Year C, Epiphany 2
Every Sunday we open with a different collect, which is our fancy word for a prayer. The collects typically refer to the readings of the day. The prayer usually makes some sort of request of God. Today’s collect asked: “Almighty God… Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth…” I liked that imagery of being illumined and shining with the radiance of Christ’s glory. When I initially read it, I had this image of us all kind of glowing, you know, in a classy Episcopal way. But I didn’t dwell on the image for too long.
After all, we have these amazing readings for today, 2 of them are rather famous in the Christian Church. The reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians refers to the Holy Spirit and the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to each of us. It seems like the perfect reading for a day when we are all worshipping together, electing new vestry members and discussing the ways that all our members contribute to the ministry of the church.
Then there is the reading from the Gospel of John. This is one of those miracles that everybody knows (Christians of every denomination, even the ones that don’t drink wine, Jews, Atheists, Buddhists, etc)—they all know the story. They might not know the whole story, but they have the basics. It’s kind of odd that this miracle is so well known given that it’s not as impressive as say….raising the dead or healing the blind and deaf. I mean water into wine is pretty cool, but it seems more like a parlor trick than a divine miracle.
The other unique thing about this miracle is that not many people witnessed it. The people at the wedding, even those hosting it didn’t even know that a miracle occurred. The only people who actually witnessed the miracle were Mary, a few disciples and the servants who assisted.
Normally when we think of a miracle, we equate it with magic. If you were to envision Jesus changing water into wine, you might imagine him waving his hand over some water and bam, it’s wine. However, if you read this story carefully, you will see that he actually asked for some help from the servants. He asked them to fill 6 stone jars full of water to the brim. Now, stone water jars (even without the water) were pretty heavy. Each one held 20-30 gallons. Once filled, they would have weighed about 200 pounds. And it wasn’t like the servants could just drag the garden hose out and fill them up. They would have had to either take these huge jugs to the well or carry smaller jars back and forth until they were full. We are talking about between 120 and 180 gallons of water they were carrying around.
Additionally, this wasn’t your average modern wedding reception that lasted 4-5 hours. Jewish weddings at this time were 4-5 days. This would have been day 3 or 4. These servants were probably tired and here some guy (who they probably didn’t even know) asks them to do all this work…for what? They don’t even know because he doesn’t tell them. Can’t you just hear them grumbling…growing more and more irritated with every trip back to the well.
Yet then something truly amazing happens. The water that they just drawn from the well has suddenly become wine…not some 2 buck chuck Trader Joes wine, but really excellent wine. If I was one of those servants, observing the wine steward taste this fine wine, my first reaction would of course be surprise and awe. But then, if I was sweaty and tired (as I imagine these servants were) I might wonder why this man who was capable of turning water in wine made me haul water back and forth in 200 pound stone jars. If he could turn water into wine, couldn’t he have filled those jugs himself, with just a flick of the wrist?
If you read all of the miracle stories in both the Old Testament and the New Testament you will find that they often required effort on the part of a human. In the story of Noah and the Ark, Noah had to build an ark before it even started to rain. In the feeding of the 5,000 a boy brought forward five loaves and two fish knowing that could not possibly be enough to feed a crowd. In the healing miracles, people had to take the initiative to request the healing. We often assume that miracles are just something that God does. We might have to pray for it, but then God does the rest of the work. Yet often times, we have to put in some effort, maybe even a considerable amount of effort.
That’s why I think we need to be really careful about praying that opening collect we prayed today. What does it actually mean to be illumined with word and sacraments and then shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory? Because usually when there is something illumined or shining, that means there is heat and fire. Behind God’s beauty and glory, there is sweat and hard work.
At our Sunday morning service, you see the shiny part of church, illumined by soft candle light and careful lighting. But there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes, and I am not just talking about what it takes to put the service together, but what it takes to be the church and to be the people who God calls us to be. If you look at the front of our bulletin, you will see our mission: To live in the Spirit of Christ. Within that mission statement are 3 words: inspire, aspire, perspire. Everyone always giggles a little at that last word, but that might just be the most important part.
During the season of Advent, we prayed for God to be present with us. We prayed, “Come Lord Jesus.” Then during the season of Christmas, we celebrated God being born to a woman and living here with us. We are now in the season of Epiphany. Epiphany is a time when God reveals Godself to us. God is here. God is with us. Now is when our work begins.
You might think you have this church thing figured all out. You have been an usher for 50 years. Your dad was an usher. Your son is an usher. You are good at being an usher. And Lord knows, we need ushers. It’s chaos without you. But I want to challenge each of you (not just the ushers who I am picking on) try something out of your comfort zone. Even Jesus went beyond his comfort zone. It appears from our Gospel reading that he wasn’t super excited that his first miracle was going to be wine making, but that was what his mother asked and that was how his glory was revealed…in water, sweat and wine.
We have no idea how God is working in us. We don’t know what gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed on us. All we know is that if we are going to pray for a miracle, we better be ready to be part of the miracle. We prayed for God to come and live with us. Now God wants to know if we are ready to live with him.