Saturday, January 16, 2010

Just Do It--a sermon for Ordinary 2C

Rev. Teri Peterson
Just Do It
John 2.1-11
17 January 2009, Ordinary 2C

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.

I remember the first time I was given a 3rd clarinet part for a John Philip Sousa march. The notes were repetitive and at the same time few and far between. Looking at that one sheet of paper with a few dots here and there, there was no possible way this was going to turn into a piece of real music.
I also remember the first time I was handed my own personalized chart for marching band, showing how many steps I was supposed to take, in what direction, and when. Again, no WAY was this going to make for an interesting half-time show…it was just a bunch of x’s in a random pattern.
I remember how useless I have felt rearranging a thrift store on a mission trip—what was the point, and how was that helping people?
I remember my first week working at the Ramses College for Girls, teaching first grade girls English and Library skills. That first week of storytime, I read a storybook that only had 11 different words, and I read it to 12 classes of girls. It seemed like it would never end, and that it would never result in anything worthwhile.
And I remember the time I tried to convince Naadia and Marsa, the women who worked in my house in Egypt, to buy me a butternut squash. First I had to learn the word: ‘ara ‘asl. Then I had to tell it to them, only to find out they didn’t know what I was talking about. I drew pictures, described as best I could, and assured them that though it was expensive it would be worth it. It took easily half an hour to persuade them that I wasn’t insane.

Here’s this woman, a woman who has never quite lived down her shame from that strange story of a pregnancy, a woman party guest, who notices a problem and brings it to someone’s attention: they have no wine. The promise is for abundance, this celebration is still going, but scarcity has struck. They have no wine…they have no supplies…they have no clean water…they have no bulldozer to clear rubble…they have no food…they have no electricity, no phones, no medicine, no shelter, no doctors, no hope. Our eyes see the scarcity, see the tragedy, see the despair, though we can barely take it in. And so we tell someone, someone we think can do something—we call out to Jesus, “they have nothing—do something!”

And we hear an echo of Mary’s next words, “do whatever he tells you.”

Those few words are enough to convince somebody else’s servants to spend time—in the middle of a huge wedding celebration—fetching 180 gallons of water. It’s not like they turned on the faucet and filled 6 bathtubs…it’s a lot of trips to the town well, a lot of heavy loads lifted into huge stone jars…for what? I can practically hear the servants muttering as they walk back and forth to the well. Who does this guy think he is? Why are they carrying all this water? What does this have to do with the party and the wine situation? How many more gallons do we have to go—150? sighs. eye rolls. under-the-breath sarcasm. What’s the point? It’s just a few notes on a page, a few x’s on a chart, a few words in a boring book, read over and over again.

But they did it.

It seemed stupid, it seemed irrational, it took a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of energy, and it took all of them working together, but they did it.

This is the real miracle, I think. The water turning to wine—sure, that’s amazing and all, but we never see it happen, we don’t when or how or if Jesus was muttering something under his breath like Harry Potter. What we do know is that a bunch of people, spurred on by Mary’s insistence, listened and obeyed when Jesus called them to do something, even something that seemed ridiculous, pointless, insignificant in the face of the problem. If you’ve ever headed up a committee, you KNOW this is a miracle!

You’ll notice that at no point does anyone ask, “why did they run out of wine? What bad planning happened, who is responsible for this failure?” Instead, the question seems to be, “what are YOU going to do about it?” We can spend a lot of time and energy focused on questions like: “Why is there conflict in our community? Why do 20% of the people do 80% of the work? Why isn’t there more money for our mission and ministry?” Or on questions like: “Why were people living and working in buildings that would so easily fall down? Why are there people living in such desperate poverty so close to the wealthiest nation in the world? Why did the medical staff leave with the injured still pouring in? Why isn’t their government equipped to handle their problems?” But all of these questions are useless in the face of conflict, in the face of tragedy, in the face of scarcity where God has promised abundant life for all. The better question, the question Mary asks, the question implied behind Jesus’ instructions, is “what are we going to do about it?”

We have the opportunity, and the privilege, of being part of a miracle. Every day, every minute even, we have a choice to make. We can choose to see what is happening and call out to Jesus, or we can choose to close our eyes and be silent. We can choose to ask ourselves and our community what we are going to do—and then do it, or we can choose to be immobilized by the reasons behind or the magnitude of the problem. We can choose to hear and obey when we are called to do something, however crazy or insignificant it seems, or we can choose to close our ears and stay in our own comfortable routines.

Miracles like this happen every day. People follow where God is leading them, whether it’s to serve at the food pantry, tutor an immigrant family in English, say an encouraging word to a coworker or a fellow student, call up a church member they haven’t seen in a while, send a card to someone who’s sick, build a home, give a CTA card to a person on the street, text message a donation for Haiti to the Red Cross, or clean at the thrift shop. People play a small part whose notes, when joined with others, makes an amazing song.

Miracles like this are also thwarted every day. We are often too tired, too wrapped up in our own concerns, too excited about our own joys, too lost in our own material things, too stuck our own daily routine. We call people who help heroes, letting ourselves off the hook because we’re not heroes. We decide not to do anything because we can’t do it perfectly or because we can’t predict or control the end results.

Mary, Jesus, and the servants made the first choice—to do something. To hear and obey. What abundance would flow in the world if we did the same?

May it be so.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

living it up--a sermon for christmas 2C

(designed to be read by two voices—neither of them me, since I'm sick and can barely get a sentence out without coughing my germs on everyone around me)

Rev. Teri Peterson
living it up
John 1.1-18
3 January 2010, Christmas 2C/EpiphanyC

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

In the beginning was the Word…

…a still small voice, whispering over the formless void that would become earth. A still small voice, a word barely spoken, not yet written. A still small voice, a word, a breath, a dream, a hope: Let There Be Light.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

…a Word on God’s lips, the essence of God’s being, expressed in a whisper, a sentence, a paragraph, a book...and yet cannot be contained in a sentence or a book. This Word is more than our words, more than millions of our words, more than any word can express—this Word IS God. The heart of who God is, we find in a Word. More than the word “The Trinity”, the Word and Spirit and Creativity of God lived, and lives, in a shared story, a sentence spoken between friends or enemies, a poem read, a sermon preached, a life lived, good news shared. The Word became millions of words, but all those words cannot contain the Word that is God.

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

…a word unwhispered, a dream unexpressed, a passing thought—they are nothing. A word spoken, a hope whispered, a vision shared—they come into being through God’s breath, God’s very self, God’s own voice. Without God’s voice, without the Word straight from God’s heart: not one thing can come into being.

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

…He came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. In the beginning, when God created, God breathed God’s very own breath, God’s very own Spirit, into our lifeless body. God puts God’s very own words into our speechless mouths. God shines God’s very own light through our dark eyes. More than just alive, not just the living word, but Life Itself! Abundant Life. Enough for all people. Life—Abundant Life—born through a whisper, through a shout, through tears and through laughter, through pain and through joy—born in a way we never thought to expect, to people we never dreamed would be good enough. Life Abundant—for all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.

…Hunger. Poverty. Violence. Fear. Hate. Hopelessness. Grief. Darkness.

The light shines in the darkness. But the light does not banish the darkness away, not yet. Light dances, light flickers, light waxes and wanes, but still the darkness coexists with the light. The darkness does not overcome the light, it’s true. But light does not completely overcome darkness, either. Shadows also dance, following us wherever we go. The shadowed valleys may be long, and very dark, and very cold. We still have to walk through these valleys, we still have to confront the shadows, we still have to squint in the dim light…but there is light. Light comes again into our darkness, shining all around, and darkness, however dark it may be, will never overcome it. And one day, light will overcome.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

…A voice crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord—make his paths straight! And John said: I am not the Messiah, I have been sent ahead of him. He must increase, and I must decrease.

There are few things so difficult as to remember I am not the light. It is not through my strength, my will, my talent, my words, that light comes to the world. We are here to testify to the light. Our lives bear witness to one greater than ourselves, our words and our actions show forth a light that is not of our own making, our relationships and interactions with others give glory to God. What would it be like if our testimony, our witness, was always grounded in the reminder that He must increase, and I must decrease? What would our world be like if we reminded ourselves every day that we did not make the light, and we do not sustain the light—we let the light shine through us?

And the Word became flesh and lived among us…

…not just words, millions of words tumbling off pages and running across screens, explaining, justifying, informing, arguing, telling, amusing…not just words. The Word became a human being, one of us. The Word—God’s own self, God’s whispered dreams and shouted prayers, God’s breathy love—became flesh and lived among us. The Word is in the world, loose, dancing and twirling and begging and hoping and breathing and living—Life Itself, the Word, God’s love—right here. Out there. Where we least expect it. Where we most expect it. Words can’t be contained—once they’re out of your mouth or finished flowing from my pen, they are loose in the world, spreading like wildfire, running like rumors, rushing about from place to place, from ear to mouth to hand to eye. The Word is loose, breathing its good news in every place, and living with us, teaching us, helping us breathe words of grace upon grace, good news of great joy for all people.

May it be so.