Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lectionary: 1/20/2013- 2nd Sunday of Epiphany (C)

Prayer of the Day
Lord God, source of every blessing, you showed forth your glory and led many to faith by the works of your Son, who brought gladness and salvation to his people. Transform us by the Spirit of his love, that we may find our life together in him, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

The overarching theme this week is the love of God for God's people.  The main way this is illustrated is by characterizing this love as the love which a bridegroom has for his bride- which, I admit, as a happy newlywed, strikes me as a little odd, but I'm going to try to take it in the manner in which (I pray) it was intended.  A secondary theme is that of God's love shown to the people of God by spiritual gifts and a miracle.  Last week we heard of Jesus' baptism, this week we see his first miracle- performed at a wedding, as a favor to his mother.  This is also the last time we see his mother really get him to do something, so while she appears often later, this week's Gospel reading is a bit of a transition into adulthood for Jesus.

Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 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. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

Zion is another name for Jerusalem, which is very commonly used in the Bible.  Jerusalem is the name of the city officially speaking, but using the name Zion also implies its special status in the Hebrew Scriptures as the city which has been chosen by God for the Temple, and references the promises for the future that God has made regarding it.  Speaking of names, Hepzibah means My Delight Is In Her, and Beulah means Married.

And here we read some of those promises.  The Jewish people had already been through a lot of pain and persecution by the point that this part of Isaiah was written, and that's why the Hebrew Scriptures speak so strongly of God being with them despite their trials and tragedies.  Israel hopes for vindication before the nations that have assaulted and occupied her, and salvation from her enemies which have persecuted her for a long time, and that is what God promises here.

As I mentioned earlier, the comparison of God's love for the children of God (and, later on in the New Testament, for the church) to a marriage strikes me as a little odd.  But let's take a moment to remember that in those days when this was written, marriages were not contracted very often because two people fell in love.  They were more often business contracts between families, or even nations, and tools to build a strong community.  For a bride and groom in those times, marriage was a sign of adulthood, a status of honor (because someone else's family found you good enough to ally with), and almost always a promise of future security and comfort.  All of those line up nicely with God's promises to Zion, don't they?

Psalm 36:5-10
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart! 

When the congregation recites the Psalm together this week, we affirm God's love and faithfulness with images of what God has created around us.  The sky, clouds, mountains, seas, animals and our fellow humanity are all reminders of God's power and love for us.  We could not live without the atmosphere that gives us the sky, or the water that forms and falls from the clouds.  The mountains and seas give the world variety and beauty.  Our community comes from our fellow humans and, for those of us who have pets, animals.  God's house is all of Creation, and from that fountain springs life.

In fact, if I remember anything from what I was taught about how our eyes work and optics and the like in science classes, "in your light we see light" is even scientifically true, given that God created light.  What a wonderful reminder of the care God took in the way the universe is ordered!

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.

Here Paul is writing to the Gentile Christians of the city of Corinth- the word "Gentile" means not Jewish, so they were not Jewish before they were Christian.  Because of that, they have not learned about the spiritual gifts that God gives before (and a whole bunch of other stuff), and when Paul says they were pagans (that is, they worshiped other gods), it's a reference to that.

Here he educates the Corinthians that the many gifts people have come from the same God, and that our many activities with those gifts are inspired by God.  He lists some of the gifts.  Some people speak wise words, and other people speak with knowledge- perhaps they overlap, perhaps they don't, but those are two different gifts, aren't they?  Some people have gifts of faith, or healing, or working miracles (like Jesus, and several other people in the Bible).  Some people can prophesy- and in the Bible that has two meanings, sometimes it means "to tell the future" like we often use it today, but it also means "to speak the will or words of God".

The discernment of spirits, and speaking and interpretation of tongues, aren't really gifts we talk about a lot as Lutherans.  It's possible that the "tongues" are just another way to talk about languages, in which case, I certainly know people who are gifted in both speaking and interpreting many languages, but I'm not really one of them.  But it's also possible that the "spirits" and "tongues" talked about here are a way of talking about possession/exorcism and "speaking in tongues", which are popular activities related to worship in some Christian communities.  From what I understand, the Lutherans don't really go in for them more because we're concerned that they can be and have been faked so easily.  There may be occasional genuine cases, certainly, but that's very hard to judge and faked cases can hurt people and a community very badly.

John 2:1-11
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.

The Lutheran church runs on a three year lectionary- that is, arrangement of verses for Sunday and special services- of which, we are in year C (thus the (C) in the post title).  Year C focuses on readings from Luke for the gospel readings, years A and B focus on Mark and Matthew, and readings from John are scattered through all three years.  So that's why we occasionally hear from John, like this morning.

The "third day" bit at the beginning is a reference to the verse before, it just means that this is the third day after the previous verse (that we don't see.)  We find that Jesus, the disciples (who don't really play much of a role here), and his mother (Mary, of course, but her name isn't mentioned once in this passage- happens to a lot of people in the Bible, but most often to women) are at a wedding.  And, a wedding then being quite a bit like a wedding now (even if the marriages often started out for very different reasons than they would today) they were having some wine, and ran out.

Keep in mind that the steward, who we'll meet in a moment and was the head of the servants, was likely responsible for the wine running out.  Anyway, Jesus has to be talked into performing a miracle by his mother (I kind of wonder if that bit was included to explain why Jesus, who otherwise mostly did miracles that healed people and the like, would have done a miracle like this) and sends some servants to fill some giant water barrels.

These water barrels were already empty, you'll notice.  That's because the water in them wasn't drinking water, it was for the Jewish rites of purification, which had already happened.  (There are several Jewish purification rites, but this water was probably for washing hands before a meal.  Since the wine had run out, probably everybody had already eaten, therefore they'd washed their hands before that and the barrels were empty.)  Isn't it interesting that Jesus, who came to forgive us our sins and "fulfill the law", as it's phrased in other passages in the Bible, takes the water used for a religious ritual of the law and turns it into a celebratory drink?  Very suitable for a first miracle, wouldn't you say?  And of course this wine was better than the ordinary wine, just as the celebration that Jesus will bring (that is, Easter) is the best of celebrations.

Go in peace, serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

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