Sunday’s sermon: Above and Beyond

above and beyond

Texts used – Psalm 36:5-10 (read within sermon text) and John 2:1-11

  • Customer service is probably one of the most thankless jobs on the planet.
    • Listen to people’s complaints all day
    • Deal with unsolicited feedback: “Why don’t you [meaning the store, of course, not actually the individual] just label your products better?” and so on.
    • Take abuse about things that have nothing to do with you or your position within the corporation
      • Story from Career Services at UWEC
    • Have you ever looked at the people working behind the customer service counter at any of those big box stories – Target, WalMart, Costco, Best Buy, etc.? Do they look … happy? Do they look … excited to be at work? Hmm … not usually.
    • And yet, let me tell you Luka’s story[1]: Longtime Lego fan Luka spent all of his Christmas money on a Ninjago (Lego ninja) named Jay XZ. Against his dad’s advisement, he brought his Ninjago on a shopping trip … and lost it. Luke wrote a letter to Lego explaining his loss and assuring the Lego staff that he would take extra-special care of his action figure if they sent him another one.
      • Luke’s letter: My name is Luka and I am seven years old. With all my money I got for Christmas I bought the Ninjago kit of the Ultrasonic Raider. The number is 9449. It is really good. My Daddy just took me to Sainsbury’s and told me to leave the people at home but I took them and I lost Jay ZX at the shop as it fell out of my coat. I am really upset I have lost him. Daddy said to send you a email to see if you will send me another one. I promise I won’t take him to the shop again if you can. – Luka
      • Customer service rep who opened the email could’ve …
        • Ignored it
        • Sent a simple response: Sorry you lost your toy, but this is a business. Better luck next Christmas.
        • Gone all didactic trying to teach this little boy a lesson about the importance of money and caring for your things and loss in a simple email
      • But instead … The response he received from Lego customer support representative Richard was nothing short of amazing. Richard told Luke that he had talked to Sensei Wu (a Ninjago character), writing: He told me to tell you, “Luka, your father seems like a very wise man. You must always protect your Ninjago minifigures like the dragons protect the Weapons of Spinjitzu!” Sensei Wu also told me it was okay if I sent you a new Jay and told me it would be okay if I included something extra for you because anyone that saves their Christmas money to buy the Ultrasonic Raider must be a really big Ninjago fan. So, I hope you enjoy your Jay minifigure with all his weapons. You will actually have the only Jay minifigure that combines 3 different Jays into one! I am also going to send you a bad guy for him to fight! Just remember, what Sensei Wu said: keep your minifigures protected like the Weapons of Spinjitzu! And of course, always listen to your dad.
        • Talk about going above and beyond.
  • Now, I’ve always thought today’s gospel story was an odd one, partly because it feels like it puts Jesus in a customer service role – one that, frankly, he doesn’t seem all that thrilled about. – text: On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.” Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.”[2] → such an odd introduction to an odd Gospel story
    • Response we get from Jesus = far from the response that we have come to expect → However it is we read Jesus’ response – impatient? reluctant? elusive? – it’s not what we expect. – come to expect …
      • The receptiveness of the one who said, “Let the children come to me.”
      • The compassion of the one who wept at Lazarus’ tomb
      • The miraculous authority of the one who healed lepers, drove out demons, and raised people from the dead
      • The passionate audacity of the one who goes toe-to-toe with the Pharisees again and again and again
      • The patient but persistent teacher who uses everything from a wayward son to a simple lamp to a flock of sheep and goats to reveal the Kingdom of God
      • But what we have to remember is that, while we are privy to all of that story – our amalgamated picture of Jesus that we have constructed with the rest of the gospels and with the whole rest of Scripture and with what little history itself can tell us – while we are privy to all of that, in our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus’ story is just beginning. None of that has happened yet. And so instead of the magnanimous response we have come to expect, we get Jesus’ actual response: “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.”
        • “woman” in Gr. = not intended in way we generally hear it
          • By no means disrespectful, course, or rude
          • More of a general term (any adult female) → resources I looked at this week even suggested omitting it from translation because there really is no English equivalent
        • “What does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.” → Is this reluctance we hear? Is this Jesus opting not to act?
          • Uncomfortable – sits funny with us
          • Commentator hits the nail on the head: This is the scandal of divine reluctance. Why does God the incarnate one hold out?[3]
  • And yet, in the face of this divine reluctance, we hear not the voice of one of the disciples or the disembodied voice of God or some Holy-Spirit-dove calling Jesus to action. Instead, we hear the voice of Mary, Jesus’ mother: “Do whatever he tells you.” → hear …
    • Divine confidence … in the voice of a woman
    • Divine compassion … in a mother’s love
    • Divine faith … in an unseen, as-yet-untested power
    • This is Mary going above and beyond. Remember just a few short weeks ago when we were reading those old, familiar words of the Christmas story?
      • So [the shepherds] went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.[4]
      • Another translation: Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully.[5]
      • Mary has been turning over all those things that she knows about this miraculous son of her – all that she’s been told, all that she’s seen, all that she knows simply because she is his mother and mothers know … She’s been pondering all these things, considering them carefully for all this time. All for this moment. Maybe that one small phrase – “Do whatever he tells you” – was exactly what Jesus needed to hear: that confidence, that compassion, that faith. “Do whatever he tells you.”
  • However Mary said those words … however Jesus heard them … it must have been enough because Jesus was convinced. From that moment of temporary divine reluctance came an act of truly extravagant generosity – text: Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did. The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. The headwaiter called the groom and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first. They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely. You kept the good wine until now.”[6]
    • First of all, the sheer quantity of this is sort of staggering. While Biblical scholars disagree over exactly how much these stone jars could actually hold, most agree that, all told, we’re talking about 120-200 gallons of water here. That is a lot of water!
    • Quality is above and beyond as well: This was not some watery illusion that Jesus created. The headwaiter tasted the new wine and was so impressed, he approached the groom – the one in charge of the whole wedding operation, the one responsible for making sure things ran smoothly – and commented on how the best wine … the best wine! … had been saved for last.
      • Testament to Jesus’ power and ability
      • Testament to Jesus’ willingness to go above and beyond à Jesus could’ve just said again to Mary, “My time hasn’t come yet” and turned his back. Jesus could have said to his disciples, “Well, that’s that. Let’s call it a night!” and left. Jesus could have turned just a small quantity of water into wine or he could have turned the water into subpar wine. But Jesus took those gallons upon gallons of water and turned them into the best wine.
        • Truly going above and beyond – like the customer service rep that sent little Luka the Lego replacement → sent not just the figure that Luke lost but also extra accessories to go with the figure plus “a bad guy for him to fight!”
    • Importance of this odd little story from John:
      • First, this is the very first time Jesus reveals his own divine nature in the gospel of John.
        • First of seven miracles (referred to as “signs”) in gospel of John – signs that point to Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah → text this morning: This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.[7]
      • Also illustrates God’s incredible abundance
        • Abundant love
        • Abundant compassion
        • Abundant grace
        • Words of our psalm this morning: But your loyal love, LORD, extends to the skies; your faithfulness reaches the clouds. Your righteousness is like the strongest mountains; your justice is like the deepest sea. LORD, you save both humans and animals. Your faithful love is priceless, God! Humanity finds refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the bounty of your house; you let them drink from your river of pure joy. Within you is the spring of life. In your light, we see light. Extend your faithful love to those who know you; extend your righteousness to those whose heart is right.[8]
          • Words of unflinching devotion
          • Words of unqualified thanksgiving
          • Words of extravagant praise for God who looks after and cares for us
          • Words of “above and beyond” from us in response to God’s own “above and beyond” for us
  • But this acknowledgment of God’s abundance also reveals the challenge of this story. → challenge of hearing story of abundance and goodness in time of scarcity and struggle: How do we hear these words when we’re feeling tapped out? Alone? Overwhelmed? What do we do with words of fullness when we’re running on empty?
    • Scholar brings this contrast to light: It is passages like this one about divine extravagance that make God’s absence in the face of poverty, suffering, and evil stand out. How do we reconcile a story of potent generosity with a world of tremendous need?[9]
      • Good question
      • Question with no easy answer
    • More than familiar with those times of need (body, mind, soul) … those times of longing … those times of pain … moments when “Help, God!” “Please, God!” and “Why, God?” are more likely to come from our lips than words of praise → How do we hold both those times and our knowledge of God’s abundant, all sufficient grace together? By holding them … together. By working in community. By sharing in community. By loving in community. By being God’s abundance for each other when we see each other struggling.
      • Not just talking about “each other” within these walls – “each other” in our communities, “each other” in our work places, “each other” in our families, “each other” in the human race → Out of extravagant abundance, God gave us each other to be the water in the parched places, to be a soft place to land, to be a source of strength and hope and shelter, to be the good wine when everything else has run out, to be that “above and beyond” in times of need. Amen.

[1] “A Lego Service Rep Saves the Day” from “10 Stories of Unforgettable Customer Service,” http://www.helpscout.net/10-customer-service-stories/, accessed Jan. 14, 2016.

[2] Jn 2:1-4.

[3] Carol Lakey Hess. “Second Sunday after Epiphany – John 2:1-11, Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 260.

[4] Lk 2:16-19 (NRSV) (emphasis added).

[5] Lk 2:19 (CEB).

[6] Jn 2:9-10.

[7] Jn 2:11 (emphasis added).

[8] Ps 36:5-10.

[9] Hess, 261.

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