Tag Archives: Grace

God’s Abundance

A Sermon for 21 January 2018 

A reading from the gospel of John 2:1-11.  Listen for God’s word to us as we hear of the gospel of John’s recording of Jesus’ first act upon his mission.

“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 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.”  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!


I heard an incredible dream recently.  The main symbol in it was a table.  Now this wasn’t just an ordinary dining room table.  It was the largest buffet table one ever could imagine!  At least twelve feet wide and two or more lengths of this sanctuary long!  It was immense!  On it was every food conceivable.  All the delicacies to enjoy:  delicious-looking pastries, bountiful fruit, casseroles that smelled wonderful, and vegetable dishes that would make your mouth water just looking at them.  All this, in just the first few feet of the bountiful table which was centered in the middle of an elegant, open-air balcony where people of all kinds joyfully were milling about.  The occasion was Easter brunch.  The mood was festive.  Laughter and excitement and hope filled the air.  Families were all together.  Friends were enjoying the merriment of each other’s company.  Everyone had a spot somewhere at the sophisticated banquet.  In a word it was the picture of abundance!  Such an incredible dream!

We’re not sure what the room looked like in Cana of Galilee.  Though I’ve been to the church sanctuary erected over the spot believed to be the site, where the first sign of Jesus’ public ministry took place – at least according to the gospel of John.  We’re not even sure if the wedding reception was in a room or outside somewhere in the open-air on the land surrounding the bridegroom’s home.  What we do know is that after inviting a few men near Bethany to come and see, Jesus set out for the region of his home in Galilee.  Cana was a few miles northeast of Nazareth and it seemed Jesus’ family was present at the event.  . . .  The writer of John’s gospel makes some interesting decisions in telling the story of the One met in Jesus, the Christ.  From the start, reference is made to resurrection:  “On the third day,” chapter two begins in the gospel’s launch into Jesus’ public ministry.  Every reader of the gospel knows what else took place on the third day.  From the start, we’re supposed to hear the story of Jesus with resurrection in mind.  The whole point of this gospel is to embrace the gift of God’s promise.  The surprise of the Light that shines despite the darkness.  To welcome “What has come to being in him,” as John 1:4 states:  “Life!”  God’s promise for all: never-ending, abundant Life!

Interesting too, this gospel begins Jesus’ public ministry at a wedding.  Jesus and his first followers have been invited to a party:  a celebration to honor covenants made.  We’re again supposed to catch the deeper meaning of the ministry of the embodied Word beginning thus.  Long years the people of Israel were told by God’s prophets that God was like their groom – and a frustrated one at that, waiting for his bride to be faithful.  Remember the prophet Hosea?  Just to prove a point, God had him marry Gomer, a wife of whoredom to show metaphorically that God’s wife, Israel, had forsaken the sacred covenant.  In anger and hurt God declares to Hosea:  say to my people “she is not my wife, and I am not her husband” (Hosea 2:1-2).  The covenant has been defiled.  . . .  The metaphor has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with union.  The coming together of opposites to create a third.  Divine and human melding into one.  As is happening in the Word becoming flesh to dwell among us.  The Transcendent mingling with the stuff of Earth that both become something holy.  Something cherished.  Something new.  Indeed, a wedding in Cana is the perfect place for the embodied Word to begin revealing his glory.

Whether Jesus is goading his mother when she comes with the concern that the wine has run out, or if he’s not yet aware of his time; one thing is for sure.  Mother Mary knows the One who is present at the party.  After all, he grew in her very own womb.  She knows the Bridegroom, the true Host, has arrived.  The One who will attend to the needs of the guests.  For it was what he was born to do.  . . .  At her prodding, Jesus takes up his mother’s ministry of hospitality in signs that reveal the abundant goodness of the true Host.  The water becomes the very best wine – and an infinite amount at that.  Anywhere from 120-180 gallons of the finest wine anyone ever could imagine!  At last the prophesy of Isaiah is fulfilled that promised:  “You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.  You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.  For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you (Isaiah 62:2-5).  As promised, God’s blessing is upon the people.  A boundless sign shows it to be true.  . . .  Isn’t it beautiful?  Here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as the story is told according to the gospel of John, we see the abundance of God.  Something like a bountiful table.  A never-ending cup.  Streams of mercy that overflow for all the world!

One theologian writes, and I quote, 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,” he writes, “by the fun there is in being a Christian” (Robert Hotchkins, Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4, pp. 262,264).  . . .  Too many have been made to think it’s all about rigid rules, and buzz-kill sacrifices, and hiding any sense of enjoyment lest God or anyone else might be watching!  But that’s more like John the Baptist-kinda of faith, than Christ’s Cana-kind of grace.  As see in the One who stands as the sign that heaven and earth – Spirit and flesh have been wed.  The time for profuse joy and peace and hope has begun and is expected in us because of the bountiful nature of God!  The gracious invitation to the never-ending celebration from the true Host, who dreams for our lives to be as extravagantly generous as God.  As filled with eternal merriment thanks to the gift of everlasting, abundant life!

Brothers and sisters of Christ, as Cana teaches:  the abundant grace of God is here!  Let the party begin!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

The Aquatic Experience

A Sermon for 23 October 2016

A reading from Luke 18:9-14. Listen for God’s word to us.

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


Have you ever heard of a ministry called the Aquatic Experience? It was started by Tom Dickleman, now director of the Center for Innovative Ministry in Lake Bluff, IL; but previously a pastor on staff of a large Presbyterian Church in landlocked Indianapolis. . . . You might be wondering, just what is this Aquatic Experience? A biblical exploration of all the ways throughout history that God has used water as a sign of salvation? Is the Aquatic Experience a preparatory class for parents who wanted to bring their children for baptism? Is the Aquatic Experience a fancy name for a year-long confirmation journey or even a youth group sponsored car wash? . . . None of the above. As Tom tells it, he loved to windsurf. It was a passion of his, though he found himself in landlocked Indianapolis. Just for fun Pastor Tom was a certified windsurfing instructor. And one day it hit him: why not join his passion for windsurfing WITH ministry. Thus the Aquatic Experience was born.

And so it began that each week Pastor Tom taught congregation members, and any other folks of the community who would attend, how to windsurf. He didn’t do it as a lead into important bible lessons about water, but simply as a way to bring divergent people together into one windsurfing community. . . . I love what Tom writes about the Aquatic Experience: “When windsurfing, everyone loses control, everyone falls off” (Aquatic Experience, Tom Dickleman: October 1, 2013: Blog). It reminds me of the time I tried paddle boarding on a vacation and found myself unexpectedly swallowing a lake-full of water after losing my balance and falling off! Tom writes: Windsurfing provides “a level playing field for everyone. It (doesn’t) matter if you are smart, athletic, overweight, popular, needy, successful, nerdy, Christian, whatever. When windsurfing . . . everyone gets soaked before humbly pulling themselves back on the board. All the preconceived notions about who someone is or is not, the kinds of things that often impede the development of healthy groups, start to vanish when everyone – and I mean everyone – loses control and gets baptized in the water.” The Aquatic Experience was Tom’s innovative experiment in living humility – because it’s pretty hard to think you’re better than the next swallowing a lake-full of water after first you fall down while windsurfing.

It’s the very same lesson Jesus is teaching in the parable we hear today from the gospel of Luke. Standing before him are some who, quote: “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). . . . It’s pretty easy to go there, isn’t it? We’re good church folk. We worship every Sunday we’re in town – or at least when something else isn’t pressing upon our Sunday plans. We try to do the right things. We at least own a bible at home, whether or not we ever read it. We give some money for the church each week – or as often as we remember and have a little bit extra to spare. When we’re having trouble, we ask God for help. And we believe we at least are in on the right deal with Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We’re doing pretty well in this thing called faith, we think. . . .

It’s bad enough WE are the center of all that self-talk. But how quickly we can slip further into the game of comparisons! We’re doing better than that one over there. As if God’s going to pat us on the head more than the next if we’re doing a better job than someone else. . . . From childhood on we seem to get measured against others. Which one has the best grades at the top of the class? Which one is better at the game so they get to start? Which one is prettier or more handsome and wins the attention of the to-die-for boy or girl of the school? Even which one is easier to parent so gets a little more loving than the next? . . . Before you know it, we’ve created a race of people who only know who they are when measured against another. The better employee getting the promotion; the more attractive personality winning the friends; the wealthier voice wielding more power. . . . It’s as if all of life is a competition to see which one of us is better. It’s no wonder we can think our ways are God’s. Are we less of a sinner than that one who doesn’t even seem to be trying? Are we more important to God if we do more for the church than the next? In a world full of measurement, how do we not find ourselves standing before Jesus thinking: “at least I’m better than that one over there!” That one over there in this parable being the one regarded in his society as a bottom feeder. The dreaded tax collector who was free to take whatever and however they wanted from their neighbors in order to hand over a certain amount to the Empire. A collaborator with the enemy; a swindler whose very existence put them outside in the eyes of their fellow Jews. It’s safe to say we’re at least better than THAT one!

The problem is, at least according to Jesus, God doesn’t see like that. Grace is the veil through which God looks. In each one of us God sees the same: our sins. Our shortcomings. Those things in and of us that separate us from full union with God and all others. Those parts of us that we want to deny or at least cover up never to be exposed. . . . God sees that in each one of us no matter if it’s visible or invisible to the human eye. . . . It’s kinda mind-boggling, but the truth is: God sees it all and just doesn’t hold it against us. I mean God sees it all. God just doesn’t hold our sins against us. None of us – not the ones we think are the worst sinners in the world, not the ones we think are the best saints. With God, thanks be to Christ Jesus, every last one of us gets a get-outta-jail-free-card! . . . I’m not really sure how it’s possible – maybe if you parent more than one child you get it. How God can look upon this entire creation and love it all equally – no one higher in the standings than the other. . . . It’s the most beautiful mystery. That with God, we all receive the same free gift of mercy.

In the light of such good news, we’re called to live the same! To let our measuring stick be living the ways of Christ – the values of God’s kingdom, not living at least a little bit better than the ways of the other person over there. Each day we need to get in touch with this truth: that in God’s eyes we are all like wet windsurfers soaked down in the waters, swallowing lake-fulls of it. Because only from that position can we live the mercy of God with ourselves and with others. Only drenched from our failings and fallings will we realize the precious gift and be humble enough to rely not upon our own abilities, but upon the amazing mercy of our God . . .

For such incredible grace, we give thanks to the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.


© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)