Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
In Sunday’s second Lesson, the Corinthian church sounds like some modern congregations. There are many squabbles and jealousies and too little vision for mission. The church is struggling with the same problem that confronts every congregation. They are a bunch of sinners who have been charged with being the body of Christ. Weak and faulty, they are nonetheless responsible to fulfill Christ’s mission and ministry.
There was more than one squabble going on at Corinth. The one Paul addresses in Sunday’s lesson has to do with a misuse and misunderstanding of Spiritual gifts. The spiritual immaturity of the Corinthians led them to an attitude of “My gift’s better than yours.” Paul is faced with a dilemma. Any time two groups conclude: We’re right and you’re wrong,” a difference of opinion can become a reason for division. The great temptation is for the pastor to become a “thought policeman” and insist that everyone goose-step to the same idea-drummer — namely, himself. It is very difficult to find fault with fault-finders without becoming one.
The Gospel Lesson is the “first sign” in John’s Gospel — the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. John organizes his book around seven “signs.” The last one is the resurrection. This one does not take place at some religious festival — the kind of event at which people might expect some miraculous action from God. It does not take place at some unique or holy place — not a temple or synagogue or holy mountain. As a matter of fact, the occasion has no theological backdrop at all; it’s a party in a home.
Interestingly, neither member of the wedding couple is identified. We can guess that they were known to Jesus, perhaps even family members, both from the fact that Jesus and His disciples were invited, and from the fact that Mary seems to feel some responsibility for the arrangements and supplies. Finally, like all the miracles to follow, this act does not result in the conversion of unbelievers. It confirms the faith of those who already believe the power and presence of God is in the Man Jesus.
Who would have guessed that the first miracle of the Holiest of all the holy men who ever walked on earth would be to provide 120-180 gallons of wine for a party, where the people had already drunk up all of the host’s supplies? There are some “thought policemen” in the church today who would be compelled to throw Jesus out of His own Church for that one. Some cannot imagine that Jesus would have ever attended such a party in the first place, let alone that He might have actually laughed and danced and drank with the crowd. Jesus’ Church is always bigger and with wider doors than those created by mankind.
According to mankind’s view, from the very beginning, He should have never allowed Gentiles into His fellowship. If He had to do that, the very least He could do was exclude tax-collectors, publicans, Samaritans, prostitutes, and other well-known sinners. He not only let them all in, He went out of His way to invite them. On top of that He made it sound like the gate was narrow for the rich, but wide-open to the poor. He expected the righteous people to repent and seek forgiveness of sins, just like the obvious sinners. Then, to top it all off, when the police arrested a thief and sentenced him to be executed, Jesus took the guy with Him to Paradise!
That’s okay, friends, any religious people in their right minds know that God exacts the death penalty on those who murder innocent people — He doesn’t let them murder Him! Every time we think we know everything there is to know about God, when we put Him in a box and seal it up, He blows the lid off. Even when we kill Him and seal Him in a tomb, He blows the door off. What a frustration we must be to God — sometimes it must seem like half of us are trying to shut Him in, and the other half are trying to shut His people out. I’m not surprised when everybody in the world doesn’t agree with me; the world would be boring if they did. In the same way, God seems to enjoy variety in His Church, and who am I to argue with Him about it?
Some people are so narrow minded they can look through a keyhole with both eyes. I’m opposed to that, but I am also opposed to the blind openness which is growing in popularity in our day. In an attempt to keep from discriminating against persons, some would have us be open and accepting to all ideas. If the current trend keeps going, we will soon have rapists’ rights and child-molesters’ rights groups telling us that we have to accept their alternate lifestyles. The next “Pro-choice” group may be cannibals telling us that we have no right to dictate their diet. There comes a point where wrong is wrong. The fact that the people who are doing it think it is right doesn’t change that. The fact that we are called by God to love them does not mean that we are called to approve of their behavior.
Paul had to figure out a way to lovingly accept the Corinthians who were not being accepting of others, without accepting their loveless behavior. He reminded them that Spiritual gifts were spelled with a capital “S.” They come from the One and the same Spirit. God sees fit to give different strokes to different folks without ranking either the gifts or the persons. We may have our spiritual preferences, which separate us into different groups with different tastes in spiritual matters. But Spiritual gifts have useful purpose for the common good of the people of God. The fact that you have one gift and I have another does not mean that either of us has a shortcoming! As a matter of fact, and quite the opposite, it means that, because we are both in the church, the church is not shortchanged by your absence or mine. That may be a major key to this issue.
God shows up in the strangest places, at the strangest times, in the strangest people, doing the strangest things. If we can put aside our search for the shortcomings of others, long enough to look for Him and His work in each other, we might be surprised and actually like what we find. God chooses to be present in the laughter of our wedding feasts and the tears of our funeral wakes. He is in the hollering of the “louder-the-better” churches, and He is present where all within keep silent. His gifts are as diversified and various as the people who receive them. Two things are important here: The gifts of God glorify Him — not those who receive them, and no gift should be kept at home, away from the church it is meant to uplift or the mission it is meant to fulfill.
When Jesus arrives, things change. Commenting on Sunday’s Gospel, William Willimon once wrote, “Any time Jesus shows up … hold onto your hats!” He also noted that Jesus doesn’t do anything to perform this miracle. He says no magical words and waves no wand over the jars. When the servants bring back the jars of water, the normal old water has become wonderful wine. Just by being there, Jesus transforms the water to wine.
For John, the presence of Jesus is the only miracle on which we can count; it is the only miracle the world needs. When Jesus arrived, things changed, and they still do. Miracles of water and wine occur in the church right up to the present day, and they will not stop. They will continue because God continues to come to us in Baptism and Holy Communion and in His Word.
After the once-water, now-wine had been served, and the rumor of what had happened had begun to circulate, how do you suppose people reacted to the news? We are told that Jesus’ disciples saw and believed, but who else would have really believed it? There is one small group who would have had no doubt — wonder and amazement, maybe — but no doubt. That little group provides a very special lesson for us.
The servants were the only ones other than Jesus who knew, for sure, that God’s glory had just been revealed in plain ordinary stuff and circumstances! The missionary’s job is to pour the water, so to speak, just as we have been told. Leave the rest to Jesus. It is our job to serve the contents and see what God has done with them. Fill the jars and taste what comes out of them — “Taste, and see that the Lord is good!”
Paul’s words to the Corinthians remind us that there are all kinds of gifts from God’s Spirit and all kinds of service to perform. The Gospel Lesson reminds us that Jesus’ greatest miracles are His transformations of people — especially those who are using their gifts in His service — filling jars and serving the marvelous contents.