Rose Park Sunday School (Adults and Children) at 8:45 a.m. / Worship at 9:45 a.m.

Madison Sunday School (Adults and Children) 10:15 a.m. / Worship at 11:15 a.m.

On Transformation

Based on Isaiah 62:1-5, 1Cor 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

          Rules, rituals, purity codes, Thou shalts and Thou shalt nots – many people who attend church (and many who have left organized religion behind) believe that these are the essence of the teachings of the Bible and of the Church universal.  It is understandable that people who have attended Judeo-Christian churches over the millennia would have that viewpoint.  Afterall, the 613 rules contained in the first five books of the Bible (primarily in 11 chapters in Leviticus) cover many different aspects of what was expected of a follower of the One true God.  How many of you have actually read completely the books of Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy to understand what those rules ask of you?  How many of you actually follow those 613 rules in your everyday lives?

          God knows the answer to both questions.  It is one of the reasons that God decided to come to earth as Jesus-Emmanuel.  All those rules did not make people into followers of God – in fact, like in our time, it drove them away or made them insufferable legalists.  Jesus tells us that he didn’t come to abolish the Law.  In fact, he told us that the coming of the kingdom of God would not be realized until all the Laws were fulfilled!  Since Jesus said that…why don’t we spend more time preaching and teaching about the 613 rules that should be guiding our everyday lives?  We don’t do that because Jesus came to show us the rationale behind all those Laws – the reason that God needed to give them to our ancestors in the faith.  The Laws were supposed to build the people into a community that cared for God and for each other.  The words of the rules themselves don’t matter all that much – the reason behind them is what is to lead us all on to transformation!

          Our scriptures today speak about the transformative nature of God’s great love.  The prophet Isaiah waxes poetic about how Israel will be redeemed, saved and returned to the love of God like a bride to a groom.  Paul is teaching the believers in Corinth about the transformational gifts of the Holy Spirit which are different for all, but which are to be used in community for the realization of the common good.  Finally, Jesus transforms water that was to be used for ritual purification under the Law into a magnanimous gift of fine wine to allow a celebration of love to continue.  Before we go farther, let us go to God in prayer thanking God for the presence of God’s transformative love in our lives…

          Third Isaiah is all about redemption and salvation for a people who have dwelt in exile for 70 years and who have returned to the desolation of Jerusalem and Judah.  God promises to return the people to people of status.  God will transform them from exiles into a people with a “new name that the mouth of the LORD will give”.  They shall no longer be “termed Forsaken” and their land “Desolate” – they will be transformed into Delight and Married.  God promises to transform them through God’s great love once again into beloved heirs to God’s kingdom.

          Paul has been writing to the Corinthian believers about how to live in right relationship with each other.  The reading today seeks to help them understand that the gifts that God has given to each person are not to be used for their own gain but are to be used “for the common good”.  No person receives the gifts of the Holy Spirit, activated by God, to keep them to themselves – for God seeks to create a unity of Spirit that improves the lives of all believers.  The transformative love of God, available to us all through the Holy Spirit, allows our gifts to be used to make the world and all of creation better.

          We are early in John’s Gospel in our reading for today.  The writer of the Gospel of John does not waste time with birth stories or detailed lineages of who begat Jesus.  In the second chapter, Jesus is set for his opening epiphany to the Disciples at a wedding in the small burg of Cana.  The epiphany comes from a statement by Mary, the mother of Jesus, to her son.  She makes Jesus aware that “They have no wine”.  Jesus responds, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?”  Mary, nonplussed at Jesus’ response to her statement tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you”.  Jesus transforms water for purification into fine wine that will cement the bond of the two newly linked families.  A fine example of God’s transformative love at work creating and strengthening community.

          We live in a time where there is a great focus on individualism.  It is commonplace now to hear people talk of their great skills and accomplishments – never acknowledging those around them who helped them achieve success.  We are a culture not unlike ancient Corinth, and we have fallen for the same sin of believing ourselves to be self-made and in need of no help from others.  We look around at the issues in the world, all the evil, injustice, poverty and oppression, the inequitable distribution of resources, and out of our hubris we speak the same words as Jesus did – “What concern is that to you and to me?”  In other words, why should we use our time, talents and treasures to address issues that we didn’t cause and are too large to tackle anyway?

            Mary, the mother of Jesus had the response to move us out of our unconcerned mindset and transform us once again saying, “Do whatever Jesus tells you”!  Michael J. Buckley, in his book entitled, “What Do You Seek?” offers some ideas on what Jesus has to say to us about our need to work for the common good of our world.  He writes, “…One has only to raise one’s eyes to see this poverty and suffering. Those parents who watch their children grow up without education, without much hope for a better life; the migrants who shift with the crops in the Southwest, knowing bitterly that their children are condemned to repeat the lives of their parents – ‘They have no wine.’ The millions of aged, hidden away in our cities or in dreadful convalescent homes, who with very little must eke out lives of threat, worry, and terror on minimal subsistence – ‘They have no wine.’ The despised or feared or uneducated men and women, especially the poor in the inner cities whose lives are terrorized by the violence on their streets and the hopelessness of ever getting enough education or capital to escape – ‘They have no wine.’ The debtor nations, attempting to pay off their debts by progressively and unconscionably lowering the living standards of the poor – ‘They have no wine.’ Women demeaned and threatened by violence and their disproportionate level of financial insecurity, patronized and discriminated against at the highest levels of decision making even within the Church, and by their level of poverty in the world – ‘They have no wine.’

          In all this misery, the question Jesus asks turns Christians back to themselves: ‘What concern is this to me and to you?’ What is this world of endless sorrow to us? How should it shape our lives?  Christians become more Christian as they realize in themselves the mysterious promise that is the Church – and what it means to become church. The Church, in its turn, becomes more itself the more it realizes the call of the mother of God in her appropriation of the pain and sorrow of others. This may be the embarrassment of a wedding couple, or the pain of her son at his death, or the hidden church praying for the Spirit that would give it insight and courage. The Church becomes more the church as the pain of the human race comes more and more into its consciousness and into its effective action, its experience and understanding and affectivity – as the condition of human beings gets a stronger purchase on the lives of all Christians….”

          The Talmudic sage, Hillel, who lived and taught in the era just before Jesus was born said, “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”   The promise of salvation that awaits all of us is the transformation into the mind and heart of Jesus.  This transformation is possible when we listen to Jesus and actually do what he is telling us to do with our gifts for the common good.  We are not supposed to store up on Earth what moth and rust and thieves will steal from us.  Rather, we are to give to those in need from the grace that has been given to us.  Like Mary, we are to see and name the lack of resources around us and do today what we can to abundantly and extravagantly meet the need to strengthen our communities.  We do this by allowing the love and teachings of Jesus to transform us into the disciples of Jesus the Christ that we were born and baptized to be.  May God have patience with us while the words of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit transform us…amen!