Honoring the Dream
Rev. Mike Woods
January 20, 2013
2nd Sunday of Epiphany, MLK Jr. Sunday
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Every Tuesday morning, I get together with another group of pastors over at Glen Echo Presbyterian Church and we have a Bible study. Recently, we read and talked about this passage from the Gospel of John about the miracle of changing the water into wine. Sometimes in our discussions we can get a little bit off track … and we started talking about whether or not Jesus and his mother were having an argument. It certainly seems like they’re having some sort of disagreement in the scripture. But one conclusion we all shared was that – if they were having an argument – it was quite clear who the winner was … and it wasn’t Jesus!
Mary casually mentions to her son that the wedding hosts have run out of wine. This is apparently the third day of a wedding feast, and in that culture in that time wedding feasts could be extended affairs that went on for as long as seven days. For the feast to have run out of wine at such an early stage meant that the party would be coming to a premature end … the guests would be going home early … and the beginning of the young couple’s new life together would be marred by a social disaster on a day where, you would suspect, they would have wanted everything to be perfect.
But I can understand Jesus’ hesitation to want to do something about it. He seems to be comfortable with the early stages of his ministry. He’s gathering his disciples around him … he’s talking to them about the Kingdom of Heaven … in short, he’s still in the planning stages of his ministry. He can dream big … he can spend time thinking about all he and his friends are going to accomplish … where they’re going to go … .
But to actually let the leather of their sandals meet the road … that’s another thing. That means giving up the comforting vision of a beautiful dream for the harsh reality an unjust world that doesn’t care a whole lot about beautiful dreams. For Jesus to respond to his mother’s implicit request is for him to take the first step on a very long road … a road he knows is going to be hard and difficult and filled with obstacles all the way. He knows he will be persecuted and challenged by the authorities … that he will be called a traitor to his own people and accused of treason by the Roman government. He knows that people will try to say that he is speaking against God and the scriptures, when what he is really trying to do comes from God.
Tomorrow, January 21st, our nation will formerly observe the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. He would have turned 84 years old, last Tuesday. He grew up in the city of Atlanta, GA, and was so precocious, I understand, that he skipped both the ninth and twelfth grades and went straight into Morehouse College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. Later, he left the South and moved up north and earned a degree in Divinity studies from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, PA, and then began doctoral studies at Boston University. The woman who would become his wife, Coretta Scott, was just as academically talented. After graduating valedictorian from her high school in Alabama, she enrolled at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH, where she studied music, then received a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston … and this is where she first met her husband to be.
They were married in 1953 and, giving evidence to the fact that Coretta was a woman way ahead of her time, I understand she had the vow to obey her husband removed from the ceremony. Martin didn’t protest, he knew better. They had a very comfortable life together, living in the north … away from the racial segregation they had both experienced and suffered from in the South. Where they were, they were surrounded by intellectuals, people of their own caliber … they were both active in the NAACP and other civil rights organizations … they thought about staying there. Martin would finish his studies at Boston University … maybe go into teaching at the university or seminary level. If you know what legalized racial segregation was like in the South in the 1950’s, you could understand their hesitation. I think I would rather face a cold Boston winter than return to the hatred and prejudice.
Just one year after being married, Martin and Coretta faced a decision – the same decision that ever since that day two thousand years ago the church of Jesus Christ has struggled with – Do we dare to take a first step on a road which we know there’s no turning back?
It’s one thing to dream of the Kingdom of Heaven … to dream of racial equality, “that one day …, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.’” (As King said in his famous “I have a dream” speech.) But it’s another thing to roll up our sleeves and stand side by side with the Holy Spirit and join in the work that needs to be done to make that dream a reality.
I can very easily imagine Jesus saying to his mother, “It’s not time yet! I still have a lot of planning left to do!” I think in a way that is what Jesus is saying. We see a very human side of Jesus, comparable to what we see on that night three years latter in the Garden of Gethsemane, because that’s where Jesus knows all this will eventually lead.
I said earlier that my colleagues and I all agreed that – if Jesus and Mary were having an argument, then Mary’s the clear winner – and I think there’s something very telling in that fact, and it helps us to understand what the writer of the Gospel means when he says in verse 11 that in performing this miracle Jesus revealed his glory.
The glory of God is very different from “glory” as we human beings understand it. In this passage, God is moved by human need. Not only that, God is also moved by the entreaties of a woman. When Jesus addresses his mother as, “woman,” he reminds us in modern times that in his society, women did not have an equal status with men. Women simply did not go around telling men, even their fully grown thirty year old sons, what they should be doing. But Jesus does what she asks, and not simply because she’s his mother … but because God hears the cries of all people, of all stations of life, men and women, young and old, rich and poor. There is no one who cannot approach the throne of God and not have his or her needs heard by the Almighty. God hears. God answers. That is the glory of God!
When Jesus turns the water into wine, notice in the scripture Jesus never touches the water … he never touches the jars that hold the water … he never draws the wine out of the jars with the pitchers in order to serve it to the guests. He instructs the servants about what they should do, and they are the ones who carry out the task … through them the miracle takes place. The nature of the glory of God is such that the work of building the Kingdom is always done through God’s servants. People like you and me. People like Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King. We act not on our own but at the Spirit’s direction, following the commands we have been given.
The apostle Paul tells us there are a number of ways that we act on behalf of the Kingdom, a number of spiritual gifts we have been given that God wants us to put to use for the Kingdom. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul lists a number of those: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues. Out of all these gifts, I think it’s important to note that he considers the greatest to be love – not knowledge nor wisdom nor making miracles nor even speaking in tongues – but love. There’s another thing about the glory of God: God is love, as we are told in the First Letter of John. But Paul also reminds us there is a particular reason we have been given one or more of these gifts. In verse seven he says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” These gifts are given to us, not for our own glory – to make us rich and famous – nor for the glory of our church, of our denomination, or even of our own nation. We don’t like to talk about the common good in our individualistic culture these days. About every issue, we want to know: How’s it gonna benefit me? And if we don’t see how something is any benefit to us personally, we’re opposed to it! Churches sometimes struggle with this themselves. We want to know how any new program the church may start will benefit us or the church directly before we give our okay to it. Will it increase attendance? Will it attract more young people? Will it increase revenue and make us more money? Will it make the church more noticed in the community? Those might be some good goals, but if those are our only concerns about issues or projects before the church, and how the common good will benefit has no place in there, then maybe we’re doing a lot of good things for some very bad reasons.
I notice that Jesus doesn’t intend the wine just for himself, or even for just himself and his disciples. I don’t know if he even drank a single drop of it himself. The people who benefit from the miracle are people who had no idea he had done anything for them. Such is the nature of the glory of God.
I notice Jesus doesn’t even get credit for the miracle. It’s the bridegroom who is congratulated for having saved the best wine for last. What work are we willing to do as followers of Christ, that we’re not going to get noticed for? That no one is going to name a wing on a new building after us for? The nature of the glory of God is selfless in its giving to those who are in need.
When we think of the Civil Rights Movement, the names Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King immediately come to mind. And during their lives they did receive some recognition for the work they did, and they deserved that. But recognition wasn’t the reason they did what they did.
Nothing could have been accomplished in the Civil Rights Movement without the work of millions of others, whose work and contributions for the most part are unrecognized. Young people who braved threats of violence to register African Americans to vote … men and women who marched to Selma. Most of them were ordinary church folk … people just like you and me. People who shared the same vision and dream, but who wanted to do more than just stay in the safety of the dream … who felt called to confront the harsh reality of this unjust world we live in … who knew they might not live long enough to see the fruits of all they had worked so long and hard for. They, too, are part of the nature of the glory of God!
Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.