I would like to take a few moments to set the stage for today’s Gospel reading;
Imagine, if you will, that you are standing atop the Mount of Olives: As you look down into the valley, you see Jerusalem. Perched atop the temple mount is the sacred biblical temple we have all read so much about. The landscape is one of rolling mountains, trees and rock. The mountainsides are covered with retaining walls, handmade with stones by the villagers to maximize the limited amount of arable land. The Olive trees that give the name blanket the mountainside.
If you turn away from the city and into the countryside and you will see the biblical town of Bethany. It is here that the Gospel of John’s first chapter is located. In John 1:19-23 the priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem by the Pharisees where another John, the Baptist, testified to the one who is to come. The next day, our Gospel tells us, John names the Lamb of God among them. Jesus spends the next two days recruiting disciples before a trip to Cana in Galilee where today’s reading is set.
Using our dear friend Google Maps, I was able to approximate the distance from Bethany to Cana at around 140 to 150 kilometres, give or take. For three days, Jesus and his followers scaled up mountains and trekked across valleys, stopped for rest and refreshment, perhaps conversed with travellers on the road, we can only speculate about who and what they saw on the road. And when I say road, I mean rugged foot path. We don’t know what time of year it was when this journey took place, but we know that it is pretty much always hot in Israel/Palestine. Surely this must have been a tiresome journey. The Bible often gets a lot of flak for being historically or otherwise inconsistent but here is an example in which the narrative fits perfectly with what we know. It is commonly accepted that a person can walk roughly 50 kilometres a day in the biblical context.
Which brings us to today’s reading. On the third day, Jesus and his followers arrived in Cana where they meet Jesus’ mother. They were all invited to attend a wedding, a wedding we are told that ran out of wine. Could it have been a relative of Jesus who was getting married? A brother perhaps? It might explain why Jesus’ mother is giving instructions to the wait staff. We don’t know for sure. But we do know for sure that running out of wine would have brought shame upon the host family. We know that it was a Jewish family because of the purification jars. These jars were very large; 30 gallons is 113 litres, times 6; that is well over 600 litres of wine, an abundance you might say. The servants and the hosts might have been panicking about the lack of adequate supplies for the celebration. It must have been with great relief that the servants brought forth the new wine, a wine of surpassing quality we are told.
So what does all of this mean? How might we to interpret this Gospel lesson? How does it relate to life for us today? Of course there are many ways to read this text; here is but one;
We often live and act out of a scarcity model. We exhaust resources and compete with others for more, cultivating hostility, extinguishing human dignity and even life, as we seek to secure our own dignity and well-being. We think there is not enough supply for life to satisfy ourselves and our neighbours as well. We drink all of the wine at the wedding. Jesus demonstrates with his sign God’s abundant Grace, God’s abundant life. The inexhaustible flow of the Great Goodness that sustains us all. God does not impoverish or starve people to death, or bomb villages; we do that. God does not clear cut forests, pollute soil, rivers, oceans and air. We do that. God does not hate Muslims or First Nations people, we do that.
We have allowed ourselves to be convinced in this country and others that there is not enough life and dignity for us and the nameless, faceless stranger. We all hear the voices of those who say we can’t help refugees because our seniors will suffer, or that we need to take care of our “own” first, citing the homelessness. I’m glad that there is a newfound enthusiasm for caring for seniors and the homeless in this country in light of the refugee situation, but what were those same critics doing about it refugees became a major election issue? When someone asks why we should help Syrian refugees, I say because we bombed their villages. Canadian warplanes killed people in Syria. The least we could do is offer some of them a home.
God’s abundance has granted us the capability to provide for seniors, to provide for refugees, to provide for the homeless, to provide for First Nations, to provide for each and every living being on the planet; we just don’t seem to want to do it. Too many people are easily swayed by those in our very society who perpetuate misinformation to stimulate fear and anxiety among the people. How many of you have seen an article about refugees getting gold plated health care, or more generous funding payouts than seniors? These lies are designed to turn us against ourselves. When wrong prevails in the world, people are divided. When we are divided, we are easily manipulated. When we are manipulated we are blind to God’s abundance.
We, as individuals, as a community, as a church, often fall into the scarcity way of thinking, yet the evidence of God’s abundance is all around us. Despite the hardships inflicted upon the people plants and animals of the world by human decisions, God persists in renewing life. God’s designs perpetuate themselves. God continues to present opportunities to say yes to Grace and reject the scarcity mentality that turns us away from our neighbour. We must speak out against hatred and fear in all of its forms, even to our friends and family.
This week I was surprised when I opened my Facebook account one morning. I noticed that someone I know very well had posted something that was highly discriminatory. The title of the article was “Muslim “Welfare Queen” Refuses to Remove Head Scarf in Courtroom… Judge Puts Her In Her Place.”
It was about a judge in Quebec refusing to hear a Muslim woman’s case unless she removed her hijab. The woman said she could not and had to leave the courtroom. She said “what happened in the court made me afraid. I felt that I’m not Canadian anymore.” She was trying to get her car back because her son took it without a license. It could have happened to any of us. The article proceeded to dehumanize this person simply because she was a Muslim. The intention was to hail this discriminatory act as some sort of cultural victory. I don’t see how a head scarf interfered with the justice process.
I responded to the post in no uncertain terms, with a rejection of the fear and hate that it was designed to fuel. Had I said nothing, I would have been accepting the message. We can have great influence over our friends and family when we live out of our core Christian values. That God’s abundance provides for each and every one of us and is not conditional to our race or religion. That we are to love our neighbour no matter who it is. Think for a moment about the depth of fear that Muslims in Canada are living in right now. Newly arrived refugees in Vancouver were pepper sprayed outside of a welcome rally; during the election, a woman was beaten and verbally assaulted waiting for her kids after school. This week a story was manufactured about three “Middle Eastern looking” men filming a mall in Vancouver. So much fear was generated about. It turns out the police were wrong and the men were innocent, yet the story ran anyways, what kind of questions does that raise in your mind and your heart? Is this Canada? Is this who we are? This is the type of action that we cultivate every time we let hatred slide, no matter how small, every time we stay silent.
The church at large is no stranger to the scarcity model. It is no secret that many churches across North America are getting smaller, closing down in some cases and increasingly turning in on themselves in an effort to survive; but I don’t worry. The Church will never die; the Gospel will never die. That Word that predates creation and exists still now, will persist forever. The church has endured many crises, in its nearly 2000 year history. It will survive this age of reckless consumerism and rampant individuality. It is likely that it will look very different from how it has looked over the past century. We are on the threshold of a new era in human history and in the church. We can stand up right here and now to declare a new age for the church, an age in which we decide to empower each one to live out an authentic expression of God’s abundant life, as Jesus taught us.
I get a sense that people are becoming increasingly disillusioned by the underlying competition of the scarcity model that drives the majority of human activity globally. People are yearning for a light in the darkness. Through social media and other avenues, people all around the world are working to create a new collaborative economy. The existing system of resource and human exploitation is simply unsustainable. The church has an important role to play in creating a better world. When we demonstrate to the world God’s abundance through our actions and decision-making, we safeguard the future of the church. When we sponsor refugees, when we feed the homeless, when we volunteer, when we build bridges, when we consume less, when we put others first, we ensure they share in God’s abundance, we restore human dignity and give life. Many atrocities were committed in the name of Christianity, and the church has a lot to live down. It is our call and our burden, each and every one of us, to live out an authentic expression of the Holy Gospel. Today and every day. No one is too old or too young.
In my short time here, I have really been overwhelmed by the warm welcome I have been receiving. I have witnessed many excellent ministries in action here at St. Matthews. My sense is that this congregation gets it. I am eager to help you fulfill your ministry in the coming year. Together, you can change the world and show people what authentic Christian faith looks like.