Homily from service on 16 January, 2022 – Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
The watery chaos of creation. The churning torrent of a flood. The tempest of a storm at sea. The swift-moving current of a river pulling you into the depths as the baptizer holds you under. Have you ever stood in a river and felt the powerful pull of the current; or stood in the waves and and felt the primal pull of the ocean? Water is powerful…life-giving and life-taking. In stillness, it’s a picture of depth and clarity…when churning in a flood or swirling in a storm, it becomes an icon of death and destruction…way beyond our control.
In her sermon on baptism last week, Tammy highlighted all of those images. All of those images are contained in that stone and metal structure in the back of the church. All of them are invoked in our baptismal liturgy. In creation, God contains the chaos of the sea by bounding it with land. And we tame the the power of water by…damming rivers, channeling streams, directing it into pipes and reservoirs and cisterns…where it becomes…ordinary…commonplace…a resource……used for washing, and drinking and cooking…or even generating electricity…it becomes something we don’t think too much about…until it runs low.
Sometimes we take water, and combine it with grapes and yeast and concoct wine…to celebrate…to maybe break through a few barriers and allow ourselves to dance, and sing. There’s a direct link between the font and all of those primal images of water…there’s also a direct link between the font and the altar…the wine, the blood of Christ.
And largely life goes on, and we don’t think too much about water and wine…but sometimes…the wine gives out…and the cisterns run dry. Sometimes…despite all our carefully laid plans…all our gifts and abilities…we find ourselves empty…running low…Out of wine…out of water…out of energy…compassion…joy…all those things that makes life worth living…And what then?
This week, I came across a piece by Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber. It was written in August of last year, but it resonated even more strongly with me now. She talks about circuit-breakers, and empty buckets, and begins by saying, that our emotional hardware (our circuit breakers) developed because the tragedies, injustices, sorrows, and natural disasters we needed to “hold, feel, and respond to, were the ones happening IN OUR VILLAGE.” Our hearts evolved to respond to things…close to home. “But now, we are confronted with, and often expected to hold, feel and respond to “every tragedy, injustice, sorrow and natural disaster happening to every human across the entire planet, in real time every minute of every day.” And our emotional hardware was not built for that. If you keep feeling like you’ve run out of juice…like you just can’t right now…like you’ve tripped a breaker, or one of the levees you’ve carefully sandbagged to keep the torrent of life at bay has sprung a leak, or even that the skies have opened up and the deluge has begun…friends you’re not alone. Nadia says, “if your circuits are overwhelmed there’s a reason and the reason isn’t because you are heartless, it’s because there is not a human heart on this planet that can bear all of what is happening right now.”
And so she encourages us to remember 3 things: “1. We are still living through a global pandemic and that means the baseline of anxiety and grief is higher than ever and shared by everyone. 2. The world is on fire literally and metaphorically. But 3. I only have so much water in my bucket to help with the fires. […and so] It’s ok to focus on one fire. It’s ok to do what is YOURS to do. Say what’s yours to say. Care about what’s yours to care about. [And let the rest go.] That’s enough.” This is not an invitation to be selfish…it is an invitation to focus on what’s yours to do…and to be grateful for what you can do…and be grateful to all those who are dealing with all those other fires that you have no water for. [Nadia Bolz-Weber, If you can’t take it anymore]
So we’re at this wedding…and the wine gives out. And the cistern’s are empty after everyone washed up before the party. And it’s not like they can just run down to the liquor store and pick up some more. So maybe of us are resigned—”Oh well, I guess that’s the way it is.” Maybe some throw some shade, and maybe there’s some finger-pointing and whispering, and shaming and blaming the organizers…but none of that is in the text…Instead there is a terse conversation between Jesus and his mother, but then…all anyone does after that is…only what they can do. The servants do what he tells them and do what they can and fill up the empty jars with water and then take some to the head wedding planner. The servants do the one thing that is theirs to do. That’s it. And Jesus produces wine…and better wine than any of us could ever hope to produce.
God takes this powerful, common, resource (water), and transforms it into something more…something joyful…something that enables us to celebrate the miraculous and the mundane. As brilliant, and as gifted as we all are…the ability to render this kind of transformation…the capacity to hold and feel and respond to all the joys and sorrows in our world…is far beyond us. What’s really necessary…is do what the servants did…to do the work in front of us…the work Jesus gives us to do…the work that is ours to do.
Do the work that is yours to do. Say the words that are yours to say. Care about the causes that are yours to care about, and be thankful for all the others out there doing and saying and caring about all the things that are not yours but theirs. Be like the servants, and cup by cup, ladle by ladle, refill the jars in front of you…the ones that are running dry…And let God produce the wine for all to share.
This didn’t directly make it into the sermon, but it certainly was one of the images I was working with: From Janet Morley: All Desires Known.
O God of celebration, you have kept the good wine until now—the one that we have longed for, but never thought to taste. Take the tap water of our lives—our struggles and our dullness—and with your grace make strong and dark and joyful all that our hearts contain, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.