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It would never be said of me that I am patient.  If I can’t figure out something which I’m supposed to put together on the first or second time (can you say, “Ikea?”) I’m tempted to just curse it and pout and mutter.  If the muffins are supposed to take twenty minutes to bake, I’m opening the oven and sticking a knife in them at twelve minutes just to be sure.  When airplanes are late and I’m stuck in the airport at the gate, I’m the one pulling out my hair and standing in line at the ticket counter seeing if there is anything that can be done, because I can’t bear the delay.

Which is strange, really, because there are lovely things which can be done while one waits, while one practices patience, things I actually love to do…read, cross-stitch, do a crossword puzzle, twiddle my thumbs (seriously, I kind of like the repetition of the thumb thing).  

This is all the long way around saying that we are still waiting.  We are waiting to slowly watch the ventilator levels decrease.  We are waiting to see Dick open his eyes.  We are waiting for antibiotics to take effect.  We are waiting for the slow process of healing.

Today was a big day in room 3126 (a day we’ve been waiting for).  Dick was moved from his rotating bed into a regular hospital bed.  AND, he kept his oxygen saturation levels in the 90th percentile while it happened, and they even pushed upwards of 95% in the hour or so afterward.  It is good to see his face again, to be able to hold his hand.  Sedation is decreased for about twenty minutes each day to start to see if an assessment of mental functioning can be made.  We got to see his eyes open today, just briefly.  

So we wait.  And one of us learns patience.  As my mom said today to the nurse, “Dick is one of the most patient people we know, and he’ll teach us how to take things one step at a time.”

 

We’d sure love to see him rise…

Daily update from Dick’s bedside: My Mom was called back to the hospital early this morning at 1:45. Dick had had some heart irregularities (PVCs for those in the healthcare world who understand this, I confess that I always thought PVCs were pipes). My dear Mama tried to sleep there at the hospital then, but got no rest. It was a trying and rough night and I’m still feeling guilty that I didn’t join her there at that time (but was trying to balance preaching at Peace in the morning, trying to be Super-Daughter, and Super-Mother and Super-Pastor [all roles I want to fulfill for people I love] creates a lot of ambiguity in my head). I arrived after worship and spent the afternoon with Dick to spell mom so she could go home and sleep, and then she spelled me at suppertime so I could go home and be with Robert and Gray. 

Here’s what I’m learning (and I knew this intellectually when I worked as an ICU chaplain but am living it anew), there are a million and one ups and downs. And the lovely and difficult thing is that the world goes on. Our world is contained to this hospital room with these thousand and three IV tubes and for the rest of the world (which we love hearing about) things continue to unfold. Groceries still need to be purchased, laundry still needs to be done, children still need to be fed, dogs still need to be walked, taxes still need to be filed. This is actually quite comforting, that life goes on, but it still complicates the lives of those of us who are in limbo (and may be for weeks and months [if we are lucky it will be this long]).

So, my request to my Facebook friends is simply this: please continue to hold us in the light. We need some light. And thank you for all you’ve done to send us love; we feel blessed.

Coming to Ourselves

 The words came like a smack out of nowhere on Thursday night.  I noticed that there was a pouting child standing next to me at my computer as I finished an email.  I turned, expecting a long lamentation about why bedtime was too early, I can handle those arguments with one hand tied behind my back.  But the words I heard instead from my normally sweet and rational five-year-old were these, “Mom, you and Dad favor Brynn (his sixteen-year-old sister).  And it isn’t fair.”  What?!?  In what was probably not best parenting move, I burst out laughing, to which I got the stink eye, and an indignant response, “Stop laughing!  I’m serious.”  I quickly realized that Grayson meant business.  His reasons were three-fold, clearly he’d been doing some thinking: he was not allowed to stay up after 9:00 and Brynn was, he was not allowed to sleep with the dog and Brynn was, and he could not have a laptop and she did.   “And so,” he summarized like a little prosecuting attorney bent on justice, “you favor her.”  I explained reasons: Brynn is older, Brynn’s bedroom doesn’t have carpet the dog can destroy, and, well, Brynn bought the laptop and is almost seventeen.  My rationalizations seemed futile in the face of bedtime crankiness and indignation, until I asked Grayson if he would like me to carry him up to bed, to which he responded, “Yes, I would, and it just dawned on me, Mom, that Brynn doesn’t get carried up to bed.”  Somehow this seemed to equal the playing field.

 Being an only child, myself, I have often been immune to sibling rivalries or slights.  I don’t know the feeling of thinking your parent might love one child more than another, or that this sibling that you grew up with is both your closest friend and harshest critic.  And so the story of the prodigal son is one, I confess that I have always sort of misunderstood, for I saw it as a story of family dynamics instead of what I have come to believe it is: a story about judgment and grace and how it plays a part in each of our lives.  For I have come to believe that we each have a little of the prodigal son in us, and we each have a little of the son who stayed home.  And I believe that those two personas can abide within us and wreak havoc on our souls as we try to wrap our heads around scandalous love and radical grace.

 The first character in the story, of course, is that vagabound son.  The younger one.  Scriptures have called him the prodigal, which means “recklessly wasteful.”  He was, we might imagine a dreamer, one who wanted to see more than the land he had farmed his own life, one who had bigger ambitions, higher hopes.  We can’t really fault him for that, can we?  The rub comes in the way this son goes about getting away: he asks for his share of his father’s inheritance which would have been a terrible insult.  As things stood in Jewish culture at that time, the land was a precious, precious commodity.  Having been a wandering people for centuries, a people who had no home, the idea that a son would deliberately choose to break up an estate and sell off part of it for money to leave his home was utter scandal.  And on top of this, he was insulting his father placing the value of money over the power of relationship.  He did not ask to borrow money, he asked for his birthright, for that which would only come to him when his father was dead.  Essentially he said, “I am finished with you; I am severing ties and moving on.”  But the father does what, I believe, many parents would do.  With sadness, and with remorse, gives that which is asked (and that which ultimately would be due to the youngest child, likely a third of the estate).  We don’t know exactly why the youngest son felt he needed to leave, whether it was a selfish act or a painful mistake, or whether he was simply following the restless passion of a young man who wants to make his own way in the world.  But, regardless, he goes. 

 In quick short verses we learn of the younger son’s plight.  He squandered the money from the property in dissolute living.  And we don’t quite know what that means, sounds as if some poor financial decisions were made, but it’s also a little hard to tell, maybe it was simply that the precarious nature of the economic system knocked him back, maybe sequestration hit Palestine, perhaps if the famine hadn’t come he could have made it.  It’s hard to say, really.  But the reality is that he becomes so desperate that he finds a job taking care of pigs, something which would have been taboo in a strict Orthodox kosher home.  And so he has sunk as far as he can go, has lost it all—family, money, and religious scruples. 

And while the circumstances may have been a little different, while the details vary among us, I would imagine that there may have been moments in our own lives where we can resonate with the bottomless pit that the younger son has landed in.  Times when we may have set out with the best of intentions but made a few wrong turns.  Times when for whatever reason we made poor choices and ended up on a dead end street.  Times when instead of picking up the phone, we picked up a bottle.  Times when what we wanted hurt others, and led to our own alienation.  The younger son is an all-too human figure, the one who wants it all, and cuts ties and damages relationships to get it, the one who in forging a path, doesn’t consider those he mowed down to get it.  The greedy one who wanted more, and didn’t realize how much he might hurt others to get it.  That younger son who is part of so many of us.

We want to hate him, but we also know him all too well sometimes.

 But there is another powerful figure in this story, and you can almost hear the elder brother whining across history, “Why does the story get to be called The Prodigal Son?  Why can’t my name be in it too?”  There is an older brother.  A brother who worked hard, and took care of his father, and who would never dare to do anything unscrupulous.  He is the brother who followed the rules.  He is the one who stayed behind and cleaned up the mess of the life that his younger brother left.  He heard his father cry at night, and watched his father standing in the window looking out over the road, constantly ready to welcome the younger son home.  He must have been so irritated that he always had to be the good son, the one who carried on when his brother ran away.  And I suspect we know these feelings as well, don’t we?  Aren’t many of our churches made up of these older sons?  The ones who have tried to do things right?  Who have tried to follow the rules?

And so the homecoming scene is a tense one.  Wherever we find ourselves in the story.  Whether we identify with the younger son, the ones who felt he had to leave, the one who broke a heart for whatever reason and then the one who landed in quandary and had to come back to ourselves, or whether we identify ourselves as the rule-following older brother, the steady and dutiful child who crosses t’s and dots i’s but who still finds themselves full of resent, the meeting of these two realities doesn’t feel like a comfortable one.

We know what happens.  The father runs to greet the younger son, offering him the best that he has to offer—the softest clothes, the family ring, the choicest meat.  And the older son stands awkwardly, watching the exchange, his temper rising.  And he sputters the truth of the matter, “This isn’t fair.”  And you know what, he’s right.  It isn’t.  But grace is scandalous that way.  And a parent’s love can be extravagant.  And sometimes we can get so caught in what is right, that we forget the good stuff—reconciliation, and reunion, and repentance. 

Until 2001, I lived my life as the metaphorical older child.  I did what I thought my parents wanted of me.  I followed the rules and got good grades.  I obediently attended college, and then graduate school.  I was licensed in the church and then ordained.  I married my college sweetheart when we were in seminary and was called as the associate pastor a prophetic college church.  It was a peach of a life.  And I settled myself into my elder brother existence and did what was expected of me.  And it wasn’t until a few years had passed when I realized that my life felt inauthentic.  And with great sadness, and with even greater shame, and with tremendous remorse I left both my marriage and pastoral ministry.  I felt like I had become that younger brother, demanding my share of the inheritance, and fleeing for a life of what was not dissolute living, surely, but also was not what anyone had hoped for me.  There were many people angry at me for requesting a divorce, many who stopped talking to me because I had wounded my ex-husband so deeply.  I couldn’t blame them.  Throughout that time in my life I kept a quote taped to my computer, and on to my bathroom mirror at night.  It was my mantra and my hope, what I wanted to believe but couldn’t image how.  The quote by the writer Isak Dinesen was this:  We tremble before making our choice in life, and after having made it, again tremble in fear of having chosen wrong.  But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite.  I wanted this to be true, but I was in such pain and darkness, and I knew I had deeply wounded some of those who I most loved.  And those wounds after more than twelve years still tingle a bit in the dark of night.  But my story does not end there for I was blessed to experience my own prodigal daughter homecoming story, which came for me in a whoosh of grace.  Four years later, I experienced my moment of coming to myself when I stood in line to register for a women’s clergy conference in the wilderness of Wisconsin and realized that my former mother-in-law was standing behind me.  Here was the woman with whom I had not spoken since the day over three years before when she and I sat on the kitchen floor dividing tea towels in my old home as she helped my former husband and I break up housekeeping.   I knew I needed to acknowledge her, but I didn’t know how, and I turned around slowly unsure of whether she knew I was the one in front of her, only to have her offer me a bring smile as she pulled me in to embrace me in the soft down of her coat as I began to cry.  She looked into my eyes after that hug and said, “You look happy.  That’s what I’ve I needed to see.”  We spent the rest of that conference sharing meals, and cups of tea, and piecing together the bits and pieces of what went wrong, and what she offered me was nothing short than miraculous and holy.  I experience the love that that prodigal son must have felt  when he saw his father running toward him upon his return to the land he had left.

There is something about being the prodigal child sometimes and being met with grace which makes us a little less of an elder son.  Because once we’ve basked in that kind of undeserved grace, we’re more apt to want to extend it to others.  Once we’ve been invited back into the fold when we know we are completely undeserving, we’re more inclined to want to pull others into the circle of community.  Once we’ve been offered reconciliation, we’re more inclined to want to be peacemakers.  Once we’ve been given unconditional love, we realize that we can offer no less to others.  

The theologian Paul Tillich wrote of the grace we find from the parent who welcomed his youngest son home and reassured his oldest son’s anguish when he wrote these words: Grace strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of…an empty life.  Sometimes a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted.  You are accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know.  Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later.  Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much.  Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything.  Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!”

Grace doesn’t always make sense to us, it may seem undeserved, it may not seem fair, it may mean that your bedtime is a different time than your sisters, or that your brother got the party that you deserved.  But there is abundance in God’s scandalous grace, and it hovers around each of us when we most need to be brought back to ourselves.  May we accept this grace, and offer it to others.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Brooding Hen

 

I have not spent much time with hens.  Being raised a city-girl, my experiences with chickens and roosters have consisted mostly of two extremes.  The first association is of being allowed to hold soft fuzzy yellow chicks, gently, gently, gently at the Fort Wayne Children’s zoo.  The second of hearing my grandmother tell me horror stories of how afraid she was of them because when she was a little girl in Kentucky and would get up in the night to use the outhouse they would peck at her toes.  So, that’s it.  There’s my chicken expertise.  The yin and the yang of chicken wisdom.  And so on Thursday, realizing I needed a little first-hand hen knowledge, I drove over to pick up Grayson early from school.  I did this because at Peace Montessori, where Grayson attends, there is a great big red barn on the campus, and in that great big red barn, behind one big sliding rickety barn doors and then behind one smaller wooden door with a special latch there is a carefully built hen house with heat lamps and straw scattered on the floor.  And in that cozy space there are eighteen very social and surprisingly gentle clucking hens and one big loud rooster.  The administrator at the school didn’t even look at me strangely when I asked if I might go out to the barn and sit with the chickens for awhile, she just smiled and handed me the key and said, “I like to do that too.”  And so for ten minutes or so, I sat on the straw floor in my dress pants and listened to the pecking of beaks and the soft fluttering of wings and the gentle clucking and wondered what it would be like to be held safe under the downy wings of love, just as Jesus longed to hold Jerusalem.  I considered what it meant that the homely hen, she who lived in the backyards of humans for thousands of years, was the inspiration for Jesus’ metaphor.

 

This morning’s lectionary text, the second in our Lenten journey, is sort of a wild-card in the Lenten line-up.  There are so many different directions and different possibilities of what Jesus meant, and of why we need to know this, and how we integrate the knowledge into our modern living.  It’s a bit of puzzler, actually.  What we know is this: Jesus was approached by some Pharisees, those who historically have misunderstood and criticized him, who tell him that he needs to leave the area where he is preaching and teaching for Herod is out to kill him.  You’ve heard the name Herod before right?  Remember?  That king that wanted to kill all the baby boys shortly after Jesus was born?  Well, this Herod, Herod Antipas was his successor and had made up his mind about Jesus, whom he viewed as a threat.  This was the Herod that killed John the Baptist, the Herod that Jesus had to answer to in his final days of life.   As theologian Barbara Brown Taylor once said, “Consider the contrast: Jesus has disciples; Herod has soldiers.  Jesus serves; Herod rules.  Jesus prays for his enemies; Herod kills his.” (Barbara Brown Taylor,  “Chickens and Hens” from Bread of Angels).     And we have to remember that Herod had the support of the Roman authorities, while Jesus was seen as a threat to them.  The differences could not be more striking. 

 

After the warning of the Pharisees,  Jesus responded with uncharacteristic curtness, with what seems like anger, “Go and tell that fox for me…”  and then Jesus goes on to explain his plans which the disciples would have heard as a game plan for the next few days, but which we hear with our twenty-first century ears as a foretelling of the saga which will unfold.

 

And then, here’s where things get a little perplexing.  Even knowing that Herod was after him, even knowing that he was not safe, even knowing that there was a threat to his life, Jesus turned himself toward Jerusalem and spoke those historic words which we have heard again and again, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”  Reading the words we can imagine the lament in his voice.  Setting his face toward Jerusalem even as he seems to know what awaits him there.   So why did he go?  Why did he keep walking?  In the midst of the chaos when he would have had every excuse to flee, he cared instead for the people of Jerusalem, for his people, and he paused to speak a word and offer a metaphor which invited others to seek shelter and redemption under his healing wings of grace saying, “If only I might take you in, if only I might place you under my wing, if only I might be your mother.” 

 

I told you that I knew little about hens, and so after my little field trip to visit the hens at the school  I came home and spent some time reading about them online, trying to understand this metaphor that Jesus wanted to express.  And in doing that, I learned something I was not aware of before, something that I almost missed by growing up so separated from an agrarian culture.  Hens are utterly defenseless.  They have no way of attacking a predator back.  They have no way of outrunning those animals which are intent on destroying them.  And they are utterly selfless in their devotion to their young.  When a fox or a varmint approaches to kill, the hen has only courage and commitment to keep her chicks safe.  Facing the sharp teeth and long claws of her attackers, all she has is the ability to throw herself over the bodies of her chicks, extending her wings over them, letting herself be devoured first in the hope that they might be spared.  Hens do not run from their aggressors, they hunker down and offer themselves as sacrifice for their children.

 

And so when Jesus calls Herod a fox and refers to himself as a hen, there is great significance attached.  The weapons that Herod will use to attack are not the ones that Jesus will use to defend.  In the face of wily cunning, Jesus will choose self-sacrificing devotion.  In the face of naked aggression, Jesus will choose genuine selflessness.  And lovely as this image is, it’s also a little disconcerting, isn’t it?  Does anyone else other than me feel like wanting Jesus to fight back?   Does anyone else want to yell,  “The fox is coming! Get out of there!  Go!  Come on…this is not going to end well!”

 

But, the reality is that this is not the way that revolutionary and radical love works.  Jesus will not return violence for violence, but will instead, gather up those who hear his voice, and understand his message of peace and hold them safely under his wing even as the foxes growl and the storm approaches. 

 

It is Black History month and I recently watched a powerful documentary on PBS about the first of The Freedom Riders those civil rights activists, black and white alike who, beginning in 1961, made the brave decision to board Greyhound and Trailway buses and travel into the heart of the south where segregation was deeply entrenched.  Their mission was simple: to draw awareness to the need for equality and to face resistance with nonviolence and love.  It is a painful documentary to watch.  The raw hatred in the eyes of Ku Klux Klan members (and of course it’s only their eyes that you see underneath those masks of hate), the spittle running down the faces of the riders when they would get off the bus to rest, the utter brutality and the beatings.  It is tempting to want to call out as you watch the film, “Don’t go, don’t do it, don’t subject yourselves to this kind of cruelty!  Spare yourselves the pain!”  And yet, you know.  You know that they had to go.  You know that their faces were set.  You know that Mississippi was their Jerusalem.  You know that if change was to come, the journey had to be made.  And even though the foxes growled, I imagine those brave riders were sheltered under the wings of the one who knew a little something about sacrifice.  The mother hen that protects all her chicks.

 

And so we keep marching on our own Lenten journeys, fixing our sights on the places where we are called to go, even if those places scare us or don’t feel safe.  And when the road becomes too rough, or when the future seems too uncertain, we remember that we always have a safe place to hide, a place where we are embraced in downy softness and held warm in the bosom of God.

 

Amen.

Six Stone Jars

 

On Thursday evening I had dinner with some of the other mothers of young children here at Peace and at CNS.  As we walked out to the car, one of them asked what I was preaching on this week and I told her the text, that it was the story of Jesus turning water to wine, that it was a text I had never preached on before.  She turned to me, stunned, and said, “Excuse me, but isn’t it sort of a ‘go to’ scripture?  One everyone knows by heart?  We all know Jesus turned water to wine?  How have you missed this one?”  As I drove home that evening in the darkness I pondered her question.  It’s true, this is sort of a common story.  It’s true, most people, even people who aren’t avid church goers could name it.  And so how is it that I, who loves searching the scriptures backwards and forwards, and who especially loves looking at the stories of Jesus missed this little gem. 

 

There are a couple reasons I’ve concluded, the first being that the other lectionary text that runs next to it is one of my favorites from Corinthians about gifts and spirits and I given my druthers I’ve probably leaned that way in past years.  But, to be honest, if I search my heart, it’s more than that. 

 

Many of you know that I grew up as a preacher’s kid, the child of a United Methodist pastor in the 1970s and early 1980s.  And the United Methodist Church at that time reflected the culture of, well, a good fifty years before it.  Which meant, that for many of the older generation at Crescent Avenue Church, prohibition still felt, well, pretty recent.  There was a strong T-totaling strand which I remember being aware of from my earliest days.  The story is told in Miller family lore of the day in which my four-year-old tow-headed and shy self played in the housekeeping section of my nursery school classroom, a nursery school which was a ministry of the church where my father was the youngest minister on staff fresh out of seminary.  I played with that wooden kitchen set in a room just down the hall from my father’s office with a little boy named Ryan, whose parents were parishioners at the church.  And on that day I played “house.”  And following traditional gender stereotypes I decided that I would be the mother in the household, and Ryan, being a rather passive and obedient child was commanded by his domineering play spouse to be the father.  I sat him down at the table and offered to serve him supper (ironic, given that I don’t cook now), and then offered him an imaginary hamburger and a few make-believe french fries and green beans.  And then, almost as an afterthought, and perhaps realizing my error at not being hospitable, walked to the small refrigerator turned to him and said in my sweetest wife voice, “I forgot to get you something to drink, Honey.  Can I get you a beer?”  It was an innocent question for me, for I had seen my father, especially after mowing the lawn on a hot summer afternoon drinking from a long-necked bottle with condensation beaded on the outside.  I knew that my parents served wine when company came over.  But, I became aware by the teetering of the preschool teacher, and the slightly nervous laughter of my parents that there was something powerful about what had been said, some secret I had just let loose into the world.

 

The church, or at least the American church and wine, while historically completely intertwined still can have an uneasy relationship.  The theologian and writer Frederick Buechner, in his book Wishful Thinking: A Vocabulary of Faith, offers this definition of wine from a modern Christian perspective.  He says this: Unfermented grape juice is a bland and pleasant drink, especially on a warm afternoon mixed half-and-half with ginger ale.  It is a ghastly symbol of the life blood of Jesus Christ, especially when served in individual, antispeptic, thimble-sized glasses.  Wine is booze, which means it is dangerous and drunk-making.  It makes the timid brave and the reserved amorous.  It loosens the tongue and breaks the ice, especially when served in a loving cup.  It kills germs.  As symbols go, it is a rather splendid one.”  (Buechner, 120).

Frederick Buechner’s definition gets to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it?  Intoxicating beverages can be dangerous, but they can also be powerful and splendid symbols.  We must respect them and sometimes we don’t know how to talk about this in the church.  The joke has been told, “How do you keep a Baptist from drinking your beer when you go fishing?  The answer: take another Baptist along.”  Some folks may drink, but they may not want other church members to know it.  But alcohol addiction is not a joke, of course and we dare not disregard the many lives that have been ruined by alcohol, not to mention the lives of countless people whose loved ones are trapped in the spiral of this kind of addiction.  We dare not trivialize those who day in and day out struggle with how to set limits about how much they will drink alcohol, or whether they will drink knowing their family may have a strong history of alcoholism.   But that isn’t really the kind of drinking we’re talking about today, this morning we are talking about that first sip of an aged and smooth cabernet that a seasoned wine conossieur knows.  In the same way in which we might talk about the way a coffee lover feels with the first sip from a hot cup of freshly roasted Guatamalan coffee. And so I preface this sermon, just for the record, a sermon in which Jesus, our teacher and master, turned water into wine with those words of explanation, lest you infer that I may dismiss alcoholism too easily.  I don’t.

 

This miracle story, the story of the wedding at Cana, is actually the first in a laundry list of miracles stories at the beginning of the book of John.  It occurs in none of the other gospel accounts.  Only here in the second chapter of John do we learn of what Jesus did that day, on the third day of a wedding feast.  Weddings were different during the time of Jesus.  A wedding ceremony wasn’t just an hour or two on a Saturday afternoon or evening in a church with a meal or cake and fruit punch afterward.  Instead, a wedding in Jesus’s time was generally a seven day affair.  And the other reality was that a wedding in those days was not actually a religious ceremony.  It was strictly a legal one.  A couple who were marrying would sign a contract.  The bride and her family would process from her childhood home, along with villagers and friends to the home of her fiancée.  And then a week long feast would take place at the home of her groom hosted by his family.  For seven days there would be revelry and celebration and an abundance of joy and conviviality.

 

But in this story, in John’s account of the wedding at Cana, there was a little hitch.  For on the third day, less than halfway through the festivities, the wine ran out.  It’s unclear why that happened.  Perhaps the groom’s family were poor and hadn’t budgeted enough, perhaps there were a few party-crashers who imbibed a bit more than they should have, maybe everyone was just really, really thirsty.  But, regardless, while not a tragedy, this was still a bit of a crisis, this was a serious breach of hospitality protocol.  And Jesus was approached by his mother, who is not named in this gospel account, but we know who she is, right?  Mary found her son and said, in essence, “Help!  Help!  There are all these people here to host, and this poor family doesn’t have enough.  Help!  Do something!”  It isn’t exactly clear at first what she expected Jesus to do, but what was clear was that she believed in him.  She believed that somehow he could and would do something to help. 

 

Jesus’s response to his mother may seem a little gruff.  What he said was this, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come.”  Now, were I Mary, and were my son to respond to his mama that way I might be inclined to remind him exactly how far I traveled on that donkey when I was in labor with him and exactly how bumpy that road was and exactly how unsanitary and messy that stable was where I gave birth to him and exactly how many hours I was in labor.  But, we mothers need not get our hackles up, for actually the translation is a little gentler, instead it would be like saying, “My Lady,” or “Ma’am.”  It was a formal address that Jesus offered that day. 

 

And Mary, the mother of Jesus who pondered things in her heart and who ultimately stood at the foot of the cross in the final hours, understood this and was not offended by her son’s words.  She knew that he would do what was appropriate, would do what was right and she turned to leave, informing the servants on the way out to do whatever it was that Jesus said. 

 

The six stone water jars were just sitting there.  But they weren’t just jugs for holding water.  Instead, their placement in the story is significant.  For they were an important symbol in a traditional Jewish home.  And any observant Jew who heard this story in Jesus’s time would have understood this.  The six stoneware containers were often filled with the water that was dipped out to purify and cleanse oneself.  They were symbols of an age-old religion which believed that some were pure and others not so much, or not at all.  They were reminders that some were accepted and others were not.  This water would have been used because it was believed that God did not find humanity acceptable as it was, we must be purified first before coming into God’s presence.  And so, what is to come, the miracle that is to unfold is a direct challenge to that kind of measured legalism and rule-bound orthodoxy.  A religion which worshiped law, rather than love.  A faith that said “no” more than it said, “yes.”

 

We all know what happened next.  Jesus invited the servants to fill the six stone jars with water and, “voila!”  When it was taken to the chief steward, the wine expert to taste, he was amazed.  This wasn’t just your average two buck chuck from Trader Joe’s.  This wasn’t the box o’wine that you can get at CVS.  This was the good stuff, the stuff you find on the top shelf, the stuff you could never afford to buy but have read about in Wine Spectator.  He was amazed.  And the wedding party could go on.  The revelry could continue.  And the people, the guests, realized that there was something special about this Jesus.

 

So, why do we love this story?  And why, in heaven’s name is it even mentioned in scripture?  I mean, other miracle stories have a lovely moral, and a huge transformational take-away, right?  Someone can walk again.  Someone can see again.  Someone comes back to life.  Someone discovers faith.  And here what happens?  A party can continue.  Wine can be imbibed.  It’s no wonder the church hasn’t always known what to do with it.  But, there has to be something here.  And I believe the something is this: Jesus came to us to offer radical and love and hospitality, and what better symbol could there be of that kind of extravagance than through an act like this?  Jesus came to us to strip away the legalistic rules and understandings of a judgmental God and what better way than to transform those purifying stone jars into founts of fine wine?  Jesus came to us inviting us to the feast of joy, to the beloved community of hope and possibility and what better way than to serve the finest to guests he doesn’t even know?

 

The University of Chicago theologian Robert Hotchkins sums it up better than I ever could when he wrote, “[The message here is that] Christians ought to be celebrating constantly.  We ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment.  We ought to give ourselves over to veritable orgies of joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death.  We ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the fun there is being a Christian.”

 

Listen to that again: we are liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death.  Perhaps this is why the first miracle of Jesus was turning water to wine, to remind us that joy is not optional as a Christian, it is imperative, and therefore even a world where fear and hatred exist, we must commit ourselves to love and to joy.  Those six stone jars were the radical “yes” that Jesus offered in a world which had seen a whole lot of “no.”

 

There is a poem that hangs over my desk.  It has followed me from my work as an associate pastor in North Manchester and then was posted with scotch tape in my little cubby at Lutheran Hospital where I was a resident chaplain, and then carefully moved to Hospice Home, and now, battered and tattered hangs, a little worse for the wear here at Peace.  It is a poem by a woman who I know nothing about, a woman named Kaylin Haught and was originally written in The Christian Century magazine.  It speaks to me of the extravagance that Jesus’s water to wine miracle embodies.  The poem is called God Says Yes to Me.  [And I’ll warn you ahead of time that the writer refers to God with a female pronoun, so just be prepared, okay?  She takes a little poetic license which may take you out of your comfort zone]

 

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic

And she said yes

I asked her if it was okay to be short

And she said it sure is

I asked her if I could wear nail polish

Or not wear nail polish

And she said honey

She calls me that sometimes

She said you can do just exactly

What you want to

Thanks God I said

And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph

My letters

Sweetcakes God said

Who knows where she picked that up

What I’m telling you is

Yes Yes Yes

 

May we each accept an extravagant “yes” to the God who came to us in Christ.  The God who welcomed spontaneous celebration.  The God who leads us again and again and again into joy-filled life.  Amen.

 

  

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Hey, look at you!  Here you are!  See, I told you I would be here!

And look, look how I can type new paragraphs and everything and isn’t just a great big run-on sentence!  Isn’t that delightful?

Okay, I’m working on transferring some of my past posts here, but isn’t this a lovely new setting?  And aren’t we going to have fun here?

Previous archives of ContemplativeChaplain.blogspot.com will stay where they are for now.

I’m glad you’re here.  I missed you.

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