Water and Wine

Faith From the Margins to the Web Bible Study

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C:

Opening Prayer:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 2:1-11

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 or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up 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 wine 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.

Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study Group

This week, we continue our exploration into the ways that the Gospel lessons of the Sundays after the Epiphany reveal to us something about the nature and person of Jesus.

Jamillah read the Gospel lesson of Jesus’ first miracle at the Wedding at Cana aloud to the group.

“Well, this passage tells us that Jesus obeyed his mother!” said Beth, which created some some good natured laughter among the group.

Jamillah said, “Well, he’s still showing examples of how he is not inferior, how he is showing people examples of how he is human, not some holy God who demands attention.

“A normal and regular person” said David, “Jesus is trying to show us that he is like us, that he needs to help give us a lesson that just like us, he is human with a family and he has challenges and he has to decide who to listen to.  Yeah, that’s what I’m getting: challenges.  Trying to decide who to listen to is a challenge that we all have.”

“In the Gospels, this is the first miracle of Jesus” I added, “and it’s always stood out to me that the first miracle was at a very human event, a wedding…something that crosses cultures and brings us joy.”

“And he didn’t stand up on stage and do it” said Beth, “he just did it quietly.”

“Isn’t it from a human standpoint that he made the water turn into wine?” asked Jamillah.  “When I think about that, it was like Jesus who was a human knew, ‘I need to do something from a human standpoint’ and to show people a sign that is something they can see, which was the wine.”

“And that water and that wine, it goes back even to Moses” said David.  “You know, remember that story where Moses strikes the rock because the people, they demanded for him to give them water.  And he begs God, and gets angry and strikes the rock and then all that water flows.  Now, it’s water into wine.”

The group began to talk about this, and wondered about water and wine and the symbolism, in the Old and the New Testaments.  As a newly ordained Deacon, I couldn’t help but share with the group about what this Gospel lesson brings up for me:

“You know, I know that many of you have different churches you go to on Sunday and that customs might be different from place to place.  But here, when I serve as a deacon, one of my jobs is to set the table for communion.  And when I’m doing that, I prepare, as you would when you have guests.  Holy communion is a holy meal.  The way we have a tradition of serving that meal in the Episcopal Church is to use a common cup.  So, when I am setting the table and I pour the wine into that cup, we always add a little bit of water.  That’s a symbolic action, not a magic trick.  It reminds us that in this holy meal, there is all this symbolism around the bread and the wine.  But, this is one of the stories that I think about when I’m setting the table, and the way that Jesus was also preparing that holy feast for the wedding guests but giving us a symbol, too, of that wine which becomes for us the blood of Christ.”

“Thank you for that!” said Dale.  “I didn’t know any of that and it gives me a whole different perspective!”

Jesus: obedient to requests made in love, understanding our human joys and longings, preparer of the gift of love for all humanity.

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Photo of stained glass window of the Wedding at Cana from St. Mark’s, Berkeley CA

 

 

Gifts we Give

Faith from the Margins to the Web: The Sunday of the Epiphany, Year C

Opening Prayer:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

FFMTW Participants: De’Nae, Stephen, Mary, and Lynette

“There’s something about this part, right here” said Mary, “the part when they went and sought diligently for the child, but it wasn’t because Herod told them to. It was because they knew who they were searching for.”

“They were frightened” said Stephen, “they knew, then, that Herod was afraid of this child. And I think they knew his intention, but they went anyway.”

“I was drawn to the fact that Jesus, this little tiny infant, was enough to draw these people. They brought all they had. This prophecy that people had heard, they took it and ran with it. What kind of belief and faith must they have had to have followed this, and to see this tiny baby and believe” added De’Nae. “The prophecy was still going to play out; Herod thought he had the power to change that and in doing so, he destroyed lives. He tried to take it into his own hands.”

The group began to talk about the wise people and prophets that they had heard and known about in their lives and how that has shaped how they learn to trust. Thinking about that seemed to make this more real, rather than a story we imagine.

“What is the difference between prophecy and wisdom?” asked Mary.

“I think wisdom is through your life” said De’Nae, “but prophecy comes from God. I think of my Dad as a wise person, and I think maybe he even has a gift of prophecy. He raised us to know that each of us has gifts from God and he is someone who can see the gifts in others. But his wisdom: that is age, and learning and humility.”

The group began to speak about their gifts and treasures, and all the ways in which they had received blessings in their lives.

“In that opening prayer” said Mary, “we prayed, ‘lead us by faith.’ And you know, I think about they way in which I feel led by faith.

“You know, I hadn’t thought about this but it says, ‘lead us who know you know through faith…’ and it makes me wonder if that isn’t also a reminder to us that it is our faith, now, through what we have been given and through what we know to understand as best we can. I guess it doesn’t tell us that God will be just like we think God is. We might each have our own best understanding of God, which we hold onto by faith. But that’s just it…it is by faith, until we see God face to face.”

“That’s interesting” said Stephen. “People think God looks one way or another…or maybe we need to believe God looks like us!”

Mary said, “Coming up, we were taught that God was white but here I am a black woman and I know that God could look like me, or to be asian, or to be middle eastern. We got all hung up on making out God to be in our image, when God says we are made in God’s image, all of us.”

“I’m still rocking with God no matter what!” said De’Nae.

“I think God is the ruler of all, coming to save the world” said Stephen. “So, I don’t think God will be bound to race, or in whose image God was made in. God came to rule over all that’s in this world, to rise above all that. People might need to remake God in our image so that we feel good about ourselves but we are asked…by faith…to open our hearts to know God.”

“Sometimes I wonder why it is that we keep ourselves from believing. We want to find the things to disprove, or to move away. It’s hard to want to take something by faith. But here, in this story, the wise men meet this tiny baby and that is enough for them to be sustained in their faith and to go home by another way. They hadn’t even seen his miracles, or see him walk on water. It just took this time of seeing” said De’Nae.

The group closed considering a question together: “what treasure that you have would you give to the baby Jesus?”

Stephen started: “I would give my belief. I don’t have a lot, but I have that. I would give that of my heart.”

De’Nae said: “I would give myself. The treasure chest of gold and all that, it didn’t matter, it isn’t that the baby Jesus desired that and it isn’t that Jesus wants that now. But if I could give myself…just me…just as I am…broken and all…I think that is what Jesus would most want of me.”

Lynette said, “When I go to funerals and stuff, they sing this song, “take the best of me” and I feel that way, too. Not the gold and all of that. Just me.”

Mary agreed, “He doesn’t want the best, or some expensive gift. Material doesn’t mean anything…he wants us!”

The group ended up on the same theme which they summed up together in their closing prayer:

“I’m going to give You what I have, and all that I can give You is me.”

Photo credit:

Sarah Kye Price, Epiphany Window at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley California

Speaking with Authority

A Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study

Epiphany 4, Year B

Bible Study Contributors:  Tom and Elaine
Reflection by Sarah

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Immersing in something like Faith from the Margins to the Web requires a lot of thought, and a lot of reflection.  One of the reflections I’ve had during this process is just how much courage it takes to live into Jesus’ teachings, especially the ones that stand counter to what we socially think of as the way things are “supposed to be.”

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus speaks with authority and it astounds those in the Temple.  Sometimes, in engaging this project, I am likewise astounded by the way God speaks through people in ways that allow glimpses of good news to emerge, even from lessons that can seem dark and despairing.

This week’s bible study circled back around many stories of darkness and despair.  As I listened to the interview, I realized that passing them along as a whole wasn’t where the good news was to be found.  Instead, like a glimmer of hope in the midst of a seemingly impossible situation, I heard this exchange:

“Imagine that if you lived your whole life with a condition, and socially people talked about you and said that you were crazy, or that you had a devil. After a while, you’d start to believe it.”

“Do you think that’s still true today?” asked Elaine, “that when people are told what others think from the outside, they tend to believe that’s who they are?”

“Sure” said Tom. “Every day I meet people who believe about themselves only what others think about them.”

It reminded me of the social psychology lessons that I teach my students.  Back in the early 20th Century, Charles Horton Cooley began to write about the concept of the “Looking Glass Self,” an idea further expanded upon by Erving Goffman in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.  It is a book that I remember vividly, even from my own first reading of it when I myself was in college.  These twentieth-century symbolic interactionists helped shape our understanding about how social constructions of who we are can shape our identity and self-image.  In other words, our self-image isn’t a creation of our own minds.  If we are told repeatedly that we are a reflection of the strengths others see in us, we will begin to believe it.  If we are told repeatedly that we are all of our flaws and weaknesses, we will come to believe that instead.  We begin to live into the social roles that others cast for us.  To the symbolic interactionists, we see ourselves by what is reflected back to us from the society in which we live.

Think about that.  Really think about it.

What does the society in which we live say about people who live on the social margins of this world?  What does society reflect back about people who experience poverty, who are hungry, who rely on the compassion of strangers?  What are the language, words and labels that society places what our Gospel lessons might call, “the least of these?”  How is that reflected in our language, or in the presumptions of our own communities, neighborhoods and congregations?

In contrast, how does God see people?

We get some insight about that in this Gospel, as Jesus clearly sees the person and is not blinded by the evil that clouds the vision of others and even screams out in his own face.  Jesus enacts healing toward a person, a man who is being held hostage by the forces of evil defining how others see him.  In this story, the man gets to be free, to be healed, to be wholly human again through Jesus’ authority.

Now THAT is a Gospel lesson that truly is an act of radical grace.

Every week here on Faith from the Margins to the Web, we get to experience some of that radical good news from the people and places that we might least expect, too.  The voices through which God speaks are not always the faces we might expect, and sometimes the stories meander to places we’d rather not tread.  But always, God is present with us and in each person.  Always, there is Good News revealed in each encounter, whether through the depth and breadth of conversation or, as happened today, in a quiet epiphany.

May the light of Christ shine brightly today, as we come to see each other through the light and love in which God sees us.

epiphany window

Gifts We Have Been Given

A Faith from the Margins to the Web bible study interview for Epiphany, Year B:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Matthew 2:1-12

 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

 

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

 

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

Contributing Authors: Lynnette and Davis

After opening with a prayer, Davis and Lynnette took turns reading the Gospel lesson for Epiphany

Davis: “We’ve heard the Christmas message many times, haven’t we?” He went on to paraphrase the Gospel, emphasizing that for him there is such wide-spread recognition of the importance of this child. On the world’s terms, is he a threat or a great ruler? To Herod, he’s a threat. But to the Magi, there were something more that they were following: “The whole idea is they came from halfway around the world and left him treasures…what do you think all that means, for us?”

Lynnette was quiet, then laughed a bit and said: “I think maybe I need to start going to church more!”

“Don’t we all!” Davis chuckled in response.

Sometimes it can seem, from the corners of our world and the social margins that we are on that we don’t know enough, or aren’t spiritual enough, or aren’t something enough to be entrusted with how the Holy Scriptures open up to us.  But that isn’t how it is with God, present with us throughout time and in every corner of our lives, revealing truth that is in our midst.  It was Lynnette who seemed to experience that Epiphany unfolding in the thoughtful, deliberate response that she offered up next:

Lynnette thoughtfully reflected; “Well, if Jesus and God…the Lord…are the same person and Jesus was formed through his mother…well it seems to me that none of us would be here if it weren’t for God, as well as our mothers and fathers.”

Lynette continued, “So, that makes me think that I have to give thanks to God; I pray every night to God and then I’m thankful in the morning when I wake up. I didn’t have to wake up…but I did wake up, so that gives the day a whole new possibility.”

Davis nodded, “That’s a really good way to live; a great way to look at it, really. Every day we wake up and we realize that if it weren’t for God, we wouldn’t be here.”

Lynette spoke again, “God is good, all the time.  I pray to God, and I realize God shows me the way, too. Like today, I woke up and saw that it was a beautiful day. I knew I had to get up, to put me on a smile, to get here to this place. I mean, I know that it isn’t something I can take for granted, you know.  There was a time and place when I thought I was going to die, when they said I needed a transplant. But I knew, I knew that I didn’t have to live that way, that if I kept taking medicine and started taking care of myself it would work. I believed that, and I believed that was God telling me that.  And it has worked out, and that is why I thank God and why I come here.”

Lynnette also reflected about the gift of her family.  “I have three boys; I worry about my kids sometimes but they have their own lives and they are on the right track!”

Davis asked their ages, and was surprised when he heard her children were in their 40’s, “You look like you’re younger than that!”

Lynnette laughed, “I do hear that a lot.  But it’s true.  They are good boys; they grew up with me and I tried to be a good Mama. I taught them good manners, and to have a spirit of love. My own parents raised me right and taught me how to walk the right ways of this life, too, and so I pass that on.”

Davis smiled at her and said, “It seems like Spirit has been in your life for a long time.”

Lynnette said, “Well, maybe I don’t know a lot, but I do know that God is with me.”

“Does God ever speak to you?” wondered Davis.

“You know one day, I heard someone say my name, plain as day. I thought ‘is that God?’” But I didn’t have to wonder. I remembered my Momma telling me, when you talk to God, He listens. So I take the time, take that time now to just talk to Him. I tell God my heart.”

Davis asked, “So, is there anything in here that we learned and we want to tell God?   The take home of this Gospel for me is that this ends up being the way that we celebrate Christmas: we give Christmas gifts…”

Lynnette added, “…and we give love…”

“Right!” said Davis. “We end up re-enacting the scene of Jesus being born, and the Three Kings are always there, giving gifts. It’s like we keep it going.  I want to be thankful for that gift of Jesus’ birth and the ways that we keep celebrating it.”

David and Lynnette shared about how each of their churches have celebrated Christmas over the years. A sense of welcome and giving emerged in their sharing, the commonality of love as the expression of Christian faith surrounded them.

Davis began to wrap up their conversation: “So, since we know that God is here right now, what would you tell God…what would you say…can we just talk right here, to God?”

Lynette chimed in immediately. “Of course we can!  I would.  I’d tell Him I love Him!”

Lynnette started their prayer with that: “I love you, God! Thank you for waking me up in the morning. Thank you for letting me be here. I love you God, and I learned more about You today, Lord and mighty God, through my friend Davis here.  Thank you for being with us.”

Then Davis prayed:

“God I thank you for Lynnette. She reminds me that you are always here. Sometimes I don’t pause enough to give you thanks. But, thank you for being here with us today. Thank you for allowing us to share together today. Thank you for reminding me of your loving presence, here with us today.”

Thank you, Lynnette and Davis, for the gift of your sharing and the light it brings to open this season of Epiphany. And than you, most of all, to God for the gift of your presence of love with us today and always.