You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her (Isaiah 62:3-4a)
A water bearer had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole that he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”
“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”
“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.
The water bearer felt sorry for the old pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”
Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had lost half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”
This is what God does for you and me. God takes what we may see as only brokenness, or challenges, or ordinary efforts and uses them in healing the world. How many times I have been witness to this miracle of God’s doing. I have seen a young person who is shy and insecure, be the one who welcomes the new person into the community. I have seen the person who says they have no gifts be the one who comes up with the idea or offers the service that is most needed to get a project started. I have seen a person who is elderly or in some way restricted be the one who will sit and listen with kindness to someone who needs attention. It is often in what we may think is a weakness that God is most creative. God is always looking for a way to put our ordinary lives to work doing extraordinary things. God is always at work planting seeds that sprout with what we can believe are our less than perfect offerings.
In our reading today from John’s Gospel we hear where Jesus took something very simple—water—and turned it into a most precious gift. Jesus, his mother and disciples are at a wedding in Cana, north of Nazareth. Jesus’ mother, Mary, would have joined the other women in helping to prepare the wedding feast. It is she who notices that all is not right in this celebration. They are getting frighteningly close to running out of wine. Wine at these ancient celebrations was not just a beverage, it was an important symbol of blessing, hospitality, and abundance. To run out of wine would bring great shame and dishonor on the families hosting the event.
At first Jesus does not respond, but Mary, knowing that whenever Jesus is near, anything is possible, tells the servants to do whatever Jesus asks of them. Jesus tells the servants to fill six stone jars with water to the brim.
This was no small task to bring that much water from nearby wells, but when the task is accomplished, he tells them to take a scoop of what was water to the chief steward. The Chief Steward tastes it and announces that it is the very best wine—better than any that has been served thus far. And suddenly there are six huge basins—180 gallons—of the very best wine—more than enough to complete the wedding festivities. More than enough to leave every guest filled with blessings overflowing. Jesus has averted a disaster for this family. Through his quiet act, he has taken simple water and turned it into the finest wine. John does not refer to this act as a miracle. Rather he calls it a “sign”—something that points beyond. Something that reveals, that makes something known. Jesus’ first sign, an act accomplished quietly with only the servants and Jesus’ intimate party knowing, reveals an exorbitant grace—God’s grace that redeems our brokenness, that refills us, that restores us to the abundance for which we were created.
This is such good news. We do not have to be perfect to be used in God’s kingdom. We do not have to be the best listener to pay attention to someone’s story. We do not have to know all the answers to help someone in need. We do not have to have endless patience to be a friend. We only need offer ourselves to God’s purpose in all our ordinary ways, with all our cracks. God has a way of making what we may disregard and make it a blessing to others. God knows our broken places and does not cast us out. Instead God plants seeds of hope and beauty alongside all the less than satisfactory ways. In God, we have one who will replenish us with abundance if we but turn in faith. In God, what may seem ordinary can be made into fine wine.
How often does a simple gesture on our part become in God’s generous hands a priceless gift to another? Maybe we think that it is 8:30 on a Tuesday morning and all that is in front of us is a pile of work to be completed. Or maybe its 6:00 on a Wednesday evening and we are rushing to the grocery store to get home to start dinner. Or maybe its 7:30 on a Saturday morning and it is finally time to be able to sleep in. Yes this is a true part of our lives. But the other part of the story is that God is always at work in our daily lives—in our work, in our relationships, in our family life to care for and redeem the world, one person, one action at a time. How would we look at all the ordinary parts of our lives if we believed that God was with us, working through them to care for God’s creation? God delights in us. God longs to put our gifts and our daily acts to use in healing this world.
And we can trust that God is at work, even in the midst of painful brokenness in communities. On Thursday, we got some hard news in our beloved church. It was not a surprise for many of us who have listened as division and pain worked its way through our beloved Anglican Communion. But on Thursday, as our new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry attended his first primates meeting in Canterbury England, a majority of the church leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion voted that for a period of three years, that The Episcopal Church “no longer represent (them) on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
There was concern in the beginning that many of the Primates or Bishops of Provinces would simply leave the meetings so distressed are they with The Episcopal Church’s stance on women’s ordination and the doctrine of marriage. Instead, most of the 37 Primates who serve 85 million people in 165 countries stayed. And before moving on to critical issues of caring for the environment, working to end violence in the world, and speaking out against the deep evil of corruption, they expressed their desire to continue to “walk together” in communion despite their differences.
While the report of us being “suspended from the Anglican Community” is false, it is a difficult time of conflict and painful separation. Once again vulnerable people are being set outside and made to feel that they are less worthy of respect and love. Once again we have sinned and turned away from God’s great desire that we work together and love each other no questions asked. The world needs a church united in God’s love. Together we can do so much that is needed to be a source of healing in a hurting world. Before the vote, our Presiding Bishop said, “We have committed ourselves and our church to being ‘a house of prayer for all people.’ Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.” He went on to say, “The pain for many will be real. But God is greater than anything. I love Jesus and I love the church. I am a Christian in the Anglican way. And like you, as we have said in this meeting, I am committed to ‘walking together’ with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family.”
So while we are cracked pots in many ways, God will use us. Presiding Bishop Curry reflected that perhaps the seeds that God has planted out of our brokenness is for The Episcopal Church to continue working to help all, both in and outside our church, realize that God loves us all and one day to become a church and a world where all are truly welcomed and seen as “ a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord.” No one forsaken. No one cast aside because of who they are. All a part of God’s great redeeming grace. And this love can never be defeated.
In this season of Epiphany may we bear witness to the signs that point us in Jesus Christ to God’s grace upon grace. May we be grateful for all the ways God uses each one of us, even our imperfections, to share God’s light with others. And may we rejoice and be glad that through God’s accessible, adoring presence, even our ordinary moments can be turned into fine wine.