Sermon for January 20, 2019
Texts: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Sermon: "Gifts for the Common Good"
Frequently, I find that the scripture lessons for Sunday mesh in some helpful way with things going on in my life, things I'm reading, or things that are simply on my mind. That happened this week -- again!
It is a good thing when that happens, when I think through the beautiful words of Scripture and hear God's voice speaking to this church, to YOU as well as to me.
As I read the story of the miracle at Cana, I thought how often we see it as a sweet and easy miracle. There are no sick people, no lame people, no blind people -- just people who somehow are friends or relatives of Mary and Jesus who invited them to a wedding. But there is so much more, of course. There always is!
Did you notice when Jesus, Mary, and the disciples attend this wedding? It is on the third day -- the third day into the ministry of Jesus, the third day since he called his disciples. I read this little clue from one of the commentaries and liked the weight of the image.
This is a day of abundance like the third day after his death, when the resurrection, like this miracle of new wine, reveals to the world the glory of God, the love of God, and the promise of God that abundant life will bless all creation through the miracle of the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. "You have kept the good wine until now," the steward tells the bridegroom.
Neither the steward nor the bridegroom has a clue just how true these words are but in a much more profound meaning. Here is the Messiah, the Son of God, the gift of God's new covenant with us.
The new wine is a gift of God's Spirit. The new covenant is made possible through a gift of God's Spirit. Giving gifts is a particular strong point of the Spirit, I would say. So when we speak of gifts given us by God's Spirit, this is no light talk. This is important, serious talk about what God has done for YOU!
Each gift is different. Each gift is important. Each gift is given for the common good by God's Spirit. If you believe that, you are on your way to God's realm, the place where God dwells. It is a place where the multiplicity of gifts makes us humble, where we learn that God did not use a cookie cutter when he created the human race. Far from it, my friends.
A book I'm reading now is about an Anglican priest whose son was born with severe autism. He tells about the challenges he and his wife faced in the early years and as their son matured into a young man. In their son, the priest and father says, they found a prayerful self awareness of the presence of God. They found what he calls "an absolute priority of care and kindness (in the world), indeed of love, over all things, and over all values." (Gillibrand)
Such children as this one have many things to teach the rest of the world. When someone refers to them as outside the norm, I am likely to bristle; because I have a close relative who is autistic. He has Asperger's Syndrome.
I am likely to say that their normal, the normal of the autistic child's world, is God's gift to us, to reveal that the difference among God's people is as wide as the spectrum on the rainbow or on an artist's palette. Autism shows only one way God teaches us to value people whose life is indeed closer to the biblical definition of human as God intended -- than the lives of those of us who consider ourselves normal.
Leaving such people as the autistic, especially when they are children, out of the community diminishes us as God's people. It deprives all of us of the gifts the "different" people or the "other," as they are sometimes called, bring to the community.
I see a metaphor for how easily we might leave out someone like my relative in his ability to see in his puzzle savvy. When a tiny piece of a jigsaw puzzle is missing, he sees it long before it becomes clear to others that the puzzle is not going to be complete. He has an uncanny brilliance for puzzles and actually memorizes the colors, designs, and shapes of pieces even of very large puzzles. But a missing piece clearly stands out to him. How wonderful! If we could only see that way. Too often Christians in our attempts to be pure people, those who are God's people, who know how to worship and sing and pray and recite the liturgy, do not stop and look around and realize that there is something or someone missing.
Who can it be for us? That is the question I put before all of us, myself included: Who is missing and how can we pull into this community the people God wants to have here to make us whole, to make our puzzle complete?
Hear what Paul says to the church at Corinth, where Paul wants the members to understand that every gift to the church, that is, every spiritual strength, contributes to the whole.
"You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak." What does he mean? He says flatly and boldly: You have been letting the world decide your fate. You have been letting material things be your gods! You've been letting someone other than God decide who is important in your congregation.
Then he makes his move as their pastoral guide, saying "But you are now guided by God's Spirit. You are equipped by God's Spirit. And each one of you has a special gift. That special gift, EACH special gift is important to the whole people of God."
Listen again to verse seven: "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." And he says in verse eleven: "All these gifts are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses."
God has given each one of you, each one of us, gifts that are given for the building up of the body of Christ, gifts that represent God's Spirit within us, gifts that are to be used for the common good. But God's Spirit has given gifts to many who should be here with us. There are gifts that are missing. Where are those who in our world are like the blind, the lame, the lepers, and the other outcasts of Jesus' day, the ones to whom he particularly wanted to minister?
And hear is a related question: What, I ask you, do you think that "common good" means? Is it the good that makes us happy or carefree or pain free or rich? It is not. It is the good, the common good that glorifies God.
Can you hear and feel the important message there? Everyone has a place in this new realm of God. Everyone will feed on the bread of heaven and drink from the cup of salvation. And everyone receives a gift of the Spirit that has meaningful consequences in making the faith community WHOLE.
Hear these words from our own Brief Statement of Faith, one of our denominational creeds:
"In life and in death we belong to God, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith, sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor, and binds us together with all believers in the one body of Christ, the Church.
"The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture, engages us through the Word proclaimed, claims us in the waters of baptism, feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation, and calls women and men to all ministries of the Church.
"In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
"In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God's new heaven and new earth, praying, 'Come, Lord Jesus!"'
We are not complete, however, until we have assembled all the gifts of the Spirit God means for us to employ as his Church. We cannot exclude people who seem to be outside the norm we have designed.
Who is missing? Look into your life and look all around you. There is someone who is waiting for the invitation. The Spirit is going to use you to make that person welcome, to make that person belong, to make that person bring gifts that will help this community of faith continue toward the wholeness God intends.
We look to God for the norm, not to our own man-made design of what is normal for a human life, and we see that in Jesus the message is clear:
John tells us that a few days after the wedding, Jesus goes to Jerusalem. And there, after an encounter with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, Jesus announces to all who can hear:
"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life."
And there is more to what he said. And these words are important also:
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but so that the world might be saved through him."
To God be all glory, honor, and praise -- to the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.