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January 17, 2016, 12:00 AM

Church at Home

Abundant Life

by Sandy Bach

"On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, 'They have no wine.'” (John 2:1-3 NRSV)

Weddings are important events.  Bridal couples spend months preparing for the big event and they want everything to go well.  Yes, sometimes we find someone who goes overboard on the demand for perfection.  Yet, weddings are an event for setting the bar high for a memorable celebration.

In ancient days, the bride and groom would prepare for months, as well.  Their time was spent putting together enough food and wine for a seven-day celebration.  No honeymoon for them; they had guests in the groom's home for a week!  Hospitality is everything in that part of the world.  To run out of wine is to lose face,

So the mother of Jesus (the gospel of John never mentions her by  name) turns to Jesus and comments, "They're out of wine."  In the middle of the celebration they run out of wine.  Disaster.  The wedding is ruined.  Will the groom ever live up to it?

But there's more.  This is the Gospel of John, a book packed to the brim with symbolism.  In the Jewish scripture wine is a symbol of grace and joy and abundance.  The wedding hosts have run out of grace.

Jesus is reluctant to reveal his glory, but he does, anyway.  This begins his ministry and he does it without a lot of fireworks.  He tells the servants to take the 6 stone water jugs and fill them to the brim with water.  Then he has them draw out a sample for the wine steward to taste.  The wine is the best ever.  The equivalent of cases and cases and cases of the best Cabernet Sauvignon that money can buy.

Jesus supplies grace and joy and wholeness in overly abundant amounts and hardly anyone knows who's responsible for it.  The bridegroom gets all the credit.

How have you celebrated in such a fashion?  When has "Cana Grace" taken up your life and transformed it to joy and celebration and wholeness?  I see it when our congregation comes together for a potluck.  The metaphorical wine runs free with laughter.  Members and friends catch up on the news and share pictures of their grandchildren taken on their smart phones.  Cana Grace takes place when friends gather in the backyard for a bar-b-que and laugh and talk well into the night.  Cana Grace occurs when any group of people get together to enjoy each others' company and Jesus shows up.

Yet, sometimes we run out of wine.  We run out of joy and grace.  Families torn apart by illness or other circumstances run out wine.  People living in homes with leaky roofs and iffy electricity eventually run out of wine.  Where is God's extravagance in these moments?  Where is the Mother of Jesus nudging God, "They have no wine"?

When is it time for us to nudge God?  When do we feel God nudging us?

"Jesus, they have no wine."

"Yes, child.  I have the wine.  I need your hands and feet to distribute it."

"Jesus, I'm not sure I'm enough.  In fact, I'm sure I'm not enough."

"You're right.  You're not enough. But with me all things are possible.  Here's the wine.  Go now and distribute Cana Grace."

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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January 10, 2016, 12:00 AM

Church at Home

Lived Out in Prayer

by Sandy Bach

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:21-22 NRSV)

I've come to the conclusion that Luke's version of Jesus' baptism is the most compelling. John is the reason. In Matthew and Luke John preaches to the crowds, calling them a "brood of vipers" (3:7) Yikes! Modern-day preachers have lost their jobs for far less!

But, it's Luke's version that allows the crowds to ask him, "What then should we do?" (3:10). It's a fair question. Apparently John agrees, for he gives them good answers:
"Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." In other words, love and care your neighbor.

Tax collectors come to him with the same question. These men who lived on the fringes, colluding with the Romans could have been told by John to find other work. Wisely, he doesn't. He says, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." In other words, stay put in your job where you can do your Jewish people some good.

Even the enemy, Roman soldiers, ask him.  He tells them to love your neighbor by stopping the extortion and threats and false accusations. And be satisfied with your wages.

People listened and followed him and wondered, "Could this be the Messiah promised by God?" John, sensing their question, gives them a, yet again, straight-forward answer. John not only isn't the Messiah, his job is to point to him. John baptizes with water, but the one to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Could he be pointing to the Pentecost event?)

The baptism of Jesus isn't described as it is in Matthew and Mark. It's reported in the past tense: "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized..." (vs 21) That's it.

But, why would the Son of God have to be baptized? Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace. When we baptize today, our liturgy clearly states that we are to repent of sin and try to live holy and joyful lives in Christ.

Again. Why did God incarnate need to be baptized?

The answer is, he didn't need it. He did it for us.  When Jesus entered those waters, he entered it as a sign that he had come into the world to be with those tax collectors and soldiers and you and me and other sinners and saints. God had penetrated the world and this was his way of telling us that he had come to meet those of us who needed him most.

God's creation is amazing. But, humanity has managed to find ways to distort it. Sometimes tragic things happen. Sometimes kings turn into despots; anger comes in contact with a weapon; greed and jealousy take over good intentions. Sometimes we make choices fully realizing the consequences of those actions. Sometimes, we make choices with no idea of its effect on others.

As Jesus comes out of the water, he begins to pray -- something he did regularly. In prayer, God speaks and he is revealed to the world as the Messiah: the One promised by God.

His ministry is about to begin. Sadly, we read, though, that John's ministry is coming to a close. Herod has arrested him; he'll die by the request of a spoiled step-daughter's request to a drunken, lusty King.

When Jesus stepped into those waters, he understood all of this. That while John languished in jail, his ministry would grow. That while Jesus chose his disciples and grew his ministry, John would pay the price of his own choices.

And it wouldn't be long before Jesus' choices would bring criticism: he would be accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because he ate and drank with undesirables. He was called a friend of tax collectors and sinners. In all too short a time, he would be brought up on trumped up charges and face capital punishment.

So what do we do today? Recognize those who have been torn apart from a world that has an agenda different from God's.

And as children of God, look around for evidence of Jesus' entrance into the life and lives of those around you.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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January 3, 2016, 12:00 AM

Church at Home

Faithful Praise

by Sandy Bach

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love." Ephesians 1:3-4 NRSV)

God had a plan.

Before the the beginning of time; before he brought light and stars and moon and sun; before dry land appeared; before vegetation and fishes and animals to roam the earth; before humanity came into being; God had a plan.

That plan was for us and about us. We did nothing to earn it. We knew nothing about it until God was ready to give it to us. God did it for no other reason than divine desire and will. That plan was to bring us to God. The plan was to offer forgiveness for our trespasses, to break down that wall of sin that keeps us from intimate communion with God.

The plan was to adopt us and make us God's children. A whole new identity. Belonging to God; receiving wisdom and insight so that we could come to know God better and more intimately.

Out of God's good pleasure and lavish grace we received the most perfect gift of all.

How do we praise God for this gift? Some of us need music with simple words repeated over and over again. With hands held aloft we praise God and remember all that God has done.

Some need quiet for contemplation. I'm one who needs a good pipe organ and an Isaac Watts hymn. Okay, so I'm old fashioned. It works for me.

I wonder, at times, do we fit into God's plan or do we shoehorn God into our own plan?

Bad news always abounds, but as 2015 comes to a close, we're feeling the fear and worry about events more deeply. Gun violence, terrorist attacks, political infighting, unrest at every turn. We praise God until we tune into the news. After that, what can we do?

Jesus told us to love our enemies. It seems more expedient to drop a bomb on them. Jesus blessed the poor in spirit. We'd rather go shopping. Jesus blessed those who take on persecution and slander. A punch in the nose would offer a more instantaneous solution.

Yet, if we call ourselves disciples of Jesus, then disciple we must. How do we drop that shoehorn and fit ourselves into God's Plan?

Praise comes in many forms. It can be worship, devotionals or singing or prayer. Perhaps praying with the newspaper open in front of you is also an act of praise.

"O God, your creation is torn apart with war and terror. Children and victims are struggling to find peace and safety. Yet, we know that only you have the final plan for peace. Only you can bring peace to our nations, your people and your creation. You've sent your Son, your only Son. Help us to be a part of that plan. Show us where we can be your Son's hands and feet and voice in our world that we can see real peace some day."

"God, you have blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. You have lavished us with grace and you make known your mystery to us through your wisdom and insight. Use us to be a blessing to others. Show us how to use your wisdom and insight to really listen to those with whom we disagree. We ask this that we might praise you in this broken world. We ask this so that we can see the fullness of time coming near."

"God, we praise you that we can see evidence of your activity in the world.  We praise you for all of the nations who have opened their doors to welcome Syrian refugees.  We praise you for the churches who have welcomed them, regardless of their faith tradition, with one question, "What can we do to help?"  Help us to see your activity in the world and use us to make your creation a bit better than when we arrived."

I wish I could write these words more eloquently. God deserves better. Yet, I also trust that God can use my words to bring home God's point. In the midst of brokenness and fear; war and terrorism; and all the other 'isms, can we dare to see where God wants us to fit into God's plan?

Every time we turn to reactionary violence, we just might be trying to shoehorn God. Every time we use cruelty to win an argument, we're attempting to create God in our own image.

God won't be recreated. God won't be shoehorned. God is and was and will always be...God.

So, where will you allow God to fit into the plan? As Jesus said, "my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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