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The blog—informal opinions and chat about the parish

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Snowed In

  • Isaiah 62:1-5
  • 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
  • John 2:1-11
  • Psalm 36:5-10
I'm snowed in at the moment, riding out an historic (so they say) blizzard, and grading freshman English papers. People often tell me that they don't envy me the job of teaching college freshman English, but at the moment, I am glad I do that instead of preaching. Every time I look at Lectionary readings, I try to find a common theme, but this group frustrates me. I'm glad I don't have to preach on it. There's sort of a wedding and marriage thing going, then we get to I Corinthians.

The Wedding at Cana
Roman Catholics use this text to support the idea that marriage is a sacrament, but even if we didn't have these dozen verses, it would still be clear that God really likes the idea of marriage and dislikes the idea of divorce. I don't think the point of including this event in John's gospel was to announce for the first time that marriage is important. We already knew that.

I begin with a few odd, interesting observations:
  • Jesus seems reluctant to deal with the wine problem, but Mary takes charge and brings the issue to a head. Somehow she believed that he had the power to fix the wine problem, even if he wanted to stay in the shadows. (Interesting, too, that Jesus had disciples with him, but apparently had performed no miracles yet.)
  • I have often wondered what it would have been like to have been one of the servants. This wedding guest has just told me to take some bathwater to the chief wine steward for a taste.
  • In my Protestant seminary days, the professors tried to push the idea that New Testament wine was unfermented grape juice. Whatever else is going on, the chief wine steward says that at most weddings the host waits for the guests to get drunk before bringing out the cheap wine, but this stuff is really good. About 180 gallons of it. I don't think Jesus was too shy about alcohol.
Enough scene-setting. John's favorite word for "miracle" is "sign." What was the water-to-wine event a sign of? Apparently it wasn't that public. The wedding guests, including bride and groom and chief wine steward didn't know what had happened. Only the servants knew. (I'm guessing that Jesus later told the whole incident to his good friend John, who wrote it down.) So this wasn't the flashy sort of public announcement that Satan suggested Jesus perform during the temptation in the wilderness. It didn't solve some earth-shaking tragedy (a dead daughter, a man covered with leprosy), though a host who couldn't provide enough wine for the party would have been a laughing-stock in the town for years to come. Very quiet, very personal miracle.

Spiritual Gifts
When I was much younger, I was in a church that got very fascinated by the whole business of speaking in tongues. Tongue-speaking was flashy, showy, and weird. And we all wanted it. I think we needed some sort of vivid reminder that God was really in our midst, really in each one of us.

This list of spiritual gifts isn't the only one in scripture, and elsewhere Paul seems to play down the gift of tongues. In this list, there are eight other things, many of them pretty tame-appearing: wisdom, knowledge, faith, working miracles, prophecy, discerning spirits, and interpreting tongues. The list in Romans 12 is even tamer: things like teaching, showing mercy and giving money.

Somehow, none of us aspired to the gift of being a wise teacher. Even less did we aspire to the gift of giving money.

Bottom line
OK—sometimes spiritual gifts show up in very public ways. More than once, I've heard someone reveal information that he could have had no earthly way of learning. We have all prayed for the cure of a friend or loved one and heard of the person's unlikely recovery. Often, though, God prefers the "still, small voice" approach, such as the one Jesus used at Cana in Galilee. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open.

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