On Friday, Nora and Tessa and Brook
had the day off…a rare treat.
And they decided to make the treat a sweet one
by taking in an honest-to-goodness Afternoon Tea
at the Clock Tower Bakery in Overland Park.
I saw pictures, so I know its true.
There were savery treats. There were sweat treats.
And there was tea. It was oh so delicious. Lucky girls.
They had huge smiles on their faces. Lots of fun.
It reminded me that I heard once
about how some African-American faith communities
have a marvelous expression they like to share:
May your saucer always be full.[i]
You remember saucers, don’t you?
–Those little plates we use with a tea cup or a coffee cup?
Even though coffee these days, at least in my office,
is mostly consumed straight from a mug
or sometimes, worse, from cardboard cups with plastic sippy lids
and corrugated cup holders,
we can sometimes see saucers with cups of tea.
I even have a few in my cupboard.
Just in case there’s anyone here who is etiquette-challenged,
the whole point of a saucer is to catch whatever liquid happens to slosh over
the rim of the cup.
The fuller the cup, the more likely one is to slosh.
Hence the expression: May your saucer always be full.
May your cup always be full. So full, its OVERFLOWING.
This is an appropriate blessing to offer to a couple who is about to marry, I think.
Weddings are wonderful.
Everyone gathers together to celebrate the love between two people
and the formation of a new family.
While no life is without troubles,
nobody thinks about troubles at your average wedding.
At a wedding, the future is wide open.
Everything is blessing and possibility.
All is joy.
Weddings are wonderful.
Indeed, weddings are so wonderful that the Bible uses the image of a wedding
as a metaphor for God’s reign.
When the prophet Isaiah promised the Israelites that they would be restored,
he proclaimed, “For the LORD will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.”
And the New Testament likes weddings just as much as the Hebrew Scriptures did.
The early church loved to describe Jesus as a bridegroom and the church as his bride.
John of Patmos, in a mystic vision we call the Book of Revelation,
saw “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”
Israel will be married. Jesus brings the wine. How much better can life get?
The story of the wedding feast in Cana sure starts happily enough.
The opening words, “On the third day,” are significant.
On one hand it’s a simple reference to Canaanite wedding customs,
with Canaanite wedding parties lasting for at least three days,
if not many days longer.
Running out of wine a day or two before the party ended
would definitely be a disaster of biblical proportions.
But, before we go any further, there’s a trick to reading the Gospel of John.
Stories in the Gospel of John are always multi-layered.
There’s the obvious, surface story of Jesus and his mother at a party.
Then there’s the underlying, meaningful story –
the “real deal,” visible only to people in the know.
The opening reference to the third day is not simply a time reference.
It is a reference to the “third day,” the day of resurrection, the day of Easter.
And, of course, the detail that this miracle takes place at a wedding feast
is also double-layered,
as a wedding feast was is the kingdom of God inaugurated.
Thus Jesus’ miracle of changing water into wine is not just an example of his kindness,
it is a sign,
a bursting forth of the power of the resurrection and of God’s kingdom.
Life’s saucers don’t get any fuller than this.
Weddings. Celebration. God’s abundant love overflowing for the couple
and for those gathered to celebrate it.
This so-called miracle story is really less about Jesus’ ability
to do something superhuman—to turn water into wine, say—
than it is a sign of God’s decision to flood the world with grace.
These stories in John point to who God is, and how Jesus mirrors for us
the reality of what God is.
Who is God?
God is the kind of being that wants the party to continue
that wants the joy of the new wedded couple to linger a bit longer…
What is God?
God is one who, after all the provisions you thought you had were used up,
comes back with even more, even better, in abundance….
I mean, who saves the best wine for the last? No one does that!
The key to this story is not in the fact that water was converted into wine.
It is what that signified for the people who were there, who were hearing the story,
in the context of a wedding celebration.
The party could continue.
The good stuff was brought out, and more merriment would ensue.
What we thought was over….was just beginning!
On Tuesday of this week, I read a story
about the six year anniversary of the horrible earthquake
that leveled Haiti in January of 2010.
Do you remember that. Six years ago this past week.
They never did come up with an accurate count.
Somewhere between 100 and 200,000 people died,
with many more displaced,
the confluence of a 7 magnitude earthquake
and massive poverty and housing conditions
that absolutely wrecked that Island nation.
A nation that, in a blink, lost almost everything.
It feels somewhat disjointed, I know,
going from a sermon on weddings to the reminder of such heartache.
But its important not to forget: So much misery. So much wreckage.
Its pretty much the opposite of a wedding celebration, when you come to think of it.
At a wedding, there is abundant hope. Wild joy.
At the epicenter of wretched Haiti, there was …. nothingness.
And maybe its important not to forget
and to ponder it this relatively tragedy free weekend,
so we can be equipped to think theologically when the next one does come.
At the time, the world worked hard to make sense of the senseless.
That’s what we human beings do.
There were questions that we had to address:
such as how could San Francisco withstand a 7.0 earthquake
with 63 horrific deaths back in 1989
but when a similar earthquake hit impoverished Haiti,
there was so much more destruction.
Clearly Haiti’s poverty and civic structures left them
even more vulnerable to such catastrophe.
The theological question is: “where was God” in all of this.
That’s where my mind and my heart
goes when this sort of thing happens,
when I see the pictures on the television of hurricane or tornado or flood
and ponder the aftermath in the quiet and safety of my own home.
Where was God in Haiti?
And I have to admit that this question was floating the internet among my peers
when that earthquake struck.
It was even was made the focus of national attention
with dubious thanks to folks like Pat Robertson.
I hesitate even bringing him up—Pat Robertson—
because I do not believe
we ought to legitimate what he said—
that the Haitians were being PUNISHED,
PUNISHED, if you can believe it,
because of a ruler’s lack of adherence to Robertson’s faith.
But that IS one answer to the question: Where is God in Haiti.
It’s the wrong answer, but it is an answer.
The problem…is that THAT kind of God, is not the God of full saucers.
That kind of God is not the God who turns water into wine,
saving the best for last.
That kind of God is not the God who says “My time has not yet come…”
but when Jesus’ time does come,
its not in the form of assuming power to VANQUISH foes
or CONDEMNING those of different faith
but when Jesus’ time comes….it comes…ON THE CROSS.
You see, the heart of the Gospel, the entire Good News of the New Testament, is this:
Our God does not Cause Suffering.
Our God SUFFERS … suffers the full depth of human suffering
stands in solidarity with those who are suffering.
Jesus….Jesus came to a disillusioned, disheartened, disheveled people
toiling under occupation and poverty
and brought to them the presence and the love of God.
Jesus did that through stories of amazing Grace
and deeds of abundant Grace.
And at the end, when his time had come, Jesus died for all.
Where was God in Haiti?
God suffered in Haiti with those who suffer.
God held survivors close. God emboldened relief efforts.
God inspired hearts to open around the world to do what needs to be done
to put lives back together again.
God was all over the place in Haiti,
even if glimpses of God were hard to see through the dust of the rubble.
Steve Lindsley, a pastor in North Carolina, had a wonderful post
up on his Thoughts and Musings blog back when this all happened.[ii]
This is what he wrote:
I’ve been through one earthquake in my life.
It happened in Hiroshima, Japan during a four-month
missionary stint I spent there between college and my first job.
I awoke one October morning to see the light hanging from the ceiling
directly above my head swinging back and forth.
It lasted for only a few minutes,
but it succeeded in freaking me out and
making me thankful for living in a part of the world
where tremors are quite uncommon.
My lone earthquake experience gives me no context
to process what happened on the island of Haiti this past week. None.
No matter how many pictures and videos I see,
no matter how many stories I read,
I cannot fathom the devastation and destruction
that this country is dealing with.
And while there’s no good place for a 7.0 monster,
Haiti is one of the poorest countries on the planet,
making an already desperate situation even worse.
The Prime Minister reported the other day that well over
100,000 have died in the earthquake.
And that’s just an early estimate – it’s sure to go much higher.
It’s horrible. It’s unimaginable.
It’s a tragedy that none of us in the Western world can fully get a grasp on.
And yet tragedies like this, while terrible and unexplainable …
have the potential to bring out the best in people.
Already tons of agencies are raising millions of dollars for relief efforts.
Not only that, but the Haitian people themselves have managed
to teach us a thing or two.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake there was a lot of crying
and screaming and running around looking for loved ones.
And there was also singing.
I’m serious – check out this article, third paragraph, where it says:
Thousands of people gathered in public squares late into the night,
singing hymns and weeping.
I have no idea what hymns.
And I don’t think it really matters what they were singing anyway.
What matters, and what is amazing to me,
is that their instinct in the minutes and hours following a horrific event
that would change their lives forever –
and the well-being of their already-troubled country – was to SING.
There’s something about this that I just can’t let go of –
singing in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy.
This wasn’t the first time, of course.
Check out this clip from a group of folks gathered at
a candlelight VIGIL on the evening of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001:
[And here in the blog post you’d see the clip of new Yorkers singing,
with tears in their eyes…]
And Steve continued…
Okay, so “New York, New York” isn’t a hymn.
But again, that’s not important.
People turning to song in their grief, in their confusion and anger and fear;
people immersing themselves in the symmetry of music amidst the chaos –
now that’s important.
I studied psychology in undergrad, Steve says,
and pride myself on having a decent feel for what makes people tick,
but I honestly can’t figure out what in our human DNA
leads us to turn to music in our darkest hour.
But it’s there, and it’s powerful.
I’ve seen it time and time again, as I know you have too.
We had a recent funeral service where the widow was rather stoic.
I couldn’t tell whether it was just a way of guarding herself emotionally,
or if the dementia she suffered from
wasn’t allowing her to experience grief.
That all changed when her son and a family friend
shared an amazing rendition of Just a Closer Walk With Thee.
It was as if her mind finally gave her heart permission to feel.
I was struck by how it was the music … did this.
Why? Why does music do this to us?
Why do we wrap ourselves in song like a warm blanket
during the frigid chapters of our lives?
What is it about music that has a way of cutting through the layers of reason,
defense mechanisms, and even the shock of a 7.0 earthquake
to the heart of who we are?
From a faith standpoint this shouldn’t surprise us.
The Psalms are songs – hymns, quite literally.
And while some of those songs are happy,
many others express grief, anger, sorrow fear;
allowing both singer and listener to enter into those places as well.
They are, as U2 frontman Bono once suggested, the “blues of the Bible.”
That is why they are still recited thousands of years after their creation –
their tune never grows old.
I can’t explain to you why those Haitians resorted to singing on Monday night,
But I do understand how the power and presence of music
can be a comfort in difficult and challenging times.
And Lord knows Haiti is in one of those times right now.
What kind of God do we serve?
What kind of God do we worship?
What kind of God do we follow?
God abides with us during our happiest hours, and our darkest hours
with love…..with love
THAT is what we learn from the life of Jesus,
beginning at Cana, ending at Calvary.
And the same God who cared enough to have the wedding party continue
with all its revelry and merriment and, yes, singing,
that water was changed into wine…a sign of God’s abundant grace…
That same God dwelt with the people of Haiti
as they sung songs of lament and heartache
and waited for a glimmer of hope which will surely return.
And the same is true, in every heartache
in every tragedy
in tornado, and flood, and wildfire
in job loss and cancer fight and demons of depression.
You and I are invited to see the work that God is doing
the inspiration that God is causing
the connections and the responses
and the outpouring that God is sparking,
and to SING or SHOUT or YELL or whatever it is your heart is telling to you to
that love is stronger than death
that God will hold the broken places together long enough that we can finish the work
and for us to find the ways we can assist that work,
through prayer, though our own gifts, through holding them in our hearts.
You are invited to receive the same grace of God that was present in Cana,
when Jesus created enough wine to overflow wineglasses
and to show the world that God operates differently from what we might expect.
And so, this day,
May your saucer always be full,
may your cups be so full that you can see God working in a torn-apart world.
And not only see God working,
but go do God a solid and help God out too…
May it be so.
[i] This illustration from a sermon by Barbara Bundick entitled “Full Saucers”, Ecunet Sermonshop Sermons, number 4297, January 14, 2004.