January 20, 2019
We often look at this first miracle of Jesus, changing water to wine, as kind of a frivolous miracle. It didn't heal anybody, didn't bring anyone back to life, didn't feed anybody nourishing bread. It extended the life of a party. It is, in fact, the basis for this old joke:
A minister is driving down the road and is stopped for speeding. The state trooper smells alcohol on his breath, sees an empty wine bottle on the floor, and asks, "Sir, have you been drinking?" The minister replies, "Just water." The trooper asks, "Then why do I smell wine?" The minister looks down at the bottle and exclaims, "Good Lord, He's done it again!"
I talked last week about the big problems that Jeremiah addressed; about the big problems we continue to address in the world today. Jesus, in his homecoming message at Nazareth announced that he would tackle those big problems. But running out of wine at a wedding?!? Really, that's the Messiah's first miracle? Pretty simple. Simple for Jesus. Have you ever considered the work that went into this miracle?
I want to share a portion of this story as addressed by Brock and Brady Thoene in their historical fiction book, When Jesus Wept. Lazarus is at the wedding that John wrote about in today's gospel. This is the Lazarus whom Jesus will raise from the dead later. At this point in the story, Lazarus has met Jesus once and is anxious to learn more about him; his calling, his teachings, and his mission.
The wedding is turning into quite an event. Here are the words of Lazarus from the book: “I have never seen such a boisterous, exuberant crowd. Calls for 'Wine! More wine!' echoed around. It was clear that the families of the bride and groom were disconcerted.
At the far side of the scene stood Jesus of Nazareth. Beside him was a pleasant-faced, middle-aged woman, whom I took to be his mother. She was entreating him to do something. I saw Jesus shake his head, but he was smiling gently.
His mother called a squad of servants to her side. Her command was clear, 'Do whatever he tells you.' Jesus took the lead marching ahead of the servants, who trailed along in evident confusion. I followed.
We soon came to a place with a well. I heard Jesus say to the servants, 'Fill the jars with water.' 'But sir...' one of them protested. (they and I) were confused. What was he doing?
The servants dropped the leather bag for drawing water into the well then hoisted it aloft. Each pouch contained no more than five gallons at a time. The task Jesus gave them to fulfill was not easily or quickly accomplished. The women filled one jar and then hesitated. Surely he did not mean for them to fill all six (stone jars)!
Five gallons drawn from the depth of the well. Cranked aloft, each was carried to a stone jar and emptied, Six jars. Six waterskins each, Thirty six trips from well to jars.”
So this miracle might have been easy for Jesus, but for those servants, it was hard work. There are other examples of hard work associated with the miracles. When Jesus fed the 5000, the little boy had to give up his lunch, the disciples had to distribute bread and fish to 5000 people, no small task. And then, when done, they cleaned up...12 baskets of leftovers. When Jesus had Peter and his fishing crew go back out after a long, fruitless night, they caught so many fish their nets broke as they worked to haul them in. Even when Lazarus was raised, Jesus called on friends to push the heavy stone aside and help Lazarus out of the grave clothes. Many of the miracles of Jesus required work above and beyond the power of Jesus.
Many times in my reflection on the life of the church, I consider it kind of a miracle that the Christian church is still here. It has been proclaimed dead many times, it has faced efforts to eradicate it, it depends on mere humans to run it. And yet, 2000 years after Jesus was crucified...which should have been the end of it, here we are. And the power of God is evident in our very life. But it also involved a great deal of work to keep this miracle of life going. And it still involves work on our parts.
As we ordain and install our church officers today, we are certainly reminded that as it took servants to draw the water to be turned into wine so also it takes servants to step forward and serve as Ruling Elders on session and as deacons. There is work being done here that isn't evident on Sunday mornings. In some churches, it seems you can just show up on Sunday and voila, there is a church service ready to go. In our little congregation, it is not so simple. While it is true, I could come up front and conduct a service, first and foremost, I need people in the pews. You are part of the miracle of the church just by showing up. But the church wouldn't get very far if that was all there was to it. We have others who help serve, Judy leads Sunday morning Bible study and fills in in the pulpit. Jayne provides music accompaniment. Julie prints the bulletins. The ushers ush... change hymn nos. on the board, turn on the lights, make sure everyone has a bulletin, ring the bell, take up the collection. We have lectionary readers, coffee servers, a custodian, a treasurer, a secretary, Gary and Rosie clean the snow, a whole crew decorated and undecorated for Christmas and on and on. Whew, we can forget the many hands that go into our time together worshiping. But with all this work going on, without Jesus, nothing happens. Those pitchers of well water would have been just that, well water, without the presence of Jesus. And so it is with our worship and our missions and our fellowship; we are just another club without the presence of Jesus.
Back to ordination and installation; we will be praying for Jesus to be with each of our church officers. And you've heard me say before, these servants are not called only because they are so qualified... they may be well-qualified but we trust that as Jesus touches their lives, God will give them special qualities of leadership, servanthood, wisdom and grace. “God doesn't call the qualified, God qualifies the called.” But as God does that, we are called to work as well; learning procedures, attending meetings, leading committees, attending training.
The installation questions we will use today are printed in your bulletin. These are the same questions that have been and continue to be asked of elders and deacons and pastors throughout the Presbyterian Church family. Some of them call for trust and belief; faith. Some call for work. “Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ... Will you be governed by our church's polity, and will you abide by its discipline? Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world? Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, and love? Will you share in government and discipline, serving in councils of the church, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ? ... teaching charity, urging concern, and directing the people's help to the friendless and those in need.” And the rest of the congregation isn't off the hook, as you will be asked, “Do we agree to pray for them, encourage them, to respect their decisions, and to follow as they guide us?: Action words: obedience, governed by, abide by, follow, love, work, pray for, serve, share, show, teach, urge, direct, encourage, respect, follow... You maybe notice “follow” and pray for are in there twice; we are to follow Jesus first and foremost and are called to follow our leaders as they guide this church. And everyone is to pray.
Lots of work to do, but we don't leave it to our human powers alone to accomplish the work of the church. Included in every person's ordination is a prayer for special grace to do their work and a key request that they be filled with the Holy Spirit. We do our work, but never without the prayerful inclusion of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And I think of other miracles. I consider miraculous the ways our body works to heal disease or sickness or injury. But we don't just wait for healing to take place. We do the work of doctoring, following directions, doing therapy, taking medicines, undergoing surgery, exercising... hopefully.
We see the miracle of creation in nature. But we are called on to take care of nature; be careful to not waste resources, to leave smaller ecological footprints, to plant a tree. You may quote to me, Genesis 1, 28 “God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Humankind too often turns this command to subdue creation into license to waste, pollute, destroy our world. We have been given the responsibility to care for the earth and all that is in it. The miracle of the beauty of this world takes work to maintain.
We as human beings aren't given to know just where God's hand in the miracle of life and living ends and our work begins. We pray for help and then answer God's call as best we can. When we sense God's call, whether it be to work in the church as an officer or to work in our community to improve the lot of people in need, when God calls, our answer should be as it was for Isaiah, “Here I am Lord, I will go Lord.” Miracles may happen. That miracle may be all God; but that miracle may depend on you carrying the water, moving the stone, serving the meal, agreeing to serve. Be ready for the hard work ahead by being centered in the presence of the Lord. Amen.
Hymn: Here I Am, Lord 525 PH