January 20, 2013
“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.” (John 2:6-9)
Even after the Babylonian exile was over, times were tough for the people of God in Judah. They were rebuilding their temple, but would it just be overrun again? If God hadn’t protected them before, why would God now? In this passage, though, we hear that God will never stop pursuing the chosen people. God will not rest until Zion becomes once again a shining example to all the nations. “Zion” literally refers to the area where Jerusalem is built, but it stands symbolically for the chosen people of God.
Isaiah writes, “You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord shall give.” God gives new names to people who are called to change their lives radically. Isaiah also uses a metaphor of marriage, so a new name makes sense in this situation. Here, God promises a new name to Zion but does not hint at what it will be.
Has God ever given you a new name? Perhaps the name is “spouse,” or “parent,” or “sister,” or “disciple of Jesus.” With new names, we are given new responsibilities.
O God, please help us remember that you will never stop pursuing us in the hope of a deeper relationship.
If a child ever asks you whether pets go to heaven, you could do worse than to quote Psalm 36:6: “You save both man and beast, O Lord.” But the word “salvation” doesn’t just mean “heaven after we die”: it also refers to the here and now. This psalm affirms God’s love, righteousness, justice, salvation and “loving-kindness,” which, in Hebrew, is chesed – one of the most mentioned of God’s attributes in the Hebrew Bible. Images of food and drink point to God’s never-failing abundance.
But our lectionary gives us only the middle portion. The first part of the psalm laments the actions of those who do not reject evil but participate in it. The conclusion continues the psalmist’s plea for God’s protection, specifically from evildoers. This may seem like a distant scenario, until we hear news of school shootings in our own backyard. At such times, praying to God for refuge comes as naturally as breathing.
O God, please help us to remember that salvation means living a life of love. In this life, we practice love as best we can, so that a more perfect union with you beyond the grave will feel like coming home.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
I have a friend who describes one very valuable leadership style as, “Let a thousand flowers bloom.” Don’t rush to judge where the Holy Spirit is not at work, he says. Rather, step back, observe and listen. Someone is using a very special gift from God, even in the last place we might think to look.
Paul writes to the Corinthians that God does not depend on us exclusively. The Holy Spirit is instrumental in all our prayer, praise and work. Variety is the order of the day, and God decides what gifts we will be presented with next. At the same time, God hopes we will use our gifts in loving ways, in order to reveal Jesus’ good news that the Kingdom of God is already among us. Even in the weedy places, there is wheat. Are we without light? We can learn to treasure darkness as a holy mystery. And when we feel despondent or at low ebb, we can benefit from the gifts God gives us through the people in our lives, both loved ones and strangers.
O God, thank you for the gifts you give us daily. Grant that we may remember to use them in love.
John structures his gospel around seven miracles, or “signs,” of Jesus. This is the first one. During the season of Epiphany we take a good long look at Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.
First-century Jewish weddings typically lasted a week, and it may be that guests were expected to bring provisions of their own to contribute – rather like a very long potluck! Yet to run out of wine would have brought disgrace on the groom’s family. By turning water into wine, not only did Jesus help prevent deep embarrassment and shame, but he also enabled the party to go on.
When people wonder whether Jesus’ miracles really occurred, it’s important to remember that each miracle had a purpose. Jesus wasn’t just showing off; he was revealing to us what God is like. We can reflect theologically on any of Jesus’ miracles. God cares about the shameful places in our hearts and would rather we be joyful. What work is God doing in you to make this possible?
O God, remove our shame and gladden our hearts with the wine of your love this day and every day.