough to go around; and that each of us can get enough.
Finally, the door that opens that truth is our baptism into ministry, which last week I called the ordination of all God’s people. Ordination is the way a community acknowledges that it benefits from a person’s inner-directed path of service. It acknowledges the giftedness of creation as a backdrop of enough; and that each of us has received a portion of that giftedness that represents enough for us. Ordination acknowledges the truth of enough. Martin, Paul & Mary acknowledged to people that they were enough. They honored the truth that each person is capable of making deeply significant contributions to the lives of others through the quality of person they become.
We all need people like that in our lives. And we need to be those people for each other. Let’s keep the wine of justice flowing; let’s keep welcoming everyone to the party. And let’s go into our neighborhoods knowing with Martin Luther King that somehow this situation can and will be changed.”