EVERYDAY MIRACLES - SERMON ON ISAIAH 62:1-5; PSALM 36:5-10; 1 CORINTHIANS 12:1-11; AND JOHN 2:1-11 - REV. BOB WICKIZER, SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA
Sermon 16 January 2022 St. Augustine, Oklahoma City – Epiphany 2
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Your rector came up with this idea of a winemaker-priest coming to preach to you on the Sunday observing the changing of water into wine at a wedding and the birthday of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. It’s a tall order, but first a fun story.
Before retiring last year, I joined the regional Red Cross Board. It’s a great group with a great mission, and I started donating blood more frequently. The last time I did, I could not get into the drive in Muskogee where I live, so I went to an even smaller town nearby. The facility was a missionary Baptist church. I went in, gave my blood and on the way out, I gave some advertising fliers about the winery to the Red Cross workers. Now it’s always a good idea to eat a snack and have some water or juice after you give blood, and there in the kitchen end of this church gymnasium were the three church ladies. They beckoned for me to come have a sandwich.
I had a few winery fliers left, so I gave them to the ladies while telling them, “Now our winery practices a strict, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, so if you come see us at the winery, we won’t tell a soul.” Two of the three ladies laughed. The third sat there with that stern look on her face. While I had the ham sandwich on white bread, she told me that she was a preacher’s kid and she chose not to drink alcohol because it might set a bad example for others. She had that kind of self-righteous tone as she said it. I’m sure you know what I mean.
At that point, I told the three ladies that I am a retired Episcopal priest. I washed down the Wonder Bread with some juice and said, “Yes, mam, I respect that position. It comes from First Corinthians where Paul chose not to eat meat sacrificed to idols for the same reason.” I paused feeling a bit playful at this moment. “But as for me, I am completely out in the open with my congregations about my addiction to alcohol. I figure if they see me struggle, then we can all struggle together.”
The three women gasped with horror, and I honestly thought for a moment that I would have to call the Red Cross workers over to do CPR on three elderly ladies. After they recovered, I smiled and thanked them for the sandwich and left.
It’s great to be here with you today. As a retired priest on invitation from your rector, I have the distinct honor and privilege to visit lots of churches and make outrageous statements which the rector will have to clean up after I leave. Thank you for inviting me today.
The writer, H. L. Mencken once defined a Puritan as a person having that “haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” And if there is one thing Episcopalians know how to do well, it is having fun. This is a little secret that 90% of the other churches out there haven’t figured out. We can be happy and have fun drinking wine every Sunday at church and a few other days of the week as well.
While we are having fun, members of other OK churches don’t recognize each other at the liquor store. You must take two of them with you fishing or if you take only one, he or she will drink all your beer. They even have a drive-up window at the liquor store named for a major church denomination. But let’s not name names. They must run around in secret pretending they don’t drink wine, but we can be fully out there with our fun beverage. They have pastors who tell people that drinking wine is forbidden by the bible. We have pastors who say no such thing and instead will pour a nice glass for you as I will today.
So, let’s get one thing straight. Drinking wine or beer or even hard spirits is not prohibited by the bible. Drinking in excess is prohibited. Some Bible translators and commentators have tried to convert the Greek word for wine into “grape juice.” That may sound nice to the uninformed, but there is a problem. If you do this with the bible, then you will be forced to go through all the Greek plays, philosophical writings, and even the writings of Homer and convert the word “wine” to “grape juice” and see if it makes sense. For example, in The Odyssey, after consuming three bowls filled with grape juice (wink wink), Polyphemus lies flat on his back in a drunken stupor. Homer refers to Polyphemus as “blind drunk” of course on grape juice according to some bible translators.
Looking at this Gospel again, I find two little words that sneak up on us. The story ends with “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” We read it and think Jesus revealed and the disciples believed – once and done, that’s it. But then, we would be wrong.
We don’t have the same kinds of verbs in English as we find in the Greek text. A closer rendering might be “Jesus revealed then, he reveals now, he will be revealing in the future” and the same for the belief of the disciples. Why am I making this distinction?
Because in the “once and done” approach, we are left with the idea that the disciples’ belief arose AS A RESULT of the sign or miracle Jesus performed. But the continuing action implied by the original text takes us to a completely different understanding.
Jesus is still performing signs and miracles in front of you every day. Look around the room and you will see lots of miracles. Our very LIVES are miracles. And secondly, faith does not occur BECAUSE you or the disciples see a miracle. Faith happens ALONGSIDE these everyday miracles.
Walk with me through our vineyards around the third week in April, and you will see the miracle of winter-dormant grapevines pushing tiny buds out to become this year’s crop. It is hopeful and promising to see. Walk with me as a priest with the family of a father murdered by a mentally unstable neighbor. The miracle happens as the children are wrapped in love by their church community. Join us at coffee hour today as we share the fruit of the vine and lives are joined by the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Walk with Dr. King on the streets to protest the oppression of people by the government, and you will see the miracle of the Holy Ghost moving through the crowds, through the police, and through the news. Those protests in the 1960s were not a once and done thing. Like our Greek verbs in John’s gospel, protests and righteous, social action require constant vigilance, constant updating, and constant action. Our work to address the physical, economic, and political violence done by oppression is never finished.
But we must never bring ourselves to respond to violence with violence. We return violence, hatred, bigotry, and wrong-headed nonsense with love. And here’s where all this ties together with wine. Not just the blood of Christ you receive from the blessed sacrament, but the wine we share in fellowship and fun helps to form us and give us the love we need to go out there and share it.
The miracle of the wedding in Cana wasn’t Jesus turning water into wine. It wasn’t that the disciples saw it and believed. No. The miracle was they were empowered to go out there and do the work Jesus called them to do. And those everyday miracles at the communion table here and the fellowship table after church will empower you to get out there and do the work Jesus has for you.
~Rev. Bob Wickizer, Saint Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.