Thursday, January 17, 2013

God's Delight -- A Lectionary Reflection


Isaiah 62:1-5

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

John 2:1-11

God’s Delight

            I can’t speak for everyone’s experiences on their wedding day, but my wedding day was a one of great delight and joy.   It’s been nearly thirty years since Cheryl and I made our vows to each other in the sight of God, but I can still remember vividly standing at the front of the church waiting for my bride to walk down the aisle and join me in marriage and in a life journey.

There is much wedding/marriage imagery in Scripture.  Israel is sometimes described as God’s bride, and the church is described as the bride of Christ.  The great Day of Judgment in Revelation leads to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.  Jesus blesses a wedding with what John describes as his first miracle.  Although there is much debate as to how we should define marriage and family in our society today, one thing can’t be lost in this discussion – and that is the sense of delight that should emerge from this event.

The reading from Isaiah 62 emerges out of the post-exilic period, a period of new beginnings, but also a period of unrealized hopes.  The people left the exile with high expectations, but things didn’t work out quite as expected.  The new Temple lacked the grandeur of the one it replaced (or so they believed), and self-determination was less forthcoming than hoped.  The people wondered – does God truly care?  In this prophetic statement, an answer is offered.  Despite appearances, there is reason to hope.  There is reason to rejoice for God won’t keep silent or sit still until Jerusalem’s “righteousness shines out like a light and her salvation blazes like a torch.”  You can hear in this the sense that not only do the people have something at stake here, but so does God.  So, to Judah comes the word:  “You will be a splendid garland in the Lord’s hand, a royal turban in the palm of God’s hand” (vs. 3).   Like a bridegroom, God will rejoice in God’s bride – Israel.  Although there is a strong patriarchal context to this passage, there is an important message here.  Because of God’s embrace, we can longer consider ourselves abandoned or deserted.  We’re not alone.  There is one who walks with us, strengthening us, empowering us, and as Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us), offers gifts to us as well.

The wedding imagery that’s present in Isaiah emerges as well in John 2.  Jesus and disciples get invited to a wedding in the Galilean town of Cana.  Jesus’ mother is also there – perhaps as a guest and perhaps as a host.  After all, if she was merely a guest, why would she be concerned about the quantity of wine present?  Was she just looking for an opportunity to show off her son’s talents at wine-making, or was she responsible for making sure there was enough wine?  Whatever the case, Mary discovers that the wine is running out while the party isn’t winding down.  So, she turns to her son and says – don’t just stand there, do something!  Jesus at first resists, but his mother is insistent, and she instructs the servants to do as Jesus directs, and he complies.  You can see where the idea of going to Jesus through his mother derives from.  Sons can’t say no to their mothers!  He then directs them to fill the jars with water, and when they draw liquid it’s wine and not water.  Not only that, but it’s fine wine, better than what had been served at the beginning of the party.  Such a strange turn of events, because you don’t serve the good stuff after people have had their fill.  And then John concludes that this was Jesus’ first miracle, revealing his glory and thus his disciples believed in him.  The point seems to be that Jesus’ true nature -- -his glory – is revealed in this moment.  Surely there’s more to this reading than simply a revelation of Jesus’ identity through a rather cheap miracle.  Perhaps the key comes at the beginning of the passage, where we read that this happens on the “third day.”  Third day of what?   It could simply be that this was their third day together as a team, but surely there’s more.  Since John is interested in imagery and metaphor, consider that this third day mirrors the third day after the cross, when Jesus was fully revealed in glory in the resurrection.  Thus, in this seemingly insignificant moment, some of that resurrection glory is revealed. 

We conclude with a reflection on Paul’s words concerning spiritual gifts.  Paul makes it clear to this community that he doesn’t want them to be ignorant about spiritual gifts.  It would appear that they were enthralled with certain gifts, lifted them up above all others, and used this giftedness as a way of separating the truly spiritual from the less spiritual.  Paul wants to turn their attention away from this attempt to set up a spiritual caste system, to God’s infinite wisdom that provides gifts to all so that all might work for the common good.  There is an effort here to point our attention away from our own giftedness to the one who gives every good and perfect gift.  It’s also a reminder, as is true in the previous two passages, that God is a God of abundance not scarcity.  When we look at the texts dealing with spiritual gifts, and I’ve spent three decades doing so, the point isn’t the individual gifts but what they accomplish.  They provide for the common good, unite the body of Christ, and point us toward God.  That is, they reveal the glory of God.  Dealing with a community that was composed of people focused on their own spiritual welfare, Paul wants them to focus on the bigger picture.  There may be different gifts – but only one and the same Spirit.  There may be different ministries – but one Lord.  They may be different activities, but it’s the same God.  There is a Trinitarian pattern here, but whether we read it in that light or not, the point is – there is unity of purpose, and they reflect God’s sovereign choice.

Weddings tend to express the idea of abundance.   They are joyous occasions.  Families then and now often pull out all the stops to celebrate the joining of two persons and two families.  They’re expressions of delight – in this case God’s delight – and as a result we can rejoice that we no longer need think of ourselves as abandoned or deserted, but find empowerment in the pronouncement that “My Delight Is in Her,” the one who is truly gifted with every gift necessary, so that the glory of God might be revealed in communities that devote themselves to the common good.  

2 comments:

Brian said...

I find that Corinthians text to be helpful with the nursing home congregation. This is especially true when we carry it beyond the eleventh verse.

They often feel that they have nothing left of value to give. with sensitive preaching and counseling, the ideas that Paul is expressing can show them that whatever they have is more than enough. They are of the same Spirit as their favorite preacher or saint. While it is true that they can no longer teach a Sunday School class, they can still pray. They can hold a crying friend's hand. They can share the wisdom of their years.

David said...

That's for sure. My mother can't remember what happened two minutes, or 20 years ago, but she still lives and loves. In the same vein, I have a significantly handicapped friend, among others, who has proven to have a faith I can't even imagine seriously questioning. It is a consistent and truly inspiring faith.