Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Christ Church, SpringfieldJohn 2:1-11, I Corinthians 12:1-11

I started taking a serious interest in baseball when I was about ten years old. I was small for my age then, and although I would have wanted to be a pitcher, I could throw a baseball neither very fast nor very accurately. So I fancied myself a fleet-footed, base-stealing, leadoff-hitting center fielder. The following summer, I played the first of my two seasons of Little League baseball. The coach didn’t know me, and I had no idea what his plans were for me during the handful of practices we had before the first game. But when that day arrived, I could not have written a better script for myself. The coach put me in center field, batting leadoff! In my first at-bat, I drew a walk—not a hard thing to do in Little League, especially when you’re short—and trotted confidently off to first base.

I should have ended my playing career right then! On the very next pitch, the first base coach instructed me to steal second, so off I went. On a not particularly close play, I was thrown out. Then, in my first chance to field a fly ball while playing defense, I couldn’t quite get under it, and it fell to the ground for an extra-base hit. I finished the game on the bench, which is precisely where I started every other game for the rest of the season. When I did play, I got on base regularly by walking, but when I didn’t walk, I struck out. I don’t even know whether I hit so much as a foul ball that year. I was given my big chance in the opening game. The coach evidently thought I had potential. But when the crunch came, I didn’t come through. I lacked what was required. I didn’t have the resources to be a successful baseball player, as much as I wanted to.

You may never have been a Little League baseball player—or maybe you were and were good at it!—but I bet you can think of some similar experience to mine, something you wanted to do, something you wanted to be good at, but just didn’t have what it takes. It’s humbling and painful. One area where a great many Christians feel inadequate, like they lack the necessary resourses to be successful, is in…well…being a Christian! We too often feel like we don’t actually grow in the strength of our faith, or in the depth of our relationship with God. For some reason we never rise to our potential as disciples of Jesus. Maybe you’ve heard me and other clergy talk about how every Christian has “spiritual gifts” and every Christian is called to a “ministry,” and you feel like that’s a party you just haven’t gotten an invitation to, but you’re too embarrassed to say anything about it. So you just go on feeling uncomfortable and ashamed in your spiritual inadequacy.

And all too often church communities feel the same way, collectively. At Christ Church, I’m sure there is sometimes a temptation to look back over your illustrious history of over 130 years, and think of the people who were able to gather the resources to erect this beautiful building. I’d bet there’s a temptation to look back at the glory years—not too long ago, actually—when Christ Church was the largest parish in the Diocese of Springfield. There was a time, no doubt, when the pillars of civic life in Springfield also served on the vestry at Christ Church. And then embarrassment arises, because there no longer seem to be the resources to bring those days back. We are unable to rise once again to our potential.

But, I’ll tell you, you’re not alone in this. A sense of failure and inadequate resources leads many church communities to operate out of a very unhealthy place—a place of fear. And when we operate out of fear—whether individually or corporately—fear itself becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We make decisions based on an assumption of scarce resources. Everything we do flows from the notion that we don’t have enough of whatever it is that we’re going to need. As individuals and households, this assumption of scarcity—an assumption grounded in fear—leads us to emphasize our needs rather than God’s provision for those needs. It prevents us from embracing the call to tithe, and blocks us from experiencing the joys of faithful stewardship. As a parish, the assumption of scarcity holds us back from taking risks for the sake of mission because we fear that if we go out on a limb for the Kingdom of God, God will saw the limb off behind us. It keeps us focused on the past, concerned with institutional survival, rather than leaning into the future, consumed by a passion for mission.

The bottom line is that when we give in to fear, we are demonstrating the immaturity of our faith. Our faith is green, wet behind the ears, not yet able to stand up and walk. It needs a tonic, a pick-me-up, a growth hormone, or at least a swift kick! And today’s liturgy gives us precisely what is prescribed. We have the wonderful story about a wedding banquet in the village of Cana, where Jesus and his mother and some of his disciples were guests. You know the story: The supply of wine grows unexpectedly low unexpectedly soon. With some reluctance, and perhaps more out of regard for his mother than anything else, Jesus invites the caterer to draw the contents of some large stone water jars that were nearby, and out comes, not only wine, but premium quality wine, the really good stuff, and plenty to keep everyone in a party mood for as long as they wanted. John the Evangelist calls this the first of seven “signs” that Jesus accomplished during his ministry. It is also, in the symbolic vocabulary of the Church, the last of the three signs of the Epiphany, the “showing forth” of Christ (the other two being the coming of the Wise Men and the Baptism of Christ).

A sign, of course, doesn’t exist for its own sake; it points to something else, right? So we do well to ask ourselves: What does this miracle of water becoming wine point to? What can we learn from it about God’s ways with us, or God’s will for us? I would suggest to you that the miracle at Cana is, among other things, a sign that God’s default desire and plan is to provide what we need in abundance. Not mere adequacy, but abundance. Therefore, our default frame of mind should be one of abundance, not scarcity. The assumption this incident invites us to embrace—as individuals, as households, as a church community, and as a diocese—is that God will provide everything we need, and then some, to accomplish that which he calls us to do. I once had a parish treasurer who said every year at budget time: “There’s never enough, but there’s always enough.” Going in, it seems like there’s never enough. Coming out, somehow there’s always enough. Before I was a tither, it seemed like there was never enough even to pay my bills. On the other side of the decision to tithe, there is somehow always enough.

God’s abundant provision for us is more than just financial, more than just material. Today’s selection from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians talks about the abundance of gifts that have been scattered across the Church by the Holy Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation—and this is just a partial list. Whatever God calls you to at Christ Church, whatever God calls us to as a diocese, whatever God calls any portion of his church to do, the resources are there in abundance, as surely as wine came out of the stone water jars. Our first question should never be, “What can we afford?” or “What do we have the human resources for?”  Rather, it should be, “What is our vocation? What is God calling us to do or be?” Because if God is calling, and we are listening, the resources will be there. The miracle at Cana is a sign to us that God provides what we need, and then some.

It is also a sign that the best is yet to come! It wasn’t merely wine that came out of those stone jars at the wedding banquet, it was good wine. Better wine than had already been served. The people didn’t know it, but that party hadn’t even gotten started when Jesus was asked by his mother to intervene, and came to the rescue of the caterer. The best was yet to come. And the best is yet to come for us. We’ve all experienced both joys and sorrows during our journey through this life. None of us know what sorrows may yet await us, and none of us know what unexpected joys yet lie in our future. Yet we know that eternal joy awaits us in the end—the joy of looking God in the eye, of enjoying the light of his presence forever. The parish community of Christ Church has a long and illustrious past. Yet, today we are faced with a sign that the best is yet to come. You’re rich in some ways and poor in others. You’re large in some ways and small in others. But either way, the best is yet to come. The “glory years” of Christ Church are not behind you, they are ahead of you! May we be eager to claim that blessing, and follow where he leads.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

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