1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
The Wedding at Cana
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 has 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.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
On this weekend that we celebrate the life MLK, Jr I am always reminded of one of the most meaningful trips I have ever been on. The trip was in seminary and the class was titled: Civil Rights Pilgrimmage.
It was being led by a retired minister Pr Robert Graetz that I had known before this class. After he retired from ministry him and his wife (Jeannie) lived in my neck of the woods growing up and I would see him at various church functions.
At the time of the class he had written a book called A White Preacher’s Memior. It was his remebrances of being a white fresh graduate from seminary who took his first call in Montgomery, AL a few years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The book talked about the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement from a white preacher’s perspective as he traveled with Rosa Parks, MLK Jr and all the rest during those tumultuos years.
This class was my first encounter of Systemic racism and realizing that it didn’t just happen in the South. It happened in the North, we just weren’t as overt about it. This was one of many things that would challenge me in this class.
With Bob & Jeannie, I and about 15 other classmates & school employees, traveled with them to Montgomery, AL; Tuskegee, MS; Memphis, TN hearing all their stories about traveling with the Civil Rights Movement and the cost it had on their family as well for being visibly helpful to the cause.
One moment that put chills down my spine was when we were at Selma, AL and we crossed the bridge that is so infamous in my histroy books growing up. Bob reminded us of all the emotions people were having and the words Dr King had reminded them all that he said a few years earlier:
“WE CANNOT WALK ALONE, AND AS WE WALK WE MUST MAKE THE PLEDGE THAT WE SHALL ALWAYS MARCH AHEAD. WE CANNOT TURN BACK.” Martin Luther King Jr., 1963
This memory is always a sobering moment when I think of where we have come, and yet how much more there is still to do for human equality. As I continue to remember this year after year I see how so many different people, with so many different gifts, came together to make a difference in our nation’s history.
This experience, and some others like it, could be why our 1 Cor text from Paul today is really close to my heart. It is helpful to situate 1 Cor within the context of the larger letter. Though Paul takes on several complicated theological problems throughout the epistle, his thesis in Ch.1 sets the stage for everything that the letter will address: “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” Paul’s appeal for unity and the dismissal of divisions provides an important backdrop for our reading today in Ch.12 where he will explore how unity can still be achieved even in the midst of radical difference.
This passage makes for an intriguing companion to today’s Gospel text in John 2. In this text, the Fourth Gospel recounts Jesus’s first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.
In 1 Cor, Paul describes the ways in which the same Spirit empowers Christians with a variety of comparable abilities. In John, Jesus’s miracle is identified as the first of his signs and serves as a revelation of his identity and power. In 1 Cor, Paul suggests another sort of revelation: the revealing of the Spirit. So, even as Jesus’s miracle reveals him as a wonder-worker, so too do the Corinthians’ use of their gifts to reveal the work of the Spirit in their midst.
The image of the wedding banquet is used frequently in Scripture as a picture of the restoration of Israel, and wine is frequently used as a symbol of the joy and celebration associated with salvation. The abundance of fine wine is a symbol of the abundance of joy that awaits not only Israel, but all people on the day of God’s salvation.
Jesus’ extravagant miracle of changing the water into wine is a sign that in him, life, joy, and salvation have arrived. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, the narrator told us that “in him was life, and that life was the light of all people” (1:4). And later in the Gospel, Jesus will tell us, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (10:10).
Abundant life is more than mere existence or survival, and certainly more than an abundance of material things. Abundant life is to know and be known by the One through whom all life came into being. It is to have an intimate relationship with the One who loves us so much that God doesn’t know how to stop giving. It is the kind of life depicted by the abundance of fine wine in this story.
Of course, abundant life does not mean a life of ease, comfort, and luxury or an absence of sorrow and suffering.
But it does mean that in Jesus we have an abundant, extravagant source of grace to sustain us, grace that is more than sufficient to provide where we fall short and to give us joy even amid sorrow and struggle. Abundant life means that in Christ we are joined to the source of true life, life that is rich and full and eternal, life that neither sorrow, nor suffering, nor death itself can destroy. This was the kind of abundant life, for all people regardless of race, creed or color, that MLK Jr and others spent their lives trying to make a reality.
In the Gospel of John, there are three simultaneous audiences for the message of salvation, of new life in Christ. Jesus’ audience is his family, friends, and followers. Jesus offers signs that he is the Messiah, the light and savior of the world, so that they may believe and be transformed to new life. John tells the tale to his first-century community, presenting and explaining those same signs, so that they will believe and be transformed, like water into wine. John further addresses his future audience, the contemporary reader in each era to come, leading to us, here and now. John, with Jesus, offers us the evidence that the Kingdom of God awaits us, a new life, a way of being that is hospitable, abundant, generous. A life where each one of us contributes from our abundant gifts, activated by the Holy Spirit.
On this second Sunday after the Epiphany, in the new and growing light of Christ, scripture asks us to trust the signs, to believe that life in Christ is transformative and renewal is possible. Transformation, like the growing light of Epiphany, is gradual. May we allow our gifts of the spirit to emerge and grow, as the Spirit chooses, with God’s help.
Let us continue to strive to be better as a society. And as much as we try to convince ourselves this is done better by ourselves (our own ideas, our own gifts, our own strengths, or own willl), history has told us differently. So whether you want to start in the 1960’s or whether you want to go back to the 1st Century, let’s learn from our history and realize we are not meant to do anything alone. We are created to do things together, whether that is worshiping, serving, teaching, caring, fighting against injustice, we do it best together.
We are not the universal tool for any project by ourselves, but we can take on any project when we come together and use our different gifts to make this world a better place.