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1-16-22 — Merlot and Jesus — John 2:10-18 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

1.16.22

John 2:10-18

Merlot and Jesus

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

Years ago, one of my youth group’s favorite games to play was clue. But this wasn’t the  board game, this was what we called human clue. Some of the youth leaders would dress up in detective costumes.  The kids were then divided into small groups and one of the youth leaders would act as a guide.  They would get a few minutes in designated rooms to search for a clue. If they found a clue it would help them to eliminate a suspect, a room, or an imaginary weapon. If they didn’t find every clue it really came down to your best guess. Because this was an annual game over the years we ended up making the clues harder and harder to find. The one rule is the clues always had to be visible.  I remember once taping one of the clues to the underside fin to an air return vent. You had to lay on the ground  with your head against the wall directly under the vent  to see it; or the time I taped a clue to the very top of the door or the clue that was written in laundry soap that only became visible if you turned on the black light.   After everyone diligently searched each room, each team would submit their best guess, it was always a little nerve racking when the teams would make their guesses. The teens would get very competitive over the game, and you always wanted at least one team to get the correct answer. Some years only one team would get it; other years several teams would figure out the answer. All they had to do was follow the signs and the clues.

The gospel of John is all about signs and clues. Our lectionary invites us to reflect on what the author calls “Jesus’ first sign, a sign that reveals his glory; and his disciples believe in him.” The author is already introducing some foreshadowing, this miracle takes place on the third day. John is already trying to point us to the events that take place on the third day at the end of the gospel. But on this day the setting is a wedding that takes place.  The disciples and Jesus have been invited to celebrate at a feast that takes place over multiple days. But the feast is running short on wine. Culturally this is a big deal, running short on wine could be viewed as bad luck for the marriage. The mother of Jesus asks him to intervene.  Jesus tells the servants to fill the ceremonial jars with water. These would have been jugs that guests used to wash themselves prior to coming into the feast.

It is interesting to note the amount of work that is done here in this moment. It is likely these jugs would need to emptied of their dirty water,  cleaned . Carried over to a water source and then these servants would need to refill these jugs by hand and then carry them back to the feast.  This is also a ridiculous amount of wine. Most estimates would place it between 600-900 bottles of wine. Much more than what would be needed at this point in the feast. The other thing that is truly unique about this sign, is that this sign is not offered to the guests, the steward, the bride or the groom. The sign is for the disciples and those reading this text. This sign leads the disciples to a greater understanding of the reign of God, of who Jesus is, and it offers clues or signs about the way in which we are to operate in this world.

I recently read the story of Verda Tetteh. A student who graduated in June from Fitchburg High School in Fitchburg Mass. Most of her classmates are deemed “economically disadvantaged” She is a remarkable student. She secured a prestigious state scholarship and admission into Harvard University all while juggling activities, a pandemic and work at a grocery store. In her graduation speech she talked about resilience, saying “because if we’re honest with ourselves, some of us were born with the odds stacked against us.” She  went on to say, “To every immigrant child, you can make it.” Verda’s family had immigrated from Ghana and she knew how difficult that that transition can be.  After giving her speech she sat down. To her surprise she was called back up to the podium. The principal announced that she had been voted to receive her school’s highest honor: an award for “General Excellence.” The award came with $40,000 — $10,000 for the next 4 years and she could use it to cover whatever she needed. Verda was overwhelmed by the recognition, but immediately recognized there were others in her class that needed that kind of support more. She thanked her teachers and fellow students for award but asked that the money be used for a student who had a need and was  attending community college. Verda thought of her mother who finished her bachelor’s degree at the age of 47 and thought about how hard she worked. She thought about her faith and our call to bless others and knew it was the right thing to do.[1] Verda offered a sign of her faithfulness to the world.

The question this text forces us to answer is when people look at our lives what signs of faithfulness do they see? Do they see a desire to work toward the kingdom of God? A desire to lay aside our hopes, our plans, and look for the promptings of the spirit, to see the signs that God is calling us to this day? Do we live a life of generosity? Generous with our time, generous with our listening ears, and generous with our finances?  Are we looking for the provision of God? Looking to see were God is working in this world, and align ourselves with that work.

 

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/06/08/verda-tetteh-scholarship-graduation/

1-2-22 — God Moved In — Jeremiah 31:7-14, John 1:10-18 — Rev. Joshua d. Gill

Jeremiah 31:7-14

John 1:10-18

God Moved In

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

There is an episode in season 2 of the TV the show The Crown, it is a fictionalized story but based off a real perception of the queen. In the episode a young Queen Elizabeth visits a car plant. She gives an awful speech that is completely out of touch with the workers, she comes across as extremely wooden and condescending. For the first time in her life she faces a backlash. As a result, Elizabeth begins to change the ways she does things. She starts by giving her Christmas message on television. She then begins to invite ordinary people to visit the Palace and even meet with them. She is deeply changed by the criticism she receives. What we see in this episode is a Queen who lowers herself to be with her people, a Queen who grants her people access, a Queen who loves her people and seeks to deepen her connection with them. While, this analogy isn’t a perfect analogy, it is helpful to think about when considering the idea of Incarnation; God coming to be with God’s people. Unlike the characters in The Crown, God isn’t making snobbish comments about God’s creation. But according to the Gospel of John, God lowers Godself to be with us.

The lectionary this week has us visit a section of the prologue to the gospel of John. For some of us the placement of this prologue might seem like a strange fit during the season of Christmas; we are probably wondering where are the Angels, Shepherds, and Wiseguys. Isn’t there supposed to be a little drummer who shows up? John’s prologue is every bit as Christmas as those stories but like all things in John it is a bit different.  The author is pulling together images and words from across scripture to create this prologue and share the themes of this gospel.

The world came into being through Jesus, yet the world did not know him, and his own people did not accept him. But what does it even mean to not accept the Word? Or to reject the Word? Certainly, in its context it is a claim about Jesus’ own people. But what does this even mean for contemporary Christians? Some might equate rejecting Jesus with rejecting the church, but is it really? What do we do when then the church’s teachings or actions do not align with Jesus’, who is really being rejected? We have seen a generation of young people walk away from the church mostly not because they didn’t love Jesus or don’t believe in God but they struggled to see how his church connects to his teachings. According to Scott Cormode, author of The Innovative Church, the strategy of the church for thousands of years has been to wait until something massive happens in society and then wait for a pioneering figure to come along and makes changes to the  church. After the industrial revolution the pace of change began to speed up happening once a century, then once a generation, and now scholars are pointing to massive societal changes every 7 to 8 years.  [1] If you think about it this way, it is likely that the culture has shifted at numerous points in your own lifetime.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for the church to keep up with these societal shifts. Before we point to unchanging nature of our faith I think it is important to reflect on how hard it can be to understand what is cultural Christianity and what is true faith.

Think for a moment about your time in the in the pew, what has changed over the years? What are traditions that you miss? What are traditions that you might be glad they are gone? I think often we think of Christianity as fixed, but the reality is there has been an ongoing undercurrent of cultural change, because the goal for our faith is to speak into the culture.  For example, I think many of us would probably assume that as Presbyterians we have always celebrated Christmas in a similar way for centuries.  The reality is the holiday was very controversial mostly for its connections to Catholicism and the 12 days of Christmas feasting and drinking that were associated with it.  John Calvin was actually pretty mixed on the practice. He strongly disliked the feasting and discouraged people from participating in that exuberance. But he was profoundly attached to reflecting on the nativity. He would set aside his regular preaching practice to hold sermons on the nativity. Many reformed congregations did not celebrate the holiday and if they did it was often moved to the closest Sunday. Calvin felt that it was a matter of Christian liberty and while in the city of Geneva he encouraged people to observe the holy day in the morning and then allow the shops to be open in the afternoon. However, after Calvin’s death other reformers were not as hospitable to the practice, and it was banned in Geneva and in 1640 Scottish Presbyterians abolished in Scotland. [2]  In the Massachusetts Bay Colony you could be charged with disturbing the peace for celebrating it.  Presbyterians in Philadelphia only began to adopt the holiday again when pastors started to see members of their own congregations attending Anglican Churches on Christmas day[3]. I don’t tell you this to dampen your spirits or lessen the impact of celebrating the birth of Christ. I tell you this because I think at times the church has gotten confused on its role, confused about what is important and it has led to people moving away from the church. I also believe what the Gospel of John is telling this day is the most important.

The gospel tells us that the Word has become flesh and lives among us. Another way to understand this is God pitched a tent and moved, purposeful imagery remind us of when God’s people were traveling through the desert, or as The Message translation says, “God moved into the neighborhood”. God did not stay distant , remote and isolated; in Jesus, God chose human weakness, confusion, and pain. God also chose to know joy, happiness, loss, love, grief, and to experience death.

Lauren Winner in her commentary on this text says it this way: “The Incarnation is like a chef, who so loves the meal he is creating that he actually becomes a dish of mashed potatoes.  Or the Incarnation is like a master gardener that loves her roses so much that gradually converts,  her limbs and torso turn a deep green and her head turns into a  thousand silky petals; the love the gardener experiences pulls her into the soil with all the roses that she has tended for years”.[4]

That is the message of our faith that God loves us all, that God loves so much that God could not be contained. God’s love pulled him down to be with us and that is an idea to truly celebrate.

 

[1] https://www.churchleadership.com/podcast/episode-71-recalibrating-the-church-featuring-scott-cormode/?id=top2021

[2] https://ismreview.yale.edu/article/the-grinch-that-didnt-steal-christmas-a-reformation-story/

[3] https://www.phcmontreat.org/Exhibit-Christmas.html

[4] https://www.episdionc.org/blog/caminando-with-jesus-the-queen-comes-down/

1-30-22 Bulletin

1-30-22 livestream bulletin