Sunday, January 14, 2007

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

Oh continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee, and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.

I wonder what it was like being one of those first disciples. We get a brief glimpse of them all in the scriptures with a few details of some of their lives. We see how some of them interact with Jesus, how some of them interact with the people around them. But we really see very little considering Jesus traveled with those disciples for about three years. We hear very brief capsules of what might have been an event that lasted a few days, but overall we don’t see much more than a few dozen days out of a thousand. There are those who suggest that the scriptures often summarize important moments in Jesus’ ministry but do not actually show a chronological sequence of events. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, is thought to be a summary of Jesus’ most important teachings that were given over time.

So, what did the disciples do on a daily basis? Some time would have certainly been spent walking from city to city, but were they always together? Did the disciples ever go home for a weekend? Peter was married and had a family. We know that he went home at least once because Jesus healed his mother-in-law, but did he ever go home for a weekend? I am not sure I would want to have been Peter’s wife, having a household of guests – at least a dozen – accompanying my husband every time he came home.

How did the disciples get along? We see how some of them interact with Jesus and even catch glimpses of interaction with others, but what about those daily moments? Did they bicker? Well, we know they did because there was an incident when they were arguing about who was the greatest. Was this a playful moment between brothers that Jesus used as a chance to teach about humility, or were thy really fighting over their place in Jesus’ ministry? They must have laughed together, and cried together.

They were with Jesus, who loved everyone, but did they love everyone – including one another? We know what happened to Judas at the end of the ministry and how he was a part of the whole thing, but our glimpse of him in the scriptures isn’t very flattering. He was a crook, greedy. My image of Judas, perhaps based on the artistic interpretations I’ve seen, is of a guy who doesn’t look trustworthy. To me he must have looked like a crook. Is that what the disciples thought? Were they suspicious of him? Was he left out of the circle when they sat around the fire to listen to Jesus teach at night? I can’t imagine Jesus allowing that sort of thing, but what about when he was off on the mountain in prayer?

How did they interact with the other followers? Were there family members in the crowds? Did they become friends with some of the people? Did they honor the mothers and fathers, respect the women? Or did they ignore the crowds and devote all their attention to Jesus?

Tradition gives us a deeper look into the lives and personalities of the disciples. Based on the brief sketches in the Bible and stories related to their lives, I’ve heard dramas and read stories that tried to fill in the blanks. The iconography of the saints adds artistic interpretation of those few details we have. Yet we do not really know about their innermost feelings, their deeper relationships and their lives apart from the group.

We do know, however, that God cares about the mundane, earthly experiences of His people. In the Gospel lesson for today, John tells us about a wedding. The wedding at Cana is not a particularly important event in the history of the world. We do not even know who was being married. We are uncertain as to the specific location of the town called Cana, though it was likely close to Nazareth. Perhaps the bride and the groom were friends of the family or some sort of relative. If that is true, then it makes sense that Mary became involved. She did not want her relations to be embarrassed.

It is interesting to note that Mary is not named in this story. She is also not named at the only other time that John refers to her in this Gospel. She is there, at the foot of the cross with her son. We do not see her present throughout the rest of the ministry, at least not in John’s telling of the story. How much of a role does she play in the ministry of Jesus? What role does she play in the lives of the other disciples? One thing we know is that Mary was there in the beginning and she was there at the end. She must have had a special place during the rest of the ministry. So why did John not mention her, and not mention her by name?

The Gospel of John is traditionally credited to the disciple of John. Though some scholars disagree, traditionally he was also the writer of the three letters named John and the book of Revelation. Revelation was written a long time after the ministry of Jesus, leaving us to believe that John was likely rather young when he joined Jesus. He was the younger of two brothers, and probably the youngest of all the disciples, perhaps even just a boy. The author of the Gospel of John is humble, often referring to himself as simply ‘the other disciple.’

At this wedding with Jesus there were at least four disciples, probably five. We don’t know when the other disciples joined Jesus, perhaps they were already part of the group at this time. According to John, we do know that Andrew and another disciple followed Jesus after John the Baptist revealed Him as the Lamb of God. They called Simon Peter to join them. Then Jesus called Philip and Nathaniel to follow. It is likely that the other disciple with Andrew was John. So the only other person we have at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ ministry is the disciple John.

Perhaps John, as a very young man, still needed the guidance of a mother figure. We know from the other Gospels that James and John walked away from their father’s boat to follow Jesus. Though their mother makes an appearance, seeking status for her sons, I wonder if their choice caused friction in the family. Could they go home after abandoning their father on the lake? Perhaps Mary provided some of that motherly love that John still needed as he grew into maturity. Certainly we know that they had a lasting relationship, because at the foot of the cross Jesus gave them to each other for the rest of their earthbound lives.

Perhaps that is why John does not refer to Mary by name. After all, by the time he wrote the Gospel she had been like a mother to him for some years. It would have been disrespectful to call her Mary when she was like a mom. And yet, he could not refer to her as his own mother, because she was not. I know that when I was a kid growing up we shared our mothers – I called several very special women “Mom” and my friends did the same with my mom.

The mother of Jesus was there at the wedding – probably a lengthy feast lasting several days. She was close enough to the hosts to know that there was a problem and to want to provide for them a solution. Now, Mary was omnipotent when it came to her son’s abilities or powers. However, she knew the promise of God that was being fulfilled in Jesus. She knew he was a very special boy – man – and that God was an intimate and abiding part of His life. She had no doubt that Jesus could do something to help. Her whole life she had seen the hand at work in His life – as angels announced His coming and warned His parents of danger. She saw how knowledgeable He was in the scriptures and how wise He was about the things of God. She remembered all these things and treasured them in her heart.

Perhaps she was pushing Jesus too far too fast. He said it was not yet His time, but she let the comment pass. Though we might read this as a harsh retort to a pushy mom, the reality is that Jesus was appealing to her own understanding of God. She answered Him with a very real understanding – God loves His people and cares for their needs, even if those needs seem mundane and temporal. She didn’t push Him, she simply said, “Do whatever He tells you.” He didn’t need to do anything. He didn’t need to answer the call. This was not His problem and He could have simply ignored the request. However, He told the servants to fill the jars. This could have been enough. There were few things to drink – you couldn’t run down to the Seven/Eleven to get big gulps for everyone. However, people could have had water to drink. It was important for the host to provide the people with something to quench their thirst as they continued to celebrate. Wine was certainly better, but water was not out of the question.

Once the jars were filled, Jesus told them to take some to the steward. The steward was very surprised to find that the host had kept the good wine for last. The party had already lasted some time and the guests were already filled with wine. Their taste buds would not have known the difference. And, Jesus created one hundred and twenty to one hundred and eighty gallons of wine. That was an exceedingly generous gift. It may have even been excessive. At least we would think so. With so much good wine, the guests could stay for days, perhaps even weeks depending on how many of them there were. In our day, good guests know when to leave. Imagine how hard it would be to get them to go if the good wine is flowing freely! Yet that is how it was in their day. Hospitality was very important. The host was expected to be generous.

What Jesus shows us in this miracle is that God is even more generous.

And that is what we see in the scriptures for this day. In the Old Testament lesson we have yet another glimpse of the exiles returning to Jerusalem. Yet, what they have returned to is desolate. It was not their beautiful home. It was a disappointment to the people who were returning home. After all, Jerusalem was their jewel, a shining light to the world. As it was, Jerusalem was a pile of rubble. God says to His people, “I will not rest until Jerusalem is that shining jewel again and my people are vindicated. Then He refers to the people of Israel in a new way – the people will be called Hephzibah and the land called Beulah.

Hephzibah means, “My delight is in her.” Beulah means “Married.” The relationship between God and His people will be deep and intimate, reaching into the very depths of her spirit and joining her with Himself as one body. We see this being fulfilled when Jesus dwells among His people. It is not so surprising, then, that Jesus would choose a wedding for His first big sign. The relationship between God and His people is often referred to as a marriage, even to the point of calling it adultery when Israel is not faithful to her God. So here, at a wedding, Jesus reveals the exceedingly generous nature of the relationship between God and His people – the good wine is overflowing and the people are rejoicing.

The psalmist rejoices over the overwhelming scope of the love of God. It extends to the heavens. Everything about God is bigger, grander, deeper, more true than any aspect of His creation. The love of God is precious and His generosity is abundant. “They feast on the abundance of your house and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” This is a beautiful and intimate relationship that God has with His people. It is a relationship so close that God knows the very depths of our needs and our desires. He wants us to delight in Him as He delights in us.

I was exceedingly generous for Christmas this year. Oh, I didn’t spend a great deal of money on my kids, but they had many presents waiting for them under the tree on Christmas morning. It was not a matter of trying to buy their love or to prove my love to them. I simply found myself during the shopping season delighting in their lives. When I saw something I knew one of them would like, I bought it. As the presents were opened on Christmas morning, they delighted in them. Again, it was not because they were getting more stuff, but because the things they received were signs of my love and my knowledge of their lives. Out of my deep love for them, and my delight in their lives, I found the very things that would satisfy not only their needs, but also their desires.

That’s what God does for us. He knows us so intimately that He is able to meet all our needs – even those that seem too worldly or mundane for us to ask. He will fill our water jars with the best of wine – not to make us prosperous or haughty, but to preserve our reputations and delight those around us. He fills our hearts with His love so that it will overflow into the world.

One of the ways God shares His love with the world is through the gifts which He gives to His people. Paul writes of the spiritual gifts. The most important of all the gifts is the Holy Spirit, who by His power we are able to proclaim Jesus is Lord. That same Spirit then gives us the gifts to share God’s grace, a variety of gifts. The thing we do not really understand in the church is that God has created the perfect machine. We are all part of that machine, and if only we all would do what we are created and gifted to do, the machine called the Church would work so much better. However, we are human and we fail to recognize God’s hand in the work we do here in the world. Instead of discovering what it is that God is calling for us, as individuals and as the body of Christ, we try to fill holes with the first body that comes along. We take the willing participants and do nothing to help other believers find their place in the machine. It is like trying to put screws where nuts belong or cogs when we really need a gear. When we are not aware of our own spiritual gifts, we try to do things we are not designed to do.

I suppose it may have been the same way with the disciples who followed Jesus. Perhaps they did not interact with one another beyond their relationship with Christ. However, that the intimate nature of God’s relationship with Jesus was made manifest in the signs that Jesus gave during His ministry and the disciples experienced it first hand. They believed and throughout the ministry of Jesus they learned to live in that faith. Though we do not see them interacting with one another, it is impossible to believe that their relationships did not go beyond their relationship with Christ. As they were learning to live in the love of God, they were also experiencing the love between brothers, and mothers, sharing their gifts for the sake of the community and the world. Thanks be to God.

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