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Transformation: Holy Water into Wine 2018-0916

. 4 min read

Transformation
#2 –
      Turn this Holy Water into Wine,
      A New Perspective on Human Potential
15-16
Sept 2018, Christ Mountain Top
Praying
the Psalm, Psalm 42
Children,
John 3.5
Message,
John 2.1-11
[Kathleen Norris]
has a wonderful small book, from a lecture series on women’s spirituality,
titled The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work”.  Quotidian is one of those big words with a
simple meaning: ordinary.  Her theme is
how ordinary things can shape a powerful spirituality, and she begins by
telling the story of the first time she went to mass as an adult, a guest for a
wedding and noticed that after the communion service the priest was cleaning
up: [“Look”], she said to her
boyfriend (now husband), “the priest is doing the dishes!”  She describes the priest as “a daft
housewife, overdressed for the kitchen”. 
And this glimpse of the ordinary, the “quotidian”, became for her the
window through which she could observe, understand, and finally touch glorious
mystery.
[Title]
Review & intro

When
my family first got involved in churches, and that wasn’t until I was almost 10
years old, it was with that brand of Christianity in which any consumption of
alcohol was taboo [wine].  Now, having grown up all over the world, I
had learned how to fit in to different situations.  Despite this new culturation, I took private
pleasure in how much effort they put into explaining away this miracle.
      On one hand, any effort to explain away
some other miracle (Jesus feeding 5000 people with a sack lunch, or the people
of Israel crossing the Red Sea on dry land) was treated as “liberalism”.  On the other hand, their commitment to
abstinence was so rigid that they became obsessed with this miracle – it was
non-alcoholic wine, or it was a new wine served pre-fermentation, or you know
the water wasn’t fit to drink (though it was in most places).  “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?” (Alanis
Morissette, “Ironic”).
Now,
you may be thinking, so what about Christ Church and alcohol?  I’ll take that question, even though it’s not
our focus today, but you only get short answers.  First, what does the Bible really have to
say?  The biblical counsel is to avoid
impairing our judgment; and Jesus both made and enjoyed good wine.  Second, what about the heritage of The United
Methodist Church?  The church has a long
tradition of abstinence and played a major role in Prohibition.  Third, what about Christ Church and you,
JP?  There’s enough addiction in my
family history and in my own personality for me to be careful to avoid
developing any habit.  And we’re careful
here to show respect and honor to our brothers and sisters in recovery by,
among other things, serving grape juice rather than wine for Holy Communion.
But
back to the irony that I enjoyed in my early readings of this story.  The irony points out the tremendous gap
between prohibition and pleasure, between a life obsessed with rules and a life
filled with fun.  Most of us have some
bit of [Mr. Monk], that wonderful
and obsessive TV detective, in us – at least enough to recognize how much
effort we put into protecting ourselves from things going dreadfully wrong.
      Do you hear any echoes of that effort in
the words of Jesus’ mother, who, perhaps, was assisting the caterer?  “They’re out of wine.”  We’re on the edge of failure, we have nowhere
to turn, and life itself is about to unravel.
      Unfortunately, such fear-filled efforts
have been a key feature of religious practice, and why so much religion is
about prohibition, about taboo.  So
little religion is about pleasure, unlike true faith.  I’ve always loved the story of Eric Liddell
told in the old film, [Chariots of
Fire
].
  He’s a great runner, competing in the
Olympics, but has to defend his choices to his sister who thinks his higher
calling is to serve as a missionary in China. 
He tells her that he still plans to go to China, but says of his Olympic
ambitions, “[God made] me fast.  And when I run I feel his pleasure.”
When
Jesus decides to intervene, where does he turn? 
[Qumran jar] He turns to the
servants, to those people who are overlooked by everyone else, whose potential
is ignored, whose personhood is denied, whose possibility is prevented by the
very structures of society.  They are the
ones who participate in and witness this miracle.  They are the ones who take water from the jar
to the master of ceremonies, only to have it turn into wine on the way.  Jesus turns to the servants.
      Jesus also turns to water.  He doesn’t conjure cash and purchase a few
extra wineskins.  He doesn’t pass the hat
for this young couple.  He doesn’t use
anything that we would normally consider when we think of resources.  I love the scene in the film, [The Princess Bride] when Inigo, Fezzick, and Wesley
are planning the castle assault and listing their resources: “My sword, his
strength, and your brains.”  “Can’t do it
… but if we only had a wheelbarrow and a cloak.”  They happened to have those in the inventory,
but never listed them as resources.
But
when we are focused on an impossible task – whether staving off a social
disaster at a wedding feast, storming a fortified castle, or following all
those prohibitions, those obsessions – when we are focused on such impossible
tasks we completely overlook the mundane resources that God offers.  [Qumran
jar]
We ignore the lowly who have more to offer us than they need from
us.  We forget about the wheelbarrow and
the cloak. And, we see ourselves as nothing more than common water.
      When, however, we commit to living out our
dreams, when we choose to live in the presence of God, this holy water is
turned to wine, we move from prohibition to pleasure, we discover that the
ordinary is laced with mystery and the lowly are graced with power,  and Jesus moves from a guest in our busy
lives to the host of the party.
When
we ask God to “turn this holy water into wine, make every human part of me
divine”, we are asking for more of God in us, more grace, more mystery, more
potential, more impact.  In this
transformation process, the crucial element under our control is the movement
of Jesus from guest to host.  It happens
when we are willing to listen to his mother: “Do whatever Jesus tells
you.”  It happens when we obey.  And, at that moment, we receive the promise offered
in the next chapter, the possibility of an entirely new life, being “born of
water and the Spirit.”
(Remembering baptism)