Martin Luther King said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Today is the Second Sunday after the Epiphany. It’s a strange time, coming after the preparation of Advent and the Christmas celebration of the wondrous birth of the Messiah, the Christ. Both of those seasons are known for a certain intensity of emotions, and a busy-ness in our churches and in our homes. Now we are in a somewhat quieter time. Presents are enjoyed (or returned), decorations are put away, cookies and fruitcake are consumed or added to an already overcrowded table at coffee hour. All of a sudden, it seems, we are back to normal, back to our daily routines. We, naturally, feel a bit of a letdown, now that the excitement is over, and we still have several more weeks of winter ahead of us.
But Epiphany calls us to more than that, calls us to BE more than that. The Epiphany season is a time for us to reflect and contemplate what this wondrous birth, this God-with-us, this Emmanuel, means for us, how it redefines us, and how it calls us to a new life.
If we only begin to contemplate what it means to have God among us, how our very humanity is changed by God coming into the world and touching us; if only we can begin to recognize Jesus and understand who Jesus is and what he is trying to teach us, then, my sisters and brothers, then we will be unwrapping the greatest gift we have ever been given. It is the gift of God’s radically abundant love for us, and the wisdom of how to share that love.
In today’s readings, the prophet Isaiah shows us how God’s love is infused with our very being. We exist because of God’s love, and Isaiah describes the ecstatic joy which is ours when we accept and share that gift. We are told, “The Lord delights in you.” Delights in us! Think about that! The very same God, creator of heaven and earth, of things seen and unseen, delights in us, in you and me! We’re not just accepted by God, God isn’t only pleased or happy with us, God takes delight in us! You and I, we delight God!
Isaiah then tells us of our relationship with God and with each other as we are entwined together in this love. “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
Imagine! God is rejoicing over you, now, right here, today, just as you are! Such love, such an abundance of love, it’s almost unthinkable.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives us an example of this abundant love in his first act of ministry. We find a very human Jesus, who seems reluctant to help out when asked by his mother to do so. He responds, “What does this have to do with you and me?” How many times have we repeated these same or similar words when first asked to help? Refugees in Syria? Christians and others trying to live in Palestine? Black people in St. Louis, Chicago and elsewhere? The marginalized and addicted people in Boston and in Watertown? What does this have to do with you and me?
But Jesus does do the work, he does perform the miracle. He turns 120-180 gallons of water into the finest wine. And is the wine for him, for his mother or his followers? No, this miraculously fine wine is for everyone to enjoy. Everyone! Jesus performs this miracle to allow the celebration to continue. He supplies what’s needed, what’s lacking, what’s in short supply, and he supplies it in abundance.
The wine is freely shared with the community, satisfying the needs of the community, and assuring the community continues to celebrate together in joy. This is why Jesus came among us, to show us God’s abundant love and how to share it.
Martin Luther King tells us that, “Love is the only cement that can hold this broken community together. When I am commanded to love, I am commanded to restore community, to resist injustice, and to meet the needs of my brothers.”
St.Paul teaches us that within God’s abundant love is God’s abundant justice. We read that, “Your justice is like the greatest deep.” “Your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings, they feast upon the abundance of your house.”
An abundance of love and an abundance of justice. So, why do we see these refugees, people living in poverty and terror, people held captive by homelessness and addiction? Why does it seem we are choosing a President based on fear rather than hope?
Why are people so afraid they feel the need to carry a gun to feel safe? Where is this great abundance of love and justice? It’s real, and it’s here, but we just don’t believe it.
My brothers and sisters, we have so bought into the world’s message of scarcity, of fear, of the need for security (whatever that is), that it’s almost impossible for us to accept God’s gifts. We have been programmed to believe that if we help others, we only make ourselves poor. We are taught to mistrust the “other”; the refugees – they’re only coming over here to destroy us; the poor – they only want more money so they don’t have to work. The homeless – they only want money for alcohol and drugs. And so it goes. Fear makes it easy to separate, manipulate and control people. Fear keeps us from knowing each other, from listening to each other and from sharing with each other.
We must actively work to change our programming, to reject the world’s messages of fear for the dark shadows they are, and begin to live with and for each other in the abundant light of God’s love. We need to open our eyes to see beyond ourselves, open our hearts to be with others,
even if it’s only one other. We cannot appreciate God’s love if we keep it to ourselves. We cannot live in God’s justice unless we actively work to share it with others.
Last Tuesday, clergy and lay people from across and beyond the MetroWest area met for a discussion to put together a new mission statement for the Diocese, what was important to them, what they would like to see their parishes involved with. I was impressed by how many wanted to share their gifts and work with other parishes and other denominations on issues of interfaith and intercultural relations, and issues of justice in their own communities. They are looking to the Diocese for information, guidance and support to more efficiently and effectively share God’s love and God’s justice.
Sound familiar? It should. Our very own Church of the Good Shepherd is already at work on many of these issues, and working for justice in our community is already in our mission statement. We have partnered with local refugee groups. We continue to develop relationships with Christian churches and others in Palestine, and to enhance our commitment to the Living Stones ministry through training and consulting with the Diocese.
We are planning to better share God’s love with marginalized communities in Boston, and right here in Watertown.
The Good News is that it can and it will be done, and that we already have all we need to do it. St. Paul tells us we all have been given separate, individual gifts to share. By combining our gifts, by joining together with each other, we can begin to undo the evils that have been worked into our social systems. We all have something to contribute. As Dr. King tells us, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.” “You only need a heart full of grace, and a soul generated by love.”
Open your heart to accept God’s grace. Allow your soul to be powered by God’s love. Add your gifts to those of others in this parish as, together, we do the work we have been given. Together, we can live in the abundance that is God. Now is the time. This is the place. We are the people. Let’s do it together.