The Best Wine

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

John 2.1-11

It was all set for my sermon for today. I love this text from John’s gospel, I’ve used it at weddings, more than once. I was all set this morning to talk about parties, about not being so serious that we miss out on the good wine of joy. It is no mistake that Jesus’ first sign in John’s gospel takes place at a party. Jesus, I believe, wants us to enjoy life, to enjoy it to its fullest. One theologian puts it this way, I was going to preach, “Christians ought to be celebrating constantly. We ought to be preoccupied with parties and banquets, feasts and merriment. We ought to give ourselves over to veritable orgies of joy, because we have been liberated from the fear of life and from the fear of death. We ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the fun there is in being a Christian.”

That was my sermon until Tuesday. The earthquake in Haiti made that sermon a message for another day. Instead, as we gather here this morning, we have other questions before us. We have a different context for reading and interpreting this text from John’s gospel. The brokenness of creation has intruded. And we can’t be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts and merriment. It is not the time for orgies of joy.

Tens of thousands dead and survivors clinging to life, and all of the other poverty that this tragedy has exposed once more, have reminded us that we are not completely free from the fear of life and the fear of death.

Well, if that is the case, then what does this party in John’s gospel say to us? What does this celebration in a nondescript, ancient village offer us this moment when our life is not like a party?

John tells us that this is the first of Jesus’ signs. If it is a sign, then to what truth, what reality, to what good news does it point? Where is the overflowing grace? Where is the abundant blessing in a world where earthquakes rock and cities fall?

As I watched the news with all of the suffering and hardship, as I am reminded of the poverty long standing there, I wonder where is God in all of this? Some would speak for us. I think of that ridiculous from once-prominent Christian leader Pat Robertson, who said that the earthquake was God’s judgment for a pact made with the devil long ago. Such statements need to be called out. That’s not the God that I know.

When we hear and see all of this, we might be tempted to agree with Richard Dawkins who believes that “God, though not technically disprovable is very, very improbable indeed.” These are the questions that dog us at moments like this.

I think that Jesus, bold as he was when he walked the earth, would not have us run away from such questions. He didn’t run away from such theological struggles, he embraced them. Him himself, the son of God, the beloved with whom I am well pleased, struggled profoundly with God’s absence on the cross. “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani? My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

We cannot run away from such questions of theodicy or the divine goodness in the face of evil, we grow through our wrestling and our struggle. But we confess that it is unlikely that we will ever be able to satisfactorily answer such questions, at least until that time when all questions are answered. And you know what, besides that, my faith tells me that this is not the time for theological wrestling. This is not the moment for theological partisanship or religious judgment. This is a time for action. For response.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • After all this time…

    Well, this is it my fellow followers of Jesus, we are returning to in-person worship at First Presbyterian Church. It has been fourteen long months of us learning to be a worshiping community in the best ways we could figure out (thank you Jesus, even for things like YouTube and Zoom). It’s been challenging for me as your pastor (I imagine Pastor Meg would say the same). It’s been challenging for all of you in faith and life and with family and friends. 

    But we’re going back to church, praise the Lord.

    Many things seem to be happening in our world at this moment. How are you handling it all? We’re opening the church doors again. There was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. Many of you have your Covid-19 vaccinations. It’s Springtime and the tulips are starting to bloom. The Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds are back in the valley. So how are we doing as we process all of this? How are you doing?

    Relief? Sorrow? Joy? Sadness? 

    All of the above?

    I’ve heard several phrases of late, including ‘pandemic pain.’ I’ve felt fatigued myself. But having received the vaccination shots, I am ready to be back in our church building with you praising the Lord together. With high vaccination rates among our church members and several safety precautions, Session has voted for our return to in-person worship. Details are listed in another article inside this edition, but our first Sunday back will be Sunday, May 9th, with our regular service times of 9 & 11 a.m.

    This worldwide pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot as I watch the news from places like India and Brazil, or even Michigan. But many of us have received our vaccinations and we are implementing some practices that should allow us to worship the Lord together, safely. And to be clear (I cannot say this enough), if you do not feel safe coming to church in the near future, please continue to worship from home. I will do my absolute best to make sure our worship live-stream allows you to connect with God and connect with the rest of us from the safety of your own home. We have purchased a small and simple (yet high quality) camera that will live-stream Sunday morning worship directly to YouTube. You have the option to watch it ‘live’ as we are worshiping or watch it at a later time that is more convenient for you.

    So, what might we expect on Sunday mornings in May when we go back? First and foremost, we will be together singing, praying, and praising the Lord. Hallelujah! There will be a few changes, of course. We ask that everyone wear a mask while in the building. We will not have indoor fellowship to prevent ‘grouping’ around the food. Both services will be in Bruner Hall (this is to allow for social distancing). We will initially space chairs out in groups of one, two, three, four, etc. (please find a group of chairs that matches your household). Our air handling system will be on during the service. We won’t use hymnals so that multiple people aren’t touching them each morning (lyrics will be in the bulletin and projected onto the wall). And finally, if you are feeling under the weather, we ask that you please be extra-considerate of your fellow worshipers and remain home.

    Every day of life is a new endeavor. The same is true for us in this process of returning to worship. May we prayerfully and carefully take actions that promote good community health, along with our spiritual health. Thank you for your patience with us, and I look forward to seeing every one of you, whenever that might be.

    —Pastor Derek

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