Isaiah 62:1-5 | 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 | John 2:1-11
We pass signs all day long, often reading them without thinking. One of my kids’ kindergarten teachers showed me that children, even before they can read, can tell what company, store, or restaurant a sign–or well-branded logo–represent. Looking at the exercise sheet, I realized at a glance that I could, too. I mean, it’s hard to miss the Golden Arches or the Coca-Cola script. How often is it that when we see something, we know exactly what it means, what it represents? Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding feast, and this is the first of his signs. Honestly, we’re a little clearer on the cross and what it means and choose that for our corporate branding–and it works well, don’t get me wrong. But there’s something to this little water to wine miracle that saved a celebratory feast, something about Jesus doing what only he could do: using his power for a purpose.
I wonder what made Mary think that Jesus could do something about the situation. We’ve probably all been at parties that are starting to turn south–it could be that the d.j. is bad or the food or drink runs out too soon. It gets embarrassing, really; at a wedding it can be truly humiliating. I read in a commentary that perhaps Jesus and his buddies didn’t bring their contribution to the wedding and could have been part of the reason for the early shortage–a good reason for a mother to call out her son. But maybe Mary’s reasoning came from the hunch of a mother who had faced difficult times before and had been comforted by this special child, now a man. Maybe in years before, Jesus has showed her hands that could soothe a tired and weary mind, eyes that could console the sorrowful, and laughter that brought joy to the surface. Maybe those were some of Mary’s experiences that made her, in this situation, look to her beloved son to make things right.
And he could.
And he did.
The act was performed. Witnesses beheld the miracle. A feast was redeemed, made even better than before. Surely the guests were enlivened by the freely flowing spirit around them. (I think there’s some foreshadowing here of what will be when Jesus’s true hour has come.)
Even though he says his hour hasn’t yet come, when called upon, Jesus performs the task at hand. Like us, Mary sees what is before her and can foresee the disaster about to unfold. Jesus, however, with the mind of God, probably thought on a different scale. On a scale both large and small, Jesus makes the world a better place. Jesus brings light into the world by the very nature of who he is, both God and man. Yes, Jesus, the bridal party is out of wine; make these jars full of wine through the power of Spirit, as you will, in time, fill our cups with promise of life everlasting. We see what you’re doing here.
This wedding miracle is not itself a simple sign, a mere advertising gimmick branding Jesus as miracle worker, though a miracle worker he is. He who is wisdom and light bears this gift . . . and all the other gifts of Spirit, too, because that’s his nature. Jesus is the Son of God. His very nature is his power, and he chooses to use it for a purpose, drawing us ever closer into relationship as a bridegroom does his bride.
At our baptisms, we are bestowed with gifts of the Spirit.
Each of us has gifts.
Each of us has power.
A few years ago at the Choir Camp Festival Day at Subiaco Abbey, I saw a friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. It was quiet, of course, prior to the service, so I couldn’t squeal in delight as some of us are prone to do, but I did sort of leap up and outstretch my arms, greeting her with a huge smile and an all-embracing hug. We stepped apart, still holding arms, and smiled some more, not saying a word. It was just a moment. Joyful, beautiful, and heartwarming.
As she turned toward her seat, I heard a man’s voice say, “Sara, be careful how you use that power.” In the pew behind me sat my liaison to the Commission on Ministry. I hadn’t yet left for seminary but was already deep in the discernment process. I still haven’t forgotten what he said or the way he looked at me with wise eyes and a knowing smile.
I have come to see my smile as a gift, one I freely share with others, but it is only a sign of the greater gift that is joy. Though I thank my parents for getting me braces when I was younger, you can’t buy joy that a genuine smile conveys. A true gift is precious and priceless, which is part of the reason why we feel such loss when those who share their gifts with us die. There’s a collective grieving this week with the loss of David Bowie and Alan Rickman. And if we think of others whom we have loved and lost, their gifts, too, often come to mind because when they shared those gifts, we knew we were witnessing something special if not miraculous.
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Our gifts aren’t ours alone. What greater service than to share our gifts with others? What greater good than sharing our gift as a sign of Christ’s presence in the world, shining light into what can often be a dismal scene?
I hope that we are all aware of some of our gifts. Sometimes we need someone to point them out to us. It’s completely normal to take what comes naturally for granted. That doesn’t make it a good thing, but it happens. Moms can be great people to call out our gifts. A friend who knows you well or even a complete stranger can also recognize a gift if they’re paying attention. Just this week at the elementary school where I mentor, while I was signing out of the computer, a man told the others in the office, “You know, if everyone had a smile like that woman, the world would be a better place.”
Maybe it’s your smile. Maybe it’s your music. Maybe it’s your sportsmanship or prowess with numbers; your ability to operate on bodies or manage corporations or build bridges, towers, or spacecraft. Maybe it’s your intuition, your understanding, your ability to be present. Whatever your gifts–because we do have more than one–I urge you to recognize it and nurture it. Give thanks to God for it and pray for guidance in how and when to use it for the common good, especially if it fosters faith, hope, and love. We can’t count on someone else to be or do something better because God needs each of us to shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory in the world as only we can.
Like the servants ladling out the wine from the jars that they were just sure held water, there are going to be times when we are amazed at what we can bring to those in our midst by the power of the Spirit. We do our work to the best of our ability, rising to the occasion when we are called. We, too, can use our power for a purpose. We ourselves are walking billboards, signs of all shapes, colors, and sizes, pointing to the glory of God.