Jesus, Life of the Party

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 51; 148, Genesis 6:1-8, Hebrews 3:12-19, John 2:1-12


Christianity is serious business. The language of our faith uses words like sacrifice, atonement, sin, repentance, blood, and crucifixion with alarming regularity. We often speak of love as a demanding experience. We revere saints who deprived themselves of all earthly pleasures and martyrs who died in horrible ways. Suffering and death are undeniable parts of our collective story. If we are supposed to be willing to follow Christ to the cross, why do we ever sing songs like “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart?”

Despite the bloody reality of the cross and the traditional fire and brimstone sermons we have heard, suffering is not the default position of the Kingdom of God. Christ did not suffer and die just so we could continue suffering and dying. In the book of John, his first public sign is turning water into wine at a wedding banquet. That’s right: he made his public debut at a party, and performed a miracle so the party wouldn’t have to stop. It wasn’t just any party though – it was a celebration of life recognizing a joyous bond between two people, and the bond between each of them and God.

The Cana story does not appear in other Gospels, but in Matthew Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as a wedding banquet where outcasts feast. In this life suffering may be inevitable, but we don’t need to wear it like a uniform to be good Christians. To the contrary, Jesus had little regard for people who put their suffering on display as a show of piety. We are to confront head on the suffering of the world and help where we can, and to rely on God when we ourselves suffer, but we are never to be resigned to misery. While suffering is sometimes the cost of staying the course on the way to the feast, it is not God’s desire for us. The ultimate purpose of the crucifixion was eternal life. Jesus came to heal us, to teach us to forgive, and to celebrate with us. Let’s not forget to RSVP.

Comfort: God wants us to be joyful.

Challenge: Best as you can, don’t run away from people’s suffering; confront it with them without being consumed by it.

Prayer: Lord, lead me to those whom I can help, and open my hearts and hands to them. Amen.

Discussion: Suffering is part of life. Is there a way to make it useful?

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All Good Gifts

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Today’s readings (click to open in new window):
Psalms 96; 146, 2 Samuel 23:13-17b, 2 John 1:1-13, John 2:1-11

In the Gospel of John, Jesus performs his first miracle (John calls them “signs”) at a wedding in the town of Cana. At his mother’s urging,  he reluctantly turns water into wine because the wedding has run out. The chief steward of the reception, upon tasting the wine that was formerly water, tells the bridegroom: “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.” This tells us a lot about the nature of generosity and giving.

It tells us God’s gifts are top quality – always! When a prayer isn’t answered how we want or expect, or when God calls us to do something difficult or unpleasant, the problem is not with the gift. When we feel like asking “Is this really what you meant to give me, Lord?” the problem may lie in our perception. Not that every hardship is a gift in disguise; God certainly doesn’t give us cancer or domestic violence. But if we approach life as though the Spirit is nudging us toward wholeness, invaluable life lessons and spiritual riches abound. When someone gifts us with lessons – music, tennis, foreign language – the gift is only valuable after we have put the work in.

What about gifts we give? Do we hold back the good wine? While we can’t give beyond our means, we shouldn’t cheap out because we are giving to charity. We’ve all heard: “They should be grateful to get anything at all” and we’ve all seen 10 year old cans of cocktail onions on food drive collection tables. The point is not to judge the giving of others, but to be faithful about our own. We don’t know when someone is giving despite their own need, and we should be wise about stewarding our funds, but when we are giving in Christ’s name let’s keep in mind that in God’s eyes the recipients are no more or less deserving than we are. The good wine – or at least the best wine we can afford to share – is for everyone.

Comfort: God’s gifts to us are never lacking.

Challenge: For one week, set aside a food bank donation (in cash or kind) equivalent to your own lunches. At the end of the week, note whether the donation came out of your excess, or whether you had to scale back a little to give an equal amount. If your present circumstances don’t permit for donations, try splitting your leisure time evenly between your own activities and helping others.

Prayer: Lord, teach me to be generous, and to give with a loving heart. Amen.

Discussion: We can have complex feelings around gift-giving, especially when they feel obligatory, such as during the holidays. How do you feel about gift giving?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!