Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
January 20, 2013
How priceless is your love, O God! All peoples 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. Psalm 36:7-9
Almost everybody I know loves a good party, and church folk are no exception. Think about your average church potluck. Both feast and feed, folding tables groan with the incarnation of beloved recipes prepared with love and care. No calories or ingredients are spared, and there is always sufficient variety. One has no excuse to walk away hungry. In fact, amidst the heaping plates and hearty conversation, one gets a sense of the divine party that never ends and a real foretaste of the feast to come.
The lessons appointed for this Sunday are an invitation to come to God’s party and bring our spiritual gifts with us. All four readings have something to bring to the table, providing a feast of words and images to inspire, equip, and, well, feed disciples who are hungry for a good Word to fill their bellies and carry them through the week. And, like a church potluck, there is no reason at all that folks should leave worship hungry today. In fact, there’s so much good stuff going on that we can take it right on out of the building, inviting others to God’s party and putting our gifts to good use.
In the first reading, Isaiah proclaims to Judah the wonderful words “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate” (vs. 4). He goes on to use the joyous comparison of a wedding with how God intends to honor and rejoice over the people. How many small, struggling congregations could benefit from hearing these words and images applied to their present day situations? God is faithful; they are beautiful, and there is reason to rejoice. Sure there may be trouble in the local church paradise, there may be wounds in the Body of Christ, and there may be hemorrhaging of the budget, but there is hope–always hope–because God will not leave God’s people bereft.
Trusting God’s work in and among our communities of faith involves lifting our downcast eyes and drooping heads, raising them in prayers and songs of praise. The appointed verses (5-10) from Psalm 36 certainly provide such an opportunity. Should one choose to focus on this psalm in preaching or teaching, it would be helpful to look at all twelve verses because the praise for God’s character and nature to bless and shelter the righteous is sandwiched between observations about the wicked and a plea for protection. The psalm has much to say about the disciple’s walk in the world and the importance of keeping God at the center of everything–be it party or pain.
What if your folks aren’t seeing or owning their spiritual giftedness? Paul’s words to the definitely gifted but divisive congregation at Corinth are every bit as applicable to disciples today. The Spirit still activates gifts in each one of us, and when we all bring our gifts together God is glorified and amazing mission and ministry is possible.
The ultimate party gift this week, however, is Jesus’ inaugural public miracle of changing water into some mighty fine wine. One can approach this lesson in all kinds of ways, but I think the focus should be on the word “change.” The jars Jesus used for this miracle were used for ritual purification; they were empty but filled with clean water at Jesus’ request. From something ordinary, Jesus made something extraordinary. With something regular, Jesus did a new thing. When I see the font and touch the water, and when I taste the bread and wine, I am reminded that God named me and claimed me and marked me in baptism. Through ordinary water and extraordinary Word, I am being made into someone new. I have been adopted and welcomed into the family of God, and in my community of faith I continue to live into the reality of God’s purpose for me and for my sisters and brothers as the Body of Christ. Together at God’s table, at this celebration that has no end, we bring our gifts, our hopes, our dreams, our pain and sorrow and we feast–we hear, taste, and see that God is good. We recount the great stories of the faith, and we bear witness to the fact that the winds of the Spirit still blow through our lives today. We learn to be stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Yes, something extraordinary is happening with ordinary folks like us and wherever two or more gather in the name of Jesus. This is very good news. So, invite folks to come to the party where all are welcome and where all have gifts of worth and value to bring.
If you are focusing on spiritual gifts and the idea that Jesus is creating something new in us, create a Congregational Spiritual Gifts Banner. Give each worshiper a long, narrow strip of fabric at the beginning of worship. During or after the sermon, invite worshipers to identify one or more of their spiritual gifts. Have them write their gifts on the fabric strip with permanent marker. Either collect all the strips in a basket to be brought forward with the gifts of the offering and communion bread and wine, or invite each worshiper to bring his or her own strip forward to place in a designated basket. Pray over the gifts, asking God to continue to work a new thing in the life of each person and in the collective life of the community. During the following week have someone in the congregation who enjoys weaving and fabric arts tie the strips together and weave them into a banner or wall hanging to be blessed and presented at a future worship service. Try to document the process with video and/or photographs. Point out how each beautiful strip becomes even more beautiful and meaningful when woven into the Body of Christ collectively. This would also make a good activity to present in worship and then work on during a congregational potluck or other fellowship opportunity.
Ask youth to bring a plain t-shirt or provide one for each youth. Show the Nooma video “Name” by Rob Bell. You can watch a preview here. After the video discuss how God has named and claimed each one of us and through the work of the Holy Spirit breathed into us unique gifts for service and ministry, for living as disciples in the world. Lead the youth through a period of discernment about their spiritual gifts. After they have all identified gifts in each other and in themselves, allow time to create “gift” shirts using fabric markers, spray paint, or fabric paint. Make sure each youth’s name is prominently visible on the shirt and their gifts or symbols of their gifts included on the shirt, along with the scripture reference 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. If you want to be more formal about it, create word clouds for each student and print them out on iron on transfers. After the shirts are finished, bless the youth and their shirts and consider sharing communion together.
Recount the gospel story briefly. You might emphasize how Jesus is helping to make sure the young wedding couple’s party is not an embarrassing flop, that he in effect “saves the day” for them. Make sure the children understand that he took ordinary water and turned it into really fine wine–something extraordinary. Help the children make the connection that in their baptism God does something extraordinary in their lives. Ordinary water combined with divine word, makes a new child of God. Tell them that God gave them a gift that day–the gift of the Holy Spirit that keeps on giving as long as they live. If you know the children well, you can tell them what spiritual gifts you already see developing in them.
Remind them that they have a lasting invitation to God’s never-ending party. Decorate and give them an invitation with this wording:
You are Invited!
What: To the Party that Never Ends
Where: Wherever two or more gather in Jesus’ Name
When: From the moment of your baptism and always
What to Bring: Your wonderful self and your willingness to share with others
Why: Because God loves you!
Photo Credits: © kaktus2536 – Fotolia.com, © afitz – Fotolia.com, and © Wellford Tiller – Fotolia.com.