Mountain

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The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! For you have forsaken the ways of your people, O house of Jacob. Indeed they are full of diviners from the east and of soothsayers like the Philistines, and they clasp hands with foreigners. Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. And so people are humbled, and everyone is brought low—do not forgive them! Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust from the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty. The haughty eyes of people shall be brought low, and the pride of everyone shall be humbled; and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. Isaiah 2:1-11 (NRSV)

When we look at the history of the world and the different people who settle in different areas, we discover that the kind of land people live in has a huge impact on their culture. People who live in the deserts or large prairie lands typically become nomadic people, following the nomadic wildlife that moves in response to rainy and dry seasons. People that are fortunate to live in river valleys set down root, farm, and build great cities that last until floods or fires take them away. Very few people choose to live in the mountains, and those that do are often culturally marked in a way that all people can see.

Mountain people tend to be more rugged, less concerned with appearance and more focused upon function. Survival is not a theoretical concept with them, it is the business of their every day. They, more than any other group have a healthy respect for nature around them, recognizing that it is only through careful stewardship and grace that they will make it through the winter.

God called the Hebrew people out of the river valley, and met with them on a mountain before leading them through the desert wilderness for 40 years. He is not a God of comfort, He is a God who demands respect and reverence. He calls us all to be mountain people, who show our reliance upon Him and our careful stewardship of the gifts that He gives us by the way we look, speak, and act. But He does not call to pretend to be better than others. All are welcome to come live on the Mountain of God, but every person who is courageous enough to climb will be changed forever as we see our strengths dwindle away to nothing in the sight of the majesty and might of God.

Christ the King will soon descend from the Holy Mountain to seek us all out in the world and take us to live with Him forever. What kind of people will He find in us?

  • What kind of place do you live in now?
  • How would your life change if you moved to a very different kind of landscape?
  • How would your life change today if you were willing to follow God anywhere He took you?

You are God alone, from before time began

You were on Your throne, You are God alone.

And right now, in the good times and bad

You are on Your throne, You are God alone.

Wednesday November 30, 2016

Excuses

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How the faithful city has become a whore! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her—but now murderers! Your silver has become dross, your wine is mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them. Therefore says the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: Ah, I will pour out my wrath on my enemies, and avenge myself on my foes! I will turn my hand against you; I will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed. For you shall be ashamed of the oaks in which you delighted; and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen. For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. The strong shall become like tinder, and their work like a spark; they and their work shall burn together, with no one to quench them. Isaiah 1:21-31 (NRSV)

The late Dr. Robert Mulholland was known for saying, “Sin carries in it the root of its own destruction.” Sin boils us slowly, and we are not likely to notice how hot the water around us is until it is too late. God sent the prophet Isaiah to Israel to warn them about the hot water they had wandered into. Listen again to some of the things he warns them about. “Your princes are rebeles and companions of thieves… Rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together… The strong shall become like tinder and their work like a spark; they and their work shall burn together, with no one to quench them.”

This is a warning for those who have trusted too long in themselves. Both the wicked – those who do not care about God, as well as the complacent – those who think they can get through the day without bothering God, are equally guilty in God’s eyes. Both have robbed the city of justice and righteousness, so both will share the same punishment. But if you listen closely, you will see that it is more than punishment that God is handing down here. It is not retribution. It is restoration.

“I will turn my hand against you; I will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. And I will retore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning.” God does not see our sin and failures as a lack of goodness. He sees it as foreign material that covers up the goodness he knows lies in the potential beneath it all.

There was once a sculptor who worked hard with hammer and chisel on a large block of marble. A little child who was watching him saw nothing more than large and small pieces of stone falling away left and right. He had no idea what was happening. But when the boy returned to the studio a few weeks later, he saw, to his surprise, a large, powerful lion sitting in the place where the marble had stood. With great excitement, the boy ran to the sculptor and said, “Sir, tell me, how did you know there was a lion in the marble?”

“The art of sculpture is, first of all, the art of seeing. In one block of marble, Michelangelo saw a loving mother holding her dead son on her lap, while in another, he saw a self-confident David ready to hurl his stone at the approaching Goliath, and in a third, he saw an irate Moses at the point of rising in anger from his seat. Visual art is indeed the art of seeing, and the practice of disciplines is a way to make visible what has been seen. The skillful artist is a liberator who frees from bondage the figures hidden for billions of years inside the marble. The artist reveals the true identity of the figures!” (Henri Nouwen, Clowning in Rome, (Image, 2000) pages 83-84))

When we learn to see ourselves and our world like God does, as something beautiful waiting to be brought forth from the slab of marble we are stuck in, we will set our guilt aside, quit making excuses, and really begin to pray for transformation instead of begging God to leave us to live life our own way. We will stop asking God to bless our will and instead start following God’s will for our lives. We will finally begin that our sin, while devastating to our own lives, is not even a minor inconvenience to God. Indeed He has been in the business of doing the impossible, calling light out of the darkness, every day since the beginning of creation.

What sin hangs onto you like dross and keeps you from living fully and freely as a beloved child of God?

Where are you able to see yourself most clearly?

Who helps you to seek help instead of relying on your own strength?

His strength is perfect when our strength is gone

He’ll carry us when we can’t carry on

Raised in His power, the weak become strong

His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect

Tuesday November 29, 2016

Sacrifice

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Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?” says the Lord; “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out,” says the Lord: “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 1:10-20 (NRSV)

The Kubler-Ross model of grief sets out five separate stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Not everyone goes through the stages at the same pace. When Isaiah preached judgment against Judah, some were caught in denial. Others became angry and wanted Isaiah stopped. But there were some who made it to the bargaining stage as they grieved for their nation. They tried to win God's favor back by offering up sacrifices and by keeping the festivals God had prescribed for them in the Law. Some of these people were very good and being obedient to all the laws concerning worship times and avoiding particular sins.

The problem was that they either were oppressing the poor around them and denying justice to the victims of injustice, or they were turning a blind eye to the orphans and widows who were so easily neglected. They were guilty of minding their own business instead of minding God's business. The message of Isaiah, and all the prophets is clear: God does not desire sacrifices given as a substitute for obedience to His call on our life.

We cannot bargain our way out of grief. The more we try, the longer we keep ourselves from the true Hope God is calling us to receive. We have to work through the urge to pay our way to a better place, push past the depression, and make our way to acceptance and surrender. It is the "broken and contrite heart" that is the sacrifice that God will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

Where is grief touching your life today?

What distracts you from acknowledging that grief?

How can you bring your grief and brokenness to God?

Oh! precious is the flow

That makes me white as snow;

No other fount I know,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Monday November 28, 2016

Vision

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The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged! Why do you seek further beatings? Why do you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they have not been drained, or bound up, or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. And daughter Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we would have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah. Isaiah 1:1-9 (NRSV)

Vision is what allows us to perceive the world around us. Proverbs 29:18 says where there is no “vision”, the people perish (KJV). This is one of the times where our english language translates two different kinds of terms, revelation, and sight into the same term. It is not without reason. A person, or more specifically a group of people who have no revelation will stumble around like someone who has no physical vision.

Jesus, noted the same when he said ““The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew‬ ‭6:22-23‬ ‭NIV‬‬). Part of our vision is how we view ourselves, and if our view of ourselves if full of darkness, we will see darkness everywhere else as well.

This darkness is the state of the nation to which God sent Isaiah the prophet. The phrase of John Bradford “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” The nation was a mess, riots had broken out, cities were on fire, and it was on the verge of being taken over by foreignors. Isaiah told God’s people that they were rebelious, that their whole head was sick and their heart feint. They lacked soundness… and the only reason they had not suffered the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah was that God’s grace still guarded them. I do not need to tell you that we are not much better. Your eyes probably see as much darkness as my own. Hear though three points of hope we have.

  1. The problem, as Isaiah states it, was not just bad behavior. It was that they did not know their master. That may be hard to swallow in a very politically divided context, but remember, the master of the people here was God Himself. God is the one these people had left, not their political and religious leaders.
  2. The solution was not just fixed behavior, but a new vision… a clearer, truer picture of who we are and what the world around us is. We cannot get this vision from a place of blindness, but in seeking healing and new vision, we can find new hope right where we are. God can reveal directions to a better tomorrow.
  3. Our hope is grounded firmly in God. It is He who holds back the consequences we are not facing, but may indeed be putting ourselves in the path of and may indeed deserve. From beginning to end, our Hope is in God and nothing else can compare. That is the true meaning of Advent and of Christmas.

How do you see the world today?

How do you see yourself?

How do you see God?

Open my eyes, that I may see

glimpses of truth thou hast for me;

place in my hands the wonderful key

that shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now I wait for thee,

ready, my God, thy will to see.

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

Sunday November 27, 2016

You Are What You Eat

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You Are What You Eat

As we enter Thanksgiving week and many of our minds turn to our stomachs, let us take a moment to consider the relationship between what we consume and who we are becoming.

Traditional Thanksgiving meals typically involve Turkey, potatoes, corn, bread, gravy, stuffing, and it is perhaps the one time of year that cranberries become the fruit of choice. However, in our allergy-aware and health-conscious cultures today, I imagine that there are many substitutes made. The globalization of our nation and growing interconnectivity of the world today likely will have an influence on the types of food served this Thursday. We may decry a loss of tradition and culture in this, but I cannot remember eating any Native American style cooked food in my previous 33 years of Thanksgiving experiences. Microwaves were used every year. One of my favorite dishes was a mix of tofu and baked beans that my aunt used to make. I didn’t care whether the pilgrims made it or not… it was good.

The food around the table is not the main purpose, because it is not really Thanksgiving without the people there to enjoy it. I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving away from family, one in particular at Cracker Barrel with my wife when we were unable to travel the 300 and 500 miles back to our families. It was nice, but it wasn’t really the same. So Thanksgiving really begins with the people and without them, you are just eating turkey.

Jesus may have created one of the first Thanksgiving meals (if we can set aside our predispositions about the types of food required).

The Feeding of Five Thousand

“After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee (that is, Tiberias). And a large crowd was following him because they were observing the signs that he was doing on those who were sick. So Jesus went up on the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. (Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near.) Then Jesus, when he looked up and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread so that these people can eat?” (Now he said this to test him, because he knew what he was going to do.) Philip replied to him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for them, in order that each one could receive a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “Here is a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people recline.” (Now there was a lot of grass in the place.) So the men reclined, approximately five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the bread, and after he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were reclining—likewise also of the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they were satisfied, he said to his disciples, “Gather the remaining fragments so that nothing is lost.” So they gathered them, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. ” (John 6:1-13)

The people are gathered. Food is shared. Thanks is given to God. Everyone walks away full and some even take home leftovers. I wonder if the descendents of that small boy would become pilgrims someday as the Jewish people scattered across Europe and eventually North America… It was a miracle for sure, but for most of the 5,000 people, it was a miracle that only lasted a day.

Discourse About the Bread of Life

“On the next day, the crowd that was on the other side of the sea saw that other boats were not there (except one), and that Jesus had not entered with his disciples into the boat, but his disciples had departed alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus.

And when they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus replied to them and said, “Truly, truly I say to you, you seek me not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were satisfied! Do not work for the food that perishes, but the food that remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has set his seal on this one.”

So they said to him, “What shall we do that we can accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one whom that one sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign will you perform, so that we can see it and believe you? What will you do? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’

Then Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, Moses did not give you bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven! For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” So they said to him, “Sir, always give us this bread!”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never be hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty again. But I said to you that you have seen me and do not believe. Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never throw out, because I have come down from heaven not that I should do my will, but the will of the one who sent me. Now this is the will of the one who sent me: that everyone whom he has given me, I would not lose any of them, but raise them up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks at the Son and believes in him would have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Now the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they were saying, “Is this one not Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves! No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears from the Father and learns comes to me. (Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God—this one has seen the Father.) Truly, truly I say to you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that someone may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

So the Jews began to quarrel among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves! The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so also the one who eats me—that one will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” ” (John 6:22-58)

The phrase “You are what you eat,” was originally penned by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1826: “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.” Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are. That is a wakeup call for us spiritually as well as physically. What Jesus desired for His disciples and what He desires for us is a miracle that lasts more than a day. He wants to rebuild us from the inside out. That won’t happen with fish and bread or turkey and mashed potatoes. We only get that from taking in Jesus and letting him reshape us.

I’m going to bypass the long arguments about transubstantiation and sacramental theology at this point, making only two short points:

  1. There is an obvious connection here between this command to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus and the institution of the Lord’s Supper – Holy Communion. I will not deny that.
  2. Holy Communion is not the only way that we can invite Jesus into our lives. There are other “means of grace” such as reading scripture, prayer, fellowship with other believers (spiritual accountability), worship, etc.)

The bottom line is, we need to find ways to invite Jesus into our lives if we truly want to become more like Him. What is the alternative? If we are not spending our days getting more Jesus into us, what are we putting into ourselves in His place?

Jesus consistently lived the example that it is better to give than to receive. This week, the world teaches the tradition that you are to eat til you drop and then wake up the next day and shop til you drop – all the while running over anyone in your way. Will you win back Thanksgiving for Jesus and find a way to bless someone else? Will you find a stranger to bless?

The Faith of Politics

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The Faith of Politics

After the two days he departed for Galilee. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jn 4:43–54). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

This is a story about faith. Here again, Jesus returned to Cana of Galilee and found more welcome there in a place that had more gentile influence than in His own more Jewish hometown of Nazareth. An official from the nearby town of Capernaum came to see if Jesus would come back with him and heal his son who was at the point of death. Jesus told the official that he would not believe unless this miracle was accompanied by signs and wonders, but the official persisted. Jesus then turned and announced that the boy would live. When he returned home he found that this was true and that the boy’s fever had left him at the time Jesus announced that he would live.

It is a story of faith, not because anyone does anything that demonstrates great faith, but because it is faith shown in the lack of signs and wonders, yet it yields the same results. Everyone takes a back seat in this story besides Jesus and this father. With only the power of His word, Jesus changes the outcome and heals this boy who is miles away. There is no laying on of hands or chanting. He simply says it is and it is. It is not noted whether this man is Jewish or gentile, which tells us that it doesn’t matter who you are. What matters in this story is this: in the face of insurmountable odds, will we seek Jesus… and when we do not get a show of divine intervention, will we continue along our way in faith that what He says, goes?

It strikes me as ironic that politics are built upon and held together by promises kept in faith. We make promises to our leaders and they make promises to us, and we trust they will fulfill them and that we will fulfill ours. Yet our politics today are not marked by faith, but by doubt. We have lived through 40 years, an entire generation, of presidents and national leaders who were not trusted to the extent that distrust is the new norm and there has been an entire generation raised that has never known otherwise. It has followed a similar shift in distrust in God. We campaign on distrust now, not stating what we stand for, but spending our energy and resources attacking our opponents. This tactic is not new, but neither does it work well in the long run. We have changed the environment, changed the rules of the game so that political winners fall faster than ever from the returning waves of distrust that carried them into power.

This miracle shows us that faith in anything begins with a faith in God, even when we do not understand – perhaps especially when we do not understand. Facing an environment hostile to anything related to trust, it shows that it only takes one to change the rules again… particularly when that faith is placed in God. Will we believe God even if we cannot see the proof before us? Can we trust God to be God, not just in the spiritual world, but in the brokenness of our political situations, or will we take matters into our own hands?

Water, Wine, and Partisan Politics

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Water, Wine, and Partisan Politics

The first miracle in John’s gospel has always been a bit mysterious to me. Alcohol in and of itself has political influence, economonic influence, psychological and sometimes even spiritual influence in our lives. When alcohol is mentioned, particularly in many societies today, it is difficult to parse through the lens of our current context and return to a time where it frankly was not such a big deal.

For example, deaths due to intoxication while driving did not occur in Jesus day. There were no motorized vehicles, and most people just walked from place to place. The alcohol made was not as strong nor did it come in as many varieties as we have today. While it certainly still had some addictive properties to it, it was simply not as available to the common person as it is today. It was essentially a luxury item.

That is important to understand in this passage. Jesus is not setting up a brewery or distillery here. He is providing a luxury item for a wedding celebration that, while it was a common experience, it was not an everyday experience. It was probably not even a monthly experience. There is an incredible articulation of balance here as John unashamedly describes this story of Jesus using miraculous power to transform water into wine.

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jn 2:1–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

It begins with Jesus (and his disciples) at this wedding celebrating with his mother. I fully expect they were drinking – not because John says so anywhere, but, as stated above, alcohol simply was not the social issue then that it is today. More importantly, hospitality was a major issue. To refuse the hospitality of the host, regardless of personal issues was a major social insult in this society that had no concept of diets, allergies, or personal preferences regarding food and drink. In the middle east, you were simply grateful to be offered anything, and in a Jewish household, nothing would have been suspect. Furthermore, Jesus is accused by the Pharisees as being one who hangs out with drunks throughout His ministry, so there is no reason to claim this as the one time Jesus celebrated with alcohol.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mt 11:18–19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

Even so, Jesus does not initiate this miracle nor draw undue attention to Himself by it. It almost makes me wonder if Jesus had to pick seven miracles to record, if this one would have even been considered, let alone included as the first. His own statement comes as the question to which all the miracles stand as a testimony, “What does this have to do with me?”. That is the question we all must find an answer to if we are to understand this miracle. He knew His time of drawing the attention of the whole middle eastern world had not yet arrived, so He kept this particular miracle as quiet as possible.

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jn 2:6–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

Six stone jars were set aside for the ritual purification by washing. This ritual washing is very closely tied to the ritual baths practiced by the Essenes and the baptisms done in the Jordan River, so these jars tell us two things about this household. First, this is a Jewish household that is trying to maintain a level of spiritual purity (perhaps inspired by the nearness of the Passover celebration). On the other hand though, ritual washing was supposed to be done by “living” or running water, not to be stored in jars. While this water was probably not especially dirty water, it was not drinking water, nor was it even truly appropriate for the use of ritual washing. (Keener, C. S. (2012). The Gospel of John: A Commentary & 2 (Vol. 1, p. 510). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.)

The transformation of this substandard water, in substandard vessels, and its transformation into wine – a luxury item of celebration makes a significant spiritual statement. The concern and practice for ritual purity is at once exceeded and redirected to celebration. It is like a sneak preview of the ministry of Christ that is to come. Yes, baptism is a wonderful thing, but it is just the beginning. For these Jews, who were so concerned with being ritually cleansed, particularly for the holy celebrations, Jesus invites them to take in and drink the very water that was meant to cleanse the inside. As far as I am aware, it is an unspoken rule that you do not drink the baptism water. You certainly do not serve it at a party. Yet that was precisely what Jesus was asking this servant to do.

When it was dipped out though, it was not water, pure or otherwise, it was wine… and not just any wine. The master of the feast proclaimed it as the good wine, or the wine that was to be served first while the guests still cared about taste. John takes the ritual of purification and turns it into a joyful celebration.

The idea of political purification today is ripe with racial, ethnic, and cultural sentiments that all to often lead to hatred, violence, and suffering on a mass scale. This miracle did not mark a line drawn in the sand between those who were friends and enemies of God. Quite the opposite. It marked a union of two becoming one, and on that day, in that celebration, the very ritual tools made to separate became intruments to celebrate a union. Put another way, Jesus used the concept of baptism (setting apart) to celebrate a marriage (coming together) in one move.

What are the instruments of our political separation? We have colors and mascots that represent political parties, whose existence may be the greatest instruments of separation we have. In many cases, when asked about my political beliefs, I am not asked about particular issues. I am simply asked which party I support. How can Christ take these instruments of separation and transform them into a celebration of union?