Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Filtering by Category: Gospel of John

"Luck" and "Miracles"

John 2:1-11

On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples were also invited.  When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come.”  She said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now, standing there were six stone water jars for the rites of Jewish purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “fill them up with water.”  So they filled them up to the brim.  Then he told them to draw some out and take it to the chief steward, so they took it.  When the chief steward tasted the water that had become wine and did not know where it had come from (though the servants who drew the water knew), he called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first and the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have saved 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.

I had a conversation a week or so ago with one of my boys about the concept of “luck.” I don’t remember the details, but I think it had something to do with a half-court buzzer beater at some basketball game that went in, earned someone three points, and won the game. “Lucky,” right? Of course “luck” may have been involved, but I assured them it also very likely involved some preparation and practice, too.

One of my favorite sayings – for which I give Oprah credit, though she may have learned it from somewhere else – is the notion that there’s really no such thing as “luck.” Instead, she suggests that “luck” is nothing more and nothing less than the moment when preparation meets opportunity. “Luck is nothing more and nothing less than the moment when preparation meets opportunity.”

It may not apply, so much, to a winning lottery ticket – or if I were the one who made a half-court buzzer beater on the basketball court. That would be nothing more than dumb luck, for sure. But it does make sense when it comes to a half-court buzzer beater by Jordan Reid, say, or Steph Curry, or any time when good fortune finds someone who’s been preparing for, practicing on, working toward such blessing, abundance, or victory – like passing the test; or getting the job; or winning the game. What looks like “luck” to outsiders a lot of the time really involves a whole lot of practice, preparation and just the right opportunity coming together.

And I wonder if the same might be true where miracles are concerned. Don’t get me wrong, miracles are miracles are miracles. I don’t mean to discount them or suck the mystery and magic and power they carry from our faith’s story. I think they are evidence of grace when they happen and by the power of God, for sure, in ways I don’t always try to explain or rationalize or justify. And there are miracles worth praying for in these days for many of us gathered here…just look at our prayer list for evidence of that.

But what if “miracles” are more like “luck” a lot of the time, too. What if what we want to call – or need to be – “miracles” in our lives also involve some preparation, some practice and some opportunity coming together at just the right moment?

I read a reflection on this passage from John’s Gospel last week, written by a pastor in Kansas, named Joanna Harader, who suggests that miracles can be hard work. She considers this miracle – of Jesus turning water into wine – from the perspective of the stewards in the story, who Jesus enlists to help him make it happen.

The short of the long is that these stewards had to fill six hefty, heavy, stone water jars, each with 20-30 gallons. Imagine the weight of those jars before they were full, let alone after they were filled to the brim with all of that water. And remember that there wasn’t a tap or a hose or a pump, and who knows how far they were from the nearest well or what kinds of buckets they had at their disposal.

(I found myself wondering about the kids and sisters who care for us in Haiti who, each morning before they do almost anything else, have to hoof it up or down the mountainside for long distances with containers as large as 5 gallon buckets and as small as an old, re-purposed Canola oil bottle to collect water for their day. Suddenly, 20-30 gallons of water – times six – seems like no small “miracle” in and of itself, and no small favor to ask of the stewards at the wedding.)

So again, the point is that, as miraculous as Jesus’ water-to-wine event was, it wasn’t all magic; it wasn’t easy; and he didn’t do it alone. There was no small amount of preparation involved, coupled with the opportunity of God’s power and God’s people being willing and able and in the right place at the right time.

And I wonder if you and I are preparing ourselves for the opportunity to see and share in, to instigate, to accomplish, even, the miracles we long for in the world these days.

If we want there to be safety and warmth and shelter for those who are without it this winter, have we done something to prepare for that – or are we just waiting for a miracle?

If we want hungry people to have something to eat, have we so much as made a sandwich, passed out a gift card, volunteered at the soup kitchen – or are we just hoping their luck will change?

If we want the politics in our country to change did we vote? Have we contacted our representatives? Are we praying, by name, for our leaders?

If we want there to be peace on earth (a miracle to be sure), what are we doing – what have we done – to let it begin with us? Or are we just waiting, praying and hoping for a miracle to do the trick?

I guess what I’m saying is, maybe you and I are called to be like the stewards at that wedding in Cana – the ones called to get things ready, if you will, and to let someone else have their miracle. Maybe it’s time we start fetching the water; readying the jars; following Jesus’ orders; creating the opportunity for God to do God’s thing.

You and I – and wow, the whole lot of us together – could just be the miracle someone’s waiting for; we could just be the lucky day someone’s been praying about.

Yes, miracles can be hard work. But look at the joy that follows. Imagine the party that flowed from the abundance Jesus created that day in Cana. Imagine the fun those servants had drawing out that new wine, re-filling those empty glasses, jump-starting that celebration, when everyone thought it had ended too soon.

And what a miracle it will be, when all God hopes and everything Jesus died for, comes to pass – thanks to the faithful work and heavy lifting of you and me; God’s church, the baptized children of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, at work – making miracles – in and for the sake of the world.


The First and Second Incarnations

Grace, peace, and mercy to you from God our Father, from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, and from the Holy Spirit who unites us in faith. Amen.

If you are playing trivia and you hear the question, “How many of the four Christian gospels include the story of Jesus’ birth?” the only answer you will receive credit for is two: Matthew and Luke. However, that answer is not entirely true. John’s gospel also includes an account of the birth of Christ. In what is referred to as the Prologue of John, we hear:

“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, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

The Prologue of John is the story of the birth of the Christ – the second person of the Trinity – otherwise known as the Word. The Christ is the divine person who has always been in relationship to God the Father. The Christ is the animating presence of the Creator God. The Christ has always been; but when God created the universe, the Christ became incarnate in creation. The Christ is the Big Bang and Genesis’ creation poem – the beginning of the creation of the billions-year-old universe. This is the first incarnation.

Incarnation literally means “enfleshment,” or the “meat-ing” of God. As long as there has been a physical universe, God has been present in it through the Christ. Every tree, drop of water, dinosaur, blade of grass, oxygen molecule, insect, every cell, and every single person who has ever lived exists and is sustained through the Christ force. Everything and everyone is holy because everything and everyone is an incarnation of God the Christ. This truth is one of the great gifts passed down to us from our Hebrew faith ancestors.

So, what then of Jesus? What makes this one person in human history so significant?

Let me ask a question, have you ever known something but forgotten it? Or not just forgotten it, but forgotten that you ever once knew it? Please tell me this happens to someone besides me. Every day I wander into a room and just stand there for a minute or two trying to figure out the reason why I entered. Similarly, my bookcases are filled with books that I have actually read, but if you picked one randomly and asked me to explain it, I am certain I would not be able to do so. My wife or my parents will start telling a story about something that happened and claim that I was there, but I rarely recall the story exactly the way they tell it. Sometimes I can not remember being part of the story at all. This happens to you too, right?

This phenomenon, on a global scale, is what necessitated the second incarnation – the enfleshment of the Christ in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was born to help the first incarnation (i.e., all of creation, including us) remember the truth of our existence – that we, too are vessels of the divine, lovers of truth, and harbingers of grace and love.

Today a rapidly increasing population around the world would agree with the sentiment, “I love Jesus, but I hate the church.” Jesus, it seems, is just as popular, relevant, and attractive as ever. This is because as much as the church has mucked things up through every abysmal and immoral behavior imaginable, the church can never completely extinguish the truth that Jesus revealed.

Jesus was born to remind all people of our divine connection with God, one another, and all of creation. That is a message people want to hear because it confirms what God has put into their hearts and minds from the very beginning. People love Jesus because Jesus reminds us that our lives are good, meaningful, full of potential, and abounding in grace. In Jesus all of creation is reunited with a God it longed for but had grown distant from.

Nothing I can say this evening can fully express what it feels like to be reintroduced and reunited with the God who created you and loves you forever. I do, however, have something to show you that will depict just what God was up to with the second incarnation of the Christ. This is a video of a 53 year-old man with Down syndrome being reunited with his 88 year-old father after spending one week apart from one another.

This is just a glimpse of how much God loves you. This video resonates with people because it speaks to our Christ-likeness. The incarnate God in us witnesses moments of beauty in the world and fills our hearts with love. This interaction between a father and son reminds us of why we celebrate Jesus’ birth, why we are restless when we are distant from God, and why we must go out into the world and live realizing that that kind of love is the gift we absolutely must share with God and with all of God’s creation.

May your Christmas be one of reunification with the source and sustainer of all life, truth, love, justice, and hope. Amen; and Merry Christmas.

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.