Below is today's sermon. I hope you're able to look up and read the scriptures that I use to prepare the sermon, because it's harder to really "get it" if you don't. But in any event, I'm just glad when you bother to read!
Well, we have a lovely little map for ministry in our readings today; I hope you all take note. We hardly ever see a group of readings that walks us so systematically and sequentially through the process that Christians must go through in ministering to a world that can easily overwhelm us with all the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs out there. All those hungry hearts. Sheep without a shepherd. Just looking at all that’s wrong with the world is enough to make any of us just want to go crawl into a comfy little cave somewhere and not even try. But look! Today we hear how it can, should, must be done.
First, look at the Old Testament reading, from Isaiah. How does it sound to you? “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord….you shall be called “My Delight is in Her…for the Lord delights in you…so shall your builder marry you….so shall your God rejoice over you.” Do you hear the promise in this? Do you hear the joy? Do you hear the intimacy with which God wishes to love and join with us? God wants to be closer to us than a husband; God delights in us. And that’s exactly where ministry has to start – from a foundation of intimate connection to God, surrounded, enveloped by love and gratitude, from a place of abundance, a place where we can get ourselves filled up to overflowing with the love and abundance and good news that we’re to take out there to that hungry world. That’s where we start from – the only place that effective, enduring ministry really can start. If we don’t have it to begin with, that sense of love and abundance, we’re not going to be able to give it away; you can’t give away something you don’t have to begin with.
And the Psalm reinforces this by reassuring us of God’s strength and protection, as well as abundance: “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.” Do you see how in the Gospel today, Jesus acted out that promise of abundant drink (literal drink, with the wine!), of more and better refreshment than we could ever need?
So in the first reading and the Psalm, we get promises. God won’t leave us alone to do this. We get strength and love, joy and refreshment as we set about doing God’s work in the world. That’s a promise. And Paul continues with the promises, with his usual words of wisdom, as well. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Whenever we’re ministering, whenever we’re proclaiming the good news, whether through our words or our actions, we’re empowered by the Holy Spirit. Whether we feel anything special or not, we can take it for granted that if we’re doing good, the Holy Spirit is with us, strengthening and empowering us. Furthermore, Paul gives us this great passage about the varieties of gifts we bring to ministry. We’re all different; we know this. And we’re good at different things. And God will make use of whatever we have to give. It’s not for us to judge our own gifts, and especially not to judge the gifts of others, whether they’re good or not, whether they’re appropriate for ministry. God’s much more creative than we are, and can use whatever it is we bring. We may not see what good a particular skill set is, whether it’s ours or someone else’s. But we need to trust God, and that God will find a way to use it all, to waste nothing, to use it all to bring more and more of the world into relationship with God and with one another. God’s will is love and peace and abundance and joy, and we are the means by which that love and peace and abundance and joy gets spread around in the world – and there are endless ways to do that, all empowered by the same Holy Spirit. And we’re really not capable of judging which gifts are good and which are not, which ones God will use and which God will not use – not use just yet, anyway. Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” These varieties of gifts and services that we possess – what we need to understand is that they are what Paul is calling “manifestations of the Spirit.” The things he names in our passage are examples, not an inclusive list. Varieties of gifts, he says. Whatever we bring to ministry that is good (and again, not for us to judge its goodness) is given to us by the Spirit, and given “for the common good,” Paul adds. Our gifts are not ours to hoard for ourselves, only for our own private enjoyment and edification (though if we do get enjoyment, that’s okay, too, as long as we’re also sharing). They are given to us in order that we give them away, “for the common good:” the good of ourselves and our loved ones, certainly, the good of the church, the body of Christ, and also for the good of the whole world. Even when we can’t see how our particular gifts could possibly contribute to the common good, to the betterment of the world, we’ve just got to trust God on that one. It’s not our job to figure it all out, but to accept the abundance and love that God so wants to give us, and to allow that love and abundance to overflow right back out of us and into the world – that’s what God intends. That’s how God works, and how God’s economy, God’s system, God’s household is intended to work.
The last thing I’d add to this “road map for ministry” is the Gospel reading. How I love this reading, all for my own set of reasons. I love how Jesus’ mother says to him simply this: “They have no wine.” That’s all. If they had eyeglasses in those days, I could almost see her looking at him over the top of hers: “They have no wine.” And then Jesus kind of has his little rant, and she doesn’t argue, but simply turns quietly to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” She knows. I can almost hear him sigh and roll his eyes as he says, “Fill the jars with water.” It’s just such a great story! But that’s not the point I want to make today. What I want to say about this part of the “road map for ministry,” is that I think God wants us to party! Honestly. I think that God wants us to work hard, just as Jesus did, no doubt, and also work joyfully, to wear ourselves out with ministry, and then to kick back and kick up our heels and drink a little wine and have a little fun. God wants us to party, yes. And even when we’re partying (and that’s what God’s refreshment has to offer us – think of the stories and images Jesus uses of banquets and weddings and the hard work and great joy of abundant harvests, which always were followed by parties and celebrating) -- even in the course of the party we may end up doing some good we hadn’t planned, hadn’t intended, hadn’t anticipated. You never know when the chance will arise to make someone’s day – as I’m sure those huge jars of wine made the day of the bride and groom at their wedding reception (and likely their parents, who would be more likely to be paying attention to such things).
So – remember and receive the abundant love, refreshment, strength, and protection God has to offer. That means you have to go “back to the well” regularly. That means taking a little quiet time every day to ask, to receive, to be grateful. Get yourself filled up and then get out there with whatever gifts God has given you. Don’t hoard your gifts, but spend them freely, trusting that abundant replenishment that God promises. If you use them all up, God will make jars and jars more for you. And then, take the time to party. Know that God wants you to have fun and relax sometimes – that’s what helps you minister all the better, all the more abundantly the next day, and the next. Drink a little wine and kick back with your friends. Accept the blessings. Remember who is the founder of the feast, the true Host of the party. Believe the promises. You’ll be glad you did. Amen.