Let us pray.
Lord, our adversary prowls like a lion.
But you are a God who steps into the arena.
Who does not leave us on our own.
Thanks be to God.
On Ash Wednesday, we gathered to mark our heads
With ashes and with dust.
We remembered that we are going to die.
It’s a weird thing to do
With one’s Wednesday night, isn’t it?
“What’d you do last night?”
“Oh, nothing special.
Just put dirt on my head
And remembered I’m going to die one day, you?”
There’s something powerful about it as a ritual, though.
It’s so compelling that strangers at bus stations and on thoroughfares
Find themselves drawn to participate,
Even when they don’t know exactly what it means
Or why they’re doing it.
You can feel the dirt spreading on your forehead
As surely as dirt will be dropped on your casket one day.
We don’t talk like that very often,
Perhaps because we’d rather not imagine that unthinkable future.
That, as Sarah Condon writes,
Devastating impossibility that always happens.
Death gets shoved aside, often.
We are asked to die neatly in special hospice centres
Set aside for the purpose
And within 6 months our family members will be told,
“Oh gosh, surely you’ve moved on by now, right?”
When I served in the Peace Corps in a small village in northwestern Ukraine
Just 30 kilometers from the Polish border,
Death was right in the middle of things.
A whacking great war memorial made up most of the town centre
And everybody knew somebody who’d died in the war
If not in the military
Than in the famine
In the Holocaust
In the aftermath.
When my Ukrainian tutor’s husband was tragically killed,
His funeral wasn’t just open casket
It was open bier.
We set him on a platform
And after the funeral
We loaded him up on a flatbed truck
And processed behind it to the cemetery
Where he was buried
Among rainbow coloured streamers.
The Orthodox have a hymn they sing on such occasions
“Receive, O earth,
The body formed of you
By the hand of God
And again returning to you as its mother.”
Ashes to ashes.
Dust to dust.
Earth to earth.
Death seems close to Jesus in this story of the temptation in the wilderness.
He’s out in the wilderness
Away from the crowds that surrounded John
Baptizing in the Jordan River.
His humanness feels especially apparent.
He’s hungry, Luke tells us.
He’s dirty, no doubt.
He’s got sand clinging to him everywhere
As he waits for whatever insight
The Holy Spirit is trying to show him
Out there in the wilderness.
And then the devil turns up.
Isn’t that just always the way?
Always kicking you when you’re down.
And he tests Jesus
With three temptations:
First, with material comfort.
An end to his very human pains.
Second, with glory and authority,
The ability to do whatever he wants.
Third, with proof of his status
As the Son of God.
That always strikes me, every year,
That the devil begins his taunts with this insidious word “IF.”
“IF you are the Son of God.”
Which implies that maybe even Jesus
Isn’t entirely sure yet
Of who he is
And who God is calling him to be.
Down here in this very human muck
Feeling these very human feelings
It would be easy to doubt
Even if he did remember
The glory he’d set aside.
That’s the really extraordinary thing about Jesus, I think.
That, though he was in the form of God,
He did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped
Taken advantage of,
But emptied himself
To come and join us down here on the earth.
With dirt on his forehead.
And even when the devil
Made him question
If he even really was the Son of God anymore
He didn’t take the bait.
He didn’t abandon us in the dirt.
We worship a God
Who gets down in the muck where we live
Even when it’s awful
Even when it’s dirty and gross and visceral and physical and tragic and heartbreaking
And who stands in the brink
When the devil comes to call
And says “Yes, I am the Son of God.
Not in spite of this but because of this.
Because I am down in the dirt with my people.”
God does not run away from us in the difficult times.
God does not ask us to suffer neatly
Far from Him
So that nobody has to think about how the changes and chances of this life
Are too often a devastating impossibility
That always happens.
God joins us in the dirt.
He hungers and he thirsts.
And ultimately the earth He created
Receives his body
As a mother.
This Lent, as Jan Richardson writes,
“Let us be marked
Not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
Not for shame.
Let us be marked
Not for false humility
Or for thinking
We are less
Than we are
But for claiming
What God can do
Within the dust
Within the dirt,
Within the stuff
Of which the world
Our God makes beautiful things out of dust.
Our God chose to become dust
And held to it even when the devil tormented him for it.
Because he loves we who are his image
Let us pray.
Open the eyes of our heart, Lord,
That we might see your kingdom
On earth as it is in heaven.
“You Are Horrible People.”
Thus proclaims a headline from Macleans Friday morning,
After the horrifically callous reaction
That rocketed around Ontario
In response to a late-night Amber Alert.
There were indeed a shocking number of complaints –
Including to 911, which means legitimate emergencies were held up –
But while it’s tempting to mock Ontarians,
It behooves us to take a moment away from the speck in our neighbour’s eye
And focus on the log in our own.
I may have never used 911 as a complaint line,
But I have definitely been pretty peeved to receive a late night Amber or Silver Alert,
To have my sleep interrupted
For Somebody Else’s Problem.
It’s a sign of the times, perhaps.
Macleans certainly thinks so.
That this is yet more evidence
Of our increasing entitlement and isolation,
Our sense that we earned what we have
And this kind of thing is Somebody Else’s Problem
Because we have forgotten what we owe to each other.
But I’m not so sure it’s that new.
After all, the crowd Jesus is addressing is like that.
I love the way that Luke describes the wild diversity of this crowd
That has come all this way
To hear Jesus.
They have come
From all Judea,
Basically the whole of modern-day Israel
And some of Palestine.
Way to the south of the Sea of Galilee.
From Tyre and Sidon,
In modern-day Lebanon.
This was quite a crowd
That Jesus has attracted!
But why have they come?
Luke tells us that too.
They came to hear him,
And to be healed of their diseases.
Because they were hurting
And they needed help.
And Jesus helps them.
He cures their diseases.
But then he does more.
Because God always does more
Than we could ask or imagine
And sometimes more than we wish he would.
Then he says,
“You are facing the wrong direction.
You are valuing the wrong things.”
Because in Jesus’s time,
It wasn’t exactly common to hear
“Blessed are you who are poor,
For yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
For you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
For you will laugh.”
The poor weren’t blessed!
The poor were a sign of God’s disfavour.
The prevailing worldview at this time
Was that you earned whatever the universe was throwing at you,
Like The Secret,
That book from a couple decades ago?
Where you get back from the universe what you put into it.
So if something bad happens,
Maybe you should’ve been thinking more positively.
As you can see,
Our worldview hasn’t exactly changed much since that time.
Who have these beatitudes
Who’ve heard Jesus’s words of blessing spoken over us
When we are at our poorest,
Our most tear-filled,
Have a tendency to make judgments based on outward appearances.
When good fortune or wealth comes to us,
We say that we are blessed,
Or “hashtag blessed”, as the kids say on Twitter.
There are Christian authors and pastors out there right now
Arguing that riches and fame
Promotions at work
The partner you want in life
All come to you as signs of God’s blessing and favour.
His approval on your life.
And folks who aren’t so fortunate?
Well, maybe they should buy a book about financial peace
Tighten their belts
Give up even more of life’s more frivolous pleasures.
That sounds like Somebody Else’s Problem.
These authors and pastors,
I am ashamed to say it,
Because Jesus doesn’t look upon those
Who are suffering
Jesus looks at those who are poor
Those who are hungry
Those who weep
Those who are persecuted
And bullied for who they are and what they believe
And says that in His eyes
They are blessed.
And just in case we didn’t get the message,
He turns to those who have money,
Those who have good fortune,
Those whom the world would call blessed,
And he says that they have got it wrong too.
What counts as blessed is the exact opposite
Of that which we have deemed worthy.
The last shall be first
And the first shall be last.
And that can be hard listening
For those of us who might count as rich.
It’s a universal human tendency to start counting what’s rich
As exactly one tax bracket above your own,
But it’s safe to say that many of us in this room fit in that category,
At least, from a global perspective.
Lord knows there were many in the crowd
That fit that definition,
And I’ve always wondered what they felt
When they were hearing this.
I’ve always wondered if they translated his “Woe to you who are rich”
As “You Are Horrible People.”
I’ve always wondered
If any of them wandered away
If any of them wished there were a complaint department
For the kingdom of heaven,
“Um, excuse me, waiter?
I just ordered a healing,
I didn’t ask for the side order of a haranguing
About how rich and happy I am
While my neighbours suffer.”
But it’s important for us who fear
This loss of status
That to be last
Is not to be left out.
To be last
Is not to be denied.
To be last
When chosen voluntarily
Can be an extraordinary gift
That not only changes our perspective
But makes a whole new way of living possible.
There’s a folk tale
Found in many cultures.
In this folk tale,
We hear of a great banquet table set
With large dishes
In the centre of the table.
At each place are set
Comically large forks,
Far too unwieldy to be used
To feed yourself.
In hell, the story goes,
The diners are angry to discover the large forks,
And eventually starve
As they sit with their arms crossed
And scowls on their faces,
Ready to complain
That they have no way to partake
Of this sumptuous feast.
The same table is set.
The same comically large forks,
The same impossible task to feed yourself
But we find the diners happily feeding their neighbours across the table,
Because they have discovered that the table
Was set with the intention
That the diners would share.
The proper response to Jesus’s harsh words to the rich,
Isn’t to get defensive
About how we’re not really rich,
Or to feel guilty or ashamed of what we have received,
But to share it with our neighbours.
For then we will no longer be rich,
And the poor will no longer be poor.
The full ones will share their bread with the hungry,
So that no one will hunger and thirst in God’s kingdom.
The well off will cease their judgment
Of those who have less
Because they will recognize that in God’s eyes,
What we have,
What we have earned,
What we have accomplished,
To the infinite love God already has for us.
Every week we pray
“Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
As it is in heaven.”
In that prayer,
We are asking God
To change our perspective
To match His own
That we might see God’s kingdom
Not far away,
Off in the clouds,
But right here,
As Jesus often said,
“The kingdom of heaven
Has come near to you.”
This is what it entails.
This is what we are praying for.
That God would open our eyes
To change the way we look at the world
That we might see with His eyes,
And value what He values.
That we might witness a world
Designed for a community
That has a duty to care for our neighbours.
So that when we see a table set
With forks too long for us to use,
We might realize God’s holy invitation to share
So that everyone
May be blessed.
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead
And defeated the power of death,
Free us from its fear
And give us life forevermore.
Everybody wants to know the meaning of life.
That’s why The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Makes a joke about it being 42.
That’s why we started a class
Called God and The Good Place.
Because everybody – Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics,
Watchers of television –
Everybody wants to know the meaning of life
So that they can live a meaningful life.
We may disagree, though,
About what makes life
Philosophers have argued about it for millennia.
Since Aristotle first considered the question of eudaimonia,
The good life.
But it’s a hard question,
Which is why those philosophers are still arguing about it.
Todd May writes about meaning in life,
As having a narrative quality,
Like a story.
Meaning is created by the values we live over time,
By the story of our life
That can be described by those values.
It’s not a what, like 42,
It’s a how.
How we go about our lives.
It can’t be measured by any one moment,
Like that one time we held the door open for somebody
Or dropped some change in the Salvation Army bucket.
Its primary characteristic is steadfastness,
What theologian Eugene Peterson has called
“A long obedience in the same direction.”
So the question to be asked
If we want to live a meaningful life,
We should ask, “In what direction
Should I be obedient?”
The Corinthian community asked that question.
They’ve got trouble in River City, my friends.
They are at each other’s throats
About the right way to worship.
Some people think they shouldn’t eat meat
That’s been offered to pagan idols,
Others think that’s baloney.
Some people observe special days,
Others say that’s stupid.
One guy’s sleeping with his stepmother!
We’ve been following their story in pieces for a month now,
And Paul keeps reminding them
That God makes them one.
That God has knit them together
Into one body
So could they cut out the arguing already?
But that doesn’t seem to be enough.
It’s not enough to just tell them to love each other.
Y’all who’ve parented children could’ve told him that, I bet.
I imagine that screaming at feuding toddlers to,
“Love each other, gosh darn it!”
Would go super well.
So Paul takes the time to remind them of the point.
He takes the time to remind them
Of the meaning of life.
Of why they are bothering to be the Church
In the first place.
Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
Don’t believe him?
Think that sounds too wild, too out there,
Too good to be true?
Too wonderful to be believed?
If you don’t believe Paul, ask Cephas.
(That’s Peter, by the way.
The same Peter Jesus called first
Looking out from the crowd that surrounded him
At a guy who wasn’t even paying attention
Because he was busy washing his nets
To find the rock
Upon which he would build his Church.)
If you don’t believe Cephas, well the Twelve were there too.
If you don’t believe them,
Here’s five hundred other witnesses,
Yes, some of them have died,
But most of them are still around.
Available for questioning.
Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
That’s the point.
That’s the meaning.
That’s the direction we’re walking,
That’s why we are bothering
To do this whole thing called Church
In the first place.
That’s why Jesus told Peter
To cast his nets in the deep water.
That’s why he told him those nets which were empty of fish
Would be filled to bursting with people.
Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
Death is defeated.
Sorrow will be no more.
Mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
Where, O Death, is thy victory?
Because God has swallowed you up forever.
That’s the whole point.
While there’s other good stuff about the Church,
It is all useless
If Jesus Christ didn’t rise from the dead.
Now, we at Good Shepherd are fortunate
Not to be at each other’s throats.
We do a pretty good job of not arguing
About the petty stuff.
But many Christians today, I think,
Wonder a bit about the point of the Church.
I mean, why bother?
With all of the scandals and the sins of the past,
With all of the time and effort it requires?
With all of the other groups out there
That seem more hip and with it and fun,
That don’t have the baggage that the Church does.
Let’s just stay in our PJs and make life easy.
Church is too
And faced with that attitude
Those of us who have been faithful
May begin to wonder
About the point of our long obedience.
Will it matter
If there is no one to keep the flame
When we are gone?
There’s a narrative out there
That the Church is dying.
And it’s a scary narrative
For those of us who’ve given our life to this institution,
That’s provided meaning and value for us
For which we have sacrificed and laboured
In long obedience to the God we worship.
This narrative is all around us,
As budgets tighten,
As churches shrink and close,
As fear extinguishes hope.
A seminary classmate of mine has described his work as a youth minister
As that of an obstetrician
Whose only colleagues are hospice doctors.
“Yes, yes,” he says, “I’m sure that death indeed is taking place,
It’s just that I am so very occupied
With all this new life I’m seeing.”
I know how he feels.
I discerned God’s call to the priesthood
And served my first parish
In the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.
When I showed up in 2009,
That diocese wasn’t dying.
It had just been through a terrible schism.
And there were many who had laboured long to avert that schism,
Because they feared that schism would mean death.
And in a way it did.
Certainly, it meant extraordinary change.
But wouldn’t you know it,
The same Jesus Christ who rose from the dead
Is in the business of resurrecting dead things.
That diocese had been through
The absolute worst thing we could imagine.
Everything had broken to pieces.
But the Jesus Christ whose body was broken on the cross
Cradled our brokenness
And put it back together.
Because Jesus is in the business of resurrecting dead things.
And that’s the tradition I was ordained into.
That’s the spirit that my hometown gave me.
That we serve a God
Who is in the business of resurrecting dead things.
So I am not afraid!
When people tell me that the Church might die.
What have I to fear from death?
I serve a God
Who resurrects dead things.
I am not afraid
That my long obedience
Has been to no purpose
Because I serve a God
Who resurrects dead things.
I am not afraid
That the meaning of life might just be 42
And I have no idea what in the heck that means
Because the meaning of my life
Cannot be contained
Into just this mortal existence alone.
Our life is bigger.
Our God is bigger.
It cannot be threatened by death
Because our God resurrects dead things.
That is the point.
That is the meaning.
That is why we continue our long obedience in the same direction
Even when it looks like all hope is lost.
And that is why we keep looking past the crowd
For the unlikely folks who are washing their nets
To call them to come fish with us in the deep water.
It’s not easy.
It’s not convenient.
And sometimes it does seem like our efforts are wasted,
Like the end is nigh.
Like we’ve been fishing all night
And we’re too exhausted for another try.
But even in those times,
When even death itself clings so closely,
Don’t be afraid.
Our God is in the business
Of resurrecting dead things.
Let us pray.
Pour your Spirit upon us, O Lord,
That we might preach good news to the poor.
You gotta have a good opening line.
Back when I was trying to become a blogger,
Websites who advised up-and-coming bloggers
Used to tell us to spend about 50% of the time
Coming up with a post title,
25% of our time on the first line,
And 25% on the whole rest of the blog post.
Because that was about in line with the amount of attention
Your readers would pay to each part.
At preaching camp,
They told us the same thing.
“Never start your sermon with
‘Today, we celebrate the Feast of Circumcision of Our Lord’”
They would tell us.
You gotta have a good opening line.
It draws people in
Captures their attention
Convinces them that the rest of what you’ve got to say
Is worth listening to.
Today, we hear Jesus’s opening line.
As I mentioned last week,
The gospels differ slightly on order of events,
But according to Luke,
Jesus’s adult ministry so far has been to
Immediately head out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan
Then go home to Galilee
To be a good Jewish boy and go to synagogue.
He hasn’t even called his disciples yet!
Because before he asks people to follow him,
Jesus has to give them this thesis statement
This encapsulation of what he is all about
To convince them
That the rest of what he’s got to say
Is worth their time,
“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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Jesus just lays it all out there.
This is the point.
When we look at all future teachings he offers,
All actions he makes,
Every dinner at a tax collector’s house,
Even as he walks to the cross,
Jesus declares that
This is his mission statement,
Through which everything else he does
Should be viewed.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he says,
So he has been anointed by God
To share a message beyond human origin.
A message connected to history,
Because this is a quotation of the book of Isaiah.
And it’s the part of Isaiah,
Where God appoints the prophet to tell Israelites in exile
That they get to go home.
The Israelites who were living in Babylon
Believed that their exile was divine punishment
For their idolatry,
But Isaiah turns up to tell them they’re up for parole.
It’s good news, this message,
And specifically, it’s good news for the poor.
Not the poor in spirit.
Not the slightly disadvantaged.
Not the less than billionaires.
The gospel that Jesus preaches is good news
For the poor.
It’s also good news
For captives, who are now released from their bondage.
For the blind, who receive recovery of sight.
For the oppressed,
Who hear that freedom’s coming,
The Year of the Lord’s Favour.
Now, the Year of the Lord’s Favour
Doesn’t mean God is just smiling down on people,
Happy about them.
It doesn’t mean God is going to bless the crops
And make everyone rich.
The Year of the Lord’s Favour is something outlined in the Law.
It is a divine economic reset,
Intended to be carried out
Every fifty years.
All debts are forgiven.
All land that had been sold
Had to be returned
To its original owners.
Good news for the poor, indeed,
But not necessarily super great news for the rich,
Many of whom had bought up this land
And now had to return it
With no hope of a refund.
I haven’t been able to find any evidence
That the Israelites ever actually practiced this Law,
Which makes it kind of amazing that it never got dropped from the Scriptures
Over the years.
But it didn’t,
So everyone knew they were supposed to respond
To Jesus’s proclamation
With a radical reordering of society
That would leave many much poorer than their current state
For the sake of others.
It’s no wonder the crowd responds by trying to throw him off a cliff!
Now, we might be surprised to hear
That this is Jesus’s mission statement.
As full of sinners as any other collection of people,
Seems to have forgotten our marching orders rather quickly.
While the Church in Acts is recorded as holding all things in common,
We can see from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians
That remembering we are all in this together
Was a struggle even from early days.
People are shocked when I share with them
Christ’s love for the poor
His call to radical freedom
And total reordering of society
To render justice for the oppressed.
That’s not something they associate with Jesus at all.
Over the past 17 months I have served as your rector,
I’ve been running all over the city,
Having coffee with various non-profit leaders,
Trying to figure out how we can contribute
To the service they are offering our neighbours.
At some point,
In nearly every conversation,
The other person says,
“Don’t you …. worry you’ll get in trouble
For saying things like Jesus loves the poor?
For encouraging Christians to let those they’ve oppressed go free?
Shouldn’t you keep some of these opinions to yourself?”
At first, I didn’t know how to answer them,
So completely was I taken aback.
I didn’t realize just how terrible the Christian reputation was,
That people thought it would be controversial
For me to proclaim the very statement
That inaugurates Jesus’s ministry.
It’s been sobering
To learn just how few people
Associate the gospel of Jesus
With good news.
But we can change that.
We have to change that.
Because the body of which we are members
Is not just our human collective.
It is the body of Christ Himself.
It is not just that we all suffer
When even one member does,
Jesus suffers too.
And when we proclaim a gospel
That offers judgment upon the poor,
Slammed doors in the faces of prisoners,
“God helps those who helps themselves” to the blind,
And “get over it! That was so long ago” to the oppressed,
Then it’s Jesus
Who people hear making those claims.
So it’s our job
To live into his mission statement
As individual members of his body in the world
So that it’s no longer considered controversial
To proclaim that what motivates us
Is the same word that he lived, and died,
And rose again to declare.
As we gather today
For our annual meeting,
We will have some business to discuss.
Now, it may seem boring to talk about budgets and vestry members
And Robert’s Rules of Order,
But I want us to keep this mission statement in mind.
Because we are not a business.
We’re not even just a non-profit.
We’re a church,
Part of the body of Christ whom we worship.
Everything we do – everything!
From what we say to what we buy to who leads us
Should reflect the mission Jesus proclaimed.
Because if we won’t live into Jesus’s opening line,
How the heck are we going to follow
The rest of the example he showed us?
This is our mission.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.
Will we proclaim
Let us pray.
Fill us up, O Lord,
That the water of our lives
Might overflow with the wine of your love
For us, and for the world.
I gotta tell y’all:
Jesus’s first miracle is weird.
As Anglicans, we have always placed an outsized importance on it.
It features in that exquisite opening prayer offered at weddings,
“Which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence,
And first miracle that he wrought,
In Cana of Galilee.”
But it’s weird, right?
As I was serving as author-in-residence
For the daily devotional website d365 this week,
I really struggled with what to say about this miracle –
Especially on a site intended for teens!
What could I say to teenagers
About God’s abundance
Expressed through the miraculous creation of wine out of water
That would be appropriate for them?
But that’s not the only element of Christ’s first miracle
According to John at least, he’s the only one who tells us this story,
That’s a bit odd.
Jesus, his mom, and his disciples,
Whom he has just called,
It just happened,
Are at a wedding.
We don’t know, it’s not important.
Why is it Jesus’s mom’s job
To make sure they have enough wine?
Why is Mary making this her problem?
And Jesus actually declines to perform the miracle at first!
He agrees: this isn’t his (or Mary’s) problem.
But nevertheless, Mary persisted,
And Jesus, like most of us, ends up taking his mom’s advice.
He looks around and sees large jars standing nearby.
Now, the purpose of these jars is to hold water
To be used for the Jewish rites of purification,
But what I didn’t notice until reading it again this week,
Is that the jars were empty
At the time Jesus noticed them.
Jesus didn’t look around and find water that was to hand;
Jesus called for jars that were empty
To be filled.
He invited human beings,
Human beings who might not often be noticed,
Into participation in this first miracle.
And then, Jesus tells them to take the water from the jars
Out to the steward,
So that he could see the results.
There’s no hand-waving or magic words.
Jesus doesn’t even use spit,
Like he so often does,
Or lay his hands on anything.
He tells them to go out,
And in faith,
It is a great sadness to many Christians, I think,
That it appears we no longer live in an age of miracles.
While some, including me,
Would dispute the assertion that no miracles occur
In this modern age,
They certainly seem to be thinner on the ground
Than they were in Bible days.
And so I think there is a great deal of comfort to draw
From this story of Jesus’s first,
From Jesus’s reluctance to perform it
Perhaps we can learn that miracles
Are not his preferred way to work.
From Mary’s insistence
Perhaps we can learn that
Love, and relationship,
Are the ingredients that make miracles possible.
And I think there’s something to be learned from those empty stone jars as well.
Jesus doesn’t choose just any water for this miracle.
He chooses water
To be used for the rites of purification,
Rites that he decries in other gospels.
Seriously! He tells the Pharisees to quit worrying
About the ritual washing of hands
And focus on making sure that their deeds are actuallypure.
But here, he embraces those rites.
He makes use of water that prepares hearts and minds,
And honestly, bodies
To show forth his abundance.
And he makes use of people, too.
It’s not that Jesus couldn’t make the necessary wine
Without these servants’ help,
It’s that so often
In the Gospels,
Jesus chooses not to act alone.
Jesus chooses to build a community of disciples around him.
Jesus chooses to ask those who come to him
If they wish to be healed.
Jesus chooses to ask these servants
To bring him the supplies he will use
To manifest his glory.
And it seems to me that Jesus still chooses
To make miracles
Through that which is brought to him
By human beings.
My friends: it is our turn to act.
We are the ones
Whom Jesus is calling
To bring forth the water.
That water can look like the donations we offer
To the food bank every month.
That water can look like supporting our Green, Growing Sundays
By inviting children and youth you know to participate,
And by serving as an adult mentor.
It can look like opening our building to our neighbours.
It can look like serving on the cemetery team.
There are a lot of different ways to bring forth the water
Jesus will turn into wine,
But they all involve effort.
And while I can’t speak for everyone,
I think many of us would say that we’re a bit pressed for time,
And a bit exhausted by the idea of effort.
It’s tempting to ask Jesus
To not only turn the water into wine
But to get the water himself.
I wish I could tell you it worked that way, guys,
I really do.
But the biblical witness is that it doesn’t.
If we want to receive the Spirit’s gifts,
If we want to see the miracle,
Then we have got to show up.
Our efforts may appear paltry,
As water does to wine,
But it’s not about how good our offering is.
God will transform it into that which is needed,
For the sake of his kingdom.
We still have to offer it, though.
It is Jesus’s time.
He is ready to perform the miracle.
All that remains in the water.
Will we provide it?
Will we make possible
God’s mighty power
To serve the banquet?
May it be so.
Let us pray.
At your baptism you demonstrated there was nowhere you would not go
To show your faithfulness to us.
Grant that all who have been baptized in your name
May remain faithful to you.
Over the holidays I went to see the movie Aquaman.
It is a supremely dumb film,
But it’s a lot of fun,
So if you go in with the right expectations,
It’ll be a good time.
As you might expect,
It’s a movie about the sea,
And the creatures that live therein.
Early on, a teacher tells Aquaman’s grade school class
That we have better maps of the surface of Mars
Than we do of the ocean floor.
That’s true, by the way, NASA confirms it,
And the main characters in the movie are kingdoms and tribes of beings
Who live undetected by people like us,
Whom they call surface-dwellers.
The ocean is an unknown place,
Filled with hidden dangers,
Perhaps not the fish monsters put forward by blockbuster movies,
But dangers all the same.
In Jesus’s time,
The ocean was thought to be a symbol of chaos,
And the abode of evil spirits.
I mentioned last summer that in the Enuma Elish,
A Babylonian creation story,
Creation itself is conquest of Tiamat, the goddess of chaos
And the sea,
And the Psalmist uses these images
As he sings of God’s victory over the great sea creature Leviathan.
The depths of the ocean are unknown,
And frightening to us even now,
How much more so to our ancestors
Who had told and retold these ancient stories
Of the monsters hiding in the deep?
And so today we celebrate the feast
Of the Baptism of Our Lord.
The Baptism of Our Lord is something of a surprising feast.
The story of Jesus’s baptism is told in all four gospels,
Even those gospels that do not tell the story of his birth.
It’s Jesus’s first public act as an adult.
It’s remarkable that these gospels,
Who so rarely agree on the order in which events
In Jesus’s life happen,
Sometimes even where or how they happened
Agree on this.
And yet it makes no sense theologically.
Because the baptism that John was offering
Was for the remission of sin.
The book of Acts makes clear the distinction between Christian baptism
Commanded by Jesus
After his resurrection
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
And the baptism of John,
Which is a ritual washing away of sin.
But the Scriptures are also clear
Did not sin.
Jesus did not need his sins to be washed away in baptism
As we do,
Because he was without sin.
So why was he baptized?
There are many reasons, I think,
But one of them, surely, was because of water.
Jesus begins his ministry
By being submerged in water.
He has entered the home of the evil spirits.
He has completed God’s victory over Leviathan,
By entering Leviathan’s abode.
Scott Sharman, a priest in this diocese,
Posted an Eastern Orthodox icon depicting Jesus’s baptism this week.
“See how the monsters hiding in the deep
Scramble to flee as his body touches the water,”
The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus
Is a continuation of the sign of the Incarnation
Began at Christmas:
That there is nowhere God will not go
For the love of his Creation.
All those places of our lives
That we keep hidden,
The places where evil loves to dwell,
The secret corners of our mind that torment us
With worry, fear, anger, despair
Those places are not closed off to God,
And God will conquer them too,
For our sake.
No matter what monsters of the deep
Threaten our peace of mind,
God is there.
No matter what unknown futures
Send us into spasms of worry,
God is there.
No matter how often we feel crushed by the pressure of the waters around us,
God is there.
We who are baptized
Can journey through the deepest waters
Because our God went there first.
And so today we come to baptize Malik.
In so doing,
His parents and godparents,
And all of us, really,
Will make some pretty big promises.
Promises that sometimes feel too overwhelming to keep.
At our rehearsal,
I mentioned to the family that when we promise to
“Respect the dignity of every human being,”
It really does mean EVERY human being,
Not just those who respect our dignity in return.
That’s a hard promise.
We promise to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ,
Which means we can’t prioritize our own wealth or safety
Over that of our neighbours.
That’s a hard promise.
We make these promises
Not because we are confident in our own ability to keep them,
All the days of our lives,
But because we are confident
That the Lord who is faithful
Who came among us as one of us
Because he did not choose to be God without us
Who went down unto the abode of evil and chaos itself
To show us the safe way through
Will not let the rivers overwhelm us.
Whatever waters are rising in your life,
Know that the God who has stretched to fill the deepest depths,
Beyond what we even still know,
Thousands of years later,
Will never forsake you or abandon you.
We who have been sealed in baptism
And marked as Christ’s own forever
Can be confident
That even in the deepest waters
We will fear no evil
For God is with us.