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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  • November COVID Update

    If you are reading this before Sunday November 1st, I hope you take the time on Sunday morning to join us for communion in the parking lot at FPC.  It’s communion in the drive-through style, something the first Christians could never have envisioned.  It is nonetheless a faithful celebration of the meal that Jesus first initiated with his disciples.  Pastor Meg and I will be in the parking lot from 11 to 11:30 a.m. and we’ll have music to go along with the meal and hopefully lift your spirits. Stop by to hear the music, and for a blessing along with the communion meal.

    One of the most exciting things for me in recent weeks was our congregational meeting that we held via the online service Zoom.  It was so heart-warming to see that many of you in attendance.  Counting the couples on various screens, I think there were around 50 of you in attendance.  Thank you for your participation.

    At the meeting we elected new elders and deacons for the Class of 2023.  Please join me in expressing our thanks to elders Lovet Fokunang, Dee Logterman, Scott Hofmann, and Dawn Drost, and deacons Terry Brennand, Darcie Bessinger, and Marcia Baker.  We also elected Sheryl Bessinger to fill a partial term as an elder in the Class of 2021.  I’m thankful that they’ve accepted God’s call upon their lives to serve God by serving the people of our community.  May we lift them up in prayer (along with our other deacons & elders) as they help to care for and lead our congregation in challenging times.

    As you might imagine if you’re watching the news, Session unanimously voted to continue with YouTube worship for the month of November.  We continue to get around one hundred views each week, and I am very thankful for your participation in worship on YouTube.  It’s wonderful to have Pastor Meg back from maternity leave.  She is already busy planning Christian Education events and leading youth ministries.

    We will not host a church Thanksgiving dinner for obvious reasons, but we are spending this month getting ready for some exciting things in Advent.  We will have special music throughout our Advent worship services, there will be Advent activities for families, there is a special online bell choir concert in the works, and we’re hoping for an in-person outdoor Christmas Eve service.  Yes, it will be chilly, but we live in northern Utah and I know you people are hardy!  This service will be 30 minutes long, so you don’t get too cold.  We’ll have wonderful organ and bell music and Christmas hymns to sing, along with gospel readings of the birth of Jesus.  I think it’s going to be a wonderful way to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child.

    May the grace and peace of our Lord be with you all.

    —Pastor Derek

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