Our Water, God’s Wine

Read John 2:1-11

… the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. (John 2:9)

“The matters we or the world might consider trivial, He cares about and wants to remedy. He longs to relieve our worries and has promised to supply our most fundamental needs.” ― Charles Swindoll

What do you do when the wine runs out? Is the party over? Do your guests leave? Do you start cleaning up the mess?

When the wine runs out the wedding in Cana, Mary does something about it. She makes the need known to Jesus. At first he seems annoyed. Maybe he is tired of her meddling. Maybe he is playfully chiding her. Whatever the case, he responds to her expressed concern in a miraculous way. Jesus turns sacred water into delicious wine. 

The question for us is, what do we do when our wine runs out?

The wine of romance from your wedding night: a beautiful night with stars shining, music in the air, the smell of roses….gone after 7 years of stormy days, hacking sounds and morning breath. The wine has run out. Do you leave? Or do you find some water and let Christ turn it into wine.

The wine of strength from your glory days: lights shining, all eyes on you, carrying the ball across the goal line with a roar from the crowd; now, darkness, alone you hold a pillow over your face. The wine has run out. Do you leave? Or do you find some water and let Christ turn it into wine?

The wine of popularity; all pews filled, building projects funded, children confirmed, everywhere holy, happy families. Now, more gaps than bodies, budget crunch, a handful in youth group; broken families, damaged lives. Do you leave? Or do you find some water and let Christ turn it into wine?

When the wine runs out, there is a guest among us who can do something about it.

What wine has run out in your life?

How might Jesus turn your water into wine?

Lord Jesus, you respond to our concerns in amazing ways. Send your Spirit into our hearts that we may boldly come before your throne of grace and lay out our hearts before you.

Coming Home

Read Luke 2.41-52

Then [Jesus] went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. (Luke 2.51)

Though I grew up in Indiana, my roots are firmly planted in Eastern Kentucky. Coming home meant taking the pilgrimage south to visit with relatives caring for the land of our ancestors. We shared good food, fun fellowship, and a faith passed on for generations. Growing up, I came to appreciate that family meant more than the three or four folks who shared the same mailbox and watched the same TV.

This kind of family would have been of great importance to this child Jesus. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem is a journey home, a family reunion. Within the temple, he embraces not only the religious lifestyle of his parents, but finds his place in a relationship with God’s people. This story is not the story of a child rebelling against his identity and the identity of his family. The child Jesus has not gone off to some foreign land, tried out a new lifestyle and a new religion in order “to find himself.” Instead, the child finds himself in the temple among his brothers and sisters in faith.

Guiding Light

Read Matthew 2.1-12

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  (Matthew 2.10)

When my daughter was 12, she started to sponsor a child from through World Vision. Her name was Maria and she lived in an impoverished section of Brazil. Not only my daughter donate money that helped Maria and her family meet basic needs, but she wrote letters of encouragement to Maria, sharing the hope of Christ with her.

When my daughter turned 16, she had the opportunity to visit Brazil. She contacted Maria to let her know. Maria and her family were delighted. Maria and her father took a six-hour bus trip through rough terrain to meet my daughter and thank her for her gifts. They returned home in darkness, but they carried with them the light of Christ shared with an unlikely teenager from an unfamiliar land.

Like the star at Bethlehem, God shines a light that we might follow our own path to a special place where we find new life, new hope; where we discover Christ in the most unlikely places. In Christ, this light shines through us; the darkness can never overwhelm us. The light of Christ guides us to a place where we can lead holy and joyful lives, no matter where on earth we are.

 

 

 

Humble Beginnings, Special Ends

Read Micah 5.2-5

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”  (Micah 5.2)

The prophet Micah foretold the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem, many people were blind to this. How could the Christ be born in such an insignificant place?

As Joseph and Mary set out for Bethlehem, they didn’t know what to expect. Their child would be born any moment. They had no place to stay. They had both been told Jesus would be special in God’s eyes, but how could this be with such a rough start?

Jesus would later be dismissed as insignificant because he grew up in Nazareth. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” the leaders mocked. They assumed God’s prophets would come from great religious centers. They failed to see the way God comes to us in humble ways — in a manger stable, a carpenter’s apprentice, a wandering teacher, entering Jerusalem on a donkey.

Rosa Parks, was born in a fiercely divided Alabama where an African-American woman would be treated by many worse than animals. Her parents separated when she was young. She dropped out of school to care for an ailing grandparent. Though born in such humble circumstances, Parks would be led to spark a movement that would transform racial relationships and give African-Americans civil rights.

Great movements begin in small places. God often chooses what the world deems insignificant. God works through people overlooked by society to accomplish great things, to bring glory to God.

What Child is This?!

Read Luke 1:29-56

When Mary first receives the visit from the angel Gabriel, she certainly has questions about this birth. Even after the angel answers her questions, she has trouble making sense of this word from God. She accepts the word and ponders it in her heart. This is a way of saying she doesn’t know quite what to make of it, but she holds onto it and waits to see what will happen.

Mary’s journey through doubt and confusion to shouts of joy is similar to how we might experience the miracles of God that happen in our world. Especially the miracle of the birth of our Savior. As we look at Mary’s story notice how she moves from raising the question, “What Child is This?” to shouting out with joy, “What Child this Is!”

Mary is set apart by God for an absolutely unique role. Yet, she is not left alone. Not only is the Holy Spirit with her,  but God sends her to Elizabeth who is able to share in her joy.

Our Gospel Lesson in Luke takes place after Mary has received a visit from the angel of God. Mary has been told that she will give birth to one who will be called, “Son of the Most High.”

At first she is confused how this could be possible. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Implied in this question is another concern, “What would people say?” People looking on would not understand Mary’s special role in God’s plan. They would no doubt laugh and ridicule her. “What would Joseph, her fiancé, do?” Accepting this call from God to be the mother of the holy child means taking the risk being labeled a fool. Mary doesn’t know what will happen, but she trusts and she takes the risk of faith. She accepts the word of the angel and responds, in verse 38, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Having received this word from God, Mary faces a difficult situation Who would understand? Who would appreciate it?

It is here in the story that another miracle happens. Mary is sent to visit Elizabeth, her cousin who also is unexpectedly pregnant with John. When Elizabeth sees Mary coming, she cries out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth becomes very excited. The baby leaps in her womb. There is something very special about this child Mary is carrying. Elizabeth is able to see and appreciate the specialness of the child growing inside of Mary and her enthusiasm shows.

Instead of feeling burdened by the isolation caused by her “specialness, Mary is now able to sing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Her worries about what might happen now that she has stepped out in faith are turned into enthusiastic praises of God, “who has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant.”

The song that Mary sings is not just a private expression of faith, but a song that is rooted in the faith of her people Israel. Hannah sings a similar song in 1 Samuel 2.1-10. In their songs, these women realize that it is a blessing to receive God’s favor, no matter what burdens people might place on you. God will see to it that the tables are turned. The proud will be scattered, the powerful will be dethroned. Those who thought of themselves as special will be convinced of their common-ness and the common people, those who faithfully serve God and accept God’s call, as do Hannah and Mary, receive God’s blessing.

Mary takes the risk of being set apart, following the call of God, and rather than being left alone, God leads her to one who can share her joy. She is not left alone, but finds one with a common ground of experience. Someone who understands. Verse 56 tells us Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months. Clearly, Mary was able to benefit a great deal from this relationship.

It is a wonderful thing that God sends people our way who can identify with our experience, who can walk with us on our journey through life. Thank God for those friends and family members we can stay with and talk to when we are confused, or filled with joy or sorrow. How important it is to have someone to share your stories with, like Elizabeth and Mary. God’s guidance is often found as we share our stories with one another. Like Mary, we may only see God’s blessing in our own lives as we hear about it from someone else, as we see our lives through the eyes of another.

Before she meets Elizabeth, Mary is only able to raise the question, “What Child Is This?” and accept the wisdom of God’s plan, pondering it in her heart. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the company of Elizabeth, God transforms her pondering into praise. into a shout of joy, “What Child is This!” 

Gifts from God

Read Galatians 4.4-7

God’s gift in Christ comes in two packages. The first package is intimacy with God. In Christ, we can develop a personal relationship with God. The Spirit gives us the courage and desire to pray to God as a loving parent, “Abba,” “Father.” God is no longer an abstract concept, but one who walks with us, who listens to us, who cares for us. We no longer need to rely on a middle man, a priest or prophet to talk to God for us. We can talk to God ourselves. In faith, we can listen for God’s response and trust in our hearts that it comes in God’s own good time.

This gift of intimacy makes it possible for us to do good works not because we need to appease an angry God, but because we want to please our loving Father. When we act in kindness, when we promote peace and justice, when we comfort someone in pain, it’s like joining our Father at work in the world. By our words and deeds, we grow closer to God and feel the warmth of his embrace surround us.

At times, I marvel at how much some people of faith are able to accomplish. Sometimes I think I expect too little from myself and others because I forget how much God’s Spirit can do through us. When we tap into the energy and strength God provides, we spend less of ourselves and instead are filled to do even more. Sometime I forget this and try to conserve my energy when instead I need to be spending more, in the spirit of Christ. 

There was a woman named Gladys in my Greek class at seminary. She was 72 years old. She rode her bike five miles to come to class and five miles to get home. Several of us offered her rides, but she politely refused. I was in a study group with her and it was clear Gladys knew Biblical Greek better than any of us. I was greatly impressed by this.

But what impressed me even more was the Sunday I was asked to speak at Gladys’ church. She greeted me at the door and introduced me to nearly everyone who came. As I spoke, Gladys sat attentively in the front row, taking notes. She smiled an encouraging smile which eased my nerves.

After the service, Gladys excused herself. She said she had to visit a friend in a nursing home. It was then that I learned more of Gladys’ spiritual character. Countless people came up to me in the fellowship hall with a story about how Gladys had prayed with a dying loved one, how she had visited them in the hospital, delivered groceries when they were short on finances. So many acts of kindness that flowed not out of a sense of a desire to impress, but a longing for intimacy — with God, and with God’s children.

The second package we open from God’s gift to us is an inheritance. In Christ, we are made heirs of God’s promise. This promise of forgiveness and the gift of new life are intended for the whole world. Those who believe are charged with the responsibility to share this good news by what we say and do. Being a Christian is not so much a privilege as it is a responsibility. You become an heir not of some material good, but of a mission, a purpose.

As heirs of God in Christ, we are encouraged to good works not because it is our job, but because we are part of the family of faith. Unlike slaves who are compelled to work, we are invited to join God as a child joins her parent, out of the joy of being involved together. We need to be careful not to look on our inheritance as Christians as a privilege, but instead as an opportunity to do more for the Lord.

Our spiritual inheritance at times draws us away from our families. I think of King Saul’s son Jonathon. Jonathon knew that God had anointed David to become king and that Saul was wickedly striving against God’s will. Jonathon was led to deceive his father in order to uphold his spiritual inheritance. Jonathon shows us that when our earthly inheritance conflicts with our Godly inheritance, we are to choose the way of the Lord.

God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ are intimacy and an inheritance. These bountiful gifts bless us in this life and into eternity.

Going Home

Read Zephaniah 3.14-20

At that time I will gather you;
    at that time I will bring you home.  (Zephaniah 3.20a)

The people Israel were homeless; a small fish swimming between the huge whales of Egypt and Assyria. Israel, a once proud nation with much land, great wealth, a huge temple, now lived as resident aliens, depending on the mercy of strangers. Zephaniah encourages the people by reminding them of the faithfulness of God. God will restore Israel. Those living in exile will be brought home. Fortunes will be restored on the day of the Lord. It will be a great homecoming.

Arlene, a woman from our church, was taken to the hospital for a blood clot in her leg. When I visited her, the first thing she said was, “When will I go home?” I went to ask the nurse and she said they were waiting to hear from the doctor.

“I’m an old woman,” she said, “I’ll be 99.” I want to go home.” Then it dawned on me, she wasn’t just talking about the hospital. She wanted to her heavenly home, to be with her Lord and Savior. We prayed together and I asked God to bring her safely home, to give her peace while she waits, to surround her with loving care.

After the Amen she looked up with the same sparkle in her eyes. For a brief moment she was home. Someday she’ll be there forever.