Fill the Jars!

[special_heading title=”Fill the Jars!” subtitle=”by Louise Westfall” separator=”yes”]What do you expect to hear in the sermon today? It’s a perfect opportunity to echo the clarion call of the prophet Micah and the prophet Martin to “do justice.” Or maybe delve into the depths of systemic racism from which we white folks have benefited and which distorts and threatens our nation’s ideals of freedom and equality. I could lift up the hardened problem of police violence towards Black people, talk about mass incarceration disproportionately affecting people of color, or cite statistics about the appalling wealth and income gap between Blacks and whites. Any one of the sayings of Dr. King with which we began the service are worthy of deeper acknowledgement and exploration.

So the lectionary scripture text for today may seem an odd choice. It’s in no one’s canon for “social justice” sermons. You won’t hear the phrase even once. It doesn’t describe one of the righteous confrontations between Jesus and religious or civil authorities. If you’re itching for a fight, this is not that text. In fact, it’s not an account of Jesus’ public ministry at all; he’s not teaching in the synagogue or proclaiming on the mountainside. He’s off the clock; attending a wedding with his mother and disciples. A celebration in someone’s home, with food and drink and dancing and conversation and laughter that arise out of love and bonds of family and friendship. A small domestic crisis arises–the hosts (probably the parents of the bride) run out of wine. Not a big deal, other than some social embarrassment. What happened next has stumped Biblical scholars and preachers for a long time. But I wonder, friends. Could this, the first of all Jesus’ miracles, point to the heart of his message?  Can we find here a glimpse of what Dr. King said was the goal of his work:  to build the Beloved Community, the Kin-dom of God on earth as in heaven?  A reading from the good news according to John, in the second chapter verses one through eleven. Listen for God’s Word to us, in desperate need of celebration and laughter and Spirit and justice and … love. [JOHN 2:1-11]

Back when I was in seminary, every student in the ordained ministry track had to take a class on worship in which you were videotaped preaching, baptizing a doll, and leading Communion, for evaluation and comment by classmates and professor. Honestly the only feedback I remember was the professor’s commenting that when I lifted the Communion chalice, it looked like I was making a toast. Which to him clearly sent the “wrong” message. A little more solemnity, a little less conviviality, Louise.

But now I’m not so sure. The sacrificial love Jesus poured out on the cross brought us life, and that is worth remembering and celebrating often. To life! Last week we emphasized the difficulty of following Jesus, the hard and unconventional work of discipleship. That’s true and important. But today’s text points with equal passion to the joy of following Jesus, the surprising and abundant provision in the life of discipleship. That’s important also, and when you mix the two, you’ve got the essential ingredients for creating Beloved Community.

Bold work and sheer grace. Duty and delight. Responsibility and fun. In the journey of faith, they’re not opposites, but twins–co-equal components that together will sustain us for the long haul.[callout_box title=”Following Jesus is not an entirely safe path.” subtitle=””]I love Mary’s reaction after Jesus shrugs his shoulder at the problem she’s presented to him. She doesn’t argue back or seek to persuade him to save the situation. She simply turns to the stewards and says confidently, Do whatever he tells you. His mother knew at some level that following his lead would be the best course of action.

And so it is. Jesus turning water into wine signifies the surprising (some would say “miraculous”) abundance poured out upon God’s people. The sheer size of the stone jars –each holding twenty or thirty gallons—represents the uncalculated, unimaginable blessings bestowed upon us. God doesn’t dole out goodness in dribs and drabs; it’s an everflowing stream from an inexhaustible Source. The Beloved Community experiences the fullness of life; we taste grace, not simply learns its theological definition.

The miracle at Cana locates that Community on terra firma. Among human people. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer–the one that Jesus taught us–we pray for God’s will to be done and God’s Kingdom to be established on earth as it is in heaven. Friends, that’s why Dr. King insisted we could not wait for heaven to set things right. We who have been served the good wine see that there’s enough and more than enough for everyone to drink, for everyone to experience the heady joy of God’s gracious and life-giving purposes. So we do what Jesus tells us. Fill the jars!  Fill them now. Fill them with the stuff of earth, all we have to offer, and see what happens next. O! Just see what happens next!

Today we’re going to practice that imperative. You heard Molly invite us to draw and color and write messages of hope to our neighbors who have been traumatized by the uncontrolled forces of nature. The bulletin insert gives you specific instructions. Take the paper you need from the table here in front; there are markers around the sanctuary. Fill those messages with all the hope and love and caring and connection you can possibly offer. Picture in your mind the recipients:  people who have lost their homes, precious keepsakes, pets, and sense of security. Health care workers who have treated people for smoke inhalation, burns, panic, exhaustion … not to mention Covid. City and county officials responding to a mountain of needs. Business owners who watched as their livelihood went up in smoke. Churches mobilizing for ministries of healing and service. Our friends Chris Leh, Louisville councilperson … Jacqueline Decker Vanderpol, a beloved former associate pastor whose parents’ home was burned to the ground, as she serves St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. Every one part of the Beloved Community. Fill the jars, my friends.

And do the same by writing a letter of support for more just and equitable voting legislation. I know there will be some who say it’s too late. Otheres might think it’s too political or too partisan. But this is so that all citizens of our nation may have access to the good wine, the abundant life God intends not for “just us” but towards justice for all. Specific information is also on the insert. Picture the individuals affected by restrictive voting laws—-the single parent juggling two jobs and inconsistent child care getting to a polling place across town; the elderly homebound person; a citizen for whom English is not their first language. Every one part of the Beloved Community. Fill the jars, my friends.

Here is some time to do that.

Thank you, friends. The messages will be delivered and the letters sent on Tuesday.

And yes … I propose a toast … to life!–and to the One who fulfills it completely.