A COMMUNITY OF RADICAL HOSPITALITY
Light Shining on Light
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Robert D. Flanagan for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C, Luke 2:1–11
“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him..”
You have likely experienced this. It can happen this time of year early in the morning or evening. You drive around a bend and bam. You’re blinded by the sunlight. You can’t see. You panic a bit, because you fear you might hit the car in front of you or next to you. You quickly lower your visor or move your head about, trying to see the road. The blinding light, thankfully, lasts only a moment.
You may have experienced this as well. You’re standing near a fire when it starts or a heater when it turns on. You hear a whoosh, see the flames rise, and suddenly feel the heat. Sometimes the heat is so intense you have to move away.
Here’s another example. I remember when I went to the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. The museum exhibits many famous paintings. When I walked into one small room, I immediately recognized a painting by George Seurat. I had never seen a pointillist painting up close. As I neared it, the painting changed into a collection of millions of colored dots. It was then that I understood what his work was like.
One more. Living in the country as we do, we hear noises at night, coming from outside. My wife and I are pretty good at identifying what they are, but every now and then we’re stumped. We will discuss the possibilities: a fox, a deer, a coyote, an owl. If we don’t figure it out, we’ll listen to animal sounds on YouTube. We eliminate different animals until we suddenly look at each other, saying, “That’s it!”
These examples attempt to capture the experience of the disciples when they witnessed Jesus turning water into wine. People often say it was a miracle, his first miracle, but that’s a misnomer. John writes that it was Jesus’s first sign. He doesn’t say it was a miracle.
What kind of sign was it? What did it point to? The eleventh verse of the second chapter tells us. The sign revealed Jesus’s glory.
Glory? Glory is a funny term. We don’t use it much outside of church. I can’t think of an appropriate secular example. It only makes sense in church. It comes from a Greek word called “doxa.” In our service, we may sing the doxology when we praise God at the offertory, acknowledging God’s power in our lives.
When the wine ran out at the wedding, Jesus’s mother told him to fix the problem, Jesus reluctantly did so. How did she know to ask him? Did Jesus do this kind of thing at home from time to time? You know, Joseph comes in from a long day of work. He’s looking for some wine to drink, but they’re out. Mary said to Jesus, “Run down to the store and pick up some wine for
your father.” Jesus, of course, was reading scripture, probably Isaiah, or texting friends and didn’t want to go. He instead took a water pot, filled it with water, and you know.... But Mary found out. So she knew what he could do.
Notably, when he created the wine, Jesus didn’t call attention to himself. What he did wasn’t a magic trick and it went unnoticed by the wedding guests. John writes that the sign was meant for his disciples. Only for them, not for everyone at the wedding. Not even his mother. She didn’t need a sign. She already knew about Jesus’s power.
What can the wedding in Cana teach us? What can it be for us today?
Jesus’s sign is a model for us. Central to the model, of course, is Jesus. He used his own power. We don’t have that power inside of us. We can’t make wine, walk on water, heal people from afar, or raise the dead with a word. We must, instead, call on Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God for help. We must pray. I understand that there are a bunch of stones around the church that your former Vicar left for you. They are excellent reminders and signs of Jesus’s power. I would like, however, you to do more than remember.
While all of us must pray on a daily basis. [If we forget that’s ok. I’m not judging.] What I would like is for several people to form a prayer group. These people might meet every week or once a month, but they will pray daily for the people on our prayer list, guests that come to the Food of Life Food Pantry, and members of the vestry and search committee.
The group will pray for God’s power or “doxa” to be revealed to the members of the parish. When people pray for healing, it is with the intention that God’s power is revealed. Yes, we want the person to be healed. That is critical, but equally essential is for God’s power to be seen, God’s glory to shine. And that it is seen by the people of the St. Thomas. When prayers are answered like that we see signs of God. In prayer, the prayer group, and all of us, model the work of Jesus. Jesus changed the water to wine as a sign that he is who he is. When we pray and God answers our prayers we see a sign, telling us who God is.
In times of transition the whole church must focus on prayer. No doubt. We should be praying for the work of God to be revealed more and more. We want St. Thomas to be light shining on light. We also need people whose ministry is to pray for the church, its people and ministries. When that happens, powerful things occur. The power of Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God shine, lighting light on light. Our faith grows. We fall in love with God more and more. St. Thomas also becomes more important in our lives, the lives of our family and the Amenia community.