Sunday, January 20, 2013
What do you get for the couple who have everything? These days that’s a lot easier to answer than it used to be. We have online gift registries.
Where would you go to find a truly outrageous gift? The answer, of course, is Nieman Marcus. A friend of mine has a saying, “If I die in Walmart, drag my cold, dead corpse to Nieman Marcus!”
So, Kevin and Krystal, take note, here are some truly outrageous gifts that you can get from Nieman’s.
- A $175,000 personalized library full of photography, art, and travel destinations from around the world. Personally, I don’t get that. Why would you want a room full of books that you didn’t pick out yourself?
- For only $1.5M you can get “his and hers” dancing fountains like the ones in front of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas.
- A $75,000 “yurt”, you know, a Mongoloian tent, resembling Jeannie’s tent in the 60s TV show “I dream of Jeannie”, complete with carpets and a chandelier.
- A $395,000 Ferrari that goes from zero to 60 in 3.7 secs. Oh, and it includes customized luggage.
- For $30,000 you can get a walk on role in the musical “Annie.”
Do you suppose Mary, the mother of Jesus, was embarrassed that she had not brought a gift to the wedding in Cana? Is that what motivated her to ask Jesus to do something about the wine shortage?
The story in John 2 is mysterious.
Who were the couple getting married? Why did Mary ask Jesus to do something about the shortage of wine? Also notice that the steward compliments the bridegroom on the quality of the miraculous wine. Why compliment him rather than Jesus, the real source of the wine?
This led Bishop John Spong to suggest that the wedding feast was really for Jesus’ own wedding. I don’t find this persuasive b/c at the very beginning of the story we are told that Jesus and his disciples were invited guests. And anyway, I am absolutely certain that there is no way that the fact that if Jesus had been married, there is no way it could have been concealed for 2000 years.
There are some things you should know about John’s gospel that will help make sense of this story.
First, John’s gospel is neatly divided into 2 parts: the book of signs and the book of glory.
One of my favorite tricks for my New Testament students was, “How many miracles are there in John’s gospel?” The answer is none. I don’t mean that Jesus did not perform amazing deeds; what I mean is that John never uses the word “miracle;” instead, he speaks of “signs,” and there are seven of them.
- water into wine
- healing the centurion’s son
- healing the paralytic at the pool of Bethsaida
- feeding the 5000
- walking on water
- healing the man blind from birth
- raising Lazarus
A second mysterious aspect of this story is Jesus’ cryptic comment that his hour has not yet come.
The word “hour” or “time” pops up througout John’s gospel.
When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, he says, “The hour is coming and now is when you will worship God neither at Samaria nor at the temple in Jerusalem.”
But in John 12, when some Greeks, that is Greek speaking Jews, say that they wish to see Jesus, he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
In other words, at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, he tells his mother that his “time” or “hour” has not yet come. According to John’s chronology, his hour is 2 yrs in the future. But for just a moment the curtain is pulled back and we get a glimpse of things to come, a preview of coming attractions, a vision of God’s glory embodied in Jesus.
Glory is another key theme in John’s gospel. In the first chapter of John, the author tells us that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.”
But what does the miracle or sign of water become wine tell us about God’s glory?
It tells us that God’s purpose is to enhance and deepen our joy, that God’s deepest desire for us is that our joy not only be full but running over like the six jars full of rich wine.
Presbyterian minister and poet J. Barrie Shepherd writes:
"They have no wine,"
the mother said, and did not
realize she spoke for all of us
since then whose lives drink
of those stone cold jars of water,
never seem to taste the rich and ruby wine
made by her son that wedding day.
What happened to that transformation scene?
How could the kingdom broached at Cana
turn into a cross, our festal song
become one long funereal dirge?
Might there be a bridegroom yet, beyond
the graveyard, at whose feast the wine
flows freely and forever, blesses,
kisses every tasting lip with
sweet surprising laughter?
But that brings me back again to my original question, what prompted Mary’s original request that Jesus do something about the shortage of wine? Did she come to the wedding feast without a gift?
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians reminds us that we all have gifts: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit… To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
A wedding is just a sprint, but a marriage is a marathon. I imagine that a long marriage may begin to feel like a wedding party that has run out of wine. The joy that was there in the beginning plays out, and the wine of gladness becomes the water of drudgery and the commonplace.
What happens when she discovers that he snores? What happens when he discovers that she can’t boil water to save her life? Paul reminds us that no one of us has all the gifts, that the spiritual gifts are something that we possess together as the body of Christ.
And John reminds us that even the water of the ordinary and commonplace can once again be shot through with the glory of God when we remember and realize that in and through Christ we have married into God’s family.
Posted by J. Barry Vaughn at 9:00 AM
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Last spring I had the opportunity to stand beside the Jordan River and talk about Jesus’ baptism to the Christians and Jews from Birmingham with whom I went to Israel. I had been to the Jordan before, but I’d never had the opportunity to stand there, to touch the water, to read aloud the story of Jesus’ baptism, and to reflect on its meaning.
The baptism of Jesus is a story that we tend to skip over lightly, but for the early church the baptism of Jesus summed up the whole mystery of salvation.
First, the baptism of Jesus helps us understand the forgiveness of sins.
The baptism of Jesus is a difficult story. If John the baptizer is proclaiming a “baptism for the forgiveness of sins,” then why is Jesus being baptized? Surely, he was sinless, so Jesus could not have been going to the Jordan to receive forgiveness. So the fathers and mothers of the early church reasoned that Jesus was baptized not in order that HE might be forgiven, but so that WE might be forgiven. One early Christian writer said that Christ imparted his sinlessness to the water so that we might receive it when we are baptized.
Second, Jesus’ baptism begins to heal the damage done by sin.
In Romans 8, Paul tells us that “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
Genesis 1 tells us that the Spirit hovered over chaos and was the agent by which God imparted order, so the Spirit descends on Jesus in his baptism and once again brings order out of disorder. Through the Spirit, God turns chaos into creation.
Third, the baptism of Jesus is a decisive event in God’s war against evil.
Have you ever noticed that at the beginning of the baptismal service, we ask the person being baptized or the parents and godparents of the child being baptized to renounce evil three times. What’s that about?
The ancient world and the ancient church had a much more vivid sense of evil than we do. They saw the presence of demons and evil spirits everywhere. And evil spirits were especially associated with water. When Jesus exorcises the Gadarene demoniac, he sends the evil spirits into the sea of Galilee because water is their natural dwelling place.
The writers of the OT had a love/hate relationship with water. On the one hand, it is necessary for life, but on the other hand, water is destructive. You can sail your boat on it, but you can also drown in it. Water cannot be contained forever. Unlike stone and metal, you cannot impart a form to it.
So in baptism, Jesus was declaring his power over darkness and evil. He went down into the water just as on the cross he went down into death. And in both cases, he met and defeated evil.
Finally, Jesus’ baptism is the moment when his identity is established and revealed to the world.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke agree that when Jesus was baptized, a heavenly voice said, “This is my Son, my beloved…”
Only Luke tells us that the angels revealed Jesus’ identity to the shepherds. Only Matthew says that the magi knew who Jesus was. But they all agree that the baptism of Jesus is the declaration to the whole world of Jesus’ identity.
But what does this have to do with us?
We are sinful people who live in a sinful world. Let’s change the word “sin” to “broken.” We are broken people and we long for wholeness. The baptism of Jesus tells us that we can find wholeness, that Jesus imparted a power to the water of baptism to heal us and make us whole. The gift is there for the taking.
The baptism of Jesus tells us that the gift of wholeness is not just for us; it is for the whole of creation. Now, that’s good news. We live in a time when the created order is staggering under the weight of the damage we have inflicted. The baptism of Jesus reminds us that God loves the WORLD, the cosmos, the created order, not just puny little human beings, and that God will be our partner in healing and restoring the created world.
And above all, Jesus’ baptism tells us who we are.
We live in a world that tries to define us. Every TV commercial, every newspaper or magazine ad, every “pop up” on the internet tells us that if we eat this, wear that, or buy the other thing we will be happy, young, good looking, and sexy. In other words, they tell us that we are deficient, that we lack some essential ingredient of happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction. We live in a world that defines us as a cog in an economic machine.
But Jesus’ baptism reminds us that we are God’s beloved children, that we are God’s daughters and sons. Jesus’ baptism reminds us of God’s original blessing on the world: “And God saw all that had been made and behold it was very good indeed.” Did you hear that? God declared creation to be good, not perfect. And that’s what we are: God’s beloved daughters and son… good but not perfect.
Posted by J. Barry Vaughn at 6:16 PM