Sunday, January 17, 2010

An Advocacy Sermon for the Second Sunday After Epiphany

Editor's note: This is a sermon I preached as a representative of the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State. Once a month I visit another congregation for the LPPO-WA, and this Sunday I visited Ballard First Lutheran Church, which is actually the church where Chris and I live! So I guess I preached in our basement. :)

Sermon for the Second Sunday After Epiphany
Preached at Ballard First Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington


The holy gospel according to John.

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 is 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.

The gospel of the Lord.


“They have run out.”

On Thursday morning I woke to this message, drifting out of my clock radio. There was the voice of the morning news, reporting that only 24 hours after a massive earthquake, the Red Cross in Haiti had run out of medical supplies.

There was, it seems, only this relatively small amount to begin with, and the overwhelming demand had already exhausted it.

As reports continued pouring out of the radio, I soon learned what so many already knew, that this report about the rapid depletion of medical supplies was only one sign pointing toward Haiti’s much larger story.

The story of this island nation over the last four hundred years is the story of a people exploited into scarcity by our world of abundance, battered by a series of their own brutal dictators, and now shaken to the core by the sudden scraping of tectonic plates – an unnaturally cruel disaster for which there are no adequate words.

In our Gospel reading for this Second Sunday After Epiphany, we find ourselves at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. At first it seems far from the events of recent days, but it soon reveals itself to be closer to our world than it at first appears.

The story takes place in a wedding, an event where we would expect to find feasting and celebration, a time to share in the abundance of creation’s many gifts. Yet where we would expect to find abundance, we find instead scarcity, a sudden need that threatens to derail the entire story: The wine has run out.

Now wine at a wedding is not the same as medical supplies in the midst of a natural disaster, but in Cana of Galilee in the first century, wine is the very lifeblood of the wedding event. If there is no wine, there is no wedding. If there is no wine, there is no gathering of the community to celebrate common gifts. If there is no wine, the story ends.

Thanks be to God, then, that the mother of Jesus was there.

We first heard her voice during Advent, when she opened her mouth to sing of the hungry being filled with good things, to sing of abundance flowing in the direction of need, to sing of the ancient promise that the wholeness of shalom would one day be restored.

It should come as no surprise, then, that a woman steeped in this tradition would lift up her voice when the wine ran out. It should come as no surprise that she would lift up her voice on behalf of a community in need. It should come as no surprise that she would lift up her voice to advocate for others.

Like so many acts of advocacy, her first request was not met with immediate results. Jesus’ first answer to her petition was enigmatic at best. But like Isaiah in today’s reading from the Old Testament, the mother of Jesus would not keep silent.

And before anyone could understand what was happening, God’s abundance broke in. More than one-hundred-and-twenty gallons of everyday water were transformed into much-needed wine, filling the empty places, filling them right up to the brim.

Sometimes God’s work begins when we speak up.

This year I have the privilege of serving as a seminary intern at the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State. As a branch of the church, we engage in advocacy on behalf neighbors in need.

In the halls of the state legislature, we represent the church’s interest in a just and compassionate society. In communities, we cooperate with a variety of coalitions. And in congregations just like this one, we offer guidance and support to all those who are called through the waters of baptism to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

It is a difficult time for any of us to be advocates. It is a time of scarcity, of need, a time when everywhere we look, resources seem to be running out. The Washington state budget currently faces a 2.6 billion dollar deficit. If those funds are not made up through additional revenue, critical social services will be cut – direct services that principally affect the least among us.

And yet, even in a time of apparent scarcity, God’s abundance is breaking in, through advocates who, like the mother of Jesus, speak up.

On Feburary 16th Lutheran advocates from congregations across the state will travel to Olympia with other people of faith for Interfaith Advocacy Day. By speaking up on behalf of neighbors in need, they will be living out their baptismal calling and following in the footsteps of the mother of Jesus, who spoke up at a wedding so many years ago.

It may be difficult to believe, that advocates living out their baptismal calling can make a difference in a time like this, when the needs seem so overwhelming, from Seattle to Haiti and in a million other places.

But God is at work, and God will not rest until all of creation shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a burning torch for all to see.

This weekend we commemorate the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, renewer of society and renewer of the church. In a 1967 speech titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” Dr. King spoke words that continue to ring out when justice seems scarce. These are the words that he spoke near the end of that speech.

I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out.

Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. ... When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Today we share the bread and wine of Jesus Christ, signs for us that God’s abundance is still breaking through in the midst of scarcity, that God is still making a way out of no way, that God is still transforming dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, from Olympia to Port-au-Prince. The arc of the moral universe is long, but the good wine of justice has been saved until now.

Come to the table. Taste and see.


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