Sunday, January 17, 2016

Turning Water into Wine

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Church of our Saviour, Somerset, Massachusetts

Isaiah 62: 1-5; 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11; John 2: 1-11; Psalm 36: 5-10
Let us pray: Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread; but do not then depart. Lord, live within us, and spread your table upon our heart.

How do you turn water into wine? All week, I’ve been wondering about this question, and so I began looking for an answer. I started looking for signs; after all, that’s what the first half of John’s gospel is all about - the signs of God’s power, presence, and love as revealed in the person of Jesus. I began thinking about the stories of Jesus in the Bible. Then I thought about the stories of real people in real life situations; and I thought about our family.
I chose not to be confirmed at the age of 13 in the Presbyterian Church, because at that time, I wasn’t sure that I believed in God. Ten years later, I married a cradle Episcopalian, who loves to tell people that he drove me to Jesus. Twenty years later, I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church. I was actively involved in outreach ministries, had two children under the age of five, and I decided that it was my “sink or swim moment.” On the way to church for my confirmation, a police officer pulled Paul over for speeding. When told the reason for our haste, he let Paul go without giving him a ticket. I took that as a sign!
My father-in-law was never really wild about women being ordained to the priesthood. Although he never actually came out and said it, I just knew. And he wasn’t alone; his questions about ordaining women only mirrored my own, and those of our culture. Like many “isms”- whether it’s about our gender, or race, or age, or sexuality - our questions often remain underground, tucked away in people’s minds and hearts. They are left unspoken, and therefore, often unanswered. We remain uneducated.
I actually avoided the thought of ordination for many years, because I couldn’t imagine myself as a priest. I never wanted to be one, neither as a child, nor as a young adult. There was no history of ordained people in my family, and so there was no pressure or expectation to follow in anyone’s footsteps. I had given up many schools, two careers, and an MBA to follow the vocations of my father and husband, and to follow my vocation as daughter, wife, and mother. The hour clearly had not yet come for me to become a priest.
On the day of my ordination, 15 years ago this past Wednesday, my father-in-law was in the hospital, dying of lung cancer. Despite our occasional disagreements about women’s rights, human sexuality, and race, I loved him, and for the most part, I respected his views. We both loved the Episcopal Church, recognized the importance of faith in our lives, and tried to follow Jesus.
My sister-in-law came to visit her father the weekend I became a priest. Due to her pregnancy and my father-in-law’s hospitalization, she and my “in-law’s” didn’t come to my ordination. I took that as a sign. However, Harry asked if I might bring him communion the next day. After Sunday services that morning, Paul and I, our daughter Megan and our son Brian, immediately got into our car and drove to the Hospital for Special Care. There we met Harry and his wife Marion, and Paul’s pregnant sister Susan. There, we gathered together around another table, and shared our stories; it was a much smaller community of faith than the one I had just left. There, I saw signs of abundant life, and signs of life still yet to come.
In addition to me in this room, there was a doctor and a nurse, a budding pediatrician and a missionary, a writer and her unborn child, a former banker, a teacher, and a salesman, whose passion is to help people find recovery from addictions. Hospital caregivers appeared with faithful regularity. Colleagues and friends periodically showed up. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, there are “varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, varieties of services but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone for the common good.”
Soon after we arrived, I placed the hospital table between me and Harry. I spread out the table linen, put out the bread and wine, and poured a touch of water into the cup. My mother-in-law, always a minister of hospitality, directed the seating. We knew that something old and familiar was occurring, and yet that something very new and different was about to happen. It was a holy moment for all of us; and it was a sign of many things yet to come. As a family of faith, we were walking this journey together, gathered around one table in spite of our many differences.
The patriarch of our family, this beloved surgeon who had healed the bones of thousands of people, was sitting across from me, unable to stand or breathe on his own. Susan’s unborn child kicked in her belly. Harry’s wife Marion wept, while my husband Paul watched as a torch was being passed. And we all looked on in silence as Christ’s Body was broken, as Christ’s blood was poured into the one cup. We all felt powerless. Surrounded by my family, I asked Jesus to turn water into wine.
None of us were ready when Harry died one month later on Valentine’s Day. I thought it was a sign. Apparently, Jesus wasn’t ready for what happened in Cana either, even though his mother seemed to be. They were all guests at a wedding and Jesus and his boys had presumably shown up for a party. Unexpectedly, his mother put him to work. “Look,” she said, “They’ve run out of wine.” Perhaps in a tone of voice that we all know and love, Jesus tried to put her off. “Not my problem,” he retorted.  “Woman what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
According to John’s gospel, Jesus’ finest hour is his hour on the cross. From cradle to grave, Jesus celebrated the joyous moments of life, the challenges of human relationships, and endured the agony of death so that we might see God’s power, presence, and love under all human conditions. Sacraments are signs of God’s grace that are unmerited, undeserved, and show up at the most unexpected times. They point to things that are right there in front of us, like empty water jars, differences of opinions, people in love, unborn babies, and dying relatives. They point to things still yet to come - like new life in heaven and on earth, the reality of marriage after the wedding day, and the love of God that shows up even on the cross.
Throughout his life, Jesus showed us that in the dark cold nights of winter, there is a light that shines brighter, and a love that burns warmer. He showed us that God will not forsake us; indeed, God delights in each and every one of us. On the cross, Jesus showed us that God’s mission of reconciliation was done. “It is finished,” Jesus said. And as St. Paul states in his letter to the Galatians, “In Christ, we are all one; there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.” In Christ, we are no longer white or black, gay or straight. But first, at the wedding in Cana, Jesus showed us that He will help us now, even though it’s not his problem.
Jesus initially denied his mother’s request because he believed that his hour had not yet come. And in the truest sense of the word, Jesus was right; for the hour in which he revealed the fullness of God’s mission of love was from the cross. And yet, pushed by his mother to reconsider, Jesus realized that his hour had indeed come at the wedding in Cana. It was the first of many signs in John’s gospel that revealed God’s power, presence, and love in the person of Jesus.
Our life is supposed to be different after communion with God. Frequently coming at significant times in our lives, like baptism or confirmation, or perhaps routinely every week in the Eucharist, sacraments invite our laughter, our silence, and our tears. They recognize our losses and our grief, while celebrating our blessings and our joy. Moments like these come through ordinary people, like you and me, and through ordinary events, like weddings and funerals.
In response to the headline news about the Primates’ meeting at Canterbury Cathedral in England this week, and The Episcopal Church’s involvement within the Anglican Communion, our Presiding Bishop spoke about God’s love, (quote) Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. We have more work of love to do, and that work of love is helping our story and the story of many faithful Christians to be told and heard.” (end quote)
None of us knows, when our earthly time is up, when we are called home to meet our Maker. But our hour with Jesus can begin every day through prayer, community, communion, and being on God’s mission of love. As communities of faith, where two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, or as members of the Anglican Communion throughout the world, our vocation is clear: we walk together the Jesus Way. When we share his story, her story, and our story in whatever rooms we inhabit, reflecting the beautiful diversity of our creation, we believe that it is the same Spirit, the same Lord, and the same God who activates all of them in everyone for the common good.  
Like the mother of Jesus, we too can point to our emptiness, and ask Jesus for help, trusting that Jesus will turn our water into wine. Our hour has now come. We are the Jesus Movement. We are empty vessels ready to be changed into spirit-filled bodies. We are the bride and Christ is our bridegroom. Each and every one of us can be a sign of God’s love today. Therefore, let us keep the feast. Amen.