January 16, 2022
Rev. Scott Landis
Weddings are accidents waiting to happen. Get a group of clergy together to talk-story about their respective ministries and it doesn’t take long before the disastrous and hilarious tales of Weddings gone Wonky enter the conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I am honored to officiate at this special moment in a couple’s life, but the hoped-for “perfect experience” rarely, if ever, happens. I’m half-tempted to share a few stories from my experience that would have you in stitches, but let’s turn our attention, instead, to our story for today – the wedding at Cana – which has its own interesting wrinkles and also nearly ended in disaster. [Pause]
Ancient Near Eastern hospitality norms insisted that the host provide, at least, a 7-day reception for all guests as part of the wedding celebration. Surely folks would “come and go,” but the feast and libations went on for days. So, when the wine was about to run out, as was apparently the case when Jesus and his mother arrived at the reception, Mary went into action.
“Jesus,” Mary pressed, “they’re just about out of wine.” To which Jesus responded, “And that’s our problem how? This isn’t my time. Don’t bother me.”
While it’s not specifically stated, we can imagine her next words went something like. “That’s no way to talk to your mother. You know you’re the only one here who can solve the problem. So, ‘Do Something!’” [Pause]
There are some interesting things going on here and, once again, I am fascinated with the role Mary plays in this important turning point in Jesus’ life. Even though he doesn’t believe “the time had come for him to begin his public ministry,” Mary knew otherwise. Relying on intuition, and her own “chutzpah,” she would NOT take “NO” for an answer.
We’ve seen this kind of boldness and ability to rely on God’s direction in her life before. Remember when she was told by an angel that she would become the mother of God? Remember when she made her way, upon receiving that surprising news of her pregnancy, not to her betrothed, but to her cousin, Elizabeth? It was there she received the help she needed – the reassurance that she was indeed the mother of God. Remember the song she sang – a song of praise, a song of justice, a song of love and affirmation that all generations would, indeed, call her blessed.”
That’s the Mary who matured into the selfless mother that knew – NOW. NOW WAS Jesus’ Time to Do Something! [Pause]
Countless sermons have been written and preached on the miracle of changing water into wine. Most of them tend to focus on the idea that this somehow demonstrated Jesus’ connection to the God who wanted nothing more than for God’s children to enjoy abundance – the enormous quantity of wine being a symbol of God’s extravagance — An extravagance that had no bounds when it came not only to food and libation – but more importantly, to grace, redemption, comfort, and protection.
But on this weekend I’m drawn in a different direction. This weekend we recognize an important figure in modern American history – the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This time, when I am read this story, I’m drawn to another equally compelling miracle. [Pause]
Notice the figure referred to only as “the mother of Jesus” in today’s story. While she is NOT named, she will not be silenced and she does what needs to be done to solve an embarrassing problem for the host. In so doing, she thrusts Jesus into a role for which there is no return. [Pause]
As I have written recently, in the gospel of John, this was Jesus’ coming out moment. YES! He has the ability to “Do Something,” but when he does, he will never be viewed in the same way again. In fact, John records the shift in his disciples’ understanding when he states,
This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave,
The first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
That word “believed” can be expanded to include: they were amazed – it was then that they began to realize this man was much more than just Mary and Joseph’s son. [Pause]
I think Mary knew exactly what she was doing. I think she understood the sacrifice of her action. Forcing Jesus out of the nest, she openly disagreed with him – “Yes, Jesus,” she insisted, “your time has come.” And from that moment on she began to feel the pain of letting go – a pain she would carry all the way to the cross. [Pause]
Folks who are able to do this kind of work are few and far between. These are the ones that have the ability to see the needs present in our world and know to whom or where they MUST go in order to resolve the problem or rectify the situation. They may not know the costs of their actions initially, but they soon become very aware that listening and heeding the call of God demands commitment – and often so much more.
It’s in that vein that today we highlight the gift of Dr. King. Like Mary, Dr. King probably did not know just how costly his actions would become personally, but he did know who he had to go to – to get the necessary results. That’s the way it is with prophets. They see life differently than most of us. They know what they need to do and they cannot nor will not back down until the job is done – even if it costs them their lives.
I don’t know much about Dr. King’s mother. I am sure she had an amazing influence on his life and future mission from which he could not back down. But through the life of Mary, I catch a glimpse of just how important her sacrifice was – and how that sacrifice changed the course of history.
We may not share that kuleana – our role might not be to be the change agent or even the one who insists on change, but then again – we might.
As followers of the Prince of Peace, we DO have the responsibility to notice injustice, human need, and the inequities of our society. But we must do more than merely notice and pretend we didn’t by looking the other way. Our kuleana, at the very least, is to do what we can to press those who can make a difference – to DO Something – so that all share in the abundance that God desires for all God’s people.
We may no longer have the ability to march in a demonstration or serve in a soup kitchen, but we can pick up the phone, write a letter, and use our voice to speak truth and justice to the powers and agencies that have the ability to ensure everyone be given the chance to live abundantly.
So, this weekend I invite you to pay your respects to the courageous, prophetic leadership of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But let us also be exceedingly grateful for the host of “Mary’s” who chide, encourage, and bless others into following the call that God had placed on THEIR hearts.
Let me close with a story of one such “Mary” who did just that for Dr. King. It’s one of my favorite stories about his ministry.
The story is about the famed gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, who performed by Dr. King’s side many times. On August 28, 1963, as she took to the podium before an audience of 250,000 to give the last musical performance before Dr. King’s speech, Dr. King himself requested that she sing the gospel classic “I’ve Been ‘Buked, and I’ve Been Scorned.” Jackson was just as familiar with Dr. King’s repertoire as he was with hers, and just as King felt comfortable telling her what to sing as the lead-in to what would prove to be the most famous speech of his life, Jackson felt comfortable telling him in what direction to take that speech.
The story that has been told since that day has Mahalia Jackson intervening at a critical junction when she decided King’s speech needed a course-correction. Recalling a theme she had heard him use in earlier speeches, Jackson said out loud to Martin Luther King, Jr., from behind the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” And at that moment, as can be seen in films of the speech, Dr. King leaves his prepared notes behind to improvise the entire next section of his speech—the historic section that famously begins “And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”
Thanks be to God for Mahalia Jackson. And thanks be to God for all the modern-day Mary’s who force us all to “Do Something!” To be the change we want to see in our world. May we heed their call.