Transformation

2 Epiphany Year C  21 January 2019 . John 2: 1-11

         the Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs

Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, amen.

The steward’s was one of those jobs where you didn’t want to be noticed. Because if you’ve been noticed, it means you’ve screwed up. His job, and that of the people who worked under him, was to be anonymous. Anonymity meant seamlessness; that all was well, and no one would yell at you, or worse.

Yet in spite of his best efforts, meticulous planning and endless preparation, his anonymity was in serious jeopardy. The weeklong wedding celebration was still a couple of days from ending, and they were out of wine. He had already heard a woman whispering to her son, “They have no wine.” Soon everyone would know. And it was his responsibility.

He didn’t hear the man’s response to his mother; instead the steward had hurried to tell the bridegroom about the brewing disaster. His heart was in his mouth. How could this happen? Everybody was supposed to contribute to this celebration—that’s they way it was supposed to work—but it hadn’t. Where in the world would they get enough wine to serve the rest of this party?

He didn’t notice the servants. They remained unheeded, except for the attention of the woman and her son, who quietly told them to fill the jars. They had no idea how jars of bathing water would solve the problem, but theirs was not to question or raise a fuss. So, as quietly and covertly as possible, they set about following the stranger’s instructions. Six heavy jars filled to the brim. By the time they were finished they were sweating, but they had done the work, while the steward panicked and the guests—at least for the time being—paid them no mind.

The stranger—what did he just do? Did he speak, or touch the water somehow? It happened so fast—then he asked them to ladle out some… no, wait. Abundant, garnet-colored, and fragrant with berries and late summer sun… What had they just witnessed? Who was this man?

The steward, mystified—and incalculably relieved—distributed the wine to the guests, and then returned to his blessed anonymity; yet with the knowledge that he had been part of something extraordinary. But the servants—the carriers of the water, the silent ones on the edge of the party—would they ever be the same? I like to think not. I like to think that this was a life-changing encounter for them. This is a glimpse of the Dream of God.

In this, the first of the miracles or “signs” in John’s Gospel, intended to illuminate his identity as the Son of the Living God, Jesus has wasted no time in upending the customary perception of who are insiders and who are outsiders. This is not a story of the bridegroom and his new bride, nor of the glittering days-long nuptial celebration with its honored guests and healthy dowry. No; the ones privileged to witness the miraculous transformation of the ordinary into the sacred are themselves the ordinary ones; the unnoticed ones who faithfully do their work on the margins. The ones that no one usually notices unless something goes wrong. Jesus privileges the unprivileged, inviting them to join with him in revealing that the Dream of God is at hand.

So we have here an open-and-shut case of Kingdom inversion; a perfect example of how Jesus turns our expectations upside-down and gives everyone a seat at the table at God’s banquet. Right? Not so fast.

Sometimes, when reading Scripture, something bothers you, like a puzzle piece that won’t fit. The easy thing to do is ignore it and move on—address the parts that make sense and that do fall neatly into place. But the problem is, no matter how hard you try to complete the picture—that hole is still there, waiting to be addressed.

If this were an open-and-shut case of Everybody Is Welcome to God’s Party, wouldn’t the servants have gotten to drink the wine? But they didn’t. They passed it to the steward, who passed it to the bridegroom, and the guests went on as if nothing had changed. This is disturbing. And it should be.

Jesus privileges the servants; the unprivileged and the unnoticed. They (and the disciples) witnessed an amazing miracle. But for the hosts and the rest of the guests, that miracle took place without their knowledge. The wine shortage crisis, so quickly and quietly averted, might never have happened. Except that it did. Right under their noses.

Surely there is a parable here; a parable that imagines us as the wedding guests, blissfully unaware of the work of the Kingdom that calls to them from the anonymous margins.

Perhaps this parable is telling us that the transformation of ordinary to sacred—of scarcity to abundance– is incomplete unless and until we participate in it. Perhaps it is calling us to take notice of that which has been unnoticed—until there is a crisis.

As Fr. Mark has noted in his weekly epistle, the partial government shutdown has become a matter of increasing concern, especially to the 800,000 workers and their families who are directly affected. I confess to a degree of complacency in the early days–I hadn’t given much thought to the impact the hitherto unnoticed work of so many people has on the rest of us–people often working quietly on the sidelines— the Coast Guard, the TSA, air traffic controllers, the IRS, the Park Service, the FDA–  for not a whole lot of money. They make so many aspects of our lives run more smoothly and safely and we haven’t paid much attention– until now. And as the shutdown goes on we hear stories of parents skipping meals so their children can go to daycare or the doctor. Frantic negotiations with landlords and utilities to put off bills until the paychecks start flowing again. This isn’t just a story of political conflict—it is a deeply human story that goes to the heart of who we are called to be as Christians—to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Dr. King, who we honor this week, had a name for what we are called into. He said,

Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.

MLK

There are signs that eyes are opening to this crisis. Reports abound of local efforts, like Roger Williams University’s offering of free meals to Coast Guard families, restaurants serving free dinners to furloughed workers, while customers of those same restaurants donate funds to help. Food banks, like the ones at PICA and Camp Street Ministries are opening their doors wider and need our extra support, which is why we’re encouraging everyone to be generous with your donations of non-perishable goods in the baskets at the back of the church. Eyes are opening. The unnoticed is being noticed. It’s what the New York Times calls “a makeshift national safety net, stitched together by private businesses, banks, local governments, organized labor and charitable organizations…spreading slowly and unevenly across the United States…”

Transformation – a qualitative change in our souls – like water into wine, from the ordinary into the extraordinary. From complacency into generosity. Whispers of the Beloved Community.

The story of a single miracle tells us who Jesus is. The rest of the story, being written right now, is what tells us who we are, and who we can be: filling the glass to the brim and offering everyone a drink. Amen.

servant and water jar

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