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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  • Lent in the Midst of COVID

    We’re in the church season of Lent, a time of journeying with Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem and to the cross.  In addition to Sunday worship services on YouTube we will be adding short mid-week Lenten devotions from Pastor Meg and myself (also available on YouTube).

     Last month Mary-Ann Muffoletto sent me a picture. She took a ‘screen shot’ of our most recent Zoom congregational meeting, and I’m thankful she thought to do this. This is the moment when we ordained and installed new elders and deacons to our church. This is usually a sacred moment of our worship together on Sunday mornings, a special time for those new deacons and elders and also for the congregation as these individuals step into leadership positions for us. We’re usually doing a “laying on of hands” at this moment, as we offer a prayer for these new officers. This last year Presbyterian churches around the country have doing this via Zoom, and here we are, lifting up our hands as a blessing for these church officers, as we lift them up to God in their new roles.

    The big thing on our mind in the church office and with Session is when will we be back in worship together? I don’t have an answer for you at the moment, but as more people receive vaccines and transmission rates continue to decrease in Utah and around the country, we get closer to that time. Two Session members have volunteered to work with Pastor Meg and myself on plans for when we get back into the building. Outdoor worship services in a park is also a possibility before we return to our church building. When we are back in the sanctuary and Bruner Hall together our plan is to record the service and make it available on YouTube for those who choose to continue worshiping from home.

    I want to close by sharing a few things with you about our building during this last year. You might think the building has been empty and unused, but I assure you this is not the case. While most of our activities have been put on hold, several things have been occurring in our building. Session approved Loaves & Fishes to serve take-away meals and that has been ongoing through much of the year. Additionally, numerous recovery programs (similar to AA) have been meeting throughout the year (for some people, being able to attend a sobriety meeting is a life and death matter). And finally, the Red Cross has been holding blood drives every month or so. Craig Mortensen passed along to me that Red Cross blood drives at FPC collected 490 units of blood in the last year. Most of these units even came from willing donors… (just kidding!). All of these activities have required people to wear masks and socially distance to prevent spread of COVID.

    It brings me great joy to think of how many people Loaves & Fishes has helped, how many people have continued their journeys of sobriety, and how many people were helped through blood donations in the last year. Each of these activities come with some risk of COVID transmission, but Session approved them because they are essential for certain members of our community. All of these happenings are possible because of the use of our church building. I thank all of you for your ongoing support of FPC Logan. I know we aren’t worshiping there, and many of us are anxious to be back in the sanctuary (I am too). Thank you for bearing with us and our cautious approach. Good things are indeed happening through use of our building and because of our collective journeys with Jesus Christ.

    Grace and peace be with you on your Lenten journey.

    Pastor Derek

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