January 23 2022 – Sunday Worship Posted
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My hope is that you have had a good week! My hope is that you have found a way to be able to find a way to find joy in the midst of the cold and the isolation. Perhaps you can try what Diane, Victoria and I did last weekend: we had an adventure making and flying paper airplanes! We have learned that we can find joy in all of life’s situation and appreciate that we live an abundant life.
Abundant living is the theme that runs through our service of Worship today. The passage of Scripture that will be the focus of our reflection is the Wedding Feast at Cana and the first miracle of Jesus reported in John’s Gospel – the turning of water into wine.
I have selected 2 pieces of music to accompany today’s worship service, my hope is that they add meaning to the your reflection.
The Wedding Song – Peter, Paul and Mary
Link to Sunday Worship Video:
It is with sadness that I share the news that Joyce Bauer passed from this life to the next early Wednesday morning of this week. Her death was sudden and a shock to Gail her good friend, and all of us who knew her as the quiet, patient women of presence that she was. She will be missed and remembered.
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity:
The week of January 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In a special way we hold in prayer all people who have a faith in Jesus, and who remain divided by doctrine and how they understand God to be. During this week we echo the prayer of Jesus, that they all may be one, in a special way.
Session met on Friday, January 21st. The decision of the Session is to continue to remain closed. Session will meet again on February 4th, at which time the situation will be reassessed.
Session expressed the desire to return to in-person worship at the earliest possible time and acknowledged that the insight and decisions by public health are changing. However, until Session is confident that we can return safely, the decision continues to be no-public worship.
Knox Presbyterian Church Sixteen
Jan 23, 2022
Mark 7: 1-8
7 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands,[a] thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it;[b] and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.[c]) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live[d] according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
John 2:1-11 NRSV
2 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.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Reflection: The First Miracle
It was the third day of the wedding feast; and the wine had run out! And the mother of Jesus said, “do something …”
An interesting context for the first miracle of Jesus! So to help us understand what it could all mean, let’s us start our refection by recognizing some of the symbolic clues that are placed in today’s narrative:
- a wedding feast,
- the wine has run out,
- empty ritual water pots,
- the 3rd day
In Jewish communities at the time, weddings were central to the well being of the community. Weddings were as much about the families as they were about the two individuals who were to be wed. So, it is interesting that John chose this critically important event to the life of the community as the place where Jesus performs his first miracle.
John did not choose the Temple or the synagogue, the marketplace or the fishing wharf nor did he choose the praetorium or the seat of the Roman governor. He didn’t choose a place of religious or economic or political significance: rather John chose a wedding feast – a common event that was central to the life and wellbeing of the community and the people who were part of it.
And the wine had run out. Now here you have to remember that a Jewish wedding feast at the time was a seven-day affair. And by the description of the steward at the wedding … that the inferior wine is not served until after the guests are drunk … these wedding feasts were “wonderful” celebrations indeed!
This is the context of the story. John tells us that Jesus is present in the midst of everyday life – mingling with people in their celebrations. This story modifies and explains what John proclaimed in the first chapter … that the Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1:14)
Now there are a couple of other symbols to which it is worth paying attention. The first is the 6 empty stone water jars that were used for ritual purification. The text that we read from Mark’s Gospel adds some color here. Now while the ritual washing of hands was a central part of the Jewish religious tradition … you get the sense that the scribes and the pharisees had elevated how this ritual was practiced so that it was disconnected from the day to day living of the average person. Or put another way, John is pointing us to recognize that the religious practices of the time were empty, shallow and irrelevant to most of the people. The empty pots symbolized that the religion, as it was practiced, was bereft of meaning.
Perhaps you can recognize some of the issues with religion in our current time in the description of religion by James McBride Dabbs, an author and Presbyterian elder, who remembers religion as opposite of life in the South Carolina community where he grew up. “Religion was a day and a place: religion was Sunday and the church: almost everything else was life. Religion was a curious quiet and inconsequential moment in the vital existence of a country boy. It came around every week, but it didn’t seem to have much to do with the rest of life … that is, with life itself.[i]
Which brings us to a fourth symbol. It is on the third day that Jesus performs the miracle. And on the 3rd day Jesus rose from the dead. Resurrection … new life …new beginnings is the point of the story that John is telling. The message that is contained in this story where Jesus turns water into wine, producing an additional 36 cases of premium wine and ensuring that the celebration of living and life that is the wedding feast continued, was: I have come so that you can have life and have it abundantly! (John 10:10) (pause)
But there is also a scandal that is contained within this story … and a question.
When Jesus’ mother comes to him and indicates that the wine had run out his response was, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” My hour has not yet come.”
Why would Jesus, the incarnate presence of God, hesitate?
If Jesus is the Word made flesh who has come to dwell amongst us, why did he hesitate?
What kind of God is Jesus revealing through this sign … his First Miracle?
There are a whole range of answers to these questions of course. Religious scholars have speculated the meaning of Jesus’ response with a myriad of possibilities that range from it being a literary device used by John throughout the Gospel to point us to the moment on the cross when Jesus proclaims, “It is finished.” … to the supposition that God relies on human compassion to do the will of God; and thus, it is the action of Mary that causes Jesus to change his mind and act. A human intervention that echoed the story in Genesis that recounted the pleading of Abraham to save the city of Sodom, demonstrating that the heart of God can be changed through human intervention, pleading and prayer.
There is another interpretation that is a little more down to earth that I believe is worth exploring – especially in our current context. Our current context is that in Europe and North American, excluding immigration from the south, the Christian faith is dwindling. The number of people who are attending services of worship is on a steady downward slope, with several pundits predicting that some of the main-line Christian denominations will not exist in the next 20-30 30 years.[ii] And how many times have you heard the phrase “spiritual and not religious” an indication from many people that what can be experienced in a religious community is irrelevant to what is occurring in their day to day living and life. As people who are invested in our faith, it is important for us to ask, have the people in our North American churches become modern day pharisees – more focused on the practices of the tradition rather than on being attuned to and drawing closer to God in our day-to-day lives?
Thus, another interpretation of Jesus’ hesitancy revolves around the kind of God that Jesus desires to reveal. I sense that Jesus is hesitant to reinforce the concept of God as a someone who can be called on – at any time, and for any reason – to deliver the goods. The wine is run out – God more wine. I lost my keys – God find them for me now. I need another $100 bucks – God it’s your time to perform. (pause and change tone) … I’m dying with cancer – God cure me. (pause)
We know that we live in a world that has disease and disaster as a usual – if not desirable – part of our lives and our living. And for some reason, dealing with tragedy and sorrow is part of what it means to be human. However, too often our culture of I deserve it and instant gratification demands what it wants … and then points to the non-existence of God when it doesn’t get what it wants … when it wants it.
No, I sense that the reason Jesus hesitated is that he wanted to reveal a different kind of God than the one the pharisees or our culture expects. He wanted to reveal a God who was present in the midst of everyday life, sharing in the joys and reveling in the celebrations. So much so that he made available the best of wines to keep the party going! I have come so that you can have life and have it abundantly!! (pause)
I sense that there may be a certain hesitancy on some people to accept this conclusion in light of our own experiences with religion over the years. We know that there are Christian denominations that forbid music or dancing and definitely drinking! Is God, the center of the party, really the God that Jesus wants to reveal?
And I sense that the answer is a resounding yes. I sense that the God who created the earth in which we live – who created the beauty of the apple blossoms, the magnificence of a sunrise and the playfulness of the squirrels … really did, and really does want us to enjoy life to the fullest. I believe that it is foundational for our understanding of God for us to truly comprehend that God truly desires that we have life and have it abundantly.
Of course, this was Jesus’ first miracle. It wasn’t the only sign or story that he used to reveal the nature of God. On this foundation of sharing in the joys and the celebrations of abundant living … Jesus revealed a God who was also present in the pain and the suffering and the uncertainty of everyday life. In a week we are reeling from the shock of the death of Joyce…. we know that there was more to Jesus’ message. He taught us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. He showed us what it was to sacrifice for the good of others. He told us how we could care for others and how the marginalized and the outcast were to be included. He promised us that he was the resurrection and the life and that death was conquered.
Yes, the first miracle was to reveal a God who wants us to live an abundant life – and who encourages us to celebrate with our community. And subsequent miracles and signs reveal to us the more robust truth that God was present, is present and will be present … in all the moments of our lives – the joys and the sorrows: for abundant living is concerned with all facets of our lives and how we engage the world around us … as well as how we are, or are not, aware of the presence of God in the midst of our everyday living. (pause)
As we end our reflection this morning, I want to share a story of being aware of God’s presence. One of the music selections to accompany today’s worship is The Wedding Song by the trio Peter, Paul and Mary. I expect that it will be a familiar song to most of you, for it is a beautiful song that was played at many, if not most, Christian weddings years ago. I don’t remember the last time that I heard it, until this week. Coincidence? I think-not. It’s more like a shoulder-tap from God, to recognize something and then to share it so that others can be blessed.
The message of the 3rd verse is particularly poignant for today:
Well then what’s to be the reason for becoming man and wife?
Is it love that brings you here or love that brings you life?
And if loving is the answer, then who’s the giving for?
Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before?
Oh there is Love, there is Love.
Let the wine pour … and let us celebrate with the God of abundant life! Amen
[i] Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol 1, page 262, pastoral perspective