“The Best” – 01-20-13 – Epiphany 2 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here:

Scriptures:   Isaiah 62:1-5     Psalm 36:5-10     1 Corinthians 12:1-11     John 2:1-11

Sermon Title: “The Best”

The best bride and groom, the best delights, the best gifts, the best wine, the best signs, the best grace!  Yes, all of this today in our lessons – not to have only, but to use.

Who are the bride and groom?  The bride is God’s people and the groom is God.  God is saying, “I will not rest, I will not be silent, until your redemption shines like the dawn, not until your salvation is burning like a torch.”

Wow!  Even though we did not live in the time of Isaiah, we can claim the same relationship with God in our 2013 world.  God continues, “The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.  You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”

God had proven His seriousness to these people when he arranged for all kinds of persecution  and finally exile to the land of Babylon while the temple in Jerusalem was ransacked and made desolate.  Finally, these supposedly special people got the message.  “Our God is an awesome God – not awesome as in wonderful and miraculous – awesome as in awful with the power to punish for the lack of respect by His children toward Himself.”

But when these people finally perked their ears, they heard the merciful God speaking, the lover speaking.  The lover who had been deserted, the lover who had been rejected.  This God – the lover – had created these people, and had good things in store for these people, but these ornery people turned their backs on their loving lover for more glitzy gods, for selfish pursuits which held nothing as lasting reward, just more unfulfilled desire.

This drama is so easy to see looking backward some 2700 years.  Be bad and lose God’s pleasure; be good and gain God’s favor.  Turn backs and be punished; turn faces and be rewarded.  But let us turn the telescope inwardly.  Maybe microscope would be more appropriate, depending on how close we want this self-examination to be.  Maybe mirrors would be better tools – big mirrors; a mirror to look at all of us living on this earth this very day and a mirror to look at ourselves, each of us.

Are we facing God?  Do we feel special?  Do we feel as though God is pleased with us?  Are we feeling deserted and childless even though we have children?  Or some of us may be feeling childless because we are childless and spouse-less, having no companion through this wilderness called life.  It is not necessary for us to feel this way.  Joy is waiting for us!  We need to turn our faces to our lover.  We need to claim our rightful place in the family of God.

Just imagine the whole world of people with faces turned toward God in obedience, in anticipation.  This is certainly okay for ourselves.  We may manage to spend more time listening to our bridegroom and looking for the salvation shining like the dawn and burning like a torch.  But, as far as the whole world, surely this is beyond our scope.  We may wish for something like a dog-catcher net or better yet, a shepherd’s staff with the curve at the top to gently turn everyone toward this lover Bridegroom who also wears the hat of Creator and Sustainer.

I think this could be a comedy clip.  Someone is using a shepherd staff to turn heads one-by-one and if the end were ever reached, the person would need to start over and over.  Endless!  That is how God must feel!

So will God hold this dangling reward until every single face is turned, until every single person comes to realization?  It is true that many times the righteous receive the same treatment as the unrighteous – be it punishment or mercy.  But, we have this personal connection to God that holds even when the world around us is falling apart.

Remember the words of the song, “I Was There To Hear Your Borning Cry.”

I was there to hear your borning cry, I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized, to see your life unfold.

Also, the words in Psalm 139 indicate that God knows each of us from before we were born; he knows us personally.  I claim this as a lifeline.  I claim this as the assurance that God’s salvation will not be withheld from us just because the person beside us is facing another god.

I share the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 36:10 with you as further assurance that our personal salvation does not wait for the country’s salvation or the world’s salvation or the salvation of Pottstown.  The Psalmist says to God, “Continue your lovingkindness to those who know you, and your favor to those who are true of heart.” Believing that scripture is the inspired word of God, I claim this verse because it lives in my bones and all of my being.  I feel God’s lovingkindness every single day.  I don’t think I am that special.  I think every person on earth is invited to this closeness, to this favor.

What will this favor be?  Regardless of our marital state on this earth in this present time, regardless of our condition of having or not having children, God will call us, “My Delight Is In Her.”  God will rejoice over us.  God will be our bridegroom.  Not will be!  Is!

So we have the best bridegroom.  This bridegroom is so great that we, as the bride, will be the best bride we can possibly be – brides as individuals, brides as small congregations, brides as the church universal.  How does the term bride feel to the males who are hearing this?  I think the term “bride” in this context is symbolic of relationship.  Instead of thinking “bride” as feminine with long dress and veil, let us think of bride as recipient and giver of love.  Can our giving of love ever be a fair exchange for God’s great love for us?

Well, in the Isaiah text, we heard that we, as brides, will be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  If you are picturing yourself as something like a gymnast with feet against your ears to form a circle – a crown – which is set on the head of God  we need to notice that the scripture says that the crown will be in God’s hand, not on his head.  Then, what is a royal diadem?  Eugene Peterson, in his version of the Bible called “The Message,” uses the words “jeweled gold cup held high in the hand of your God.”  So giving ourselves to be a crown of beauty and a jeweled cup is our partial gift in return for God’s love.  But there is more.

Think of each of us being held high as shining gold.  If we are a cup, is the cup empty?  I picture each of us as a jeweled cup containing the spiritual gifts of which Paul writes to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.

These are the special gifts we are given by the Holy Spirit as a special gift of grace, maybe as we are conceived, maybe bestowed during our lifetime, maybe gradually, maybe suddenly.  But we have them.  The problem is to discern what are our particular gifts as pertain to a community – mostly the community of church but also the communities of family and society.

We don’t need to be jealous of each other’s gifts.  The Holy Spirit has gifted us each perfectly for our mission together.  These gifts vary from knowledge, to wisdom, to gifts of healing, to the working of miracles, to prophecy, to discernment of spirits, to speaking in tongues, to the interpretation of tongues, to having faith.  Each gift is needed.  So even though we may be tempted to leave these spiritual gifts in the golden cup in God’s hand, it won’t work.  I picture God turning that golden cup upside down so the gifts scatter and become lost.  These are gifts of grace.  These are the best gifts!  Claim them!  Let them flourish!  See what happens in the church, in the community, in your family!  Using our spiritual gifts is a gift to the church.  Not using our spiritual gifts means something is lacking in the congregation and in our lives.

Mary would not let her Son, Jesus, escape from using his gifts.  You know the story of the wedding and the wine which was consumed while there was still celebrating to do.  Mary seemingly tricked Jesus into performing his first known miracle when He rebuffed her at first saying that His time had not yet come.  In true mother fashion, Mary just overrode Jesus and said to the servants, “Do what He says.”  So Jesus relented and told the servants to fill six stone water jars, intended for the Jewish rite of purification, with water.  When they brought the six jars of water, Jesus just said, take some of this to the chief steward.  The steward was surprised.  This wine was better than the wine which was served first which traditionally would have been the best wine.  But this wine was the best wine.  Another best – the best wine!  This was called a “sign” to reveal that this Jesus was really the announced Messiah.  There were other such signs – the best signs ever!

We are part of this phenomenon of “best.”  Let us revel in these words from Psalm 36.  Revel means to take great delight.

“Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens and your faithfulness to the clouds.  Your righteousness is like the strong mountains, your justice like the great deep; you save humankind and animals, O Lord.  How priceless is your love, O God!  All people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.  They feast upon the abundance of your house; you give them drink from the river of your delights.  For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light.” Amen