by Ellen Sims
text: John 2:1-11
On third Sundays, we explore prayer in varied ways at different prayer stations. Instead of a sermon, I offer a brief homily on our Gospel text and a description of our prayer stations.
This story of Jesus’s first “sign” or miracle at the wedding in Cana is a common text for wedding homilies. But because the story is not really about Jesus blessing the institution of marriage, I had never preached from it at a wedding . . . until somewhat recently.
The storyteller here is saying that Jesus, like the best wine that was unexpectedly served last at the wedding, was the very best God offered after a long line of Hebrew prophets and heroes. The celebratory wine of this story also, ironically, prefigures the sacramental wine Jesus’s followers will eventually drink in his memory.
But mainly the story is in line with the many parables Jesus told about a heavenly wedding banquet, a recurring image of the kingdom of God in all four Gospels. The wedding banquets in Jesus’s parables are never what we expect. They upset our notions about God’s priorities because God’s ways are not ours. In Jesus’s stories, the people who are on the fringes of society become the special guests at the wedding banquet. The weddings Jesus told about always turn our expectations upside down.
Which makes me think that people who’ve been long denied social, religious, and legal access to marriage are the very ones Jesus would want to bless with the best wine. Because they were the last admitted to the institution of marriage, they deserve the best. So now I do joyfully use this text for weddings of same-gender couples whose marriages have only recently become legally possible.
Even so, I stress that this story isn’t about marriage. It’s about more than I can put into a full sermon much less this short homily. So I’ll suggest three themes you might mull over this week in quiet moments:
Abundance is one clear theme. Not the kind of abundance that prosperity gospel preachers preach (“Just pray and mail me a check and God will bless you with financial success.”) Jesus is not the genie in the bottle who does our bidding. But the abundant wine at the wedding gives a “sign” to prepare us to live without fear of scarcity, to give ourselves away without counting the cost.
Joy is another quality of the kin*dom that Jesus’s “signs” point us to. Wedding wine is a sign of celebration. Jesus folks weep when others weep—but they also laugh when others laugh. There’s a lot of laughter among the people of God.
Perhaps most importantly, the “new wine saved for last” can instruct Progressive Christians looking at scripture and sacrament in fresh ways. You and I are finding that God is STILL speaking when fresh theology spills forth refreshingly from the old jars we thought were just full of water for ancient people and their obsolete rites. God is still speaking to us today! Let’s be attentive to fresh words from ancient scriptures.
God of the Bible, speak to us still. Pour out your wisdom and love from old sources that can refresh and revive us today. God of Jesus, show us how to walk in his ways in today’s context. AMEN
PRAYER STATION 1: PROTEST PRAYER-POEMS
Reread our Hebrew Bible text for today. The prophet in Isaiah 62:1-5 declares he will NOT keep silent in the face of his people’s oppression. In the context of his nation’s disgrace, Isaiah promises to speak out until the people who were wronged are vindicated and they are known by new and hopeful names. Write a brief protest prayer-poem:
1. Contemplate a specific injustice that makes you want to speak out against it. First take a moment to express inwardly your compassion for victims of this injustice. Remember the origin of the word compassion means “suffer or feel with.”
2. Use God’s gift of hope to imagine an end to this injustice. What would that look like?
3. Write a protest prayer-poem, which might include:
prayer/poem at the end of the service.
PRAYER STATION 2: PAINTED PRAYER
1 Corinthians 12 tells us that the Church has various gifts of the Spirit, but they are all to be used “for the common good.” What gifts do you recognize here at Open Table? They may or may not reflect the specific labels that Paul used to express the diversity of gifts that can be used for the Church. Note that Jessica has shared with us a recent painting of hers titled “Spirits of Diversity”—which could also be another name for the Church. Let her painting inspire in you a prayer of thanks for God’s gift of diversity. Then using markers or paints, create a collective collage of images and words that reflect the diverse spiritual gifts in evidence right here among us. Meditate on this picture of our faith community. Let the Spirit reveal to you ways your gifts might be used among us for God’s Kin*dom.
PRAYER STATION 3: INTERNALIZED PRAYER
Sheer repetition moves ideas, emotions, and commitments into a deeper part of our brain and being. One reason we return over and over to Christ’s Open Table is to internalize the unutterable and incomprehensible that fits us for the Kin*dom. This morning as you approach the Table of grace and goodness, don’t overthink it. Just move into the ancient current and receive. Offer up a wordless prayer that comes from whatever you have in your heart in these moments. Not even the best poet or wisest liturgist can offer a prayer so eloquent as is found in the bread and cup.
PRAYER STATION 4: GIVING AS PRAYER
Giving gratefully is an act of prayer. Before you offer your offering to support the ministry of Open Table, call to mind some specific way your life has been enriched by this faith community—perhaps during a moment in this prayer service, perhaps through some experience long past. Be assured that in this moment you are contributing to the life of this faith community and those we hope to serve.