Extravagant Abundance

A Sermon for 20 January 2019

A reading from the gospel of John 2:1-11.  As we move into the season after Epiphany, when lectionary readings show us more deeply the revelation of Christ; listen for God’s word to us.  And remember that this is the gospel of John’s telling of how Jesus’ ministry begins just after calling his disciples.  Listen.

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  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.  When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”  11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.

            Thanks be to God.

 

Following Fellowship Time today, the new 2019 session of this church will meet for the first time.  After we’re called to order for the meeting to begin, we’ll start as we always do with a time of devotion.  Sometimes we spend a few minutes in silence to gather ourselves before diving into discerning business for the church.  Sometimes we read a scripture passage and a reflection upon it.  Sometimes we share inspirational sayings around a particular theme like gratitude or gifts or recharging for leadership among the church.  Today, your new session is going to hear words from the “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity” as outlined in part two of our denomination’s constitution, The Book of Order.  (You may know that part 1 of our constitution is The Book of Confessions which contains the 12 creeds and confessions by which we are guided theologically in the PCUSA.)  Here are the words the session will hear as a part of their devotional time today.  From F-1.0202 entitled Christ Calls and Equips the Church:  “Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world.”  We’ll hear these words too:  “Christ is present with the Church in both Spirit and Word” (Ibid.).  And “Christ gives to the Church all the gifts necessary to be his body” (Ibid., F-1.0301).  Let that sink in – especially in light of a story from the gospel of John that demonstrates the abundant generosity of a God who would turn as much as 180 gallons of water into delicious, delightful wine just to ensure a family in Cana would not lose face with wedding guests who otherwise would be incredibly disappointed that halfway through the celebration of the union, nothing was left to drink!  Take deeply into your mind, soul, and heart the words Presbyterians have trusted for centuries:  “Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world” (Ibid., F-1.0202).  Just to be sure we all remember, I should make you repeat it after me. Repeat it after me:  “Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world” (Ibid.).

I love to tell the story.  Maybe you’ve heard it from me already.  A year ago, we got going full steam ahead with renewed ways for this church to live out the mission of this church that you all discerned sometime the fall of 2015.  You concluded that this church exists to serve God by serving others.  About this time last year, two Renewal Team members began the process of making contact with the high school right across the street.  Calls were made.  Emails were sent.  Calls were made again.  This went on for something like six or eight weeks.  We figured out who we already knew on the staff and tried to gain access that way.  As a church we wanted to build community partners beyond the main one we’ve had for years with the preschool downstairs.  And, as the high school literally sits across the street, we were offering to help.  Asking for a meeting or any ideas on how we might be able to connect.  Crickets.  Nothing.  No response whatsoever – nothing even back through the contact on the inside who tried to send on word for us.  Sometimes God assists in clarifying a church’s mission by what does not work!

The Renewal Team went back to the drawing board.  What about an elementary school nearby, we thought.  Or a different direction all together.  Finally, we decided to give the nearby middle school a shot.  A Renewal Team member re-composed an email sending it off something like a Tuesday late in the afternoon.  Before I went to bed that night, I received two cc’ed responses.  One was from Principle Carrie Jones.  The other from Community Involvement Specialist Maggie Dicks.  Both emails resounded with:  “Yes!!!!  We would LOVE for you all to become our community partner!”  The next thing we knew, we were scooping out ice cream in their cafeteria to host a social for the 5th grade Welcome to Middle School night.  Kleenix and hand sanitizer became regular items in all of our shopping carts to ensure teachers and students of the middle school would have all they would need.  This past fall, tutors got started – five from among us.  And, I’m excited to report that next Wednesday, our first parent from the preschool downstairs will drop off her baby downstairs then head over to the middle school to begin tutoring with students each week.  “Wanna help with a Rise Against Hunger event,” we were asked.  Two of you went during the very busy week of Thanksgiving to set up tables and pack highly nutritious non-perishable meals among 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.  “Got any gently used umbrellas the children could use to get to and from their portable classrooms,” the school wondered?  And here we are:  about to go to a joint meeting with other middle school Community Partners to learn how we can work together next.  Oh:  and finalizing a date for us to provide lunch for teachers and staff during Teacher Appreciation week this March.

“Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world” (Ibid.).  Do you see how doors get opened when the Church gets clear about the mission in the world God has entrusted to us?  . . .  It happened almost as miraculously with Mending Hearts, the residential addiction treatment homes for women located just four miles northeast of here.  For months we offered Mending Hearts a whole bunch of ways we could serve.  At long last we connected on our Women of the Church hosting a women’s lunch for women in Mending Hearts’ addiction recovery process and women of this church.  After two wonderful lunches together last year, we’re looking at plans for at least 2 if not 3 lunches together in 2019.  Of course, a joint women’s lunch would be a great hit!  This church is full of great cooks and lots of welcoming love!  The thank you card received a few weeks ago from the Mending Hearts participants was confirmation!  Indeed, “Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world” (Ibid.).

I hope you know that ACA – Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families – continues to meet in a room down the hall that hadn’t been used in several years.  Every Saturday they are here.  A small group at 10:30 a.m. meeting to specifically work through the process of healing from childhood trauma.  A larger group at 1 p.m. to support each other on their journey of learning new, healthier ways to function after being children who had to become the adult of the household due to their parents’ personal problems.  You may not know how it all came about that we now have nearly 50 people here every Saturday.  You and the leaders of this church – the session and Renewal Team members – talked and dreamed and worked for this building to be used again by the community.  About 12 months ago I remember asking if we wanted to set a goal to have a certain number of outside groups using the space by the end of each 2018 quarter.  We weren’t ready to be that ambitious.  T.H.E.Y. kept on tidying up what was needed.  Prayers continued to be prayed.  Sometime last summer I got an email from a woman I had met the prior year.  “Hello Jule,” the email read.  “I’m a member of Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families.  The husband of one of your friends mentioned at our meeting Saturday that he had heard Hillwood might have space for community groups to use.”  The session and leaders here diligently checked it out.  We decided what we needed to know and do in order to make such regular upstairs space-sharing work smoothly.  By the end of September, we had given over our first upstairs key to a group from the community that would use the building weekly.  This week when I bumped into ACA leaders, I was greeted with big hugs.  One asked if we could be sure to return all 50 chairs to the room in which they meet weekly because there were only 42 chairs the last few Saturdays and one participant had to sit on the floor.  The other leader told me he was moved to tears at Christmas when they found the holiday card our Painting group made and left for each ACA group.  He said that little card made him and other participants of ACA feel so incredibly welcomed by this church.  A feeling not always experienced elsewhere before.

“Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world” (Ibid.).  . . .  I saw it again this week.  If you were here last Sunday for our FRED (Fellowship, Renewal, Education, and Devotion) brainstorm meeting, then you might recall that the following interests were put pretty high on the list:  Nature Art – which is right in line with the plan to expand creativity ministries in 2019.  A presentation by Retrieving Independence and maybe another Pet Blessing in conjunction with learning about the agency that trains retriever puppies in the local prison, then ensures those who need service animals have an affordable dog ready to go.  Learning with other churches in the neighborhood also made that list.  Wednesday I met with other neighborhood pastors.  The first thing I was asked was if we might have any interest in partnering to bring another Rise Against Hunger meal-packing event either to the middle school or to the neighborhood in general by our churches working together.  We moved on to wonder what might be possible if we pulled together the artist over at another nearby church with the people in our churches who already are into creative art as a way to feed their spirits.  Before I knew it, I was being asked if church members might have any interest in a joint Blue Advent service next year – something two of you asked about in December – a Blue Advent service being a worship experience for healing and hope during the season of Advent.  Because just when the world wants us to be jolly; many long for a quiet, holy space because they are grieving or going through other emotional challenges.  “And what about a joint Blessing of the Animals,” one pastor asked Wednesday.  “We could do it right on that big flood plain by the railroad tracks off Harding and Davidson.”  4 p.m. 29 September already is set.

We don’t always get to see the ways that “Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world” (Ibid.).  We either forgot to take the time to notice.  Or we don’t really know how everything comes together in the life of a church – how God’s Spirit hovers over it all bringing God’s will to fruition!  . . .  If the gospel of John’s way of telling the opening of Jesus’ ministry has anything at all to teach us, it is this:  an extravagant God abundantly provides.  In the life of the church.  In our lives in the world.  Sometimes it seems as unexpected as water turning to wine.  Sometimes as mystifying as suddenly having to figure out what to do with 180 gallons!  Or as one commentator writes:  “the equivalent of six hundred to nine hundred bottles of fine wine” – an act so miraculous we are called to linger for a while over an extravagant God (Connections, Yr. C, Vol. 1; WJKP, 2018, Matthew L. Skinner, p. 191).  For, as that same commentator writes, “There will be no shortages or rationings when the messianic banquet opens its doors” (Ibid.).  The prophets had foretold, as Isaiah 25 records:  an amazing “feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (Isaiah 25:6).  For the banquet of the marriage – the celebration of the union of God with humankind – in Christ, has begun!  And as that same biblical commentator reminds:  “The church should . . . trust in a God who abundantly provides” (Connections, Yr. C, Vol. 1; WJKP, 2018, Matthew L. Skinner, p. 190).  In our life together.  In our lives when from here we go, may it ever be so!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

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