Pastor Tony's Sermon February 11, 2018

John 9: 1-41     2-11-18     ACCUCC     Rev. Tony Clark

My life is dark. My vision is blank. I cannot see.

Yet, I have learned that music is light, people talking is light, the sound of a coin tossed into my metal cup is light.  I was born blind, but I can hear, and I hear things that you don’t even know I can hear. I can hear the whispers between lovers from across a courtyard, I can hear sheep bleating on the distant hillside, and I can hear the voices calling me sinner and unclean as they enter and leave the Temple. I can hear how different people walk, shuffle-step, clomp-clomp, heel-toe-heel-toe, or tippy-toes across the road. I hear the wheel of carts, and the whff whff of horses’ breath as they march past. I have created a beautiful landscape in my mind, a landscape of sound and smell, of touch and taste. This wall is rough, except for here, right around the mezuzah, where people touch it as they enter.  This road is dry and dusty, but there is the sound and smell of water over there by the Pool of Siloam. And I can tell what farm a pomegranate came from merely by the taste. Landscapes. Maps. I hear these words, and I know them by sound and smell, taste and touch.

I hear the voices of rabbis and students chatting as they enter the Temple. As they enter the holiest site, the students want to know about holiness, and about purity, about being clean before God and why there are so many unclean among us. I could answer if they ever looked at me, if they ever talked with me. I could tell them that there are so many unclean because the laws tell us we are unclean. If you started seeing me as clean, calling me clean, then I would be clean. This isn’t about dirt under my fingernails, or mud on my tunic. This is simply a worldview that says I am unclean. But I am not unclean. I am blind. And I bet I can see better than most of you.

Another Sabbath, another rabbi and his students approach, and this time it seems I am the center of the conversation. “Why is he blind,” they ask. “Did he sin? Or did his parents sin?” The rabbi looked at me, and said “He is blind, not because of anyone’s sin. Let God’s power be seen at work in him.” Then I felt him kneel down before me, and I heard him spit and his spittle hit the ground, then I heard him scrape the mud with his fingernails. He said, “I am the light of the World.” Suddenly I felt his muddy hands touch my eyelids, and he told me to go wash in the Pool.

Open my eyes, that I may see

glimpses of truth thou hast for me;

àplace in my hands, the wonderful key

that shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now, I wait for thee,

Ready, my God thy will to see.

Open my eyes, illumine me,

Spirit Divine.

The people do not seem to care about the importance of this place, and not just this place, but the rites that have been going on here for a thousand years. The people are merely sheep. Do they think the Law of YHWH takes care of itself? It takes discipline, and work to maintain something so powerful as the ancient words of YHWH. You may think those words are as fragile as carved stone that can break, or parchment that can burn, but they are not. They are the most powerful words in the entire cosmos. The Law is a fence that protects the purity of our people, purity that the thieves and wolves who come barking at the gate want to desecrate. Do they not remember the destruction of the Temple and the Law when the Babylonians attacked? Do they look past the desecration of the Temple and the Law when the Greeks placed their idols in our holy rooms? The Law must be held, it must be protected, or else we will face desecration and destruction of YHWH’s most holy of houses and YHWH’s most powerful words.

Do they not see how fragile we are, how easy it is for us to stray from the Law, to leave the fence and wander unprotected? The unclean cannot have access to the holiest, purest site of our faith. The Law cannot be diluted, the fence cannot be broken. We must maintain it, repair any breeches, shore up any fallen timbers. The Sabbath must remain sacred or else it will become profane, a day when shops are open for convenience, and work is done out of the need for increased productivity. We cannot turn away from YHWH, or else YHWH will turn away from us.

This one, this magician, who calls himself a rabbi, heals the blind on the Sabbath. Does he not see what he has done to the fence? Is he blind to the Law? He teaches that he is the Light of the World; how can he profane YHWH’s name that way? He is a blasphemer, a law-breaker, a desecrator of our holy Temple. He invites the unclean to wash and become clean; but that is not his to determine. The unclean only become clean with ritual purification, a rite of forgiveness, an act of profession, and a blessing from the high priest. That is the Law. That is the fence that protects these people, these sheep!-- from charlatans, faith healers, and money-grubbing magicians. If a priest does not perform the rites while the Unclean one professes his sin, then the fence is broken, the Law is desecrated; the thieves and wolves will enter the hearts of the people. And then what will happen? Who will mend the fence? Who will maintain the Law then?

Open my ears, that I may hear

Voices of truth thou sendest clear;

And while the wave-notes fall on my ear,

Everything false will disappear.

Silently now I wait for thee,

Ready, my God, thy will to see.

Open my ears, illumine me,

Spirit Divine.

“Who has sinned, this man or his parents?” I thought that was a simple question! But Jesus, nothing is simple with him. He knelt and spat on the dirt, and rubbed mud in the poor guy’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. “No one sinned,” he said. “We shall see God’s work through his blindness,” he said. “We cannot wait to do this work at night”—I suppose because we would all be without sight in the darkness—“we must do it now in the day,” he said. Then he said, “While I AM in the world, I AM the light of the World,” he said. He used those words, I AM, the words YHWH spoke on the mountain to Moses, saying I AM, I WAS, I WILL BE. I AM the Light of the World. And a man who lived his life in total darkness was now in the Light.

It was the Sabbath. I didn’t expect such a fierce a reaction. The Pharisees said it was a sin to heal on the Sabbath. They did not believe that the man who had lived in darkness all his life, now saw in the Light. They did not believe his neighbors when they told them; they did not believe him when he told them; they did not believe his parents when they told them.  They did not believe him a second time, when he chided them for being like us, students of this great Rabbi, asking the same questions all day long. I’m not sure whether he insulted us or them! For his insubordination, they expelled him from the Temple.

 Nor did they believe Jesus when he told the once-blind-now-sighted man that he was the Son of Man. They did not like what he was saying, they did not like how he broke the Law, they did not like how he blasphemed the name of the Holy One, they did not like how he led the people like a shepherd leads his sheep.

“I came to this world,” he said, “to judge your relationship with the One who sent me. I came so that you may know the truth, that in the darkness live those who can see, and in the light are those who cannot see what is right before them.”  He said, “I AM the shepherd for these sheep. They listen to my voice, not the voice of the thieves and wolves. While the gate is open, I will call my sheep and they will follow me beyond the fence, where there are other sheep of my flock. I will call them and they will follow my voice.”

Open my mouth, and let me bear

Gladly the warm truth everywhere;

Open my heart and let me prepare

Love with thy children thus to share.

Silently now I wait for thee,

Ready, my God, thy will to see.

Open my heart, illumine me,

Spirit Divine.

Pastor Tony's Sermon February 4, 2018

John 4: 1-30     2-4-18     ACCUCC     Rev. Tony Clark

Listen to this week's sermon by clicking here.

The Samaritan woman at the well is perhaps the most maligned woman in history. An unnamed woman, a Samaritan, married five times and living with a man who was not her husband, talking to an unmarried man at a well in the heat of the day, and history has painted her as a trollop, a tramp, a sinner, a prostitute.

However, the reality is probably none of those things. She was smart, and she was the first witness to spread the word about Jesus in the gospel of John. She was held captive by a patriarchal system that kept women from owning property—in fact they were more like property than free-- and women were only known as the daughter of that man, the wife of another man, or the mother of this man. Nameless, she represents most of the women in the Bible, who are unnamed extras with walk on parts in the Greatest Story Ever Told. Beholden to the power of men, women are early examples of today’s #MeToo movement and not granted personal consent for what happened to their bodies or their lives. 

Five times married. That’s who she was. The town gossips, watched her as she did her work alone. They would say, “What was wrong with her?” “She must be cursed.” “Her mother was a sinner, so no wonder she turned out this way.” Afraid they might be cursed by being near her, the gossips avoided her.

Yet it wasn’t always that way. When she was young, she was beautiful, adored, and had many friends. She married at 13, typical of the day, and her husband was an older man. She left her father’s house to join her new husband’s house. No longer her father’s daughter, she was now her husband’s wife, and she did her best to respond to her husband’s needs. She went each morning and evening to the well, chatting with the other women about her new husband, and her hopes for having children, especially sons to carry on his name. All of the women chatted about their daily lives, their children, who was engaged, who was pregnant, who had died.

The well was not just a spot to get the water they needed to live; It was a place of necessity, and it was a place of relationship. The local legend had it that it was the well where Jacob and Rachel met.  Besides being the place for the relationships between women who gathered there every morning and evening, the well was a place with a relationship to the faith, and it also was a place of romance where relationships between men and women might start.

As she went to the well twice a day, the days turned into weeks, turned into months, with the women asking her every day if she was pregnant yet. She always said, “No.” The months turned into years, always carrying the water, and still she had no children. She prayed fervently, even as twice every day she carried her water jug to the well empty, and carried it home full.

As months turned into years with no children, her husband got increasingly angry with her, asking her, “What is wrong with you? What sin did you do that was so bad that God has cursed you with no children?” After a few years, he did what was legally allowed--he divorced her because she was barren, which leaft her to fend for herself. She remarried, but her friends wondered what curse had been placed on her, what sin she had committed, why God was not blessing her with children. They began to abandon her, a few at a time; still, a few loyal ones continued to talk to her on the walk to the well.

Again, no children, and again she was divorced, and then remarried, and again. Each time she married, there were no children, then a divorce, and she lost more friends. She lost status at the well, having to wait further and further back in the line to get water, until she found herself at the end of the line. No one, not even those few loyal friends, talked to her any more. She was shunned, and shamed, and finally she gave up, figuring if no one was going to talk to her, she would go to the well when no one was there, in the middle of the day. Being alone with her thoughts and prayers was better than being lonely in a crowd of finger-pointers and gossips.

The husbands got progressively older, and less desirable. A few had been kind, but most had seen her as necessary as a chamber pot. By the fifth husband, she was demoralized, disregarded, demonized as a serial divorcee. Alone, she would go to the well in the middle of the day, even though it was stiflingly hot, because she could get the water at her own pace without the stares and glares of the other women.

And then her 5th husband died. The law required her brother-in-law to take her in, not necessarily to marry, but to be cared for. She was property of the patriarchy of husband after husband, and now a brother-in-law, and she was slavishly chained to carrying a water jug to a water well when no one else was around.

Until one day, at noon, a thirsty man was sitting at the well. He asked her for water, but had no bucket. She knew what it would look like; talking to a man at the well where Jacob met Rachel, she knew how the village might gossip, and she also knew how desperate it could be to be so thirsty. Already shunned by her village, she broke every boundary and offered to help him.

And he looked at her, and guessed what her life was. Alone at the well in the middle of the day, he presumed she had been shunned by the other women, probably for being divorced for being barren, and he told her honestly, without judgement what her life had become. Even though she had enough water, her life was as dry and dusty as the desert, loveless and lonely, and he offered her the water to make her life have meaning again.

The conversation about water had become spiritual, and she asked the theological question of the day, “Where should we worship God?” It was a question borne out of 1000 years of division between her people and his-- since David’s unified kingdom split apart and became the Northern Kingdom of Israel, whose capital was Samaria, and the Southern Kingdom of Judea, whose capital was Jerusalem.  “Where should we worship God?” was a question borne of 500 years of feuding, since the people were returned from Exile. The southerners rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple and the northerners built a new temple on Mt. Gerazim, which, although it had been destroyed some 130 years before Jesus, was still used as a sacred site, and the Samaritans worshipped among its ruins. “Where shall WE worship God?” was a question of unified identity, noting that Samaria and Judea, hating each other for centuries, worshipped the same God. And “Where shall we worship God?” was a question asked by all the gospels after the Jerusalem Temple had fallen.

Jesus answered that we shall worship God where God is, in Jesus. When she asked if he was the Messiah, Jesus answered, “I AM,” the words God used with Moses at the burning bush, “I AM.”

Jesus told her he is Living Water, the necessary provision from God for life. Water, the liquid that lies liminally between land and the breezy breath of God. Life that turns dry, dusty, demoralized, disregarded, and demonized divorcees into the ones who witness to the Messiah.  She who was property of the patriarchy, shunned and shamed by her village, she who had spent years slavishly bearing water twice daily to her many husbands, dropped her water jug in order to bear the news of Living Water to her whole village. She who had lived a life of dark loneliness, shunned and shamed as if she was invisible, returned to the well surrounded and seen by her community. She who had been cursed by God for not birthing life, was blessed by God to speak life into being. She who had been judged a sinner by her village was not judged by Jesus, but seen for who she was, not an immoral woman cursed and childless, but a lonely but theologically astute woman with good news to share.

And the Samaritans, who had been shunned by Jerusalem and divorced from the Judeans centuries before, the Samaritans believed, and were brought back into the fold.

A thirsty man needing water, Jesus a Jew “needing” to go through Samaria the hated country (there were safer ways to get to Galilee!), the Messiah needing a witness, a shunned woman needing community, and a shunned nation needing a site to worship all came together at the well of Jacob.

A man and a woman met at a well, and relationship happened, relationship between a woman and God, between the world beyond Jerusalem and God, relationship between Samaria and Jerusalem. A man and a woman met at a well and life happened. Living water flowed, life abundant flowed, love and community flowed.

May we come to the well to offer water to those who thirst, may we be filled ourselves by the Living Water, and may we be turned out to tell the world. Amen.

Pastor Tony's Sermon January 28, 2018

John 3: 1-21     1-28-18    Rev. Tony Clark    ACCUCC

You may have noticed that we are doing a series on the Gospel of John. John is perhaps the hardest gospel to read because he is the most literary of the gospel writers. He uses metaphorical and mystical words with multiple meanings, he plays with puns, and he has recurring themes and characters to pull you through the narrative. Jesus also sounds a bit like the Kung-Fu master teaching Grasshopper in Zen koans.

 

Here a few things that can help us understand John a bit more:

·     John uses water to indicate something of this worldly realm, and water is the transition element to the Spirit world.

·     The word for Spirit in Greek, which John wrote in, also meant Breath and Wind.

·     John interchanges the ideas of light and darkness, day and night, sight and blindness, and mystical understanding and literal misunderstanding.

·     the word for judgement in Greek is also the root of our word, “crisis”; Jesus does not judge, but there is a crisis of faith in being separated from the Light of God.

·     And, in this passage, we are introduced to  Nicodemus, who  returns in Chapter 7 to defend Jesus before the other Pharisees, and again in chapter 19 to help Joseph of Arimathea  bury him.

The story is simple: Nicodemus, who, as a Pharisee, was a leader of the faith, came to Jesus at night and asked him a theological question about being born again. Jesus replied that to enter the Kingdom of God, we must be born of water and the spirit. And then he went on, addressing all the Pharisees, in a preachy, lecture-y tone about knowing the truth, being raised into heaven, judgement, eternal life, and living in the light.

Jesus talks in riddles and rainbows, that, like rivers, ramble and run rampant. He talks of entering the Kingdom of God born of the water and the spirit, together, as if they are intimately linked, like in baptism--the spirit descended on Jesus when he was being baptized with water.  Yet we also could hear Jesus say that being born of water is different than being born of the spirit. Water and spirit are two different things. Water is of this earthly world; we begin life in the watery world of the womb, and when we die, water is released. Jesus was born of the water of his mother’s womb and when Jesus died, a spear was stuck in his side, and from the wound flowed water and blood. (Jn 19: 34). Jesus turned water into wine (Jn 2: 1-11), met a woman at a well to tell her he is the living water (Jn 4: 1-42), he walked on water (Jn 6: 16-21; cf Jn 21: 1-14), and he washed his disciples’ feet with water (Jn 13: 1-20).

Water is worldly, and it is a transition element to the spirit. We can see water, and when you look at it, it seems like it might be a solid mass. After all things float on it—ducks, logs, even people—and Jesus walked on it!-- yet we cannot hold it in our hands. When you try to pick it up, it flows back to the ground. Like earth, water can be held in a cup. Like wind, though, water slips through our fingers. Like earth, water can be seen. Yet like wind, we can move through water, and, like wind, water has a power and a pull all its own, where earth mostly just sits there.

John tells us that where Jesus and water meet, the Spirit is there too. Water to wine, the woman at the well learning Jesus is the Living Water, and washing the disciples’ feet to prepare them for life in the Spirit. When Jesus taught at the Temple, right before Nicodemus appears for the second time to defend Jesus, Jesus stood up and said…, “whoever is thirsty should come to me and drink. As the scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in me, streams of life will pour out from his heart.’” And then John adds this commentary, Jesus said this about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were going to receive. (Jn 7: 37-38, GNV) Water, an earthly substance, transitions us to the Spirit.

The Spirit, like our breath, like wind, is felt but not seen; it has direction but no beginning or ending place; it has power but no substance that we easily perceive. It is the Spirit hovering over creation, calming the chaos of the waters; it is the breath of God blowing life into the mud-made Adam; and it is the breath of Jesus who breathed new life into the disciples who were hiding in a locked room after his death. Jesus came and stood among them… and said, “Peace be with you,” …and then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 20: 19-22, GNV).

The first time Nicodemus met Jesus, Jesus preached to him about first being born of water then being born of the Spirit, which is the way normal human beings are born again. “Born again” also mean “born anew”, as well as “born from above”. We mere mortal humans are born once of the womb in a watery whoosh, and then we can be born from above—born of the blowing, billowy breath of God.  But Jesus did it the other way around. He was born first of the Spirit, before the world began; he was the Word, who was with God and who was God (Jn 1: 1). After that first spiritual birth, then much later he became human, born of the water of the womb. For God so loved the world… (Jn 3: 16).

Yet Jesus did not come to judge, but to save (Jn 3: 17). Salvation in John is not so much an erasing of immoral actions from people’s past. Salvation is so that we may live with, live in—abide, dwell—in the light that is God. Jesus does not judge, but if we live in a place of unbelief we have already been judged, not by Jesus, nor by God, but by ourselves. We have judged ourselves worthy of living only in the watery world which is as dark as a womb.

Salvation is being birthed from dwelling in the watery womb of darkness to life in the luminous, languid, luxuriant light. Life in our watery world includes the reality of Darkness—the darkness of doubt, the darkness of death, the dark that falls in the deepest night, and the darkness of depression and grief.  Mystics will tell you that darkness has its own spiritual gifts.  I can almost hear Jesus claiming that while darkness is a real place where people could dwell, darkness doesn’t have to be the final destiny. Jesus calls us to move through the desperate darkness of death toward the luminous light of life.

Jesus is the Word of God, the light of the world, who dances with darkness at dusk and calls us from night into daylight. Jesus lives in the liminal, liquid, languid land that lies at the edge where watery womb meets windy spirit. He breathes the breath of God, a blustery breeze, that is the beautiful, billowy Spirit. He is the one in whom water becomes spirt becomes light.

Nicodemus, who stands in for each of us, is to be born from the watery womb into the windy world and walk from there into the luminous, languid, light of life, where each of us sees the beautiful, bountiful truth that we are, all of us, children of God. May this be our new birthday. Amen.

City of Berkeley Named Among Nation's Most Innovative In Reducing Energy

Sponsored Article from Person of the Planet

Read the original city manager's post here!

 

Community energy conservation efforts make big impact

Berkeley, California (Wednesday, January 10, 2018) - Berkeleyans reduced enough energy over two years that it equaled taking 2,141 cars -driving a total of 25 million miles - off the road for a year. 

Berkeley's energy reduction - among residents, businesses, the City government and schools - were driven by regulations, incentives and programs started by the City as well as steps taken by individuals such as installing rooftop solar.

The significant decline in energy use led to Berkeley being recognized as one of the top 10 cities in a nationwide competition about creating innovative solutions for reducing energy consumption. The energy reduction is all the more notable because Berkeley's temperate climate already requires less energy than other regions. 

The Georgetown University Energy Prize recognized the City of Berkeley for a number of innovative actions, such as:

The City of Berkeley's Building Energy Saving Ordinance, which helps building owners to identify ways to save energy.

The city's conversion of its streetlights to LED bulbs reduces energy and saves the City nearly $400,000 every year.

The West Berkeley Library, which was awarded the highest LEED Platinum designation for its sustainable design and operation, produces enough excess clean energy from its rooftop solar panels to power an electric vehicle charging station installed in 2017.

Future energy-reducing projects in Berkeley include designing a clean micro-grid to generate back-up power for increased community resilience.

Despite an 18% increase in population, Berkeleyans have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 12% since 2000. Most of the gains come from reducing building electricity and natural gas usage and the increase in renewable energy (solar and wind power) in our Bay Area electricity supply. The City has been working to give Berkeleyans more options for cleaner electricity, furthering reducing our greenhouse gas emissions - a goal that will become reality this year.

Despite our climate action progress, more needs to be done to meet our long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 80 percent in 2050 compared to 2000. Some simple first steps include:

Getting out of cars to bike, walk, bus or BART

Continuing to reduce energy use in our homes and businesses

Switching to energy efficient LED light bulbs and adjusting thermostats to reduce utility bills and greenhouse gas emissions.

See the city's website for a list of energy efficiency rebate and financing programs that can help commercial, residential and multi-family properties undertake building improvement projects such that will save energy, increase comfort, and reduce utility bills.

Pastor Tony's Sermon January 14, 2018

John 2: 1-11     1-14-18     ACCUCC     Rev. Tony Clark

Listen to this week’s sermon by clicking here.

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.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

 

Since moving to California, I have learned something about wine. Because it is ubiquitous, I tell people back east that it is our unofficial State drink. I also joke that in some places, our faucets are plumbed for wine; if you turn the left handle you get red, and if you turn the right handle you get white.

I’ve learned something of the agriculture of wine; how fragile the grape is to frost or fire, how many years it takes an immature grape plant to produce grapes—3 years, as I’ve heard after the devastating fires north of here.

I’ve also learned a bit about the economy of wine. Many of the workers in the fields are undocumented immigrants, people who have few rights in our society, including aid from FEMA after the recent fires. I imagine the difficulty of the work, even if though I don’t do it myself, because I see the workers when I travel through Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

On July 4, when Darrell’s family was in town we went to Napa. This was before the fires hit, there was a casual joy in the air, and the holiday meant that the wineries were pretty sparsely toured. We stopped at Stags Leap Winery, which is known for winning a French recognition for its cabernet in 1976. There weren’t many people there, and the wine steward was in a generous mood, and he gave us a free tasting of their Cask 23. It was beautiful, smooth, rich, and with a little kick in the end. They called it an “iron fist in a velvet glove.” Thinking of enjoying a bottle of that with friends, I immediately took out my wallet and said, “I know I can’t afford a case, but I would like to buy a bottle of that.” The steward said, “It’s $245 a bottle.” I gulped, and put my credit card back in my wallet and my wallet back in my pocket, and said, “Thank you for the taste. That was the most exquisite wine I’ve ever tasted, and the taste will have to last my life time.”

The wine that Jesus made was that good. A solid 94-96 points. An Iron fist in a velvet glove-- smooth, fruity, rich, deep, and luxuriant. The finest wine, served not at the beginning of the party, but 3 days in, when most people would serve the cheap stuff, the stuff that was nearly vinegar, the stuff from the bottom shelf. Jesus, a mere guest at this wedding, made water into the best wine ever.

And that is not the point of the story.

Each of the Gospels presents an answer, not just to the question, “Who was Jesus?”, but to the question, “How did Jesus reveal God to us?” The Gospel of John has a very clear answer to that question; Jesus revealed God because Jesus was the Word of God.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the Word of God, I think of the Bible, the book of scriptures, typeset on thousands of pages, bound in paper or cardboard or leather. I’m pretty sure that Jesus didn’t become a book of pages and pages and a leather covering.

Jesus was the Word of God, not a book, but the God’s spoken Words made manifest. The Gospel of John opens with these words, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” The Word of God is the spoken truth at the center of the universe, at the beginning before the Big Bang. The whole of our scripture opens with the beautiful poetry that says, “In the beginning… God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

The Word of God is not merely a book, written, edited, canonized, and then closed for all eternity. The Word of God is spoken over and over again, and the Gospel of John says that not only is the Word of God what God speaks and becomes true, but the Word of God became manifest, incarnated in the person of Jesus.

That opening of the Gospel of John continues with these words, “What has come into being in him was life…

The Word of God was present with God at the beginning of time, and the Word of God is life. Jesus, as the Word of God reveals to us what God keeps trying to tell us about life, and he does it by doing things. In the Book of John, Jesus does signs—what the other gospels call miracles, and these signs, and the words of interpretation around them point to what God wants to speak to us. Turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana is the first sign.

We look for meaning in the alchemy of turning water into wine, yet the meaning is not in the miracle, nor in the alchemy. The meaning is in what this act says about the actor, Jesus, and how Jesus reveals God.

Jesus turns water into wine on the request of his mother. She comes to him and asks him to not let the wedding host look embarrassed by running out of wine. Jesus’ answer, though, is that it is no concern of his, and it is not his time. His mother simply tells the steward to do what he says, and then walks away leaving it to Jesus to do something.

Jesus was not ready to reveal himself, yet there was something that Mary could see in her adult son. Always his mother, she had to encourage him to do something which would reveal him as the Word of God. So, like an alchemist turning lead into gold, Jesus turned water into wine. This first sign tells us about God, not in words, but in action.

We learn that Jesus was a miracle worker, an alchemist of some sort, yet that is not the entire meaning of this sign. The meaning is deeper, a reflection on what it means to be so completely alive in God. What has come into being in him was life. This alchemical miracle tell us about life: life is about celebrations, about being together for the important times like a wedding. Life is about hospitality, and good hospitality is bringing out the best when others would bring out the cheapest. Life is noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary. And life is about listening to your mother.

The Word of God doesn’t just proclaim, but makes manifest, that life in God is abundant. Jesus didn’t just make a few bottles of wine; he turned six jars of water, each containing approximately 20-30 gallons, into wine. That’s between 120 and 180 gallons of wine. If we assume the total was someplace around 150 gallons, something on the order of 750 modern bottles of wine, which would have taken about 1 ton of grapes had the wine been made from grapes.[1] In terms of the $245/bottle wine that I got to sample, that would be more or less $184,000 worth of wine. Certainly, weddings these days are costly, but even that is beyond what the wealthiest would budget for the wine at a wedding.

That was an amazing amount of hospitality, an abundance, an overflowing of the extraordinary in what would otherwise have been a relatively ordinary wedding. And what is even more amazing is that Jesus was not the host. He was merely a guest, along with his mother and disciples. He did it so the host would not be embarrassed, he did it because his mother asked, he did it because she knew he could and encouraged him. And he kind of went over the top.

And that is the point. The point is not the magic, the alchemy of adding carbon out of thin air to the hydrogen and oxygen to change a relatively simple chemical—water—into a more complex chemical—alcohol.

The Word of God, the living Jesus Christ, preached to us, not merely with words, but by revealing God’s point of view on this thing we call life. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, celebrated this thing called life, and showed us that Life in God is abundant and there is extraordinary abundance in the midst of the ordinary.

God proclaimed, at the beginning of time, the words, let there be life, animals, plants, sea creatures of all kinds, an abundance of cockroaches and butterflies, whales and plankton, bacteria and people. Let there be abundance, and there was abundance. And the Word of God at a wedding in Cana proclaimed with an act celebrating life, that Life in God is abundant-- -- Life in God is abundant, abundant in joy, abundant in community, abundant in diversity, abundant in love.

Yes, Jesus was a magic man, a miracle man, full of signs and wonders. And more than that, he is the Word of God, teaching us what that means.  

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life…”

Let there be life. Let there be abundant life. May we gather here to celebrate life, and may the extraordinary signs amidst the ordinary day-to-day of life reveal the good news of God to each of us. Amen.

[1] Calculations retrieved from https://grapesandwine.cals.cornell.edu/newsletters/appellation-cornell/2011-newsletters/issue-8/conversion-factors-vineyard-bottle on 1-11-18