To Each Is Given
Isaiah 62:1-5;Psalm 36:5-10;1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
January 20, 2019 –Second Sunday After Epiphany
Each of us carries a gift with us into the world. If character is destiny, our life is determined by how we choose to unwrap that package… whether we choose to unwrap the package.
Paul gives us a myriad of ways to do that this morning. Wisdom, knowledge, faith and healing can unleash a tremendous amount of good in this world.
Some of us can work miracles, some can foresee the outcome of things before they happen, and some can see what is really happening in any given place and time.
At one time, perhaps we can do or have or be one of them, and at another time another…until we have experienced, and shared many or most or all of them.
All of these gifts are intangible, landing differently on different people in the same families or coming from the most surprising of families at the most surprising or most ordinary of times.
On Christmas morning, I had made a reservation to rent a car at the airport to drive to Billings to celebrate the day with family. I was supposed to pick it up at 8:00, and since it was a long drive I was there by 8:00…but there was no one there.
Five minutes later, still no one… then about ten minutes past the hour the clerk came in. She saw me and knew what I was there for. You could see she was bracing for a good chewing out.
I don’t know where it came from, but I realized she had probably had to leave her family to get me to mine and I just said, “Thank you for working on Christmas.”
This startled her a bit and her face changed. It may have been a coincidence or something more, but she said, “I’ve had a cancellation. Would you like a free upgrade to an all wheel drive vehicle?
You can’t ever be sure about things like this, I suppose. That’s why they call it faith. But I think I may have seen the spirit blow through me, through her, and back through me to start my trip on Christmas day.
It didn’t shorten the trip or make the roads better, but it brightened the journey and made me feel better.
Where does it come from? Where will it go next? The spirit we talk about is like the wind, going where it wants to go, passing over one place, sparking a flame where it finds the conditions are right.
We follow a religious tradition, we are part of a way of discerning the truth in the world that is the spiritual framework of more people on earth than any other, and has had a greater influence on human history than any other.
This transcends whether you are a believer or not. You do not have to claim Jesus as your savior or swear you have been born again…but if you glimpse it, you might think about claiming Jesus as your savior, you might be born again.
Bart Ehrman, a professor at Duke University, did one of the Great Courses on the New Testament. He reviewed the texts for inconsistency from one Gospel to another, and he inspected the texts of each Gospel to see if there were inconsistencies inside the text or additions to the original text. He wrote later:
“It comes down to one overarching point: The question is then how can we decide what anybody in the ancient world said. We can't. We wish we could. It would be nice if we could.
“You would like to think that because you can go to the store and buy an edition of Plato that you are actually reading Plato, but the problem is that we just do not have the kind of evidence that we need in order to establish what ancient authors actually wrote.”
He was able to make a lot of hay here and there, but in the end he stood back and looked at the many attempts these mortals had made to explain eternity to First Century people and he saw that there was a redeeming virtue in the message.
He saw how the Message had caused the thinking of people rich and poor to undergo a transformation. He saw how it had found its way to become the primary point of reference of civilizations around the world. This included nations that were on the cutting edge of civilization in ancient days and today.
There is something about the message of Christianity that gives people hope, calms their thinking to see beyond their own circumstances in their own time around the world, and as they look into the crystal ball to try to see where the world is heading.
There is a power and a glory in the message we read each week, in the Word that we open our lives to in worship each Sunday that makes us better, stronger, wiser, and more able to correctly interpret our place in the heavens that we refer to as the universe.
The old saying that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom comes through as something like being humble is the path to true power, for who is more powerful than someone who is willing to bow to the truth…turn to the truth…seize the truth…at every turn in the road?
Gandhi was once confronted with an inconsistency in his statements. In this situation, Mr. Gandhi, you said one thing, but in another situation later you said the opposite.
Gandhi did not miss a beat. He said that he was telling the truth both times. His understanding of the truth may have changed, but his dedication to guiding himself by the truth as he saw it had not changed.
Indeed, we read from a narrative that began 6,000 years ago and there is an evolution in the thinking in the text. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said many times, “You have heard it said” or “It was written”, and then he says, “But I say to you…”
So Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment…”
Thinking changes. Our understanding of the world and the universe changes, and we need to reconsider our understanding if we are to cope successfully, if we are going to respond to our circumstances honestly, if we are going to act truly. Learning is a lifelong calling.
Thomas Jefferson put it this way: “We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
The one book that stands the test of time better than any other is the Bible. It unfolds through time, as the Jewish understanding of God’s will unfolded through time.
It is four thousand years of history and insight, and it is written by a nation that was defeated as they began to set down their understanding in writing. Twenty-five hundred years later we receive it as a fresh insight for today.
The nation had been tested and while the walls of Jerusalem may have been breached by a technologically superior army from Babylon, their understanding of the need to honor the truth in all that they did survived…even flourished.
Their stories erupt with surprises. They who have felt the burden of bondage and the sting of injustice know how important freedom and justice are. This is the place, then, and the time where the Promised One could appear and be recognized.
Where there is justice, they had learned, there could be peace. The Ten Commandments speak out justice so that those who covenant to live according to their teachings can have peace…and when you are wandering through the desert for forty years, it is peace and justice that keep you together, and you have to stay together in order to survive. To say it another way, where there is no justice, there cannot be peace.
Isaiah harkens back to this understanding in the message that he sent them over 500 years before Christ appeared and that he sends to us as his followers two thousand years after his death and resurrection.
“The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”
The nation’s devotion to justice and freedom has given them such faith that they will never die.Their message will continue to march forward into history. Their history and their faithfulness cannot be taken from them. Indeed, it can produce the Messiah.
And who is it that draws the first miracle from this son of God? Who is it that knows him and believes in him and sees that he can make a difference…save the day? It is his mother…at a wedding…and disaster is about to descend on this marriage before it can begin… because the wine runs out.
Jesus objects to his mother’s prodding. It is not yet time, but the need has come and he is the one who can say the soothing word to the Avis agent, he is the one who can provide the all wheel drive vehicle on a stormy day, he is the one who can make this day the best day of your life…no matter how it started.
He instructs the stewards to fill the wine jars with water, and when they have finished they discover that it has turned to wine. Not only that, it has become the best wine of the celebration…because his mother asked him to…more than once.
Our God-given blessings can make the world a better place…better than we can make it with our rational knowledge…more than we can make it with our brute strength.
There is a power in faith and a redemption in grace that we who have heard the name Jesus and have seen surprising outcomes in the most ordinary of circumstances. We can doubt if we want, and we can step forward in faith if we choose to do so.
What God has given us, through the spirit, is far more powerful and far better than our physical presence for a brief span of years can explain to a skeptical…even hostile…world.
We are called into the Word and we are called into the world. We are yin and yang…flesh and spirit…and we are called to unwrap our gift and share it…like a beautiful sunset from Black Tail Mountain… whenever the right time comes.
It is more than physical strength. It is more than slyness. It is the spirit of God, given to each of us to share in our own day…in our own way.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us…through me…this day? Amen.