January 19, 2013


Filed under: Financial Commitment,Lectionary,Social Gospel,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 3:02 pm

When I was 10 I badly wanted a chemistry set. I even asked Santa for it. I can only guess that my mom was gesturing wildly behind my back when he asked me how old I was, then thoughtfully commented that he usually gave chemistry sets to 12 year olds, but he would think about it.

The chemistry set did appear under the tree that year and I promptly set up my basement laboratory.

My favorite “experiment,” the one I did over and over (and over) involved two small beakers of water, each with a different powder of some sort stirred into them. When the beakers were combined, the water turned red.

The experiment was called “turning water into wine.” In truth, however, it was little more than a magic trick. The result wasn’t wine at all, of course. And stirring up some powders and pouring two liquids together contributed nothing to my understanding of science.

Jesus, on the other hand, takes a look at some jars, has a word with the servants, and voila! Great wine.

Is this magic, too? Is it possible that this first miracle, this beginning of his public ministry, is little more than a parlor trick? Or perhaps an apocryphal tale, pieced together from unrelated facts?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think it matters.

What matters to me this Gospel reading is that six stone jars, holding water for the Jewish rites of purification—wash water, foot water, head and neck water, totally unfit for drinking water—were transformed into the best of the wedding wine—the wine that should have been served first, when it would be appreciated most.

In this first miracle at Canaan, we see directly how God takes what is at hand, and transforms it into what is needed.

This transformation of water into wine is the baptismal image that I hold fast on those days when my life feels…well…when my life feels like wash water, when I feel ill-equipped, if not completely overwhelmed, by the need at hand. I remind myself that in baptism I am transformed. I’m not wash-water; I’m wine. I’m good wine. With God’s help, I have what it takes to be what is needed.

I am not going to pretend that it’s easy. Some days it takes a lot of convincing.

But whether or not I buy my own story, it’s true.

And it’s true of each of us: God created us to be his best stuff. No matter what our starting point, by continuing in the Apostles teaching, and the fellowship, and the breaking of the bread, we have what it takes to live as God’s best stuff.

Because we are God’s best stuff, the second message of this Gospel lesson is equally significant: The best is brought to the table first.

When we bring our glad gifts to the feast…to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist…we bring the offerings of our hearts, our prayers, and the fruit of our labors from what we have…not from what we have left over. Like a bridegroom at his wedding feast, when we commit a tithe or a percentage of our income to the mission and ministry of the church, to seeking and serving Christ in all persons…we make that offering first. We delight in sharing our abundance, that others may also know joy.

With many of our congregations wrestling together with the questions of the present and the challenges to its future, I find in this Gospel three questions, three invitations to prayer and discernment:

How is God working in you and in your midst to take what is at hand, and transform it into what is needed?

How are you called, through your baptism, to be the best wine, the symbol of abundance and celebration?

What glad gifts will you bring, first, to the feast that we share by faith, with thanksgiving?


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