Sunday, January 17, 2016

2 Epiphany

Annual Meeting Sunday
January 17, 2016

Isiah 62.1-5; John 2.1-11

+ Today is our Annual Meeting Sunday. And I’m always pleased when we can get together to celebrate St. Stephen’s. There’s a lot to celebrate, after all.

Now, I know some of you might be groaning. Not another celebration, you’re thinking.  We, that’s what we do here. We do that a lot here. And we do it very, very well. It’s very natural to us. We celebrate at the drop of a hat here. And that’s a very good thing to do. After all, God is doing very good things here. We should celebrate that.

Now, I know it might not seem like there’s a lot to celebrate maybe in our larger Church. This week, of course, the Primates of the Anglican Communion met—the primates are the presiding bishops of each church body of the Anglican Communion. The meeting was, for the most part…let’s say…a bit disappointing.  We, in the Episcopal Church, were reprimanded by them in that meeting for our so-called “breech” of Catholicism by our vote last summer for marriage equality. And as a result, we had our wrist slapped.  And a collective finger was wiggled at us. And we were scolded.


So be it.

As Bishop Chilton Knudson of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland wrote to her diocese:

“The sky is not falling!”

It’s discouraging, yes. It’s disheartening. It’s disappointing to see that equality is still not a common denominator in the Church.

For us at St. Stephen’s, that’s no surprise. We’ve been here before. But, we know this: We as a congregation certainly made the right choice for us in what did in December.  We sided with Christ and his Gospel, as we try to live them out in our congregational life.  And oftentimes, as I have said again and again, choosing in such a way often means receiving wrist slaps (or much worse). It often means treading through discouragement and disappointment. It often means being seen by others as representing everything wrong so we can do what we feel is right.

But, God is doing very good things for us, despite what Bishops and Archbishops might say.  Well, there was another Bishop who said some good things. Our own presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, probably said it best—and his words are words that could be used for everything we do and have done here at St. Stephen’s:

"Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.”

All are one in Christ. See, the sky is not falling In fact, look! There’s a wide and beautiful sky before us. And we should celebrate that.

In our Gospel reading for today, we also get another celebration.  It is the wedding at Cana. It’s such a great celebration the good wine has run out and the wedding feast is about to crash quickly. Yup, I’ve been at those weddings too. But Jesus of course—as always—saves the day.  What does he do? He turns water into wine.  And when he does, there is a renewed sense of joy and exultation.  

That I think is the gist of this experience from our gospel reading.   It is not just some magic trick Jesus performs to wow people.  It is not some action he performs at the whim of his mother.  He performs this miracle and in doing so instills joy in those gathered there.

But more than that, by doing this he does what we always does when he performs a miracle.  He performs miracles not just for the benefit of those at the wedding.  It is for our benefit of us as well.  Because by performing this miracle, he is giving us a glimpse of what awaits us all.  

If we look closely at the story and at some of the details contained in it, we will find clues of the deeper meaning behind his actions.

First of all, let’s look at those jars of water.   This is probably the one area we don’t give a lot of thought to. But those jars are important. They are not just regular jars of water. They are jars of water for the purification rites that accompany eating in the Jewish tradition.  That water is essentially sacred. We talked about this last week when we talked about the waters of baptism. It is used to purify people and things. A good Jew at that time would wash their hands in this water so they could eat their food.

There’s a wonderful phrase that perfectly captures what Jesus did: he turns the “waters of purity into wine.” And not just any wine. But abundant wines that bring about a joy among those gathered. 

In a sense, what Jesus has done is he has taken the party up a notch.  What was already probably a good party is now an incredible party.  It’s a beautiful image and one that I think we can all relate to.

And I think it speaks loudly to us on this Annual Meeting Sunday. We, at St. Stephen’s are planning this coming year. We are looking ahead.  We are planning a year in which there are so many great and wonderful opportunities and possibilities for us as a congregation.

God has blessed us—and blessed us abundantly, here. Look around at all the wonderful ministry we are experiencing. Look around at all the improvements and the good and positives changes that are happening here.

When God blesses, it is not just a little blessing here and there.  It is abundant blessings.  It is like the purification water turned into abundant wine.

The best part of this view of the wedding at Cana is that Jesus is saying to us that, yes, there is joy here in the midst of us, but a greater joy awaits us. Greater joys await us in our future together here at St. Stephen’s   And an even greater joy waits when the Kingdom of God breaks through into our midst.  

When these things happen, it is very much like a wonderful wedding feast.   When they happen,  the waters of purification are turned into the best-tasting wine because we will no longer have to worry about issues like purity. When we see these wonderful things happening in our midst, we can look closely at it and see God in our midst.

We can certainly see God working in the ministry we do together here at St. Stephen’s.  There are abundant blessings in our midst.  They are surrounding us on this day in which we gather to plan another year.

As we plan another year of looking for and finding Christ in our midst.  Another year of following Jesus in all that we do.  And as we do, there is a sense of joy at this—a joy very much like the joy one feels at a wedding feast—that is, a wedding in which true love is celebrated and blessed. That is our joy today. That is the way we celebrate—and celebrate well—here.

So, let us look and find Christ in this water turned to wine.  Let us continue to find Christ in all the wonderful blessings we have been granted here in our congregation and in our own lives.  And when we do, we too will be amazed at all the wonderful and amazing ways God has blessed us and supplied us to continue to do what we do best—to love, and to love fully and completely. To accept and to accept radically.

The sky is not falling. There is beauty, even today, even despite the bitter cold, despite the hardships of life, despite the scolding from those in authority, despite the frustrations of ministry.

The prophet Isaiah says in our reading today,

“You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
And a royal diadem in the hand of God.

“You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
And your land shall no more be termed Desolate…
For the Lord delights in you.”

God delights in us.   How amazing is that?  God delights in us! That is what we should be celebrating today!  Amen.

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