We have today two intersecting religious impulses.? We have a national holiday tomorrow that is really a religious one.? I am not struggling with the reality that Dr. King?s life ought to have perpetual national recognition. ?It should. ?What I struggle with is that Dr. King set some very high standards that emanate from a shared religious perspective with us.? Dr. King grew up learning about the same Jesus that we talk about and claim to have in our hearts.? Dr. King did his doctoral studies at an American Baptist related seminary, Colgate Rochester Divinity in Rochester, New York, where the offices of the region of American Baptist Churches that we are part of are located.? When I ponder as a clergy person what it means to follow Jesus, the way of Jesus, Dr. King has some big shoes to either step into or walk around.
The other religious impulse comes from our spiritual discipline of following the Scriptural lectionary pathway.? We don?t have to.? We choose to because we believe that the Jewish/Christian combination of holy texts have both helped our two faith groups understand ourselves historically, as well as served to inform the faith expressions that define our todays and give visions toward our tomorrows.? Like all spiritual disciplines, they are best practiced with regularity.? The repetitive devotion of any type of spiritual exercise often has profound impact on our souls.
Speaking of repetitive activities, routine devotion that sort of fits into this morning?s theme of weddings?, how many of you watched last week?s episode on PBS of Downton Abbey?? We have a scary number of Downton Abbey devotees.? For the few of you who don?t have any idea, it is a show set around an English upper crust family that lives upstairs, and their servants who live downstairs, in a huge manor house. ?The three rich daughters have all had weddings, and this last week, the middle child, Edyth, who has felt a little desperate about getting married, gets stood up at the altar, at the moment of the ?I do?s.?? Poor Edyth.
This is now, what season?III?? What is it about this show?? It is absurdly soap opera-?ish?.? But, here we stand in 2013, where the gulf between the rich and the poor, the haves and have nots, have rarely been more easily seen in society.? The show paints the relationships between the two economic strata as extremely gracious and family centered, with the rich overlords having a duty, a moral ?and religious obligation, to maintain the servants in lives, as servants, that would only be worse if they were not servants to them.
We would be spared from this show if the setting were the deep South during the horrors of slavery and the servants had black skins.? We know to be ashamed of that period in our history.? Would Jesus have come to the Downton Abbey weddings?
Well, in this morning?s Scripture lesson he did.? We have every assumption confirmed that this was a well-to-do wedding celebration.? There were servants not serving people.? Jesus? world was replete with the most harsh economic divisions.? The Roman Empire was very much a pyramid style of economic realities.? Those at the top threw out what they needed to keep the next tier satisfied and the pattern was repeated over and over again until nothing was distributed at the bottom and the poor masses lived short and diseased lives.
The Way of Jesus burst forth into that 1st century world with a flash of intoxicating good wine.? Jesus was an epiphany of new definitions, new standards, new and startling awarenesses? that God and the World, that God in the world. prefers life lived ?much differently than what the majority were experiencing, and dare we say, are experiencing.? Jesus spoke about the way the world could work as the Kingdom or the Reign of God.? Dr. King envisioned it as the Beloved Community.
If I don?t say what I am about to say, someone(s) will ask me about it later.? ?Did Jesus really turn water into wine??? In John?s Gospel this is the first miracle mentioned and it is a quite interesting and fun one.? In addition, Jesus is not prone, according to the text, to doing anything in the situation, and he is rather powerfully induced to action by the sternness of his mother.
In progressive faith traditions we try to be very honest with what we know about how reality works and how it does not.? No, I do not even entertain for the length of time it takes to take a sip of a good merlot that Jesus turned water into a fine wine.
Here is what is most probably going on.? Scholars in our faith tradition do not believe there is any literal history in the Gospel of John.? Whereas Mark, Matthew and Luke probably try their best to use historical facts, John does not. John?s author is writing a literary, stylized method to do their best at explaining the truth of Jesus, not the true facts of Jesus.? Those are two significant, different things.? I urge you not to fall into the trap of literalism, but join with John Shelby Spong and Dr. King and others who do fall into the very real dilemma of taking the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, seriously, even to the point of having one?s life threatened or taken by force.
The complete biblical text, Genesis through the Book of Revelation, compares encountering God and God encountering us as something of a marriage.? It is a major celebration.? It is a feast.? It is a major coming out event that God values us, loves us with the same power and tenacity as we love our partners with in marriage.? It is a wonderful metaphor and nothing says good love any better in the biblical narrative than abundant fine wine.
The fullness, the expansiveness of God?s loving concern for us is so overwhelmingly welcomed, and at times in our life when we are at our lowest, it is so very unexpected, perhaps we even feel it is unwarranted?, but the story says, the Gospel says, the metaphor suggests that even when we think we least deserve the fullness of God?s welcome; God extravagantly and wantonly fills our empty glasses full. Full, not with a mediocre,?Well, you?ll be fine,? but God goes full out and says, ?You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased.? Here, let me help you up.? Let?s do some work of restitution, seek to redeem that which has been lost and we will begin again.?
The Gospel writer of John wants us to know from the beginning that God is fully and extravagantly invested, investing, in us.? So much so is God invested, that God has filled Jesus and those who call upon the Way of Jesus, God fills us up to reflect God, the ways of God, the concerns of God.? We are like a wedding feast that has run out of wine and before we can even run over to BIG RED LIQUORS and buy some cheap stuff to keep the party going, God Is infusing us with God?s very best.
Let?s stay with the metaphor , which was a tool used to try to explain what it was like to have a living taste of the presence of God in Jesus of Nazareth.? The author or authors of John?s Gospel wants us this morning, some eighteen or nineteen hundred years later, we who have to believe without seeing, without touching the historical Jesus, to risk accepting the testimony of our ancestors and seek to live the way of Jesus in our time, in our place.
John?s testimony wants us to think about what it is like to have Jesus in our midst, to experience new life breaking into the old, familiar, ordinary circumstances in our lives, where the wine, our motivation, our dedication gives out too soon, times of celebration don?t last long enough and we?re always worrying about the future, whether there will be enough of this thing or that thing, enough food, enough money, enough political will, enough love.? Jesus is the one who comes to us saying, ?There will be enough.? There will be an abundance.? Here taste this wine.?
There have been many vintage wines of spectacular taste.? Dr. King was amongst those who allow the abundance of God?s presence to fill him.? We talk about his I have a dream speech, but truly it was God?s dream in a human being.
According to some accounts, Martin Luther King moved from his planned text to his improvised “I have a dream” speech when Mahalia Jackson prompted him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”
“Tell them about the dream.” Could it be that these words still ring out for us today? In a time of scaled-down national imagination, the vocation of spiritual folks is still to speak a prophetic word?to “tell them about the dream.”
These days I have been pondering the role of the imagination in transforming persons and nations. As a person of faith, I recognize the power of a holy imagination to deliver us from hopelessness and open the door to new possibilities. Unemployment, illness, injustice, violence of all kinds and poverty can constrict our vision, imprisoning us in the pain of the present moment, unable to look beyond our own personal misfortunes. In describing her mother’s last days, Simone de Beauvoir noted that the world had shrunk to the size of her mother’s hospital room. At such times, we lose our dreams, mistaking realism for reality. Our goal is merely to survive, when our destiny is to thrive. It takes all the energy we have to look beyond our misfortunes and failures, but this larger vision?the power of the holy imagination, the lure of an alternative reality?has always been the inspiration for the prophet and spiritual guide, the people in the pews. The dream reminds us that within what we perceive as limitations are possibilities for adventure and growth.
Today, we need to nurture a holy imagination at both the personal and national levels. We need to dream, and to dream big, because only dreams, only a holy imagination, can save us.? Dreams born from the bosom of God living in human souls save people from violence and despair, not more guns.? Dreams and the virtues that come from the spiritual reality of God are what will convert people who use guns to solve their problem to become peacemakers.? A man with a gun tore through the body of Dr. King and his body died, oh, but his dream born of God has only sailed forth more clearly.
The dream, the mission, the reign of God, the formation and living forth of the beloved community?when should we fully dedicate ourselves, commit ourselves to bringing it to reality in our lives and in the lives of those who need it most in our world???? How long, Dr. King would say,? ?How long, not long.?? For you see the time is ripe, the time is full, the time is now and the spirit of the Living God, the spirit of the Christ is moving across the ripples of this time and we are called to sail with it, beginning now.? God has come and God is coming.
Do you need to die like Jesus, like Martin in order to bring the reality of God to focus.? Probably not.? But, we do need to at least live it so that others might simply live.