January 17, 2016 “A Marriage Made in Heaven”

posted Jul 6, 2016, 3:58 PM by David Hawkins
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.
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,
and your land Married;
for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

*New Testament Reading: 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 had also been invited to the wedding. 
When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 

And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come" 

His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 
He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, 

"Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept 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.

Sermon: "A Marriage Made in Heaven"             Rev. David Hawkins

As I said last week, one of the things I love the most about the Bible is the truth of it. Not truth as in literal facts, necessarily, but truth as in reality. There is something so very real about the Bible, a reality that I think we sometimes brush by without really taking a moment to savor it. A realty that is sometimes so real that it is painful to consider.

Today’s texts have some of that kind of realty in them. 

Jesus is at a wedding in Cana, and in the third day of what is supposed to be a 6- or 7-day party, the wine dries up. 

His mother tells him he needs to do something about it, but Jesus is strangely hesitant. And then, seemingly for no good reason, he goes ahead and changes the water into wine, the good stuff, gallons and gallons of it, hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of wine, unprecedented, unexpected, and unearned.

But if we can get past the gee-whiz factor of the miracle, we find some painful truth in this story. Because the reality is, Jesus doesn’t act right away, does he? Mary, his mother, asks him to fix this problem, and Jesus actually says, no, not yet. 

To put this into other words, Mary prays to Jesus to act, and Jesus doesn’t. For no good reason. None that we can tell, anyway. 

What do we do with this? How do we deal with a reluctant Jesus? How do we process the idea that sometimes, when we ask God to do something, he says no?

And that’s what’s so real about this scripture. Because this is how life works, sometimes. Sometimes we petition God for something we desperately need, and nothing happens. It seems like our prayers fall on deaf ears. This is realty. You know it. I know it. Sometimes, if feels like we are talking, like Mary, to the hand, and we are rebuffed without explanation. Does God even hear us? Does he know that we are in need? Does he have compassion for our situation?

And then, without any warning, the floodgates open, and our prayers are answered in weird ways, miraculous ways, in ways we could never have anticipated, in ways that almost overwhelm us. 

And there really is no explanation for it. Nothing changed in this conversation between Mary and Jesus. She didn’t convince him or persuade him. He says no, and then he says yes. I don’t know why. Nobody knows. But this is what happened. 

There’s nothing in this story that would explain his inexplicable actions. There’s nothing in this story that would explain why he would be reluctant to add his blessing to the wedding, but then, without any warning, do it anyway. 

But if look outside the story just a little bit, we might find some clues. 

Our Isaiah text talks about the relationship between God and his people as though it was a marriage. And when you think about it, it kind of has been. 

A broken, dysfunctional marriage.

Because Israel had pledged herself to God, and then walked away. Israel stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai while wandering in the desert after begin freed from slavery in Egypt, and she pledged herself to God. 

“You will be our God,” they said. “And we will be your people.” And God made the same promise. 

But Israel was an unfaithful spouse. Israel made deals and compromises with other countries; Israel flirted with other gods; Israel forgot to take care of the poor and the widows; she ignored her social, political, and religious obligations. Israel broke her marraige vows. 

And in the end, God allowed her to be taken away. Israel was overwhelmed by the very countries she had tried to barter with, the temple was destroyed, the people of God were taken into captivity, and were deported to a foreign land far away. It seemed like the relationship between God and his people had been completely and utterly broken.

But then we hear the beautiful opening verses of Isaiah 40: “Comfort, comfort, you my people.”  God calls to the exiles, tenderly, heart-achingly. God calls his bride, he beloved to return to Jerusalem. God has not forgotten his love, has not abandoned his people. Come back, he says. Come home. 

And then, here in Chapter 62, we see the joy that God feels when he considers us. We are his blushing bride, he rejoices in us like a young man with his first and only love. It’s almost too much, this language, too emotional, too romantic. 

But this is how God feels about us. He loves us with an almost embarrassing faithfulness.  Not because we have in any way earned that love. But because he loves us for reasons that we simply can’t fathom, a love so deep, so wide, so all-encompassing, that the even the worst of our actions cannot break it. 

But again, the reality is, we don’t always feel that love, do we? We don’t always know that God loves us, that he is with us, that he will not abandon us. 

The wedding party in Cana didn’t know that God was with them, literally with them with Jesus Christ in attendance with his mother. But he was. And for no reason other than he loved them, he blessed them. Because he is our God. And we are his people. 

This story in the Gospel of John is about a marriage, that’s for sure. But it’s not about the marriage of a young couple in Cana. It’s about the marriage between God and us.

During this last week, I’ve had three experiences that reminded me that God is still at work in the world, at work in amazingly personal ways in the lives of people that I care about. I can’t tell you all the stories, some of them are personal and not ready to be shared, but I can tell you one, and I can say the other two share a lot of the same characteristics. 

The one story I can tell you is about meeting with Ben Millar earlier this week in his home down in Lubbock. As you know, Ben is suffering from stage 4 cancer, and he is in a great deal of pain. He is a veteran, and was being treated by the VA in Amarillo, but he really needed a local doctor. As we have heard in the news, the VA isn’t always very flexible or accommodating, and it seemed to Ben that he was being lost in the system, that his pain and his condition were being ignored, and he was at the end of his rope.

On top of all this, Ben had recently fallen, and was hurting from that as well. In fact, that morning before I saw him, he had been in Amarillo, going through a procedure called, ‘mapping’ where the doctors draw marks on his body for the next areas to be targeted by radiation. The problem was, his neck hurt too much from the fall for him to be in the proper positions to do the procedure, and so they sent him home. Another long trip from Lubbock to Amarillo and back, wasted. Ben was hurting, beat down, and frustrated.

During our talk, Ben brought up the topic of personal prayer, of asking God for those things that we need for ourselves. He had been taught that one simply didn’t do that, that we don’t pray for ourselves, that we pray for other people, that God knows what we want, what we need, and that praying for our own desires was selfish, and self-centered. 

I think that probably there are great many people in our congregation who might feel the same way. But you know, if you look at the book of Psalms, it is full of songs of personal, private prayer, of telling God exactly what is in our hearts, telling God our deepest, most private needs. The Psalms are heart theology, and they give us both permission and an example of what it means to offer ourselves completely to God. It’s OK to tell God what you need.

Anyway, we were praying not too long after that conversation, and in the middle of our prayer, Ben’s phone rang. Now, normally, both of us would ignore a phone call in the middle of prayer, but for some reason, Ben felt like he needed to answer it. And it was good thing he did. 

Out of the blue, it was a doctor’s office in Lubbock, who the VA had arranged to be Ben’s local doctor, starting in February. And even though they weren’t technically Ben’s doctor yet, they were calling because they had heard that he had fallen and his that neck was hurting. 

After talking to Ben, the doctor told him he needed to go to the emergency room to have his neck checked out, and so he and I went to UMC to see what was going on. 

It turns out that Ben’s neck had actually been fractured in the fall in a couple of different places. For the last couple of days, he had literally been walking around with a broken neck! The doctors stabilized his neck, and they were finally able to give him something for his pain, and they began a plan for care that would ease his suffering in a lot of different areas. 

Now, the reality is, Ben is still very, very sick. This is not a story about a miraculous cure for his cancer. I wish it was. But just for a moment, we both felt the blessing of God, in a real and unexpected way. We were reminded that God has not forgotten Ben, and that even in the midst of his pain and sickness, God still loves Ben, and is watching over him. For just a moment, Ben tasted the goodness of God in way that he had almost forgotten.

In this last week, I’ve had two other experiences that are a lot like my time with Ben. Like I said, I can’t say too much about them, those stories aren’t mine to tell, at least, not yet, but I can say, that in the middle of really terrible pain and chaos, I felt God’s hands carefully and deliberately at work, opening doors, opening hearts, preparing a way for his people. 

 And as I was witness to these things, I realized something. These people weren’t the only ones who needed to feel God’s touch in their lives. I needed to see God at work as well. I don’t know what you all think a pastor’s spiritual life is like, but I can tell you that it’s a lot like yours. It has ups and downs. It has moments of unbelievable joy, but it also has moments of doubt and even despair. Believe it or not, pastors are people too, and they are subject to the same sort of life events that happen to everybody. 

And sometimes it gets us down. And sometimes, we need to feel the touch of God in our life just like everybody else. 

This last week, I’ve been blessed to see God at work in three different mighty, and personal ways. And while each of these experiences are completely different from each other, they had one thing in common. 

When God reached out to touch these people in their moment of need, he reached out through the hands of other people. God answered prayers through the voice of a doctor over the phone, through a personal visit and a kind word, through the opening of doors for treatment. 

None of these things were expected. The sweet wine of God’s blessing was a gift that came seemingly from nowhere, and yet, for a while, it filled the empty part of our hearts in ways we could never have anticipated. 

God reaches out to us, inexplicably, overwhelmingly, not because we have done anything to deserve it, but because he has pledged himself to us. He has promised himself to us, he is our God, and he loves us with a steadfast love that cannot be broken.

And he reaches out to us through the hands of other people to remind us that we are pledged to one another. He is our God, and we are his people. This is the marriage covenant we make, to him, and to each other. 

It’s amazing what a simple act of kindness can do. A phone call, a visit, being there when someone cries. These simple acts are the sweet wine of God’s blessing for someone who is in pain. If you want to taste that blessing for yourself, simply pick up the phone, and call someone you love who you know is not doing well. Do something nice for someone in pain. 

I promise you, you will see something miraculous.

And in the house of the Lord, 
the people said, “Amen”