Add Water and Stir

wedding-feast-cana-ic-4025Scripture Passage:  John 2: 1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When 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 10and 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.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

This was an embarrassing situation—the wine has run out, and there appears to be no solution.  Either no more wine is available, or there is no money to buy more wine. The guests seem unaware of what is happening. If something is not done, all will be embarrassed. Some commentators even inform us that litigation was possible in such cases. (Can you imagine being sued for not providing enough food and drink at a marriage ceremony?)  But, regardless, it is clear that Jesus mother expects Jesus to do something out of the ordinary.  She expects him to fix it.  Maybe it’s a message to us that Jesus didn’t just come for the “big”, splashy things.  Maybe it’s a reminder that God is in even the ordinary, those seemingly small things in life that we think we can handle, that we think don’t really even matter to God.

But this?  I mean, really, wine?  Why didn’t he turn the water into food for the hungry or clothing for the poor?  Why didn’t he end the suffering of one of those wedding guests who were forced to live their lives in pain?  Why didn’t he teach those that were there that God is more impressed by who we are than what we do?  Now THAT would have been a miracle.  But instead Jesus, in his first miraculous act, the first of his signs, creates a party, a feast.  Maybe it’s a reminder that we ought to just relax and trust God a little more.  Maybe it’s trying to tell us that God is indeed in every aspect of our life.  And maybe it’s telling us that life is indeed a feast to be celebrated.

And think about the wine itself.  It begins as ordinary grapes.  Well, not really.  If you go even farther back, you start with water.  Everything starts with water.  And then those ordinary grapes with just the right amount of water, the right amount of sunlight, and the right amount of nutrients fed to them from the rich, dark earth begin to seed.  And then we wait, we wait for them to grow and flourish and at just the right time, they are picked and processed and strained of impurities and all of those things that are not necessary.  And then they are bottled and tucked away while again, we wait.  They are placed in just the right temperature, with just the right amount of light, and just the right amount of air quality, and we wait.  We wait and until it becomes…well, a miracle.

And remember that when the wine ran out, Jesus did not conjure up fresh flagons of wine.  Rather, he took what was there, those ordinary, perhaps even abandoned vessels of ordinary, everyday water and turned it into a holy and sacred gift.  Water and a miracle…So this story of wine makes a little more sense.  Wine is water—plus a miracle.  But in case it is lost on us, remember that our bodies are roughly two-thirds water.  No wonder the ancient sages always used water as a symbol for matter itself.  Humans, they taught, are a miraculous combination of matter and Spirit—water and a miracle—and thus unique in all of creation.  No wonder that wine is such a powerful, sacramental, and universal symbol of the natural world—illumined and uplifted by the Divine.  Wine is water, plus spirit, a unique nectar of the Divine, a symbol of life.  And we, ordinary water-filled vessels though we are, are no different.  God takes the created matter that is us and breathes Spirit into us, breathes life into us.  We, too, are water plus a miracle.  13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart said that “every creature is a word of God.”  It’s another way of reminding us that we are water plus a miracle, God-breathed, holy and sacred.

So in this week “between”, that week when you don’t want to essentially jump into the Passion stories way too soon, we are moving–moving from Bethlehem through Galilee to Jerusalem, moving from birth through growth to maturity, moving from life to death to life again.  This is the week in which the Procession begins.  And here we remember, we remember this child born among us; we remember this child delivered to us; we remember our baptism.  And, now, we remember that that baptism calls us to be something, calls us to be water plus a miracle.  The water has been added.  Now start stirring.  Let your Lenten journey be one that moves your life into what it should be–a miracle.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Dripping

The Jordan River, Israel
The Jordan River, Israel

Scripture Passage:  Mark 1: 4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And in that moment, everything changed…All of the accounts of Jesus’ Baptism leave us with the image of God’s Spirit pouring into him, changing everything.  But only in the Gospel of Mark are the heavens literally “torn apart”–not opened, but torn, ripped, dramatically separated.  The Greek word for this means “schism”.  It’s not the same as opening.  Open, close, open, close–it is something that can be done over and over again just like you open and close your front door.  But torn is different.  Torn would imply that the ragged edges could never quite go back together again.  It is a new ordering, a new Creation, with the seam between earth and heaven forever weakened, forever separated just enough that one who stops long enough to look could see through the threads.

We are told to “remember our baptism.”  Well, for those of us who were baptized as infants, that is a little difficult.  I was too young.  I don’t remember.  I know there was water; I know there were words; and maybe there was some tearing of the seam between heaven and earth.  But I don’t remember.  Well, thankfully, this sacred journey is not dependent upon chronological memory.  Remembering is not just looking back.  It is, rather, looking through that once-weakened opening between heaven and earth, and seeing ourselves in a different way, as a New Creation.  Because whether or not we remember or whether or not we noticed it, for each of us, the sacred spilled into us and changed everything.  Remembering is to remember that we are part of something far beyong ourselves and certainly far beyond what our minds could eover really remember.

As Jesus stood, dripping with the waters of the Jordan that poured back into themselves, everything indeed changed.  In that moment, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Creation and Eternity, manger and Cross, all who came before and all who would follow, were one.  In that moment, all that was and all that would be were almost indistinguishable from each other.  In that moment, all of those who were there that day and all of those who were part of the past and all of those who would come later in this walk of humanity, were swept into those waters, swept into the memories of what would be.  Remembering means that we realize that we are part of the story, that we, too, emerge dripping with those waters.

This is a journey of remembering.  Lent is not usually the season when we read this passage or are told to “remember our baptism”.  But it is there, always there, always peeking through that now-jagged opening between heaven and earth.  Remembering our baptism means realizing that we are right now dripping wet with those waters, recreated, with the heavens forever torn apart, forever visible if we will only see.  Remembering is not limited to my memory of the words that were said when that little bit of water was sprinkled on me as a baby but rather the waters that are still dripping from each of us now.  In this and every moment, everything has changed.  Remember your baptism and be thankful.  This do, in remembrance.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Bringing the Words to Life

Lectionary Passage: Luke 4: 14-21
14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Both this passage and the Old Testament lection for this week (Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10) have to do with reading Scripture.  Isn’t that interesting–a Scripture about reading Scripture?  So was it important to include these passages so that we would understand what the Scriptures should mean to us?  After all, we revere the world, processing the Bible in each week, the closest thing that we can get to a tangible representation of “The Word of the Lord.”  And when we reach third grade, we experience one of those all-important church rites when we receive our Bible.  And somewhere along the way, we somehow get the impression that this heavily-bound, often golden-tipped set of pages is itself holy, an instrument of worship, but, more than that, a set of words that can lead us to God.   It is that notion that led me to an almost sick feeling when I have walked into my house three separate times to encounter the chewed and tattered pages of a Bible strewn across the floor.  Yes, Maynard, the over-zealous Black Lab with apparently an unquenchable appetite for the Scriptures, has eaten three Bibles.  I had someone ask me if he had eaten the whole thing.  No, I responded, he’s really just like all of us–picking and choosing what he wants to digest and leaving the rest in disconnected pieces behind.  (Oh, admit it, how many of you have really read the thing cover to cover?)  I mean, I tried a couple of times when I was little (with my third grade Bible) but somewhere around Genesis 10, I’d get discouraged by people I didn’t know and names I couldn’t pronounce and what seemed an overwhelming sense of needless violence.  Hmmm!  I guess the Bible is about us, isn’t it?  

So in this Scripture (the one about reading Scripture), the hometown boy returns and, as was the custome, he stood in the synogogue to read.  Renita Weems contends that this is the way Scripture should be read–in a public gathering, out loud.  The words that Jesus read–“the Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring good news…to bind up, to proclaim liberty, to bring release…”–these words were his manifesto.  And in that moment as Jesus read those words that had been read aloud for centuries before by people he didn’t know named names that he couldn’t pronounce, something happened.  The words were brought to life.  Jesus was not reading mere words; rather, the Spirit was pouring into them.  That is what Scripture should do to us.  

This day, we’re in the third of four weeks when our older elementary students participate by reading Scripture in the middle service.  I’ve had the privilege of working with some of those kids during the week before each Sunday to better prepare them.  I love doing that.  There is a freshness, an eagerness, an almost hunger.  They are excited and afraid at the same time.  They sense the gravity of it all, even if they don’t fully understand it.  When did we lose that?  Was it when we finally learned to pronounce the worlds?  Or was it when we became satisfied with what we thought we understood of it?  Or has Scripture become so perfunctory that we have missed what it holds?  You see, the Scriptures contain more than words.  Read between the lines.  There is oh, so much more there.  Don’t focus so much on the words or even what they say.  Let us instead delve into not the words but the Word.  Let us open ourselves to the possibility that it means something more and let God’s Spirit come upon us.  

Scripture has been compared to a lake whose depths have never been fully plumbed.  On the surface it looks like any other lake; that is, we see human words like those in other books.  But when we jump into the lake and begin to swim downward, we may be unable to find the bottom.  It is as if those human words become transparent to some mysterious and infinite depth we can never fully grasp.  Perhaps that is why one writer can say “Sounding in and through the human words of scripture, like the sea within a conch shell, is another reality, vaster than mind or imagination can compass.  God has chosen to be bound to the words of Scripture; in and through them, the Holy One comes near…It is not that the words magically or mechanically contain God’s Presence, but that as we allow the same Spirit through which the scriptures were written to inform our listening, the presence of God in and beyond those words becomes alive for us once more. (Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast:  The Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (Louisville, KY:  Westminster-John Knox Press, 1995), 19-20)  

The Word of the Lord!  

Thanks be to God!  

Grace and Peace,  

Shelli

Next

The Region of Galilee
Taken February, 2010

Scripture Text:  Matthew 28: 16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Now what?  What do we do next? What do we do now that the holy and the sacred, the very Divine, has spilled into our world?  What do we do now that death has been vanquished and life has been recreated into something we couldn’t have even imagined before?  It seemed easier before, when we were being called to follow, being called to look to Jesus for our teachings, for our way of becoming what we should be.  But now, we are not being told to follow.  We are being told to “Go”.  Go?  Go where?  If Lent is our formative season, Eastertide is our becoming. It is the season when we become what we’re meant to be–disciples–all of us.  The disciplines we’ve learned and the teachings we’ve heard are now ours to embody.  It is our turn, our turn to become the Word incarnate, to become the Spirit of Christ here on this earth.  (And you thought Lent was hard!)

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
                             (from “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, hymn by Charles Wesley, 1739)

So, go forth into the world, into your life. Go forth and become the Living Christ, the embodiment of the One who has Risen. But, remember, you are never alone. The very Divine has spilled into our world.
 
Christ the Lord is Risen!  The Lord has risen indeed!
 
Grace and Peace,
 
Shelli 

So, really, what IS next?  Well, I’m going to try my best to keep this blog going, maybe “semi”-daily.  This has been a wonderful discipline for me and it really has given me life.  So, maybe they’ll be a little shorter, maybe a little more sporadic.  And maybe in a few weeks, I’ll try a book study through it or something.  We’ll just see where it goes.  In the meantime, for those of you who are having this emailed to you, if you want to continue getting them, just do nothing and they will show up just like always.  If you’d rather not get them, just let me know by dropping me an email.  And if you know someone else that wants emails, they can do the same thing.  If you just click on this link, you should be able to email me through St. Paul’s website:  http://stpaulshouston.org/form/online_form.aspx?formid=37

Thanks for journeying with me!  Shelli