January 16, 2022……….2nd Sunday after Epiphany
1 Corinthians 12: 1-11………..John 2: 1-11
How do you feel about our Gospel reading for today? The first recorded miracle of Jesus: turning water into wine. It’s true that it really did make believers out of his first disciples—but why is this story important enough to be in our Bible?
My mother was a teetotaler (and, of necessity, so was my father!) Her mother belonged to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. I am pretty sure they would not have chosen to include this particular event, this miracle, in the Sacred Scriptures!
On the other end of the spectrum, there may be others who use this miracle as an excuse to drink too much. They would be in danger of missing the point of it altogether!
You probably know the story of the Irishman who used to go out drinking with his buddies every day after work. Much of his daily income never made it home to support his family. But he started going with them to church, and he stopped going to the pub with his mates after work. One day, they were teasing him about his new-found religion. One of the guys asked him, “Do you truly believe that Jesus turned water into wine?!” And he answered, “I don’t know if he changed water into wine, but I do know that he has changed beer into furniture!”
That’s what I call dramatic proof of God’s power to transform!
It’s interesting to me that the lectionary pairs the account of this miracle with Paul’s description of the variety of gifts that God has given to the church. When looked at side-by-side, they give us a wonderful picture of the fountain of life that God intends for the church to be. Last week, we examined the dangers of “the waters” that God helps us to get through. This week, we will look at water as the symbol for the most basic necessity for life. Let’s take a look.
Abundant Life versus Pharisaic Legalism
Friends, I have known people over the years who don’t want to have Jesus in their lives. They assume that he would tell them to give up many of the things they enjoy most in life—and they don’t want to live “a diminished life.” But Jesus was not a severe, austere killjoy! Remember, he said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly!” He was happy to rejoice at a wedding feast, and to spare them the embarrassment of running out of wine. Now, the Pharisees did NOT appreciate his way of living (or anyone else’s, for that matter.)
In his own defense, Jesus said, “John (the Baptizer) came neither eating nor drinking, and the Pharisees say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
You see, the Pharisees basically said, “If you want to practice religion the right way, just do what I do and refuse to do that which I refuse to do!” Unfortunately, this sounds like too many Christians today who judge all others and who think Christianity can be summed up in all the things they DON’T do.
Just remember the story Jesus told about the two men who went up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee bragged to God about how he lived his life so perfectly. And the Tax Collector simply begged for mercy—and he was the one who returned to his home JUSTIFIED (made right with God.)
For Jesus, it was all about lifestyle. But when we reduce our faith to a list of rules, we miss out on LIFE!
I love the passage in Ezekiel 47, a vision of life-giving water flowing out of the Temple. The further it flowed, the deeper it ran. And wherever it flowed, the fish and the plants prospered. “Where the river flows, everything will live.”
This was Ezekiel’s way of saying, “God’s plan for God’s people is life, abundant life”
Unity and Diversity (1st Corinthians)
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes that the body is a single unit, though it is made up of many parts. And, though its parts are many and diverse, they form one body—in unity.
In his letter to the church in Rome, he says it another way: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”
And to the church in Ephesus: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
So, all being various members of one body, Paul tells the Corinthians “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” In the church, we need each other’s gifts—the variety of gifts. And we need unity, which is NOT the same as uniformity. We can capitalize on our different skills, ideas, passions, world-views. Here’s an example of when I failed to do this:
My friend and I were living at the Presbyterian Campus House at our university, offering Bible Studies and Peer Counseling and a place to hang out between classes. I was an early-riser, and Greg was a “night-owl.” We could have employed those gifts to offer a wider spectrum of ministry. Instead, I insisted that he get up for the 8am Prayer and Praise gathering we had twice a week, and he insisted that I stay up whenever we had a late-night visitor who needed to talk. Needless to say, we drove each other crazy! But we could have used our differing gifts more profitably.
Paul also wrote, “To each is given the manifestation of the Holy Spirit for the common good.” It’s a win-win when each of us uses our gifts and blesses the rest of the church! Don’t forget that Jesus prayed for us, saying “Father, may they be one as You and I are one.” Throughout the New Testament, the followers of Christ are expected to find Unity in Diversity!
God’s Plan for the Church
So, what is God’s plan for the church? For one thing, we are meant to help each other. God designed the church to be a place of mutual affection and cooperation. I love the fanciful story of a man who had a chance to visit both hell and heaven. In hell, he saw tables laden with delicious food, but everyone was hungry and unhappy because the forks they had to use were ‘way too long to put the food into their mouths! Then, in heaven, he saw tables laden with delicious food, and everyone was laughing and talking and eating, using the long forks to put food into the mouths of those across from them!
Life in the Body of Christ is meant to be full, abundant. But we will not find life abundant if our #1 priority is “Me and Mine.” No, our “house” is built a different way. You’ll notice when a house is being built, it takes a variety of teams to complete the structure: architect, foundation, framers, roofers, plumbers, electricians, drywall/tape/texture, painters, cabinet makers, carpet installers, finish carpenters, and so on. Well, our Spiritual house of God’s kingdom requires a variety of teams as well. Diversity of gifts, unity of purpose!
I’ll leave you today by going back, again, to the Samaritan woman at the well, and the image that Jesus paints with her. He starts their conversation by asking for a drink of water. Later, he says that he could give her living water—a spring of water welling up to eternal life. He is capturing the image from Ezekiel of water that flows from God and brings LIFE wherever it goes!
Tomorrow is the day that we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is one who employed nonviolent resistance to help bring about social change, and helped the flow of living water to all of humanity. He says this about nonviolent resistance: “It does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through non- cooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that these are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.” (from Stride Toward Freedom)
Friends, when we give our lives to Christ, we become like water that has been changed into wine! Christ uses us to bring joy and healing and gladness into the circles of our relationships.
Thank You, God. Thank You for the joy of being part of the living water that you are sending out into the world, part of the fountain of life. Please flow through us by the power of your Spirit. Amen.