Sunday, January 16, 2022
Second Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 2, Year C

Martin Luther King, Jr., Renewer of Society and Martyr

Prayer of the Day
Lord God, source of every blessing, you showed forth your glory and led many to faith by the works of your Son, who brought gladness and salvation to his people. Transform us by the Spirit of his love, that we may find our life together in him, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 62:1-5  As bridegroom and bride rejoice, so shall God rejoice over you
Psalm 36:5-10
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 There are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit
John 2:1-11 The wedding at Cana

Sermon
Title: Empty Jars, Fullness of Life

Where do you see empty jars? Maybe, like the jars in the gospel story that we have heard from John, that first and well-told miracle of Jesus turning water into wine, maybe the empty jars you are seeing are set against a party going on in the next room.  Others are celebrating, but you are seeing empty jars.  They are not even aware of the lack that you are seeing.  Or maybe the emptiness that you are seeing is far reaching, collective, communal.  From what you hear and see from others, you know that you are not the only one seeing emptiness.

Perhaps a prolonged pandemic is revealing a new level of emptiness to you and in you.  For one thing, there are no gatherings, no parties.  The refreshment gained from gathering and socializing in person was last experienced so long ago that you feel like you have been crossing a desert and you are thirsty.  A desert whose borders just seem to keep extending and extending.

Maybe the empty jars in your life have nothing to do with the pandemic.  After all, there were certainly plenty of challenges before March of 2020. Some have been shrouded by current events, others are very much present and showing the pain and suffering of their want to a greater degree.  Take a minute and think on your empty jars – be they internal or external, be it relationships…career… health…anxiety…

Jesus’ mother sees empty jars.  And she wants Jesus to do something about it.  Mary actually provides a wonderful example of prayer in the face of this need.  She just lays it out for Jesus.  “They have no wine.” She just states the need, directs his attention to the emptiness.  No fancy language.  No long explanations.  Just, “Jesus, pay attention to this.”  Like the characters in later parables when Jesus is teaching about prayer, (the nagging widow who harasses the judge, for one) Mary does not take ‘no’ for an answer. “Do whatever he tells you.” And what Jesus tells them is quite unexpected in its simplicity.

He says nothing about wine.  He does not even address their attention to the empty wine jars.  Instead, it is water he asks them to provide and to put it into jars used for purification rites.  Jars for religious ceremonies not for storing the needed wine.  He asks them to hear his word and to change their focus.

Now I am not suggesting that all our empty jars that we listed a few moments ago will be miraculously filled with a simple prayer and we can join the party again.  But perhaps there is something for us here in the leading of the Holy Spirit through prayer and faith to be open to something new, looking in a new direction, making ourselves available to God’s surprises.

Mary also offers us a reminder that it is not only our own empty jars that we are to be mindful of.  It wasn’t her party. She was not the hostess.  She could have just as easily said – not my problem.  Wherever her compassion centered – whether with the parents of the bride, or the happy couple, or the folks who weren’t finished partying yet, she saw an emptiness and did what she could to address it and fill it.

Especially on this weekend, I ask you to not only look at the empty jars that you are directly affected by, but also those experienced by our siblings in Christ and fellow human beings. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights Activists saw empty the jars of justice, empty jars of equal treatment under the law, empty jars of economic opportunity, empty jars of hope for a future that our society built on white supremacy was offering only to the privileged.  All the while the party was going on for the oppressing majority that kept itself blind-drunk from seeing the want and the need, the mistreatment and the injustice, that was leaving others so very thirsty for life.  A white majority that failed to see the emptiness that we were inflicting on others, but also, as a nation, were ignorant to the emptiness that we were subjecting ourselves to systems that perpetuated racial inequality, repressive economic practices, and limited education and employment opportunities and therefore stifled the growth and betterment of our nation.

In lives that were Spirit-led to prayerful action and witnessing to persistent faith, those who sought justice and equality, who sought to have their jars filled as was their due as siblings in Christ, as fellow citizens, and as ones united in the human family, the Civil Rights movement led by Dr. King and others did not engage in methods that were or are typically used to fill the emptiness.  In the face of violent injustice they did a holy thing, a faith-filled thing, a loving thing.  They filled their jugs of non-violent purity and leaned on the word of Jesus to turn the plain water of their simple actions into the well-aged wine of the signs of hope and salvation that their movement brought forth.

And what a party we could throw with ever-flowing wine if that was the end of the story.  If their movement accomplished filling all those jars.  If everyone, regardless of race, greed, gender, sexual identity were now drinking from some endless store of freedom and justice.

However, with the enlightenment that has come through documentation made known through social media, our nation has learned again and again and painfully again, that while some laws may have changed thanks to those courageous civil rights movement leaders, hearts and minds are slower to change.  And there are still too, too many empty jars.

As children of God, disciples of Christ, and instruments of the Holy Spirit, we cannot just go back to the party and say it is someone else’s problem or challenge or job.  As Americans of European descent, white supremacy and systemic racism are ours to confront.  They are our empty jars that we must acknowledge and confess.  That we must seek to have filled by the graciously given new life that is ours through the miracle of Christ who unites us as his resurrected body and through the work of the Holy Spirit that makes us one.

Like Isaiah, we cannot keep silent, we cannot rest until justice shines out and the torch of salvation warms all.

Of course, very few of us are called to the ministry that Dr. King allowed himself to be led into, even to the point of dying a martyr’s death.  But, as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, so he reminds us, we are all given unique gifts, and they all come from the same Spirit.  Whatever the gift is, it is not to be bottled up, or jarred up, in this case. For as Paul encourages:  7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (I Cor. 12)

And so we look not only at the empty jars around us, but we also look with faith and courage to see the empty jars that we are.  Knowing in faith that it is the Holy Spirt through the gift of baptism that is filling us with water that is so much more than water.  Joined with the word of God, the presence of God, and the promise of God, the baptismal waters fill us to overflowing, transforming us from fragile and flawed creatures into new creations bearing the image of the risen Christ.  This baptismal journey that we examined last week when Jesus initiated it in the Jordan is a transformative journey.  Transforming us so that we might transform the world into to fuller expression of God’s kingdom in which there are no empty jars, the wine never runs out, all people share in the perfect justice of God, where there is only love and mercy shared by all of God’s beloveds, and this divinely hosted celebration enjoyed by all, by everyone, equally, justly, without distinction, without qualification, this celebration, joining our loving and merciful God to all creation, goes on and on and gloriously on.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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