Fr. Bill Carroll – The Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 16, 2022
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’d like to start off this morning by thanking all of you for some time spent away with my family. Thanks to everyone who stepped up in my absence, especially those involved in planning and carrying out yesterday’s beautiful funeral service for Sam Clark.
It’s been about three years since I last saw my parents. During that time, my dad celebrated his eightieth birthday last year, and we had to miss it. And so, we spent our vacation time with him, my mom, and my sister. Rachel and her boyfriend were able to fly out too, and her boyfriend was able to meet my parents for the first time. Tracey, Danny, and I got to see all of them and renew the ties that bind us together as a family. Only my brother and his family were missing. On the road, we passed by Phoenix, where they live. But one of my nephews was sick, and so we’ll have to catch up with them another time.
In San Diego, where we were, we spent an afternoon looking at old family photos. Many of them were from our wedding, nearly thirty years ago. One thing that always strikes me about weddings in our tradition is the symbol of the kiss. In the Episcopal Church, we don’t typically say “You may now kiss the bride.” The kiss happens where it always does in our service—when we exchange the peace. It is part of our preparation for receiving Holy Communion.
In a wedding, the passing of the peace becomes a powerful sign of the love of Jesus in our lives. It also shows us his wider love for the whole world and everyone in it. One of the prayers for the couple in our Prayer Book asks God to “make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, [so] that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.” Christian worship always points us in this direction, because it is the central message of Jesus and the meaning of his entire ministry. In the ancient Church, Christians typically greeted one another with a kiss of peace. Today, we do this more often with a handshake (or perhaps an embrace), as well as words of welcome and affection.
In most of the congregations I’ve served, however, there’ve been conflicts about how long the peace should be. (I think that’s funny. It’s ironic, right? That there would be people fighting about how long the peace should be.) Has that ever happened here? Maybe it has. In response, whenever it’s come up, I’ve always told people this: At one point in the medieval Church, the ancient custom of passing the peace, which is recorded in Scripture, had all but disappeared. All that was left of it was the priest turning to the deacon like this [gesture] and embracing him and then turning back to the altar to offer the Eucharistic Prayer. The peace needs to be somewhere between that minimum length and a second coffee hour. The details are up to us, to figure out together.
It’s certainly all right to use the peace to greet one another, at least to a point, because we want to welcome those who may be new to our community—and because we are glad (we are so very glad)to be with our brothers and sisters on the day Jesus rose from the dead. But the peace is meant to be serious, Gospel-based business. The peace is all about bringing us back to God and back to each other. The peace is a sign that we want to let God overcome our divisions and selfishness. It reminds us always that we can’t share fully in the blessings of God’s Table, so long as our hearts are closed off from anyone.
Dorothy Day, who is already a saint in our tradition, and who should soon be recognized as one by her own Roman Catholic Church, once said that “I only love God as much as the person I love the least.” As we celebrate another saint’s birthday this weekend (Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior’s birthday), I would add in his words: that “No one is free, until we are all free.”
At a wedding, the kiss of peace serves as a sign that the couple intend to put God’s love, justice, and forgiveness into practice. There are, of course, times when it’s best for a marriage to end in divorce. (Thank God, for example, we now admit this in cases of abuse.) But, in a Christian marriage, we don’t get to hedge our bets. We promise to live together “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.”
“Peace” is one of the most ancient names for the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises us this gift from the Father—God’s own peace in our hearts. The Spirit lives in our hearts, and opens them wider and wider to our neighbors. The Spirit helps us live like Jesus. The Spirit creates new possibilities for human relationships, beyond our tendencies to hurt and oppress each other. In the Spirit, we are given the desire, and the ability, to start treating each other like family.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus shows up at a wedding. And Jesus still shows up, whenever we gather to celebrate in his Name. This morning, though, we see Jesus at that one particular wedding (the wedding in Cana of Galilee). You know the one: the one where he changes the water into wine. Jesus does this to show us he can take the give-and-take of ordinary human relationships—the flawed families and churches and countries that we are part of—and change them all into the new wine of the Gospel.
The fellowship we share within the Body of Christ can show us Jesus and set us free. Christian fellowship has to do with sharing each other’s gifts and burdens—as in a family, or among close friends. That’s what the Christian life is all about—sharing gifts and sharing burdens, until we learn to rely on our brothers and sisters. And this is Good News for a troubled and divided world. What kind of a world is it, when an armed individual can come into a house of worship, as they did at a synagogue this very week, and try to harm the people who are there? What kind of a world is it, where a child goes hungry? What kind of a world is it, when people mistreat one another so consistently?
Today’s Gospel describes the miracle Jesus performs as a sign to us. It shows us God’s glory. It also shows us God’s purpose for our world. Changing the water into wine is a sign of God’s extravagant love for us sinners. It is a sign of the possibility of redemption. It is a sign and a foretaste of that joyful feast, with its wide-open welcome for us all, which we will share together in heaven. It’s a sign of the joy and delight that God takes in each and every human being.
In our world today, it is increasingly difficult for us to create community with our neighbors. It’s always been hard work to do that. Today it’s even harder. Some would say it’s impossible, but I refuse to believe that. God has the last word about how we relate to one another, and the Name of that Word is Jesus Christ. Part of it is that we lack a shared vision for the common good. Trust has broken down (sometimes for good reason). We lack a common faith—but, more than that, we lack even a common vocabulary to resolve our differences peaceably. How do we move past our violent divisions? How do we seek the Kingdom of God?
One thing is certain: we can’t do it by playing it safe. We need bold witness to the Gospel today. We need the kind of reconciliation that only comes at the foot of the Cross that is only possible by the grace of the living God. We need to practice the kind of costly neighbor-love that Jesus taught us and showed us. We need to practice solidarity. We need the passion and commitment of the prophets, who called for “justice to roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
That, brothers and sisters…that is how we keep the vows of our Baptism and renew the ties that bind us together as would-be followers of Jesus. And it’s why the sign of peace that we’re about to share with one another is so very important. It’s why we share one bread and one cup. In all our wondrous differences, God has called us together in one Body, with many gifts and a single mission: sharing God’s love and changing lives.
And so, dearly beloved, I’d like to leave you with the words of Mary to the servants at the wedding: “Listen to my Son,” she says. “Listen to Jesus. And then do what he tells you to do.”
“Do whatever he tells you,” she says. And, in the words of Blessed Martin Luther King (pastor, prophet, and martyr),“we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood [and sisterhood].” For what does the Lord require of us, but that we “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God”?
“Do whatever he tells you.” Come to Jesus. Learn from him. Let him show us how to love.
That’s how he takes the ordinary stuff of human relationships and changes them into Gods Beloved Community. That’s how he changes the water into wine.