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January 16th, 2022

The story of the miracle of Jesus’s changing water into wine is a bit unusual. As miracles go, no one’s life is saved, no healing happens. So what is the point? To make sure the party continues into the third day. Then we also have this strange exchange between Jesus and Mary, his mother. Mary points out to Jesus that they have no wine, and Jesus, like other sons before and after him, gets a little frustrated: Why are you telling me this? Am I supposed to fix this? And Mary responds, like mothers before and after, knowing that of course he will. She has asked him to. Just do as he says, she tells the servants. And Jesus turns the water into wine, and not just any wine, but the finest wine. The metaphor becomes clear: the fine wine of the gospel is free and flowing for everyone, without charge. Wine, at the wedding in Cana, kept the party going and the people together. The gospel serves the same purpose; it is a responsibility, yes, but follow it, and life becomes lighter and more joyful. We know what happens when a bottle of wine is opened at dinner; the conversation usually becomes bouncier, people open up, they become more relaxed. The gospel is that which brings together different people with different opinions. It is a radical form of equality. On the subject of those different people, our second lesson also has some points to make. If we think about our own individual contributions to the gospel story through time, we tend to do one of two things: we overestimate our contribution, or we underestimate it. The second lesson is a reminder to us to equalize our contributions; just as God freely shares the gift of faith, the wine of the gospel is with us. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit,” we are told in the second lesson. “And there are varieties of services, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activities all of them in everyone.” The second lesson is also an argument for radical equality. If all gifts come from the same Spirit, if all services from the same Lord, if all activities from the same God, then what? Then the ruler is not above the servant, the rich man is not above the poor. The banker is not above the carpenter (surely the Christmas story makes that clear). The largest giver in church is not above the smallest; the chair of council is not above the member who slips out quietly on Sunday mornings. Indeed, there will always be times when the skills of one are needed more than the skills of another. We can’t all be leaders when there is work to be done. When the roof is leaking, who is more essential - a roofer or an accountant? Indeed, the communities that thrive are those for whom value is placed on diversity. A diversity of skills, of gender, of background, and of race. Those are the most innovative spaces, the places where many voices have a chance to be heard. And so we have those blessed with wisdom, others with knowledge, and some with faith, and so on. And from that diversity a common good becomes possible. Many of us will know the old parable of the group of blind people who come across an elephant. The first person, whose hand touches the trunk, says, “This creature is like a snake.” The second person, who touches the side of the elephant, says, “This is a wall.” The person who touches the elephant’s leg thinks it is a tree trunk. These perceptions are different because they have approached the elephant from different places. But the parable works only so far: it is meant to show us how people may have different perceptions, different truths, but it doesn’t value them. After all, the creature is not a snake, a tree trunk, or a wall; it is an elephant. But of course, we know that with different skills, with each of our different stories, come unique perspectives. This is true in our families, in church, even in our own lives, as we age and change. The roofer may admire the elegant architecture of the church that the accountant never notices. The accountant may delight in the balanced budget line that young parents could care less about, and so on. But a diverse community benefits from all those perspectives – all those services. The roof doesn’t leak, the budget is balanced, the Christmas pageant is a success. This is true in workplaces where diverse teams are more innovative and successful. And it is true in our lives when we benefit from diversity among our friends and from exposing ourselves to activities and people outside our comfort zone. There is a version of that old parable in which the blind people get so angry with one another that they come to blows. They lost sight of their common goal – to figure out what the creature was. What if that group sat down and shared their perspectives? Would they see the fullness of the picture? Would they understand truth in a different way? Our readings today are meant to reflect the radical equality of the gospel. This does not mean that all ideas are equal in the gospel; only that there are many ways to achieve them, and many skills required to do so. If the wine flows for everyone, then how is any one above another before God? If all gifts, services, and activities in the name of the gospel come from God, then how is one above another? Indeed, it cannot be. We are meant to rejoice that there are many ways to follow the gospel and see that it is a strength. We are meant to figure out together that what we need to see is not a snake or a tree trunk or a wall; it is an elephant. We are meant, in diversity of service to the gospel, to find the common good.

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