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Monday, January 25, 2016

Second Thoughts: Cana, Torah, and Transformation (C2O and C3O)

I'm thinking that a good approach for me this year might be to take the "echoing God's word" approach more regularly, and write my blog following the "Second Thoughts" trajectory. In these posts, after the Sunday celebration, I look back at what I heard and thought, and write about that, rather than focusing on the preparation, which I've done a lot of in the last three years. I'll look over what I posted last time, and repost it to Facebook and Twitter if it holds up all right, especially for anyone who hasn't read them before, but I won't feel the pressure to write in advance of Sunday, and of course run the risk of repeating myself more than usual. We'll see how that goes!

This post will pull together some thoughts for the last two Sundays, the 2nd and 3rd Sundays of Ordinary time, Year C. Hearing the readings, I was struck again by what sounds like the underlying reality to all three, that God is approaching us, always, and that when that happens, things change. For Israel, exile and slavery become homeland and liberation, over and over again. Furthermore, the section of 1 Corinthians we heard as the second reading both weeks pulls the other readings, even the psalm, together for me, which emboldens me to write this only because I'm not sure that most preachers (rightly, perhaps) pay much attention to the second reading which seems not to "fit the theme" created by the first reading, psalm, and gospel.

It seems to me that our church wedding, our global wedding, our neighborhood and maybe our family wedding, is a big mess right now. We're empty water jars, we have nothing to offer anyone. Or those jars might belong to our parents, our nation, our church, they represent the way we follow the rules handed down to us, or rules that we made, thinking that they would save us, keep away chaos, keep other people and their ways where they belong. We may be guests at the wedding, entitled, and out of wine. We may be newlyweds who didn't plan so well, and see disaster on a fast-approaching horizon. We have gifts, of course, we want to profit from them, we want them to be good for us, but they don't really make us happy. We are not where we should be, we're not where we want to be, we know that we're less than the sum of our potential. How can we fix this? Who can repair us?

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The period following the Babylonian captivity, described in the book of Nehemiah yesterday, was a very active time in the compilation, writing-down, and editing of the books of the Hebrew bible that would culminate in the Septuagint about 200 years later. In today's first reading, we hear about the reading of the Torah to the assembled returnees and those left behind, all the anawim, at the site of the razed temple after the return. We can only imagine the way this was heard by that displaced, bedraggled congregation, though its stories of creation from nothing, destruction and salvation, covenant, captivity and release must have been framed by its writers, editors, and the receiving ears in the experiences of three or four generations of exile and servitude in a foreign land finally ended.

People wept hearing their experience read back to them, wrapped in assurances of God's presence. And Ezra and Nehemiah, seeing this, want people to understand that the proper "response" to god's word is rejoicing. The assembly, the proclamation of the word, all of that should bring people to joy, to celebration, and the kind of celebration that leaves no one out, that is aware of those without enough and moves to fill what is lacking in their joy. 

The "wisdom" psalm we sang reiterated all that, that God's word is spirit and life. Torah is perfect, honey from the comb, refreshing, clear as light. 

"Today" is a day precious to the Lord. This Sunday, whenever it is, "Ordinary Time" is precious to the Lord. And its meaning is the same for us as for Israel: stop weeping about yourselves, be glad, "eat rich food and drink sweet drink." AND give some to everybody, even if they're not prepared, not gifted, didn't bring their own food and drink, or don't have it. The meaning of sabbath, of Sunday, of today, the meaning of assembly before and with God, is the care of one another, making each one feel like a necessary part of the whole. 

This is what St. Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians to remember. Today, Sunday, the gathering of the assembly, isn't self-indulgent, self-congratulatory. It's not self-focused at all. It's about the other, especially about the poor and those who don't have enough to celebrate, enough to feel the presence of God with them. We're members of a body, everybody matters. Every part matters. "If a clod be washed away by the sea," the poet John Donne preached, "Europe is the less."

Finally, the transformation of all the gifts within us to be able to fulfill the needs of all of us by others is the work of the same Spirit that filled Jesus and managed his ministry in life, which as St. Luke said, brought him back to Galilee after his post-baptismal sojourn in the desert. That solitude itself was spirit-driven, and it is the same Spirit which Jesus bestowed on humanity from the cross (Jn. 19:30b) and on the morning of the resurrection (Jn. 20:22). That Spirit is the Spirit of God, the God who has nothing to do with death, who is unbounded generosity and mercy, who wants to persuade us from within our lives and our history to be done with rivalry, hoarding, and death-dealing. It is this God who has lived in the place of the innocent victim among us, experienced us at our worst; who went to death with words of forgiveness on his lips, and returned from the grave with rehabilitating love for us and the desire that we go together in a new, different, life-giving direction. It is that Spirit that was summoned upon the water jars of Cana, and turned embarrassment into celebration, even as it hinted that no ritual alone would ever make us "clean" before God, but that God already accepts us with love and wants the wedding to go on with plenty of wine for everyone.


The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, is that Spirit. It's not a spirit of superiority, of shameful victory, of "God is on our side," but a spirit that just keeps whispering: Do not be afraid. Go into the dark. I've already been there. I'm still there. Whatever you thought was in those water jars, take a big drink and pass it around. If you think your life is good now, just wait until you give it away for the sake of others. Just wait until you "proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind,
(and) let the oppressed go free." You ain't seen nothing yet.

Christ invites us to participate in God's project, in James Alison's metaphor, to "play a different game," a game where everyone is beloved of God, is good, no matter what. It's the beginning of a new year of grace. I hope I can give myself time to internalize all this, and more important, just start acting on it.

What we sang this weekend:

Entrance: Turn Around
Psalm 19: Your Words, O God
Presentation: God Is Love or We Are Many Parts
Communion: Within the Reign of God
Recessional: Joyfully Singing or All Are Welcome

Link to James Alison's Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice  at Amazon.