... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Epiphany 2 Year C
Message January 17th, 2016

Recognizing the Good

Text: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

As I read the lessons for today my first thought was that these readings did not fit together in any thematic rhyme or reason. Yet as I pondered them and wrestled with them one theme did come to mind. God’s excessive exuberant abundance. And while a reading from the Book of Joel outlining how the mountains and hills will drip with sweet wine might seem better paired with the miracle at Cana, the Isaiah lection certainly speaks of the wedding celebration God as bridegroom oozes over Israel the bride. Thus in our transitioning from God’s revelation of self to Jesus’ ministry we are called to ponder how God has delivered on the divine promises, what we have received, whether we can recognize the gifts and how we ought to respond.

One of the commentators, Ernest Hess noted that perhaps clergy should write their sermons on today’s readings and titling it, “Recognizing the Good Stuff”. And it reminded me of a scotch tasting party the docs in Parry Sound held about a year or so ago. We had about 30 different scotches and we were to taste each and grade them. The surprising thing was that while each doc seemed to have a high regard of self as a connoisseur, few were really able to tell the good stuff from the bad. (Not that there is a bad scotch – it’s just that some are better than others). The reality is that unless you are attuned to the good stuff it’s hard to tell the difference. Similarly unless you know how God works and when and where to expect God’s action in human affairs, we miss it; we simply don’t see it recognize it or appreciate it.

Last week we looked at how Jesus’ baptism is able to define us, tell us to whom we belong and points us in a proper response. This week we expand on the identification process and how the relationship between the divine and human is altered by God’s action. In Isaiah we hear these voices, God, God’s messenger and the silent voice of the bride. The messenger, knowing God’s action can hardly contain him or herself as he/she proclaims that silence is out of the question and declares that a new name is in the offing. A new name – talk about a change of identity and relationship. We are all families with this – at our birth we get a new name – no longer baby but David, Mary, Nancy, Ayton, Jim, etc. This is confirmed at our baptism and often another name is added. At times of confirmation, weddings ordination etc. new names are sometimes taken on. However the one we are most familiar with is the marriage tradition of the wife taking her husband’s name or hyphenating the names to signify the new relationship. Biblically this goes back to almost the beginning. Abram is called by a new name after his accepting of God’s covenant as was his wife Sarai becoming Abraham and Sarah. Likewise Jacob became Israel and now we are told the nation of Israel will be called Hephzibah (my delight is in her) and Beulah (married) rather than Azubah (Forsaken) and Shememah (Desolate). The Lord will make of his bride a glory for the world to behold. Talk about extravagant abundance!

Likewise the psalmist speaks of God’s unbounded love that provides abundantly. What makes the psalm more poignant is that the section we read today is part of a lament in which the author realizes that evil is all around and tries to do away with him/her. Despite the all-encompassing over-pervasive wickedness he/she is able to recognize God’s love, God’s faithfulness and the abundance God provides. And even though the psalm was written some 3000 years ago it is just as relevant today as we ponder what are the wickednesses that surround us, what are the things which try to lure us away from seeing what truly matters. I was reminded of this just this week when reading an article about “superdocs” – those MD’s who give their all for their patients putting 100% into their medical practices often to the neglect of their spouses families and themselves. The seemingly good has become a force of wickedness destroying relationships and people.

This is what appears to have happened in Corinth and Paul writes to correct an apparent wickedness that has crept into the fledgling Christian congregation there. As already noted many things which at first seem to be good purposeful and held up as godly tend in human hands to be the very opposite. The spiritual gifts Paul talks about are in reality spiritual matters and it is believed that in Corinth the congregation had taken various signs of spiritual prowess and ranked them such that an exploitation was going on of one-upmanship. Given that Corinth was a Hellenistic centre and Greek thought pervaded the culture, the ability to speak in tongues and to argue in gnostic language was highly regarded even to the point where those who did so were put on pedestals and revered as models even to the point of negating all others. Paul argues that first and foremost God gives the gift of the Holy Spirit which enables discernment. Without the gift of the Spirit nobody would be able to recognize the good stuff – no one would be able to see let alone understand Jesus as the Messiah or Lord. Second the Spirit also gives the talents so highly prized as well as those not so highly sought – speaking in tongues interpretation knowledge wisdom healing prophesy discernment and I’m sure we could add a lot more. The point Paul makes is that these gifts, these talents are not meant for self-elevation or self-promotion of the community. Finally all have been given gifts by God and we must be able to recognize them if we are to truly become children of God.

The Gospel reading with its wedding miracle of turning water into wine is problematic on several levels, especially to a modern audience and while many scholars have skimmed over the report stating we need to look at it allegorically, the fact remains that John chose this miracle as Jesus’ debut to his ministry. We therefore need to ask ourselves why did John choose this as the beginning of the ministry account of Jesus, what does it tell us about God about Jesus and about those who recognized him. The hyperbole of the story (6 ritualistic cleaning jars for water, 20-30 gallons each totalling 180 gallons) suggests the exuberant abundance of his beneficence. Why the good wine after the poor? – after all the guests are all by this time well drunk and would hardly be expected to tell the difference, but didn’t know where it had come from, the servants knew that Jesus had commanded them to fill the jars with water but didn’t know it had become wine – only the disciples knew and we are told that it was this miracle which solidified their belief in Jesus as the Messiah.

When we read John’s Gospel we must always be aware of several things – John’s gospel is first and foremost a theological recounting of Jesus life and ministry, not a chronological or descriptive. Each story and each miracle has several layers and each needs to be peeled like an onion to see what lies beneath. Third, not everything appears as it seems. In many twists use of contrasts and foils John opens for us an encounter with God so that we must face God’s abundance which is provided for us and our blindness and ignorance in refusing to see it or understand its use and our need for it. Perhaps that is why the good wine is served after the poor – to illustrate how we are dulled by the mundane of the world to such a point we cannot appreciate the good stuff.

God is great! God gives us so much more than we can fathom or appreciate and still we go oblivious to the divine presence. The gift of Jesus defines us, opens for us the covenant God offers to us and we refuse to accept. The gifts we have been graced with go to waste on self-enhancements rather than promotion of the good of the whole. The lection tells us we need to stop, reflect, re-set our priorities, focus on our identity as God’s children, blessed with abundance and to use our gifts and talents for the good of the whole people. Thus shall we grow into the stature of Christ and truly fulfill our call.