The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
This week I had started the sermon and was well down the road when I realized I needed to go back to the starting line. How can we be at a wedding party with Jesus, clinking glasses of miraculously made, finest of fine wine, when God’s children of Haiti already so bad off, are devastated by a massive earthquake. Somehow a bridal couple that failed to have enough wine delivered for their party doesn’t seem so pressing and important.
What a contradiction of images are set before us this day. On one hand, we have the picture John gives – that puts us at that wedding banquet, a party going full blast, an impending social blunder, and Jesus, wedding guest about to become winemaker. God should help those with real need, not a couple whose greatest need is to save face.
And the other image is the people of in the aftermath of earthquake and after shock, their cries, suffering, homelessness, hunger, thirst, fear, and desperation. I can understand why some question if God is so good, wonderful and powerful, why does God let such happen? He needs to keep His eye on His children, not off at a party.
Some years ago I read of a minister, who was walking the downtown streets of a major city to meet and talk with the homeless, tattered, dirty and hungry to learn more about their needs. He was concerned that churches waste too much money keeping up their buildings, money that could help the poor – neither a bad nor an original observation. He asked one semi-sober gentleman, as he pointed to a church, if he knew what that was. “Yes, it’s a church,” he said. “And does that church help you in anyway?” “Yes, it does,” he said. “When I feel hopeless here on the streets, I hear the bells ring, I look up and see that cross, and I know that God is here with even me.”
That’s sort of a parable for today. John calls Jesus’ miracles, “signs.” Signs point beyond themselves. The miracle is not the sign itself, but points us to the Source behind it. Signs let us glimpse God’s coming reign before it fully gets here – what we can trust God’s future for all to be. In the midst of this present darkness, immense suffering, anguish and death, we need to have our eyes lifted to remember, in spite of what we may or may not see, God is with us. Signs, whether church bells, a wedding party running out of wine, or in the prayers and hymns of Haitian people worshipping God amidst devastation, point us to glimpse a larger world surrounding this one. Signs, if we let them, will open our eyes, and enlarge our knowing, so that we can return with hope to this present moment and not totally give up in despair.
Does everyone get it? No, people receive good gifts constantly with no idea their Source. Doesn’t matter – they, as we can be, are like the steward who tastes an excellent wine. He doesn’t need to know the source to experience its excellence. We, as Mary and the disciples, know the source of a fine wine, a lovely flower, a painted sunset, the gift of our next breath, the joy of reunion with a missing loved one, a 4 month old homeless, infant baby girl with no family surviving, rescued after four days under rubble. These just might be signs of God’s great love, joy, beauty delight, glory and grace poured out for everyone, even those who don’t believe in God – glimpses of the One with us and among us.
Some see signs and point us to a wrong direction. We’ve heard the pronouncement this week from a televangelist for whom the Haiti earthquake is a sign of God’s wrath and anger. For the life of me, I don’t understand that – and from a “so-called” Christian. He says Haiti made a pact with the devil over two hundred years ago – whatever that means. Is he saying that God is just now getting around to punish innocent people? I think I clearly understand now why the church continues to practice exorcisms. In my opinion, he needs one, or something. He blasphemes the character of God with his own lie, the sort of lie Jesus came to straighten out. I can understand why scoffers say Christians are mean and crazy. Some are.
I think, though, we see a different sign from this tragedy, a sign of God’s care and love being given through us. We can be God’s signs of hope, a better life God desires for all God’s children. We can send money as we are able to help relief agencies in Haiti buy food and water, get medical and other supplies to those in need. Behind the compassion that stirs us to act for others is the source – and that source to move us to action comes from the love and life of God. We are signs of a love that may not be named, but needs to be made real and tangible for the suffering. And as we watch their stories, in their prayers, songs and tenacious faith – they are even signs for us, if we can see that God is present in the darkness with them. That’s where God is. And maybe their suffering is a sign to awaken us to the hurts and needs of people around us – people we have forgotten to see. That’s also where God is.
So, to return to John’s story, how can we party in such a world; but then, how can we not? I know that sounds strange. Yet we worship a God who does not cause evil, nor inflicts suffering. Chaos and tragedy happen. I can’t explain that – yet what I can say is that God is in the midst with those who suffer, and with us. And Jesus at a party, keeping the wine going, is a sign of who God is and the reign we glimpse to keep us faithful and going. And we ourselves, can be signs, let’s hope, of God’s reign of love to come. The compassion that stirs our hearts to help the suffering of this world is a sign God is present with us and within us.