Scriptures: Isaiah 62:1-5 and John 2:1-11
In my articulation of Christian faith, it tends to be the justice demands of the gospel—and by gospel I mean the gospel writ large from Genesis to Revelation—that compels me the most. My faith is most activated when I take off my romantic lenses and see the world for what it is. When, through the power of the gospel, we are able to tell the truth about the brokenness in the world, the pain we see and the pain we feel—this is good news for me. And when we tell that truth in the shadow of the cross, that gritty symbol at the heart of our Christian faith, and in the chill of the tomb left empty—this is good news for me. It is good news that always demands something: waking up, engaging, speaking out, putting ourselves on the line.
This is, as strange as it may sound, my home territory, where I am most comfortable with scripture. But the invitation I heard this week as I prepared these texts was one that I heard as a challenge: what if you talk about all good things?
This is a phrase that has been echoing for me lately. I saw it first as part of someone’s email sign-off: “Peace and all good things,” she wrote. Since then, it has popped up in other places: Peace, and all good things. I’ve since learned that it was the motto for St Francis of Assisi: Pax et bonum. Peace and the Good. Or Peace and Goodwill. Or Peace and all good things. May it be so.
In November 2014, I was speaking at a retreat on contemplative life and social justice sponsored in part by our denomination. When Roy Medley, who was then General Secretary of American Baptist Churches, was introducing the theme for the week, he said that one of the things he has noticed is that “the milk of human kindness sours quickly.” What he meant is that without the sustaining presence and the nurturing grace of God, even our best intentions, and our greatest work for good, will soon dry up.
The Benedictine sister Joan Chittister says something very similar. I use this quote at the beginning and end of every semester in my classes, as a reminder to my students who work endlessly hard at living faithful lives. She writes:
We have to remember that work is not prayer. It is at best an extension of prayer. We fool ourselves if we argue that we don’t have to pray because we work so hard or our work is so good. Those who work without prayer – no matter how good the work, no matter how sincere the minister – soon dry up inside. They have nothing left to give. Or, the work fails, and they have no faith to sustain them, no perspective to encourage them. More important, real prayer changes us. Prayer delivers us from our own internal oppressions, the burdens we put on ourselves, the bitterness we carry, because it enables the in-breaking of God in our lives.Joan Chittister
All good things.
The in-breaking of God in our lives. What might that look like? How can we tell?
If there is one thing we can say about scripture, it is at least a repeated attempt to try to communicate what the in-breaking of God looks like. It is person after person trying to say, “I think I experienced God this way!” “I saw God acting in this moment!” “I felt God’s leading at this time!” And, occasionally, “I searched, I prayed, I wept, but I could not feel God’s presence anymore.”
And so it is in the Gospel of John, at the curious and almost whimsical wedding at Cana, when the Mother of Jesus worries over the wine and Jesus prevaricates momentarily before converting 120 gallons of water into world-class wine.
In his commentary on this text Brian McLaren points out our contemporary, complex reactions to miracle stories in scripture. But, he suggests, “perhaps the story of a miracle is intended to do more than inform us about an event that supposedly happened in the past, an event that if you were to believe it, might prove something else.”
“Perhaps,” McLaren goes on, “a miracle story is meant to shake up our normal assumptions, inspire our imaginations about the present and the future, and make it possible for us to see something we couldn’t see before.”
The great preacher Fred Craddock said something similar: “A sign is not a miracle to amaze or an offer of proof for Jesus’ teaching. The sign was a window through which God was revealed.” When God breaks in to this wedding at Cana, abundance and extravagance happen. When God breaks in there is always more. When God breaks in there is astounding grace. When God breaks in the ordinary is blessed and transformed. When God breaks in there is wonder. When God breaks in there is delight.
This is what is called glory: glory is the astounding revelation of God’s loving, transforming, abundant, and gracious presence in our midst. All good things. Glory is God’s delight for God’s world; Glory is God’s delight in you. God’s delight for you.
So this is a whole new God, right? Revealed for the first time in Jesus? This is not the bearded, judgmental, condemning God we think of. Surely this is the good news that is being revealed for the first time.
It is good news. But it is a reiteration of good news. It’s nothing new, really. It is, instead, a deeply needed reminder. Ever need to be reminded that you are loved? Ever need to be told, again and again, that you’re worthy? Ever need people to tell you more than once that they value you? Ever think God knows we need these reminders?
In the gospel of Isaiah, (Isaiah is filled with more good news than just about any book I can find in the Bible), God declares God’s love and delight for God’s beloved people as well.
Here is another wedding, this one between God and God’s beloved. And just as many people take on a new name when they get married, so are new names bestowed on God’s beloved. (And when I say God’s beloved, remember that includes you. You are God’s beloved.) After years of lonely exile, God’s beloveds are no longer to be known as “Forsaken” but, hear this as if it were being spoken to you by God, “You shall be called My Delight is in you.” And the land to which the exiles were returning, it would no longer be “Desolate;” rather, the land itself will be named, “Married.”
Marriage imagery was used repeatedly in the Old Testament to try to give us some glimpse into the extent of God’s love, tenderness, and passion for God’s beloved. There is an intimacy between God and God’s beloved. An affection. A loving and a longing-for. As Gustavo Gutiérrez puts it: “God is not a severe and despotic God, but rather the bridegroom and the friend who can love with tenderness and passion, and who can delight in the love of God’s people.” All good things.
This is the God revealed in Jesus through his first sign in the whimsical miracle at Cana. Jesus reminds us of this astounding, abundant, grace-filled, intimate, delighting God, not “in a church or on a mountaintop surrounded by imposing majesty, but instead at a wedding and in the company of his friends.” God may still break in to those places: the church or on a mountaintop. But God is both greater than and more ordinary than these set-apart places. God’s love for us. God’s love for God’s world, God’s delight, God’s whimsy, and God’s grace can break in everywhere: As Gutiérrez writes: “The presence of Jesus is the epiphany of…a God who is close, in the setting of a feast, sharing our joys and our concerns.”
In the days after Elliot was born, I could not stop looking at him. I held him in my arms all the time, and I gazed at him unceasingly. My very being was delight as I watched this miracle of a person existing now in this world. It was such an overwhelming delight and such a flowing love that after three or four days I had searing neck pain for sitting in the same position hour after hour! Oh, but it was worth it. And I remember those hours almost like no others in all my life. An entire soul filled with delight.
So it is for God with you. I promise you that. No, actually, I don’t promise it. Jesus promised it. And God promises. So it is for God with you. All good things.
This is my invitation to you in the days to come. Set aside a few minutes every day and ask God to let you know and feel God’s delight in you. Let yourself sit and bask in God’s outpouring of love for you. Let yourself rest in that moment become acquainted with that deep knowledge. You are loved. You are God’s beloved. God delights in you.