Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, now and for ever.
Eternal Lord, our beginning and our end: bring us with the whole creation to your glory, hidden through past ages and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord.
God of glory, you nourish us with your Word who is the bread of life: fill us with your Holy Spirit that through us the light of your glory may shine in all the world. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
5 Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens
and your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness stands like the strong mountains, your justice like the great deep;
you, Lord, shall save both man and beast.
7 How precious is your loving mercy, O God!
All mortal flesh shall take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
8 They shall be satisfied with the abundance of your house;
they shall drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the well of life
and in your light shall we see light.
10 O continue your loving-kindness to those who know you
and your righteousness to those who are true of heart.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are 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. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
I Cor 12:1–11
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.
Sermon on Epiphany 2
“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’…”
I wonder whether this verse is actually the shortest of commentaries on the OT book of Job. Because, if we remember correctly, Job is having a lot of trouble and is constantly asking, “Why, O Lord?” as he loses friends and riches, his family and even his health. However, in his isolation Job keeps faith – he never curses God for his tribulations. He may condemn the day of his birth, but all he curses is his human experience, never the divine.
What about us? Do we ever curse God because of our circumstances? Do we ever blame God for what most would call, “Ill fortune”? We suffer bad luck, don’t we? After all, don’t we sing with Albert King, that famous blues brother of B B King, “If it ain’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all”?
Do we blame God for our circumstances? We may condemn our situation, calling down God’s wrath, but do we ever curse God for the ill that happens in our world? Theologians have always discussed this problem of the existence of evil in everyday life, and they have a name for it – “Theodicy”. Sometimes they come to the conclusion that what happens in our lives is merely random. At other times they opine that everything happens for a reason and all is going to God’s plan which we cannot fathom. This grand plan is the result of the watchmaker God, everything interacts in a way that we cannot quite comprehend because we have not put all the parts together. Perhaps we never will put it all together. After all, we don’t understand why there are those wicked mosquitos, do we?!
In our non-comprehension, we are like the steward at the wedding-feast at Cana – we taste the new wine and are amazed at the quality now revealed.
However, we are not at Cana, are we? I don’t think any of us have tasted such a vintage as that wedding’s steward. Instead, our parents and we ourselves have tasted a very different wine. Our teeth are set on edge, so much so that we fear our children will taste the same bitter draught, and we are afraid that even our grandchildren and their children will have to drink from the same vintage which has made our eyes smart and may have even tempted us to forsake the grape forever.
In the confusion of our tastebuds, we curse the world, the flesh and the devil, all of which are conspiring to take any joy out of our lives. We may even be tempted to rail against the source of all creation because we are under attack from all sides, just like Job. This is nothing new, this siege mounted against the individual is eternal. Job complained of it. Shakespeare wrote of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and we wonder whether we have the strength of body and mind to overcome them. We ask ourselves whether we have the stamina to win the day and enjoy the sweet wine of the Lord’s promise, that sweet everlasting drink for us as foreshadowed at Cana.
Part of the riches of the kingdom are the gifts Paul explains in our reading this morning. Healing and wisdom are but two of the extraordinary gifts which manifest the Spirit here and now. Sometimes we can see it in this benighted life, the one in which we suffer so terribly. More often than not, we don’t see such joy.
On occasion we pronounce something. We are surprised when someone says, “You really helped me yesterday when we talked.” This is well beyond what we consider our pay grade. We have a glimpse into something close to heaven on occasion and we have hope for the future, which seems to be well out of our experience.
We may have helped someone heal through our unconscious wisdom, thoughts which arise spontaneously as we live in the moment, that uncharacteristic moment of caring dialogue with another, a conversation we may not remember, but which has a profound effect on the other. In those golden moments we participate in something greater than the deranged world around us.
We sit in that great banquet with those who have helped us, and those whom we have helped. That is the mansion of the kingdom, that mansion of so many rooms through which we have moved during our lives. In the midst of pain and suffering, there is joy to be shared – even if we don’t recognise it as it happens.
The Buddha recognised what Paul is writing about, what Job’s story is all about. That there is chance and change throughout life, and we need to transcend it to experience the Spirit which transforms all into the best of all possible worlds, a heavenly realm. This is not the life of a Candide, it becoms a moment of absolute reality, the ultimate reality in which we understand our ownmost possibility for the course of life.
I want to take Paul’s comment as a confirmation of the message of Job’s suffering – that although so much must be borne, we must impute all evil to our ignorance of what is good. That is why Paul says no one can curse God and still be in the Spirit, and no one can acclaim Jesus as the Christ except she or he be in the Spirit. In other words, you can’t have it both ways.
Nothing in life is straightforward at all. Isn’t our life full of contradiction and temptation? Don’t we often misconstrue what is right in front of us? The philosopher teaches us about perception and moral acts in the midst of the maelstrom of the everyday, when we are confused by so many voices. Paul says, “You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.” We are no longer those “pagans” – rather now we are enlightened and listen to the Word of God, no longer fixated on an object in the confusion of the voices all around us.
A true voice can be heard, a voice which speaks to our very silent, suffering selves. It does not chatter, nor does it distract, but it gives focus, a focus which helps us cut through the bitter taste of that drink we too often think life is. The steward of the wedding feast stands before us inviting to drink of a marvellous vintage. We expect nothing to be the same again, but that will be true only if we never let things return to the same old ways.
I think this is a message for us all in the worry of the pandemic, of economic confusion, of what has been the normal of the past. The message is that everything is changed in an instant, the instant we taste that new wine and see that it is good, when we share the life of the Spirit with all around us.