<No audio this time around. Sigh…sermons are meant to be heard! Will get it remedied ASAP>
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “they have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water Jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good win first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now!” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
We are Meant to Burn, Not to Burn Out
Pray with me:
Turn our emptiness into fullness, Lord.
As only you can do.
Provide the space between our old and new selves
Provide the space between our moments
Provide the space between our hearts and our heads
That we might burn, and not burn out.
I love that today’s Gospel is set at a wedding. It reminds me of my own wedding which was beautiful and wonderful and, well, Rhonda and I forgot to eat at our wedding. We never sat down. And so at the end of the night in this beautiful hotel suite we were eating pulled pork out of a ziplock bag with our fingers because we didn’t have utensils and didn’t have a cent to our name.
There’s a metaphor for marriage, right?
I have to begin today with a poem. Poetry is one of the things that my heart has not callused to in this world; that and a Packer’s touchdown will make me weepy. So, here we go:
What makes a fire burn
Is space between the logs,
A breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
Too many logs
Packed in too tight
Can douse the flames
Almost as surely as a pail of water would.
So, building fires requires attention
To the spaces in between
As much as to the wood…
That’s from Judy Brown’s amazing poem, “Fire.” I’ll put it online later today to read the whole thing.
On my desk sits this little bell. A meditation bowl. I ring it when I’m frustrated. I don’t know if the staff has heard it and mistaken it for the coffee pot or the doorbell or something. Nope; just me in my office frustrated about something. I should probably put it in my car, too. It’d be dinging so much you wouldn’t hear the radio. And probably when I’m watching political debates. And probably when I’m watching the news.
A few weeks ago Suzanne, our Communcations Director here at Good Shepherd came in to show me a mock-up of some plans we were working on. As she clicked around her computer, instead of getting the desired mock-up, we got that spinning wheel of death that appears when your computer is “thinking.”
Thinking; like some 1920’s librarian looking through a card catalog saying, “I know it’s in here somewhere…”
When I see that little spinning wheel of death, all I’m thinking is, “Let us take this computer and destroy it. And then we shall get a new computer and all be very happy.”
Anyway, I was frustrated, and I think Suzanne was frustrated (I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school here), so I reached over to my desk and (ding) rang the bell.
She said, “Why did you do that?” She didn’t know the rule that there is no talking until you can’t hear the bell tone anymore.
“Because we were frustrated,” I said. “We needed a pause. We needed some space.”
The Sabbath, the space, the Divine pause, is built into our faith, built into our order as Genesis confirms, because God’s wisdom is one that understands this simple truth: humanity is made to burn, not burn out. And to burn, as Judy Brown’s poem says, we need space, pause, Sabbath.
To burn. Celebrate. Enjoy. This is what we are made for.
But so often I find myself, and I see some of you, on the verge of burning out. For a variety of reasons.
In this first miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of John, the story begins with the Greek phrase “the wine gave out.” And I love that little line because you can replace “wine” with so many other things and all of a sudden this whole story becomes about us.
The patience gave out. The hope gave out. The love gave out. The marriage gave out. Time gave out. The remission gave out. The job gave out. The knee gave out. The money gave out.
The faith gave out. And for those of you whose faith has given out, or who have children whose faith has given out, remember this: my faith gave out once, too. God doesn’t stop working on us even when we stop working on God…
In small and large ways, we are people who live with the reality of things giving out. And it’s kind of like that, right? It’s like everything is going great; life is a party. And then, boom, something gives out.
What happens when it gives out? For this poor Canaanite couple, it would not only have been rude for the wedding hosts to run out of wine, it would have been shameful. And in a world that works in honor and shame, like ancient Palestine (and the modern Arabic world, I’d add), it would have been horrible.
And it’s important to note that in his first miracle, a miracle it doesn’t seem like he’s planning on making mind you (mom had to talk him into it like most mothers have to talk their children into doing what’s right), in his first miracle Jesus takes away the shame for this couple in this small town and shows us that God’s intent is not that things give out, but that the party of life continues.
And I’d say that it’s also important to note that it happens in Cana, because if it didn’t happen in Cana you probably would never had heard of the place. It’s the backwoods. The place people accidently drive through trying to get somewhere else. It’s like Garner. Or Startown. Or that place where the Beverly Hillbilly’s lived where they were just known as “hillbillies.”
And it’s important that this miracle happens in Cana because in his first miracle Jesus keeps the party going for the little guy and keeps them from shame. So for the person who asks, “Why should God care about me?”, which I hear in overt and covert ways all the time, remember that in his first act after being Baptized in the Gospel of John we have Jesus showing up not in Jerusalem with the religious elite, not in Rome with the lavish palace parties of the politicians, not in the seat of power, but in the seat at table number 9 at this little wedding in this little town with people who probably saw themselves as little.
Did you notice that the jars that the servants fill with water are for “ritual cleansing?” It’s a sneaky little commentary that Jesus and the writer of John is making about empty religion. Scholar and theologian Jarislov Pelikan (he wins the coolest name award) talked about empty religion like this. He said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” And, I should add, I’ve been to churches where everyone was as young as me who were practicing a dead faith full of rules and obligations and a sort of, “Yes, Jesus loves you, but only if you’re…” fill in the blank. Wisdom knows no age.
Religion is sneaky like that. It can feed you poison and call it honey, and you won’t know the difference until you try to draw from that water jug only to find that it’s been empty all along. We must be, as St. Augustine said, people who “believe in thinking and think in believing.”
Back to the bell. See, Jesus takes these ritual jugs and fills them with water, and from them comes great wine. New wine. Wine that keeps the party of life going. And this ancient spiritual practice, this ringing of a bell, it’s one I’ve taken from a faith mentor of mine. And he took it from one of his spiritual mentors, and so on and so forth back to probably some little Christian monastic in some little abbey in some nowhere place like Cana who practiced this as a way to take a little Sabbath from the trial at hand and drink some new wine.
See, the bell is me drawing good wine from the ancient ritual pot of Christianity, full of baptismal water from my spiritual ancestors, and it calls me to be in a place and state where instead of giving out, instead of burning out, I can continue to burn.
This little bell has saved me many times. It has allowed me to drink from the water jug of religion and find good wine there when I’m on the spinning wheel of death in life where everything is giving out. A moment to pray, to sit, to be, is not wasted space in my life, our life. It is breathing space.
The Reverend William Sloane Coffin, that fire-y prophet out of Riverside Church in New York City once wrote, “In prayer you do not so much hear a voice as acquire a voice—your own.” I think that’s probably quite true. Instead of life taking my voice, having it give out, this gives it back to me.
Mother Theresa, once asked what she said when she prayed said, “I don’t say anything; I just listen.” The interviewer said, “Well, what does God say?” And she said, “God says nothing; God just listens.”
The pause of the bell, a spiritual practice, a ritual, gives me that space, Divine space, to listen, and to remember that God is listening.
This day is kind of like the space between the logs of the work week. It’s where we stop to find our voice. It’s the wisdom of just listening, for a moment, to find your voice for the spinning wheel of death that you’re on, when everything feels like it’s giving out.
So much of life makes me feel like I’m burning out. But I want to burn.
And think on this: they put Jesus on the spinning wheel of death as he is shifted from palace to palace after he is arrested, accused of things he didn’t do. And hope was giving out for the disciples as the supposedly religious people heaped empty threats upon him. And just as the party was about to stop and Mary, at the bottom of that cross, looked up at him, and the people jeered at him saying, “Why don’t you do something if you’re so powerful?” God takes a Divine pause as the sound of the stone rolling over the tomb rings through the air.
And the silence that followed was only broken by the sound of angel voices giving life back to the very people who had it stolen to them, revealing the empty jar of the tomb as being full of new wine, new life, resurrected life, the stuff that keeps the party of life going.
New life for people on the spinning wheels of death that is this rat race life. New life for people who think of themselves as nowhere people. New life for people when it all seems to be giving out, burning out.
Jesus, from his first miracle, to the miracle of the resurrection reminds us that we are meant to burn with life, not burn out.
Every time I ring this bell, whether it’s for something trivial or something huge, well, I’m given a pause, new wine, so that the party of life can continue.
So if it’s about to give out in your life, whatever “it” is, if you’re on the spinning wheel of death, don’t say “I am no one,” and don’t say “I’ll just have to do more and work harder to get God’s blessing” like empty religion will tell you.
Instead hear this bell, allow for the breathing space of this Sabbath, draw deeply from the jars of the faith shown here, and trust that new wine is yours at this table and that the party of your life is going to continue, by God. Trust that at the celebration that is the party of your life, Jesus is back at table number 9 with the disciples you see gathered here, and God has seen fit to tell you, in no uncertain terms, that this or that giving out in your life will not the end.
Because Beloved, you are meant to burn, not burn out.