The Ties that Bind by Rev. Stacy Swain

January 17, 2016

John 2:1-11 and Isaiah 62:1-5

Will you pray with me?  May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer, Amen.

Just a few weeks ago all the anticipation and expectation of Advent was fulfilled. It all came together on Christmas Eve and what a Christmas Eve it was.  Heavenly hosts filled the sky singing at the top of their voices.  The place was packed.  The stable was full.  A star was blazing. You could not miss it.  Even the most skeptical passerbys could not help but concede that something astonishing was happening, especially so, I imagine, when those wise ones from the east showed up all bedazzled on the back of camels.

And last week, we were there by the Jordan River with a great crowd — all witnessing the Baptism of Jesus, when the sky was opened and a dove descended and a voice called out in what must have been a voice booming overflowing with love said, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

All that we have just experienced, all the spectacle of these last few weeks may very well lead us to believe that it should be pretty hard to miss the presence of God in the world.  With an entrance like what we have witnessed in these past few weeks, it seems reasonable to expect that the movement of God in the world should be pretty easy to spot.  All we need to do is keep a look out for the heavenly host and keep an ear open for that great big booming voice.


But that is not how it turns out to be.  Instead, it seems that once Jesus leaves the Jordan River, once Jesus steps into his public ministry, God’s presence goes undercover.

Over and over again in his ministry, Jesus tries hard not to draw attention to himself and the miracles that are enacted through him.  After healing one who had leprosy, Jesus tells him not to tell anyone.  (Mark 1:43).  And again, Jesus counsels silence after healing one who was blind (Matthew 9:27-31). Even the resurrection is not announced on center stage but off to the side, quietly in a garden, not to a crowd, but first to one and then to a few more.

The Scripture this morning from the Gospel of John is another example of this under cover presence of God.  The miracle of changing water into the wine is not center stage but sidelined.  Revelation happens on the edge of the action.  God’s grace flows into the world and nearly no one notices.  Except for Mary and later the disciples, it is only the unnamed servants who are aware of what has happened but they keep silent.  There are no heavenly hosts. No booming voice.

So while God’s may have entered the world with a bit of fanfare, God seems to prefer moving in the world rather quietly.

Why do you suppose that is?

I think there is a clue here in the gospel passage.  The scene is a wedding celebration.  The text makes a point of telling us straight away that the mother of Jesus is there, that she notices when the wine gives out and takes immediate action.  While others may have been lost in the revelry of the hour, Mary does not seem to be.  Mary seems to be watching all that is going on,  paying keen attention.  The text does not tell us why exactly, but I think we know.  Have you ever been to a celebration for someone you cared deeply about?  Did you find yourself not just joining the party but also keeping an eye on things to be sure they were going well.  Didn’t you find yourself looking for ways you could help out?

Is there enough food?  Is someone talking to Aunt Mabel?  I imagine that Mary noticed that the wine had run because she cared a lot about the newly weds and wanted everything to go well for them.

So in an instant she notices the problem with the wine, and immediately leans over to Jesus and tells him to do something about it.  And despite his grumblings, she waves the servants over and says “Do whatever he says!”

And so it begins.   What sets the miracle of the water into wine in motion, what opens the door to revelation is not heavenly hosts or a booming voice. What sets revelation into motion is relationship, and not just relationship but loving relationship.  What sets revelation in motion is Mary’s love for the couple not wanting their wedding to be ruined, and Mary’s love for her son, knowing he is capable of making it right. It is Mary’s love that sets miracle in motion.

I do not think it is a coincidence that in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ first act, his first sign, takes place at a wedding ( a celebration of love) and that that sign, the changing of water into wine, is set into motion by his mother,  the person who loved Jesus more than anyone else in the entire world. The Gospel of John, I believe is telling us something important about the power of love.

We often say that God is love, and yes, I can go with that.  But what if it is more than that? What if love turns out to be the alchemy that summons, activates and reveals the transformative power of God in the world?

After all, according to the Gospel of John, love is what motivates God to send Jesus to us in the first place.  “For God so loved the world, that God sent God’s only son.” (John 3:16).  What if love is not just the connective tissue that binds us one to another and to God, but what if love set’s into motion the power of God in the world?  What if God gives us the great commandment “you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself, not just because it is a good to be good to each other, but because love actually activates the power of goodness in the world? What if this commandment is not just an ethical teaching about how we are supposed to behave but also a kind of cosmological imperative of how we are to help release God’s transformative power in the world. What if love is the preferred portal of the divine?


We see this in the Hebrew Scriptures this morning for the Prophet Isaiah is most certainly in love.  That is why there is great urgency in his words and why he will not be silenced.  He is in love with a despairing people.  He sees how they have returned to their homeland after years of exile but are heartbroken to find it is not how they had dreamed.   He sees how crushed they are.  The great city lies in ruin. The temple us torn down.  The great gates hang loose on their hinges.  The people have lost hope.  They feel forsaken.  They feel desolate.  Isaiah is in love with a despairing people but he is also in love with his God.  And it is through that love that hope enters his world.  Isaiah is given a vision that transforms desolation and forsakenness into promise and blessedness for the people.  His words kindle a dream and open a future.

And today we remember another prophet who was most certainly in love.  The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, was a great activist, a superb organizer, a powerful speaker, but most of all he was a prophet deeply in love with God and deeply in love with his people.  I believe that it was because he was so deeply rooted in this love, that the power of God was able to work so powerfully through him.

Like Isaiah of old, King loved and in loving he kindled hope in a despairing people.  Through the power of non-violence which is love in action, desolation and forsakenness was transformed as justice rolled down like waters and righteousness like and ever –flowing stream.


We too live in a time of despairing people.  Much in our world lies in ruin and many know what it is to be termed forsaken and to live in a land termed desolate.   And we may find ourselves scanning the skies for that heavenly host or waiting desperately to hear a booming voice announcing to us that God is here.

But what if God is waiting for us.  What if God is waiting for us to be the prophets of today that through our love of God and our love of the people of our time, the transformative power of God may be revealed?  What if God is waiting for us to love the despairing people of our time so that through that love the power of God may be released?

What I find so hopeful and what the Gospel passage helps us to see, is that solving the problems of our time is not up to us alone. What is needed is that we pay attention, notice what is wrong and then step with love into that problem trusting in God to show up and show us the way.  Mary does not know how the problem of the wine is going to be solved, but that does not stop her showing up with love and entering into the situation trusting in Jesus.  Same with Isaiah, he does not know how the city will be rebuilt, how the lives of his people will be rebuilt but he does not step away from the problem but instead through love and with trust he steps into it.  And I bet that King did not know how it was all going to play out, but that did not keep him from stepping into and taking on the entrenched problem of racism.  Can we be bold enough to do the same? How will we let love be the doorway for the divine to enter into the troubles of our time?

“They have no wine!” Mary whispered to Jesus.  And so it began.  May it be so for us, in our living.    Thanks be to God. Amen