St Barnabas, Norwich VT
Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson
Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others. Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. Good morning! Welcome
Abraham Joshua Heschel, 20th century
"People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state--it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle....Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one's actions."
Jesse Browner, 20th century
"Eating, and hospitality in general, is a communion, and any meal worth attending by yourself is improved by the multiples of those with whom it is shared."
My friend Kate says about this week’s gospel lesson that timing and abundance are intertwined in this story from here at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Actually, Jesus has not yet begun teaching or working wonders among the people, yet his mother has confidence that he can help when a crisis arises at the wedding of a friend. In this story, John provides a glimpse of Jesus and his mother as human beings who had friends, who "partied," and who fretted when something went wrong. Jesus, a young man having a good time with his friends, even appears to balk at leaving them in order to solve someone else's problem. The exchange between Mary and Jesus feels particularly familiar to any parent who has mentioned a need to her child, from a bicycle left in the driveway to a young relative who needs company at a family function. Not now, Mom, not me. And yet Jesus does indeed respond to the need at hand, showing an ordinary, earthy compassion for the hosts who are in a terrible predicament, but with anything but an ordinary response! However much we appreciate hospitality today, the people of Jesus' time and culture practiced it as a survival skill, a way of looking after one another in a hostile and perilous environment, and an assurance of being looked after in turn. Hospitality was so highly valued that it would have brought shame to the host if he ran out of wine for his guests. In this story, the compassion of Mary and Jesus makes hospitality possible, and the eyes of many people, ready or not, are opened. [Kate Huey]
Not only does this story about the compassion of Mary and Jesus demonstrate how to make hospitality possible, it does it in a very particular and peculiar way. Not unlike our own time, at a celebration that happens as is described in the Wedding at Cana, when the party is lasting a long time, the hospitality, that is the food and libations, changes from being the very best and the most choice morsels that are offered at the beginning of the celebration to mediocre or even poor offerings in the later part of the celebration. It is just the way we do. Why give the most precious and most delicious wine at the end of the party when everyone is already too beyond themselves to notice? It just doesn’t make sense! And yet, that is just what Jesus provides. He teaches us this again and again in the gospel lessons! He takes a spiritual, political or social truth and puts it on its head for love’s sake. It is an outrageous extravagance to put out the best for those who get to consume at and after the end of the celebration, yet, when it comes to love, Jesus is always teaching us extravagant ways, ways that we sometimes can’t even comprehend in our minds and only perhaps a little in our hearts.
Parker Palmer added these words to the conversation about our ability to see/hear/feel/understand and comprehend, especially God’s creative beauty and love. He said: I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to LOOK but not SEE. For example, we "look" at another person and find only the reflection of our own biases, needs and fears—rather than truly "seeing" the being we're with. It's also easy to look at the world around us and find only banality, corruption and violence—rather than seeing the promise that's there, the "hidden wholeness" (as Thomas Merton called it) that lies beneath the broken surface of things. Here's a poem [I] that Parker Palmer wrote after a walk in the winter woods, where a very still, partially frozen stream allowed [me] him to see much more than [I] he could when [I] he was merely looking.
The winter woods beside a solemn
River are twice seen –
Once as they pierce the brittle air
Once as they dance in grace beneath the stream.
When rivers churn or cloud with ice
The world is not seen twice
Yet still is there beneath
The blinded surface of the stream
Livelier and lovelier than we can comprehend
And waiting, always waiting to be seen.
I want to shift this message a little from the focus of our ability to see (or not) to a focus on one who did see, who saw through the eyes of Jesus’ love all too well. Tomorrow we celebrate Dr Martin Luther King Jr civic holiday. The church celebrates his martyr day of April 4th, so we get to celebrate his life again! Tomorrow we have the day off to honor the birth and life of one of history’s greatest.
I want now to offer a part of the I Have a Dream speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke out at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom:
I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ""We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia son of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. l I have a dream ... I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today ... I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will he able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning. "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountain side, let freedom ring.'' And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that. Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountain side. Let freedom ring . . . When we allow freedom to ring- when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, we are free at last."
Like looking into Parker Palmer’s frozen stream, sight and insight can sometimes be clearer long after the vision has passed. Jesus teaches us how to love, and how to love extravagantly in today’s gospel lesson. It is not always easy to comprehend just how radical that love Jesus presses into our souls can be. Maybe when we think about the love that lived in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s heart, mind and soul, we can catch a true glimpse of God’s radical love.
So, on this Sunday in the season of Epiphany, this season of light and love, people of St Barnabas, I ask you, what is your message of love to the world? How visible is your beauty to your neighbors and to the far off places? Your song of love, can it be heard? On this Sunday of our Annual Meeting, how do will we share with each other, our community and the world our understanding that Jesus loves and Jesus loves extravagantly? Do we say to those who come in our doors and those who look us up on line, “This is who we are and you are not only welcome to come and join us, but we will give you the best of our wine at the end of the celebration, so stay and taste what God’s love is like!”
Let us pray. O God of steadfast love, at the wedding in Cana your Son Jesus turned water into wine, delighting all who were there. Transform our hearts by your Spirit, that we may use our varied gifts to show forth the light of your love as one body in Christ. Amen