Sunday, January 17, 2016
Sermon from Sunday, January 17, 2016
Readings: Isaiah 62:1-5 and John 2:1-11
Japhia and I were at a wedding last night – the celebration of the marriage of Samantha McEneny and Ian Hansen, and I’m sure you can imagine what a good time it was. A lot of thought and planning went into the whole thing – the ceremony, the party after, the order of the dances, the speeches, the choice of DJ and master of ceremonies, the photographer and the venue and the menu and the music and dresses and tuxes and flowers and everything else you can imagine … because of course, everyone – especially the bride and groom and their parents, but everyone really – wants it to go well, and be a good wedding.
But really, what can make a wedding not good? How much needs to go wrong, for a wedding One really to be a bad wedding?
One wedding I did some years ago now had only the groom, me, the church organist and two guests – the only invited guests, waiting anxiously and awkwardly in the church for almost an hour beyond the scheduled time, before the bride and her parents finally arrived. The reason – which we all could see as soon as she walked up the aisle, was that, being poor, the bride had rented a wedding dress and when she tried to put it on that day, it was too small, wouldn’t do up no matter what they tried, and in the end they had to tie the back together with string. Was that a bad wedding? No, in its own way it was a perfect wedding and a very blessed and happy start to their marriage.
I remember another wedding that we went ahead with just a day after the bride’s father died of a heart attack. It was their wish to do that, and in the end it was a very deeply meaningful wedding – not bad, but deeply good in a way that none of us would ever have predicted.
I’ve been at weddings where brides had their veil ripped off their head because someone was standing on the end of it as they began to walk away, where the couple couldn’t speak their vows at all because one was crying and the other was laughing from anxiety and nervousness, where so many of the invited guests were taking pictures during the ceremony – in the old days of click-and-whirr cameras, that you couldn’t hear the vows. I’ve been the minister at a wedding where trying to lead the guests in saying the Lord’s Prayer, I forgot some of the words.
None of those, though, were bad weddings because none of those kinds of things are enough to take away the meaning of what is being done and what is being celebrated. And even the outcome of the marriage doesn’t make it bad. Japhia and I are both divorced and remarried – and neither one of us would say that our first weddings were bad weddings. They were good weddings that we do not regret, because we entered into those marriages freely, from and for love as we knew it, with every good intent we were capable of. And isn’t that what it’s about – what weddings and marriage and life and the world and God are all about?
The only wedding I’ve been part of that I think of as “bad” was one where in talking with the couple I knew I had misgivings and deep questions about their relationship, that I didn’t know how – or didn’t have the courage, to express to them. So we went ahead with their wedding, and within months the bride showed up one day at the church where I was working, explaining how bad things were, and could she please get an annulment.
That was a bad wedding.
But most of what we worry about and fuss over, as though it makes all the difference in the world, just isn’t a problem because it’s not, in the end, what really counts or really matters. What matters is the relationship itself, the free choice of both persons to enter into it, and their willingness to live in it and work at it no matter what may come – whether it be good or bad fortune, happiness or unhappiness over the years, and even their own and their partner’s failure and sin along the way.
It’s interesting that when Isaiah wants to speak a word of encouragement to the people when they are thoroughly disappointed and discouraged by the state of their land and their lives, Isaiah reminds them that God is like a marriage partner to them, and God – being God and not human, will stay and live out the promise of relationship with them. There was failure and judgement and even a sense of separation and divorce by God over the years, but Isaiah says no – don’t worry – God is God and not us – so
4we shall no more be termed “Forsaken”,
and our land shall no more be called “Desolate” ;
but we shall be called “My Delight Is in You”,
and our land “Married”;
for the Lord delights in us,
and our land shall be married to God.
That’s good news – better news than we often deserve, better news than we can sometimes understand.
And from that and the wonderful story of Jesus attending and rescuing a wedding party that almost became a dry affair after only three of the usual six days of hearty celebrating, there are three lessons about God and God’s relationship with us and all the world that I want to draw attention to.
One is that God really has wed God’s self to the world. God has not only called the world – all the cosmos, into being, and not only sustains it in its life from day to day and eon to eon. But God also has committed for the world and all the cosmos to be where God is. As Father Richard Rohr puts it in the passage that’s printed as a pondering in the bulletin this week, God is not “out there” to be found in some kind of perfection beyond this world that we live in and know as our own. Rather, this is where God chooses to be, where God comes to us, where God is known and felt, where God’s good purpose is worked out – in the daily, yearly, lifelong thing we call ordinary living in the world as it is.
The world is not perfect – at least not in the way we sometimes use that word to describe how we think something should be. But the world is, and it’s in the world as it is, that God is.
Which leads to a second thing – that if something is worth doing in the world, it’s worth doing even imperfectly, just as we are able, in the hope and the faith that it somehow is caught up and transformed by God, like ordinary water at a wedding feast, into the finest of wine. Because really is any wedding made bad just because it’s not perfect in all its parts? Is any act of love bad because not done perfectly? Is any word of compassion, any gesture of justice, any attempt at confession and forgiveness, any inkling of peace, any glimpse of truth and reconciliation bad because it’s not perfect or maybe as whole and complete as we think it should be? One thing the Gospel story tells us is that nothing happens in this world – and I really mean nothing, that cannot be turned to and into something good.
ess, any brd of compassion, any gesture of justice, any attempt at confession and forgivenbess
y water at a wedding thingne thinBut then there is a third thing – and this is that none of this happens by magic. When the people of Israel were discouraged and tempted to throw in the towel, it took the prophet remembering the goodness and faithfulness of God and speaking words of encouragement to the people, to help them hang in there and not give up.
And at the wedding in Cana when it seemed that suddenly what was a good party was going to go dry, it took Mary noticing it and saying something about it, it took the servants filling the large pots with ordinary water at Jesus’ direction (even though it probably seemed kind of stupid to them), and it took them then ladling some out to take it to the steward of the feast for tasting (even though they might have thought they’d be fired doing something so silly) – for the miracle to happen. It took all these people doing what they could and what they were told, as ordinary and even foolish as it was, for the ordinary, imperfect stuff of life to become a sign and an experience of the kingdom of God in our midst.
I wonder if maybe one thing the Bible may be trying to tell us, is that life is a feast and a party – or at least it’s meant to be. And that when we all do our parts – as ordinary and imperfect as they are, and even as foolish as they may seem – when we all do our parts, then Jesus and God and God’s people really are – or at least can be, the real life of the party.