Epiphany 2C: Water Plus a Miracle

Wedding at Cana
Duccio di Buoninsegna

OLD TESTAMENT: Isaiah 62: 1-5

Read the Old Testament passage

There are actually at least two ways to read this passage. Some hold that the prophet is speaking in the voice of God and reaffirming God’s promise to always act on behalf of the city. Others claim that the prophet himself is vowing to act as God’s intercessor, as God’s voice. Taken this way, the prophet, as he says, cannot stay silent. He is compelled to speak what he believes in the deepest part of his being. Either way, think about the context in which this passage was probably first said. God had made extravagant promises to God’s exiled people. Earlier in the book of Isaiah, God promised to build up the barren and war-torn city of Jerusalem. God promised to bring the exiled people home, and promised them the richest of feasts. And so they come home around the year 539, when Persia’s King Cyrus proclaims an end to the exile and allows them to leave.

But the reality to which the people returned was far from glorious. The land seemed to them like a desert. It was true that the land was not empty: people had remained in Judah during the years of exile, and others had moved into the area, making a life for themselves in Jerusalem and in the surrounding countryside. But none were able to undo the damage done by Nebuchadnezzar and his army some sixty and fifty years before. And when the exiles returned, it was all they could do to secure homesteads for themselves and try to grow crops to feed their families. The land had not remained untouched ready for them to return. It wasn’t like they just threw off the sheets covering their furniture and moved back in. Others had claimed their place. There was no place to go.

Times were difficult, and people were hungry. When prophets finally convinced them to rebuild the temple, it was clear that its glory could not match the glory of former days. The land still felt like a wasteland and so it was easy for them to assume that God had, in fact, deserted them.

The prophet, though, knows this is not true. The prophet believes that God has promised newness, transformation, and abundance in God’s time. But that reality is new; it is not a “redo” of the former things. It is a promise of new life. The prophet knows that God has promised new names for Israel, both for the land and for the people. This name—signifying a new destiny, a new hope—will be given by the Lord. A new name signifies a new and restored relationship with God. The name, “My Delight” says how God looks upon Israel and what God is promising to do. Emmanuel Swedenborg says that “Love consists in desiring to give what is our own to another and feeling [his or her] delight in our own.” So the prophet is calling the people to feel God’s delight, to live God’s delight, to be God’s delight. We proclaim that we rejoice in God. But this…this is God’s rejoice in us.


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does the premise of a “new name” mean for you?
  3. What does that mean for you to be “God’s Delight”, for God to delight in God’s people? Why is that difficult for us to think that way?
  4. What, then, would it mean for God to be “Our Delight”?



NEW TESTAMENT: 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11

Read the Epistle passage

In this passage, Paul seems to deal with spiritual gifts by pointing to the Corinthians involvement in other religions prior to their becoming Christians. He points to what it means to live by the Spirit of God; it means more than just being “religious”. It means living to the true potential of what God has instilled in each of us.

The lectionary breaks this chapter into two sections (and two weeks) but the main focus throughout the chapter is on spiritual gifts. This week’s reading essentially proclaims that all are given unique spiritual gifts and asks the question of us all, “So what will you do with them?” “What will you do so that they serve to the glory of God?” Remember that in this letter to the Corinthian Church, one of Paul’s main focuses was their seeming lack of community, their perceived inability to care for every member. This passage strikes at the heart of that notion. We are all given unique gifts by God. Are we using everyone’s gifts? Are we engaging everyone in ministry? Are all the gifts just as important as the next? Do we even recognize all the gifts that God has given us as a community? God instills gifts into each of us and instills gifts to each community. But different as they are, they are all of the Holy Spirit.

And what does this say about our own gifts and the way we engage them in the work to which God calls us? This is God’s Spirit alive in us. And yet sometimes it is difficult for us to recognize gifts in ourselves.

In Stepping Stones of the Steward, Ronald E. Vallet tells the story of a poor Jewish man, Eizik, son of Yekel, [who] lived in the city of Krakow. One night he dreamed that, in the far city of Prague, buried at the foot of the bridge that went across the Vltava River, was a great treasure. When he awoke the next morning, he remembered his dream but did not think too much about it because it is not that unusual to have such dreams. However, that night he had the same dream again. This continued night after night, the same dream, until ten days and nights had gone by. Finally, Eizik concluded that he had no choice but to make a journey to the far city of Prague to see if a great treasure really was buried where he had seen it in his dream.

He set out on the journey to Prague, a journey that took many days and was very difficult. As he approached the city of Prague, he saw the Vltava River, just as he had seen it in his dream. Crossing the river was a bridge, just as in his dream. He hurried to the foot of the bridge, where in his dream the treasure had been buried.

As he bent over and started to dig, he felt a hand grasp his shoulder and heard a voice say to him, “What do you think you’re doing here?” It was the hand and the voice of a soldier. Poor Eizik was so startled that he could think of nothing to do except to stammer out the truth. He told the soldier of his dream and of his long journey to Prague to seek the buried treasure. On hearing the story, the soldier laughed, gave Eizik a kick, and said, “You stupid Jew, don’t you know that we all have dreams like that? But it makes no sense to pay attention to them. I myself had such a dream. I dreamed that in the far city of Krakow, in the house of a poor Jew named Eizik, son of Yekel, a great treasure was buried beneath the stove. Now, wouldn’t I be stupid if I left my post and make a long journey to Krakow and went searching through the city looking for the house of a poor Jew named Eizik? Why, there are probably many Jews with that name.” With that, he gave Eizik another kick and said, “Not go on home!”

Eizik made the long journey back to Krakow, went to his home, moved aside the stove, and dug. There he found a great treasure of gold!

The treasure of gold did not lie in the far city. Instead, Eizik discovered that the treasure had been very near to him for many years. But the knowledge of the treasure involved a long and difficult journey. (Ronald E. Vallet, Stepping Stones of the Steward (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 1989), 9-10.)


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. How readily do we accept different gifts in the community?
  3. Is there such a thing as someone having the “wrong” gifts for a community?
  4. What does this say to you about your own spiritual gifts?
  5. What happens if we do NOT engage someone’s gifts?
  6. What happens if we do not engage our own gifts?



GOSPEL: John 2: 1-11

Read the Gospel passage

According to the Mishnah (which is essentially a redaction of the oral tradition of Judaism and the traditional understandings of Scripture), the wedding would take place on a Wednesday if the bride was a virgin and on a Thursday if she was a widow. The bridegroom and his friends made their way in procession to the bride’s house. This was often done at night, when there could be a spectacular torchlight procession. There would be speeches and expressions of goodwill before the bride and groom went in procession to the groom’s house, where the wedding banquet was held. It is probable that there was a religious ceremony, but we have no details. The processions and the feast are the principal items of which we have knowledge. The feast was prolonged, and might last as long as a week (so, OK, that would be quite a lot of wine!).

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is at the wedding, although her role seems to be more than that of a guest. Perhaps the couple were relatives or something. But she seems to be one of the first to know that the wine is running out. She instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, and they appear willing to take her instructions.

This was an embarrassing situation—the wine has run out, and there appears to be no solution. Either no more wine is available, or there is no money to buy more wine. The guests seem unaware of what is happening. If something is not done, all will be embarrassed. Some commentators even inform us that litigation was possible in such cases. (Can you imagine being sued for not providing enough food and drink at a marriage ceremony?) But, regardless, it is clear that Jesus mother expects Jesus to do something out of the ordinary. She expects him to fix it. Maybe it’s a message to us that Jesus didn’t just come for the “big”, splashy things. Maybe it’s a reminder that God is in even the ordinary, those seemingly small things in life that we think we can handle, that we think don’t really even matter to God.

But this? I mean, really, wine? Why didn’t he turn the water into food for the hungry or clothing for the poor? Why didn’t he end the suffering of one of those wedding guests who were forced to live their lives in pain? Why didn’t he teach those that were there that God is more impressed by who we are than what we do? Now THAT would have been a miracle. But instead Jesus, in his first miraculous act, creates a party, a feast. Maybe it’s a reminder that we ought to just relax and trust God a little more. Maybe it’s trying to tell us that God is indeed in every aspect of our life. And maybe it’s telling us that life is indeed a feast to be celebrated.

And think about the wine itself. It begins as ordinary grapes. Well, not really. If you go even farther back, you start with water. Everything starts with water. And then those ordinary grapes with just the right amount of water, the right amount of sunlight, and the right amount of nutrients fed to them from the rich, dark earth begin to seed. And then we wait, we wait for them to grow and flourish and at just the right time, they are picked and processed and strained of impurities and all of those things that are not necessary. And then they are bottled and tucked away while again, we wait. They are placed in just the right temperature, with just the right amount of light, and just the right amount of air quality, and we wait. We wait and until it becomes…well, a miracle.

And Biblical theologians have over and over pointed to the relationship that this story has with the Eucharist. Think about it. We take ordinary bread and ordinary wine (or in our case, ordinary Welch’s Grape Juice), and through what we can only describe as a Holy Mystery, a veritable miracle, those ordinary things become holy. They become for us the body and blood of Christ, the very essence of Christ to us, for us, and in us.

And remember that when the wine ran out, Jesus did not conjure up fresh flagons of wine. Rather, he took what was there, those ordinary, perhaps even abandoned vessels of ordinary, everyday water and turned it into a holy and sacred gift. Water and a miracle…

So this story of wine makes a little more sense. Wine is water—plus a miracle. But in case it is lost on us, remember that our bodies are roughly two-thirds water. No wonder the ancient sages always used water as a symbol for matter itself. Humans, they taught, are a miraculous combination of matter and Spirit—water and a miracle—and thus unique in all of creation. No wonder that wine is such a powerful, sacramental, and universal symbol of the natural world—illumined and uplifted by the Divine. Wine is water, plus spirit, a unique nectar of the Divine, a symbol of life.

And we, ordinary water-filled vessels though we are, are no different. God takes the created matter that is us and breathes Spirit into us, breathes life into us. We, too, are water plus a miracle. 13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart said that “every creature is a word of God.” It’s another way of reminding us that we are water plus a miracle.

So maybe this story of Jesus’ first miracle is not as odd as we thought. Our lectionary places it immediately following the remembrance of Jesus’ baptism and the remembrance of our own. It is the point where God’s Spirit, where the holy and sacred itself, was poured into each of us. So, yes, we are a miracles, created matter, Spirit-breathed. We are the good wine that God has saved for now. We are water plus a miracle.


  1. What meaning does this hold for you?
  2. In what ways does this speak of God’s abundance to you?
  3. How does this passage speak to you about our own faith journeys?
  4. How open to God’s abundance are we?
  5. What does it mean to see ourself as a miracle of God?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit. (e.e. cummings)


Joy has no name. Its very being is lost in the great tide of selfless delight—Creation’s response to the infinite loving of God. (Evelyn Underhill)

When I die, God isn’t going to ask me “Did I create the Earth in six days or five days?” but “What did you do with what I gave you?” (Richard Cizik)




Where there was no wine, there was you

and you said drink, and there it was, startling and sweet.

And where there was no bread, there was you

and you said feed one another, and there it was, filling and strong.

And where there was no love, there was you

and you said touch, and there we were, our hands looking like yours.


Here’s to everyone: To fullness of life on earth and bounteous blessings for all humanity; To justice, compassion, and the warmth of the sun for all God’s creatures; To the golden health of loved ones everywhere, and the radiant glory of those who have gone before. God bless us now and evermore. So be it. Amen. (Jan L. Richardson, “And You Said”, in In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season, (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2000), 41, 157).


Baptism of the Lord C: Becoming

Butterfly and waterOLD TESTAMENT: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Read the Old Testament passage

This is another of Second Isaiah’s oracles of hope. It is essentially written with the idea that the divine calling of the prophet is to comfort all people. It is a clear pronouncement of God’s presence in Israel and with the people. This passage uses some clear language—created, formed, named—in both its opening and at the end. And in between this inclusio, of sorts, is a depiction of God’s redemption and salvation. It reminds us that God never leaves God’s people, that God is always and forever present with the ones that God created, offering them continued renewal, recreation, and redemption.

The central verses of today’s passage elaborate the nature of Israel’s redemption. Israel is named by God and belongs to God. Israel is redeemed not as a tool in God’s hand but as the beloved in a close relationship. References to the wealthiest nations of Africa at that time (Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba) emphasize how precious Israel is to God. Israel’s redemption is not manipulated from afar by a distant deity but is experienced through the presence of God among them. Israel is not promised escape from the dangers of water and fire but that God will be with them in the midst of earthly trials. In this we hear echoes of the flood and the wilderness wanderings. But these verbs are in the present tense, reminding us of the past but also of God’s continued presence and continuing offering of redemption. God seeks to comfort the ones that God loves. Rather than judgment, the people are offered grace.

Remember that this part of Isaiah was probably written to exiled people as the time of exile was ending. It was an invitation to return home. So, from that standpoint, it echoes our own invitation to baptism and for us baptized, a reminder to remember the journey that we travel.

This is a wonderful passage to read in conjunction with the whole idea of Baptism. Through Jesus’ baptism, of which we will read in a moment, that same love is affirmed on an individual basis and is offered to all. For us, it is a reminder for us to envision that redemption as a part of our incarnation, a part of our formation. In essence we are living already redeemed, already loved and beloved, and already beyond what we think is possible. Ukranian / Russian philosopher Lev Shestov said that “It is only when [one] wishes the impossible that [he or she] remembers God. To obtain that which is possible, [one] turns to those like [him or herself].” Baptism is a reminder that we are more than what we imagine and that we connect with a God who is more than what we know and that, no matter what, God walks us through those waters toward redemption.


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does that mean to live “already redeemed”?
  3. Do you think we really grasp God’s love for us? What stands in the way of our truly understanding that?
  4. What does it mean to live “beyond the possible”?


NEW TESTAMENT: Acts 8: 14-17

Read the passasge from The Acts of the Apostles

After the stoning of Stephen, the Greek-speaking believers fled Jerusalem to avoid arrest. Philip went to Samaria and through his preaching, a number of Samaritans became believers in Christ. Essentially, the spread of the Gospel was in full swing. The problem was that they had apparently gotten a little excited and perhaps ahead of themselves. So these people had been “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” but, supposedly had not received the Holy Spirit. (Although, I’m not sure how they were able to measure that! Perhaps they were just making sure they had said the words right.) So when the apostles arrive, they prayed that the Samaritan believers would be given the Holy Spirit (assuming, of course, that that had not happened before). Here, Baptism is essentially a technical term for “immersion” into the full person of God—the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. But now, these believers have also received the Spirit (Whew!).

As odd as this Scripture is, it is reminding us that Baptism cannot be separated from formation. Even when we baptize infants, there is an understanding that formation has begun, that the Holy Spirit has begun to be a part of their lives. It is more than just saying that one believes in God. At all stages of formation, Baptism, the Spirit, and formation cannot be separated. Baptism alone does not make a relationship with God; it is rather an ongoing and continual growth toward oneness with God.

Keep in mind that all through the Book of Acts, these new believers are sort of in “transition”. They knew they had something but they didn’t know what it was or what to do with it. (Perhaps they are not that different from us!) But once it was clarified that this baptism was in the name of Jesus, they understood. This understanding prompts the Holy Spirit. This, though, does not presume a formal relationship between Baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit. The liturgy is not a magical potion but, rather, a proclamation of what God has done and what God is doing. Baptism is more than about individual experiences. It is, rather, an extension of what God is doing in the world.

Interestingly, a large part of our understanding of baptism is formulaic—“I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”. They cannot be separated. (The main part of the reason the United Methodists do not “accept” the baptism of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has to do with this formula. The LDS baptism is done in the name of Jesus and at that point membership is confirmed. The Holy Spirit is a gift to the baptized that comes AFTER baptism.)

But maybe the conversation needs to include less about what we do and more about what God does. Ultimately, God does the work of conversion rather than us. We can proclaim, we can pray, and we can cultivate spiritual practices. I suppose, sadly, we can even scare people into coming to the altar, holding out some sort of God-forsakenness in an unbaptized existence. But when it’s all said and done, it is God and God alone who converts us. We are invited into what God has already done and what God continues to do. We are invited into transformation.


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What happens if we lose the “formation” part of our Baptismal language?
  3. In what ways do you think we typically “misunderstand” baptism?
  4. What affect does that understanding of baptism have on the church itself?
  5. How do we typically understand the presence of the Holy Spirit in baptism?
  6. How do you think we typically understand God’s work in baptism?



GOSPEL: Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

Read the Gospel passage

The early part of the Gospel According to Luke is filled with “expectation-building”. The writer relates the story of Jesus’ birth, his early trip to Jerusalem, and the arrival of John the Baptizer. I think on some level, the writer of Luke is building to this moment—birth, formation, and life in its fullest, creation, redemption, and eternal life. John replies to the expectations of the people by telling them that someone greater than he is coming. This message is shared by all three synoptic Gospels, but the reply concerning the threshing floor occurs only in Matthew and Luke. The Baptist mentions the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

The seriousness of baptism is made clear by the metaphor of the threshing floor. This is not an act to undergo lightly. We do not believe that it just something that we have to do; it is instead linked to salvation. It is inclusive. We are judged, we are redeemed, and we are given the gift of life. It is not merely a rite of the church. It is the active work of God. And, notice, that even this very human Jesus, Son of God though he was, could not baptize himself. It is a communal act. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves.

And then the heaven is opened and the Holy Spirit descends. All of heaven spills into the earth. (What a mess THAT probably makes!) The two can no longer be separated. Like the passage from Isaiah depicts, God is with us. This is the inauguration of Jesus’ kingship. Finally, there is room. Eternity dawns in this moment. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the work begins.

This story of Jesus’ Baptism calls us to remember our own. It, too, is our beginning as the gift of God’s grace washes away those things that impede our relationship with God and gives us new birth, new life. And it calls us to do something with our life. But I actually don’t remember the day of my baptism. It happened when I was a little over seven months old, on Palm Sunday, April 15, 1962. It was at First United Methodist Church, Brookshire, TX and Rev. Bert Condrey was the officiant. I had a special dress and lots of family present. That would be all I really know.

And yet we are reminded to “remember our baptism”. What does that mean for those of us who don’t? I think “remembering” is something bigger than a chronological recount of our own memories. It is bigger than remembering what we wore or where we stood or who the actual person was that touched our head with or even immersed us in water. It means remembering our very identity, our creation, what it is that made us, that collective memory that is part of our tradition, our liturgy, our family.

That is what “remembering” our baptism is. It’s not just remembering the moment that we felt that baptismal stream; it is remembering the story into which we entered. It is at that point that the Christian family became our own as we began to become who God intends us to be. And for each of us, whether or not we noticed it, the heavens spilled into the earth and the Holy Spirit emerged. And we, too, were conferred with a title. “This is my child, my daughter or son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

And in that moment, whether we are infants or older, we are ordained for ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. We are ordained to the work of Christ and the work of Christ’s church. Caroline Westerhoff says that “at baptism we are incorporated into Christ’s body, infused with Christ’s character, and empowered to be Christ’s presence in the world. [So then], ministry is not something in particular that we do; it is what we are about in everything we do.” (in Calling: A Song for the Baptized, by Caroline Westerhoff, p. xi) In other words, our own Baptism sweeps us into that dawn that Jesus began. And, like Jesus, our own Baptism calls us and empowers us to empty ourselves before God. As we begin to find ourselves standing in those waters with Christ, we also find ourselves ready to be followers of Christ.

You are part of something beyond yourself, beyond what you know, and beyond what you can remember. Rainer Maria Rilke once said that “the future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” Your past now reaches far back before you were here and your future is being transformed and redeemed in you even as we speak.


I’ve heard that Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformation leader, passionately reminded people to “Remember your baptism!” I can’t remember my own baptism. It happened in Canton, Ohio, at St. Joseph’s Church, when I was only two weeks old. But I think Luther meant something bigger than our historical memory of one day. And I have a feeling he wasn’t just talking about dressing up in a pretty white dress or suit, having a party and, if we’re a baby, everyone saying how sweet we look. In his catechism, Luther wrote, “A truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism once begun and ever to be continued.” I think Martin Luther wanted us to remember each day who we are, and whose we are, and how beloved we are. Even in an age when we spend so much time talking about “self esteem,” don’t we still long to hear that we are beloved? (From a reflection on this week’s lectionary by Kate Huey, available at http://www.ucc.org/worship/samuel/january-10-2010.html, accessed 6 January, 2010.)


After he was baptized, Jesus stood, dripping wet, to enter his ministry. The heavens opened up and poured into the earth. All of humanity was there in that moment—those gone, those to come. We now stand, wet with those same waters, as we, too, are called into ministry in the name of Christ. Then…it is up to you to finish the story. This day and every day, remember your baptism, remember that you are a daughter or son of God with whom God is well pleased and be thankful. You are now part of the story, part of this ordering of chaos, part of light emerging from darkness, part of life born from death. You are part of God’s re-creation. And it is very, very good. Go and do likewise.


  1. What meaning does this hold for you?
  2. What meaning does this shed on your own baptism?
  3. What meaning does this hold for your own spiritual journey?
  4. What does it mean to be “beloved”, to see yourself as a daughter or son of God?
  5. What does it mean to imagine that God is indeed “well pleased” with you?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


The soul must long for God in order to be set aflame by God’s love; but if the soul cannot yet feel this longing, then it must long for the longing. To long for the longing is also from God. (Meister Eckhart)


What we are looking for on earth and in earth and in our lives is the process that can unlock for us the mystery of meaningfulness in our daily lives. It has been the best-kept secret down through the ages because it is so simple. Truly, the last place it would ever occur to most of us to find the sacred would be in the commonplace of our everyday lives and all about us in nature and in simple things.   (Alice O. Howell, The Dove in the Stone)


You are destined to fly, but that cocoon has got to go! (Nelle Morton)




Invite people to renew their Baptism by saying to each other. “Remember who and whose you are, God’s beloved daughter with whom God is well pleased.”


Think about it…Jesus was still wet with water after John had baptized him when he stood to enter his ministry in full submission to God. As he stood in the Jordan and the heavens spilled into the earth, all of humanity stood with him. We now stand, wet with those same waters, as we, too, are called into ministry in the name of Christ. As we emerge, we feel a cool refreshing breeze of new life. Breathe in. It will be with you always. Then…it is up to you to finish the story. Then…the journey begins. So remember who and whose you are. Remember your baptism and be thankful for it is who you are.


Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow. Number them among your people bless as Christ blessed long ago. Weave them garments bright and sparkling; compass them with love and light. Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit, holy dove, and heart’s delight.


We who bring them long for nurture; by your milk may we be fed. Let us join your feast, partaking cup of blessing, living bread. God, renew us, guide our footsteps, free from sin and all its snares, one with Christ in living, dying, by your Spirit, children, heirs.


O how deep your holy wisdom! Unimagined, all your ways! To your name be glory, honor! With our lives we worship, praise! We your people stand before you, water-washed and Spiritborn. By your grace, our lives we offer. Recreate us; God, transform!

(Ruth Duck, “Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters”, The United Methodist Hymnal, #605)