Asking Jesus Questions in the Dark

John 3:1-21

1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (Read the whole passage)

If you could choose, if you could decide how you would know, if you could have any evidence, any sign you wanted that God is real, what would you have? Jesus to beam down from the sky like a character from Star Trek? What about for God to come and end all wars, feed all those who are hungry, heal everyone who is sick? Maybe you want a divine message to be written in the clouds, some clue to the meaning of life.

It is quite the question to ask. To wonder what it would take for us to have strong unwavering faith. To set the criteria for belief. To decide what signs and miracles we would need to see in order to know that Jesus is God.

We have been making our way through John’s Gospel, we began with events surrounding Jesus’ baptism and we have heard stories about the wedding at Cana and the cleansing of the temple. Now we eavesdrop on a nighttime conversation under the cover of darkness.

We are presented with someone who comes to Jesus, precisely asking about the signs and miracles. Nicodemus. A Pharisee, a leader of religion and faith in Israel. He comes to Jesus at night, under the cover of darkness. In John’s view, those who are in the Dark, have no faith. Darkness is the Apostle’s way of saying that Nicodemus came to Jesus with a lack of faith. Yet, Nicodemus is not entirely without curiosity, even a faithful curiosity.  He has come with questions.  Nicodemus risks being seen with Jesus, which could lead to ridicule and shame by those who follow him as a teacher and expert in religion.

And here is the thing about Nicodemus the Pharisee, he has seen the signs. He knows what Jesus is up to. But he still cannot believe. Nicodemus’s question is not really a question at all. He makes a statement, “ Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God”. Nicodemus manages to get the lead up to his question out. He still hasn’t asked Jesus anything, yet Jesus interrupts. Jesus says one must be born from above, or again, or anew, to see the Kingdom of God. And Nicodemus has no idea of what Jesus is talking about, and starts imagining how someone can be literally born again. How a man could crawl back into his mother’s womb, and still fit as an adult.

So the conversation continues, and Jesus preaches — lots. He talks about faith and the Spirit, about the son of man being lifted up and about God’s plans for saving the world.

We can see ourselves in the story Nicodemus, in curiously seeking answers, wondering who and what this Jesus guy is all about. Nicodemus saw the signs and miracles, but that wasn’t enough for him, he still was in darkness. Nicodemus even had the opportunity to speak with Jesus himself, in the flesh. And still he doesn’t leave convinced as far as we know. Imagine, if we had the chance to sit down with Jesus for a nice evening conversation, if we could sort out all the questions of faith.

So often, our faith can feel like it is a nighttime faith. Unsure, and questioning. Unsure that God is real. Unsure that a real God can love imperfect us.

There is something about the night that leaves us open to questions and reflections. In the day, we are busy and full of life. There are people to see, things to do, work to be done, entertainment to be had. But at night, when life slows, when there is opportunity to think and reflect, that is when the questions come. The worries and fear begin. How many of us have laid awake at night wondering about life.

As Christians, our normal experience of worship together is during the day, or in the light so to speak. But we do have traditions of worship and prayer at night. Monks and nuns would observe the daily services of evening and nighttime prayer, not unlike the Lenten Services that we are held over the years.

In evening worship services the feel is quite different than on Sunday mornings. Rather than the cross being the primary symbol, in an evening service the Christ Candle becomes central. And even though the darkness is close and all around, the light of the single candle shines in the darkness and the darkness does not over come it. Space and time are given to listen to God as God listens to us. Silence and reflection are the essence of Nighttime prayer.

In one part of the service we sing:

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit

You have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Into your hands, I commend my spirit.

We sing those words each night because we are practicing. Each night we practice dying as an act of faith. We practice for when those words will be said over our bodies when we die.

They are at the same time profound words of faith and profound words of doubt. By speaking them we practice trust and faith, by speaking them we also admit that we do not know the future, by speaking them we do not even truly know that the sun will rise tomorrow, except by God’s grace.

These words only really fit at night, in the darkness of faith.

As Nicodemus comes with his questions and doubts something interesting happens. Jesus receives him. Jesus does not send Nicodemus away, nor does Jesus judge the Pharisee for having doubts. He receives him and teaches him. Nicodemus comes in the darkness, but Jesus provides light. Not overwhelming light like the sun, but light like the gentleness of one candle in dark room.

And yet, Nicodemus does not go away convinced. But throughout the Gospel of John, Nicodemus appears again. The second time he defends, somewhat hesitantly, Jesus’s teaching. And the third time, Nicodemus is the one who comes with Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’ body after being crucified.

For Nicodemus, faith is not immediate. Yet, Jesus is patient enough to allow Nicodemus to have his struggles and stays with the Pharisee throughout his ministry.

And that is how Jesus is with us too. Whether it takes time and practice, or whether it seems to be natural and easy. God’s way with us is not to overwhelm us, but to meet us in our darkness. Jesus meets us in our night time questions and shines a light in the darkness of faith.

In our questions, in our doubts, in out late night wonderings, Jesus reminds us that faith is not a simple or easy thing. In fact, a strong faith is not a certain faith. Because certainty is knowing, and faith is not knowing. Certainty and faith are opposites. Faith is much more like doubt. Being unsure is a sign of faith.

Just like the wind that blows and makes a candle dance in the darkness, the Spirit blows and dances within us too. The Holy Spirit blows questions and wonderings, it stirs within us a desire to know God, and this is where God meets us. Not in our certainty, but in our doubt and faith.

The signs, the miracles, those are about knowing that God is real. Those are about knowing that the real God loves imperfect us. The nighttime questions are where faith happens, where Jesus hears our questions, receives doubts, and takes our wonderings.

Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our faith. Into your hands, we commend our spirits.  

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Differentiated Jesus in Toxic System

*This is guest sermon from Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker who is preaching on the RCL while I am preaching from the Narrative Lectionary

Mark 1:21-28

21[Jesus and his disciples] went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, (Read the whole passage)

 

We are well into the season after Epiphany, seeing and hearing the stories of Jesus being revealed. And we are learning, like those first disciples and people encountering him, that Jesus is unlike anyone we have encountered before.

Today, we encounter Jesus’ first healing, his first miracle. And not just any healing, but an exorcism. Talk about a way to reveal yourself. There’s a lot of baggage caught up in the word exorcism. Maybe rightly so. Casting out a demon isn’t nothing. But it’s also not like a seen from a horror movie either. Being demon-possessed, being unclean isn’t the same as being disabled or different, it’s being toxic, or unhealthy to a system… a community. Likely, this man looked the same as anyone else in the synagogue that day. But something gave him away, that identified him as one who was possessed, unhealthy, toxic.

The gospel of Mark is carefully constructed. As we have learned through the seasons Advent, Christmas and these first few weeks after Epiphany, Mark is not one to embellish. He provides the necessary information to impart the good news of Jesus. So the way that Jesus finds out about this man is not insignificant. This is a small detail, but an important one. One that could easily be missed if not looking closely at what is happening and how the story it being told.

[Those gathered] were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then [as this was taking place] there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 

Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. But in a new way, a different way than what they are used to – it’s not like that of the scribes. The people hearing his teaching are astounded – they are interested and intrigued by what he has to say. He has their attention. And seeing all this take place causes this man to feel uncomfortable… anxious… threatened. Jesus comes along, and this man recognizes him immediately.

What this man says to Jesus is important too because it tells us a lot about the man:

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” – who do you think you are?

His behaviour is classic toxic behaviour – when there is a threat, or a perceived threat to the toxic person their anxiety increases.

“Have you come to destroy us?”

But he’s not finished:

“I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

This man is the only one who sees who Jesus is, and even after he clearly identifies who Jesus is, the people are still confused. But what is just as interesting is that no one else in the community seems to recognize that this man is possessed by a demon. Because no one who was considered “unclean” would be allowed into the synagogue in the first place. It’s more likely, then, that the community has adapted to his behaviour.

The boundaries, the norms of a system, a community set in place what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in that particular system. These are frequently not healthy but what become considered normal.

That’s the thing about unhealthy people and unhealthy systems. We often don’t recognize how unhealthy and toxic they are until someone new, someone different comes along and points it out to us, someone who shows us a different way. We adapt to the dis-ease and unhealthy behaviour until it becomes normal, like allowing a demon-possessed man to go unnoticed in a community.

So when a new person enters the system, the community, and presents new, healthy, different behaviours, systems, boundaries and expectations the whole system is threatened. Because the established norms are questioned, and the possibility of change is introduced. And most people, given the choice, would prefer to stay in an unhealthy system that is known and comfortable, than risk discomfort in a new and healthy but uncomfortable one.

Today, Jesus’ power and authority is revealed by crossing boundaries – Jesus calls out toxic and unhealthy behaviour in the midst of the community – and in doing so reveals that Jesus… God… is willing to go to places no one else wants to go. God in Jesus is willing to dismantle unhealthy systems that keep people from knowing

Of all the things Jesus said in the synagogue that day, Mark chooses to record only what Jesus says in response to this man: “Be silent, and come out of him!”

Jesus’ statement is one of differentiation, it sets him apart from the man and the unhealthy and toxic system he represents and wants to maintain.

Jesus heals a man, a man whose unhealthy behaviour has become toxic in the midst of his community. And in doing so, Jesus frees not only the man, but the community as well. They are amazed – not just that he commands unclean spirits, but that they OBEY him. The demons, the unclean and unhealthy behaviours and systems that had a hold on the entire community had no power over Jesus.

This is the power Jesus holds – the power to identify that which is unhealthy and toxic and exorcize it from the people and communities it has taken hold of.

This is the power of the Gospel. The power to free us from the toxic systems of sin and death.

To free us for a life that draws us into new relationships… new realities where the burden of maintaining unhealthy and toxic systems are lifted, the burden of sin and death lifted. Our unclean, unhealthy, toxic selves gone. Attachments to unhealthy and toxic systems, gone.

And in their place, new and eternal life. This is the promise we receive in baptism: new life in Jesus.

When we enter into a baptismal service, we begin with a profession of faith – when we renounce, we give up our unhealthy, toxic ways:

Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?

Response:

I renounce them.

Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?

Response:

I renounce them.

Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?

Response:

I renounce them.

Washed in the waters of baptism, marked with the sign of the cross by God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. This is how Jesus is revealed. This is who Jesus is revealed to be: the one who frees us for new and eternal life with God. God casts out our old selves, our old ways. God frees us so that we no longer belong to our unhealthy behaviour or systems. God frees us so that we no longer belong to the people or places that hold us back. We no longer belong to our shame, our anxiety, our disappointments, our unclean spirits that demonize us and our communities.

In their place we are named and claimed: You belong to Christ, in whom you have been baptized. Alleluia.

Confessions of a High Church Millennial – 10 Ways I am grounded by Ritual, Liturgy and Tradition

I haven’t confessed this to you in a while, but I am still a High Church Millennial. Just because I often wear jeans on office days, have tattoos and an apple music subscription on my iPhone… doesn’t mean I don’t love old things. And not looms, vinyl played by a gramophone and artisanal vegetables as the caricature of a millennial hipster goes.  I love ancients things like ritual, liturgy and the traditions of Christianity.

So recently, as I went about my normal perusal of social media, I came across the post of a pastor friend. The Rev. Steven Sabin serves in San Francisco, and he thoughtfully wrote the post pictured below:

Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 11.27.18

I love the way Pastor Sabin describes his experience of a high church faith. I can see my own experience in his post. And as many churches search for ways to get “the young people back” with the newest and flashiest toys, gadgets, fads and entertainment…. let me tell the story of why this millennial would rather have the old things and the deeper meaning.

*Note: I skipped a few of Pastor Sabin’s points.

1 Tradition was taught to me as a loving mentor, not as a censorious schoolmarm.

I grew up in a world where tradition was shunned and Lutheran liturgy was like eating vegetables… you did it but no one liked it. Our worship was often treated as if it was a list chores to do every Sunday morning. And then our church hired some musicians to help plan our liturgy and music. And for the most part, the congregation continued to feel the same way about liturgy. But as a teenager, I noticed that suddenly worship became a more cohesive experience. The list of chores transformed into the script and stage directions of a beautiful play. There was movement, there was purpose to our worship, the music connected to the prayers, the prayers connected to scripture, the biblical texts connected to the eucharist and so on and so on.

When I went to seminary, I was finally taught the finer and detailed points of the ritual I had been enraptured by. Liturgy for me now is not a burdensome set of rules to follow and chores to do, but a ground to stand on in worship, guiding the assembly into deeper meaning and a deeper experience of the divine… proclaiming the gospel and inviting us into the body of Christ in a way that no other worship form can do.

2 Hallmark makes a fortune because we don’t always know how to say it.

One of the things I cling to as a preacher and presider is that when the words of my sermon fail, then the words of the liturgy say what needs to be said. And knowing that Christians around the world and through the centuries have used these same words gives them a sense holiness and authority that spontaneous and unprepared words lack.

3 I’m usually more moved by a poem than by a tweet.

There are such things as twitter poets, yet even they recognize the limitations of the medium.

A tweet is an ephemeral abstract thing. Most tweets rarely have a long life, they come at us quickly and in high volume. Great for breaking news, but lacking the deliberately slow and considered words of a good poem. Poetry is intentional and reflective. Poetry is an economy of words not because there are only 140 (or 280) characters, but because every word matters. The same goes for the liturgy.

4 It’s easier to learn a new dance step when I already know how to dance.

I recently moved from leading worship in 1 congregation to 5. While each congregation has its own particularities, it is the commonality of the liturgy that makes it possible smoothly step in to preach and preside each week. The order, the movement, the rhythm is all familiar, even if a few steps are different.

6 Technology changes rapidly; people, not so much.

There are a lot of things that are rapidly changing in my millennial world. Social media flies by rapidly each day. The way people communicate with me has changed dramatically over the years. 65 year olds used to phone my landline but now text me when planning a funeral for the parents, 30 something colleagues let me know about job opportunities in facebook groups, even my 96 year old grandmother talks to my kids on FaceTime now and then.

But worship, the familiar words, patterns, seasons, texts and emphasis is one of the grounding forces of my life. I more easily associate significant memories with the liturgical season they occurred in rather than with date and month. Each week, I find my grounding and footing again in the familiar and stabilizing experience of the liturgy in the assembly.

7 I probably didn’t get the Faith right last week, so there’s no harm (or shame) in giving it another go this week.

I am coming on 9 years of ordained ministry. I probably surpassed 500 times presiding in worship recently, and I still feel like I am just starting to scratch the surface or the depth of the faith. Maybe 40 more years and I will feel like I got it right… but I doubt it.

10 Boring liturgy is like boring Shakespeare, the adjective is probably misplaced.

Being bored is usually a sign of not understanding what is going on. I grant that the church and pastors have not always been very good a teaching the liturgy and tradition of the church. But the best way to learn is to experience. We live in a world that says we are all experts before we begin… or should be. The liturgy is rich and deep and complex and beautiful. And it can be confusing if it is unfamiliar. But what form of unfamiliar worship wouldn’t be confusing? The best way to learn is through repetition. Try worshipping in a liturgical church every week for a year, and then how liturgy feels. If you find yourself bored, perhaps it is because there is learning that needs to happen. Talk to your pastor, they might be able to help.

Now, make no mistake Liturgy, ritual and tradition are not the newest (or oldest) gimmicks to get millennials back to church. Rather they are just servants of the gospel, the vehicles through which we regularly encounter God as people of faith. And it is meeting and following Jesus that is the most important thing – the most important thing that we do, and that worship helps us to do, as people of faith.

So as I said, I am still a High Church millennial. And it is these ancient things of liturgy, ritual and tradition – and how they so clearly proclaim Christ crucified and risen – that are the reasons I am still in the church.


*Thanks again to The Rev. Steven Sabin for allowing me to annotate his great post.

The Overturned Household of God

John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. (read the whole passage)

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

There is an irony when it comes money and determining the value of something. As soon as we try to sell something, we cheapen it. Sellers will ask, “How much can I make from selling this thing”. Buyers will say, “How little can I pay to obtain the thing I want”. And maybe that is why money can be such a touchy subject, maybe that is why when we as human beings talk about money we talk about it more seriously than anything else.

You can watch the nightly news and a story about war or disease or crime or death can be reported with great gravity and then followed by a lighter story about celebrity, or charity or human interest which is reported with a smile and a laugh. But watch the business news, and every story is treated seriously and like it is important.

All the seriousness almost seems like an attempt to mask the shame and guilt that money invariably brings into our lives. We know that we like money and that makes us greedy, and we know that greed is a shameful thing to be or to feel.

Did the money changers and animal sellers feel that shame when Jesus came barging into the temple?

In our churches today, we do not really know the situation that Jesus was walking into. Imagine if when you arrived at church this morning, you had to pay to park, and then pay again to get through the doors. And then once inside there were some police officers milling about, some county employees and some church council members selling things. In order to worship you would have to rent your hymn book, pay a ticket to sit in a pew, buy the water if you needed baptism, buy the bread and wine if you wanted communion.

And then if you wanted to give 100 dollars to the church, you had to pay 115 to change your money into church money.

This is what the temple in Jerusalem looked like. More like a busy shopping mall than a place of worship. Anyone who was poor had no chance of making it in. Those who had a little money had to save up for years, and the rich would come and go as they please.

The temple priests were skimming off the top all the purchases made. The Romans were taxing all the profits. And the people selling the doves, sheep and cows for sacrifice weren’t even jewish.

You could imagine why Jesus would be upset with what was going on in the temple. The whole point of the temple sacrifice system was to make God’s forgiveness more accessible. The job of the priests was to preside of sacrifices and show people a visible sign of God’s invisible promise of forgiveness. Yet, what had been designed to be accessible had become inaccessible. Worse yet, what was supposed to be a way of freely giving God to the people had become a way of selling God for an exorbitant rate.

Martin Luther had the same problem with the Roman Catholic Church, who was selling God’s forgiveness and early exit from purgatory in the form of indulgences.

Now, today as you came into church, you probably didn’t worry that you would have to buy your way in. We might feel like we can look back and say we have figured it out, we aren’t so foolish as to sell God.

Granted, there are still TV evangelists selling little green cloths and the promise of healing. But in a way this is more honest than what most North American Christians have been doing for a long time.

Jesus was upset with people for trying to make a profit off of God. To sell God’s love for price. To sell something that is priceless and more valuable than we could ever afford, for a few coins.

But like most things, North American Christianity has taken the marketplace of the church to a whole new level.

We aren’t so crass as to sell God. We have found a much more slick and devious way to make a profit off of God. Most churches today will preach that God’s love is free gift, but then they will go on to say that if you are good enough God’s love and blessing will make you rich. Forget trying to earn and pay for a little piece of God, instead let’s put God to work for us! All we have to do is pray hard enough, believe sincerely enough, act pious enough. And then God will bless you with health, wealth and happiness.

If Jesus were to come and over turn over our marketplaces he would have to come into our homes and work places, he wouldn’t tell us to “Stop making my father’s house a marketplace” instead he would say, “Stop making my father’s love a way to get rich!”.

So…does anyone know what the word “economy” means?

In modern terms, it is the resources and wealth of a country or region. But Jesus actually uses the root word for economy as he speaks today. “Stop making my Father’s house a market place”.

Oikos in Greek. House in english. The greek word of economy is oikonomos, which means to manage one’s household.

The economy is caring for the household and all that is within. The people, the resources and the wealth. Our economy is our household wealth. The word economy is related to other words we know.

Ecology, the care of the household of the earth, or the environment.

Eccumenism, which is relationships between Christians, Lutheran Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals etc… The care of the household of faith.

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace”.

Jesus is suggesting a different economy. Jesus is declaring a new way to manage God’s house. In our economies we buy and sell, we make money and lose money.

But in God’s house, everything is free. God’s forgiveness is freely given. And Jesus’ promise is for everyone. God’s new management system is on its way.

But the priest and temple authorities challenge Jesus’ declaration of a new economy. We challenge Jesus’ declaration of a new way to manage our households. We know that nothing is free, everything costs. We like knowing this because it gives us control, we know what we need to do to earn God’s love. We know that we have to be good, follow the ten commandments, pray hard enough, read the bible enough. As Lutherans we know that we need to attend worship once a year, take communion and give some amount of money to the church.

But Jesus doesn’t care what we know. Jesus is making it all free. Jesus is making it all priceless. And Jesus knows that this radical new system will only lead him to death, he is on his way to the cross. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days”.

The temple is God’s dwelling place, it is God’s house. And yet Jesus is speaking about himself, he is pointing to what we will do on Good Friday “Destroy this temple”. And he is promising what God’s response will be, “I will raise it up in three days”.

We dislike the idea of God being free so much that we will treat Jesus like a criminal, kill God in flesh, and destroy his temple, his house.

Yet, God’s new economy, where forgiveness, grace and love cannot be sold or bought is on the way. God’s new economy that responds to power and fear with weakness and intimacy is on the way. God’s new economy that encounters death with new life is on the way and is promised to us.

Today, Jesus tells us that everything we thought had value is worthless. Power, money, death.

And everything we thought that was of no value, weakness, poverty, life. These things are the new way God is going manage our economy, our households. God is giving away love, mercy and forgiveness for free. And that is turning our world upside down.

The Resurrection of the Wedding of Cana

John 2:1-11

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.” … (Read the whole passage)

As we begin our journey into the gospel of John, we move on from the big celebrations of Christmas, Epihany and finally the Baptism of Jesus. Today, we are back to green – ordinary time or counting time. And we hear a story with a little less drama than what took place on the banks for the Jordan. Yet, a familiar story none the less.

The wedding of Cana.

Jesus’ first miracle of his public ministry. Its a famous story about a relatively happy, generous and harmless miracle. Turning water into wine is like moving a child’s birthday party from the local public pool to the expensive and fact waterpark in town! It sure does ramp up the party, but in the end it is still swimming.

Today, John carefully mentions twice that Jesus attends this wedding celebration in Cana of Galilee. Galilee a poor province next to Jerusalem, full of thieves, bandits and gentiles. People who were ignored and forgotten by the rest of the world. And here in Cana, a small village of no consequence, Jesus is attending a wedding. A wedding party that is supposed to last 7 days, yet during which the wine runs out before its time for it to be over. And while running out of wine would be a source of shame for the wedding hosts, the father of the bride in particular, it was probably not an uncommon experience. In the subsistence world of first century Israel outside of Jerusalem, most small communities like Cana were collections of people just trying to make ends meet. If hard, back breaking work meant that you could earn enough or produce enough to buy food and shelter, pay your taxes and debts and care for you family… you were doing pretty well.

Having extras for weddings was an extravagance. So entire communities likely came together at times of celebration. If everyone contribute something, there was probably enough for a party. And the party lasted as long as the wine held up.

The wedding in Cana was probably for someone who was a relation or family friend of Jesus. Mary, his mother, is at the wedding. So are Jesus disciples… when there was a wedding in a town like Cana, everyone attended, local or foreigner.

And so with extra out of town guests, and the relative poverty of the townsfolk, it is not surprise that the wine ran out.

Mary thinks that something should be done, she tells Jesus and his response seems almost rude, “What concern is that to you and me?”. He seems to be saying, “Why should I care? Who cares about Cana in Galilee, its in the middle of nowhere! Who cares about this wedding? Does it really matter if the party ends early? Does we really need a little more wine?

For us in the 21st century, running out of food or drink at such an important celebration as a wedding is a major faux pas. Someone should fire the wedding planner or get a refund.

But we shouldn’t get too caught up on the details of the wedding or the wine.

Because we DO know what it is like to run out. To run out of time, run out of options, run out of opportunity. Run out of energy.

It isn’t wine at a wedding that run out of, but it might be money at the end of a paycheque.

We might run out of time to spend with our spouses or kids at the end of a long work day, or time to spend with grandkids at the of a short once a year visit.
We might run out of treatment options at the end of a battle with disease or illness.
We might run out of chances to fix a broken marriage or relationship or friendship.
We might run out of time to get our affairs in order or make our own decisions before the health crisis hits.

Like those wedding guests in Cana, we know very well in our world what it is like to run out, to not have enough, to be bound by limits and walls, for death to be the thing always waiting for us.

The wedding of Cana is our world, we live it every day. The wedding of Cana is not unusual because wine ran out… in fact, it is was probably like every wedding to come before it.

The wedding of Cana is not unusual except for Mary.

Because Mary knows something that no one else knows.

When she tells her son Jesus that the wine has run out, she isn’t doing it as a micro-managing mother. She is pleading with him as someone who knows that things can be different than the norm. That endings and limits and running our and death doesn’t have to be the way it is.

She knows that with Jesus the world is different because she has lived it. She has been given the death sentence of a pregnancy outside of marriage, yet her world kept on.

So when the wine runs out, maybe she is looking to Jesus for a different world. For a world where we aren’t defined by not having enough. She is pleading for a glimpse of the new creation of Messiah.

Jesus might not respond in the most kind way, but perhaps there is something in his mother’s face… the realization that his hour has indeed come. That his hour came back in the beginning. Back when the word became flesh.

So Jesus tells the servants to fills the water jars….

And the water becomes wine. Its a wonderful gift that Jesus bestows on this wedding… but the wine itself is only one part of the gift that is given. No one else seems to realize what has happened for this small and poor wedding in the middle of nowhere is that God has stepped in.

God changed the normal outcome.

God has changed the ending that we know, the ending of running out, of limits and walls, the ending of death.

And Jesus brings the wedding back to life. You could even say the wedding of Cana was the first time that Jesus raised something from the dead.

It just a foretaste, hint, a glimpse of what is to come, but the wedding sets the stage. Jesus isn’t just correcting some poor wedding planning, or taking mercy on hosts that had more guests show up than they anticipated.

Jesus is changing the normal order of the world. The order where death always wins, and Jesus creates new life where there was nothing before… just as God first created life from nothing.

And as the wedding of Cana is transformed and raised to new life… so are we.

So are we week after week.

As endings and limits and walls and deaths punctuate our lives, Jesus transforms us. Not be putting a few more dollars in back account, or longer work days, or shorter distances from loved ones, quick fixes for broken relationships, or better health and ability in the midst of aging and decline.

Jesus turns our endings, limits and death into wine week after week, Sunday after Sunday.
Jesus turns the endings of our brokenness and sin into forgiveness and mercy
Jesus turns the endings of condemnation into the good news of God’s love for this world.
Jesus turns the ending of not-enough into an abundance of bread and wine.
Jesus turns the endings of death into new life.

Jesus gives us the first miracle of the gospel of John, the wedding feast of Cana where they ran out of wine…. but a story of death and resurrection.

The first miracle which foreshadows the end… the last miracle
Miracles that both take place on the 3rd day.
And a woman named Mary being the first to find what is empty.
And empty wine jars pointing us to an empty tomb.

In the Weeding of Cana, the first miracle of the gospel of John, the Messiah, the one who changes the order of our world, the one who brings – to a world of endings, limits and death – resurrection and new life.

“What are you looking for?” asks Jesus

John 1:35-51

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” (Read the whole passage)

John the Baptist just won’t go away. He showed up for a couple weeks in Advent, took a break over Christmas and then showed back up today. John is again pointing to Jesus, and proclaiming the coming of the Messiah.

Now this story about John pointing out Jesus to his disciples might sound a little unusual today, because it is the day of the Baptism of Our Lord. We are hearing it because in Interlake Shared Ministry congregations we are beginning the use of the Narrative Lectionary for 3 months as way of doing something together that is a little different and that will remind us when we gather for worship that we gather not to ourselves, but together as a unified ministry across the Interlake.

Now the focus of the Narrative Lectionary for this three month period is the gospel of John… and John’s gospel has a quirk when it comes to the baptism of Jesus – John omit’s it.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all treat it a little differently, but they all tell the story. However, John tells all the little stories around the story. He talks about John the Baptist preaching at the river, he tells of the crowds coming to hear. He talks about the interactions between John and his disciples, who would eventually become Jesus’ disciples.

But there is no actual baptism… the writer of John’s gospel was writing for the early church community who was in a debate with the followers of John the Baptist about who truly was the Messiah, John or Jesus. The fact that John baptized Jesus was a little inconvenient to that conversation.

Never the less, the first readers of John’s gospel would know the story of Jesus’ baptism, and hearing these side stories, they would immediately bring that well known story of the spirit descending on Jesus and a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my son the beloved, with him I am well pleased.”

And yet, these side stories of the gospel in many ways still tell the story of baptism. They tell a story of call and transformation.

The story picks from where we left if off in Advent. John was talking with the pharisees and temple authorities about who he was, Messiah, Elijah or the prophet.

The next day John is back at the river again and Jesus walks by John and John’s disciples, John reminds all who can hear, that this is the Lamb of God, the Messiah. And so John’s two disciples decide to follow Jesus, presumably they are looking to see what this Jesus guys is all about. It isn’t long beforeJesus notices their interest. He stops, turns and asks them “What are you looking for?”. It is an open ended question.

Maybe these two disciples simply want to know what all the fuss is about or to see a show in case Jesus decides to perform a miracle. Or maybe this question has deeper meaning.  “What are you looking for?” Perhaps we should consider the asker. Jesus, the one who John has proclaimed to be the Messiah, the Lamb of God is asking. Jesus, the one who we believe to be God, the second person of the Trinity is asking. And where one person is, so the other two are also. The God and King of the universe, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is asking, “What are you looking for?” So, what would is there to answer? Happiness and Wealth? Love and family? A Long life? Peace in a violent and sinful world? Food for starving children? Cures for cancer, AIDS, Leprosy, yellow fever and heart disease? An upgrade on your room in heaven?

The disciples don’t have any better answers than we might have… but they know they should say smoothing, something to respond, to spark the conversation. So they respond with a safe question of their own, “Where are you staying?”

We know what these two must feel like… We have just been through the season of Christmas, when most churches have at least a few visitors or strangers pass through their doors. And when those unfamiliar faces come to us, we are pretty good at asking the safe question. “So where are you from?”

It is easy, the answer is non-threatening, there is low-risk to offending someone. But it rarely has to do with coming to church.

What if we were more like Jesus the next time we see a visitor? “What are you looking for?”

Now that is a scary question to ask. That is a question with a dangerous answer. We don’t know what kind of thing a visitor might say, I am here with my relatives, I am just visiting, I am looking for a church. But they might say scary things like, I need help, I am looking for a community to belong to, I am looking for Jesus.

Even those of us who come to church every week, and sometimes even pastors, find talking to people about what they want, about what they are looking for at church a bit scary. We can be just as confused as those disciples on the riverside.

All Advent we waited for Messiah. At Christmas we rejoiced at Messiah’s coming. In Epiphany the Messiah, the Christ, God in flesh was revealed to us. But now that Messiah is here, we don’t really know what to do with him. Like the disciples, we find it hard to grasp the magnitude of the Messiah, of Christ being with us, here and now. It is one thing to wait and for guest of honour to arrive, but is another to know what to do once the dinner party is over and the guest is still hanging around.

Even more so, it hard for us to know what to do with God in our lives. Hard to know what this faith business means on Monday morning to Saturday night. What does that mean for us? What do we say? Where do we go? How do we respond?

If John the Baptist had heard the disciples answer to Jesus’ question he might have shamed them not getting it. But that is not Jesus’ way. Instead of correcting or condemning, Jesus gives a simple answer. “Come and See”.

Come and See.

Jesus gives an invitation that is more than invitation. Jesus grabs us and brings us close. Jesus pulls us into the story of Messiah, Jesus opens our eyes to the new thing that God is doing in our world, in our lives.

Jesus knows what we the disciples looking for. Jesus knows that they are not really wondering where he is staying, but are wondering about the Messiah.

And so Jesus calls them, Come and see.

And then Jesus gives them a new name, sure only Simon Peter’s is mentioned, but he is representative of the group. When he speaks, they all speak. And when he is renamed, they are all renamed.

Jesus sees them, calls them, names them and brings them to his home.

Sounds a lot like something we do for new people as they join us.

Sounds a lot like baptism.

In the waters of baptism our graciously heavenly Fathers claims us as his daughters and sons, gives us new name and welcomes us home.

Sure, we might be confused about what do to or say with people when they come to us. But the Church, the Body of Christ, God working through us, using us God’s hands and feet….

Well the church has always been good at asking new people that question that Jesus asks the disciples today, “What are you looking for?”

We ask it of those coming to the waters of baptism, and then we watch as God washes us clean – clean so that we can be seen.

And God calls us – calls us to new life out of the water.

And God names us – names us with the name Christian, one who has been washed.

And God welcomes us home – grants us a place in the Body of Christ.

Come and See.

Jesus’ words are baptismal words. John’s story is a baptismal story.

It is just this time, we don’t hear the story of Jesus’ baptism, we hear the story of our own. We hear the story of how Jesus calls the disciples, calls us, and that call changes us a the core of our being, transforming us into new people.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus already knows our answers, even if we don’t.

And Jesus has already been looking for us.

So, Come and See.