Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany 01/20/2019

Sermon by Pastor Chrys Levesque Hendrick at Bethany Lutheran Church, Ishpeming, MI

January 20, 2019, 10:30, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

The Joy of God-With-Us

Isaiah 62:1-5 / Psalm 36:5-10 / 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 / John 2:1-11

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There is a lot of wedding imagery … in our texts for today … imagery meant to evoke the deep joy … we humans tend to experience … at the celebration of the joining of lives. So it is that Isaiah and John both use wedding language to provide a metaphorical image … of the joy for Godandfor humankind … of God’s self-revelation … of God’s abundant presence in human life. Like Isaiah … John is making vivid … the intimate relationship of mutual love … that God chooses to have with each … and all … of us. Like Isaiah … John invites us to enter the celebration of God’s presence with us … for us … and in us.

As I thought about the occasion of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana … the movie Fiddler on the Roof came to mind … specifically the scene of the wedding of Tevya’s eldest daughter. Even in the midst of hardship … poverty … and persecution … there was joycelebration … shared food … wine … the wedding canopy … words of divine blessing … and other already old traditions of Jewish weddings. Yes … the hard facts of life loomed in the background … but they did not overwhelm this joy. For just a few hoursjoy gave them respite from fear and anxietyjoy gave them a moment to catch their breathjoy gave them a chance to strengthen their spiritual muscles. The Cana gathering might well have looked … and felt … pretty much like that.

This sense of joy … at God’s presence in our human midst … is at the heart of this morning’s texts. And it is the very specific joy … of the sign of God’s presence in Jesus … turning the freshly drawn water in six huge … stone jars … into some hundred and fifty gallons of superb wine … that makes the wedding at Cana more joyful … more hopeful … more full of God’s abundant grace … than any imaginable human celebration of any kind. At Cana, Jesus meets the need with his compassion. But the superabundance provides a sign of God’s overflowing grace … a window through which we catch a glimpse … of that Godly grace.

So …please … for the moment … let us put aside our modern skepticism … and enter into the occasion … where something incredible … happened … that caused the disciples of Jesus to believe in himin a new wayto make a leap of faith.

Remember …they were already his disciples … [as we are told at the end of chapter 1] … drawn to him by the witness of John the Baptist … who … by the Fourth Gospel account … had seen the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove … upon Jesus … and had testified that Jesus was indeed the Son of God the Lamb of God! … These words of witness … caused two of the Baptist’s own disciples … to follow after Jesus. One was Andrew … who told his brother Simon Peter. Next into the fold was Philip … who found Nathanael. Three days later … these … and perhaps others … were at the wedding feast with Jesus. What did they see? What did they hear? How did they know?

I don’t know. Very few … of those present that day … were able to recognize Jesusfor who he was … in the changing of water into wine. But those fewby the grace of the Spirit of Godwere ableto make the leapfrom seeing Jesus simply as “him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote”… to seeing Jesus … as the very presence of God among them.

So … let us celebrate … my friends … the joy of the disciples making that leap …[even though the wine story is so far beyond our reach] … because we are richly blessed by their belief.

John gives us few details about the wedding … except that the wine had run out … Jesus’ mother makes the point to her son … and he responds with a verbal shrug of the shoulders … telling her my hour has not yet come.” Frankly … we don’t know how to reconcile … this apparent lack of intention … to act … with the fact that … after what appears the briefest of delays … Jesus does indeed act … rather spectacularly! Was his mother inspired by the Spirit of God to instruct the servants? And was that (?) … the perfect Spiritual nudge (?) … which told Jesus … it was indeed … time to begin … to show the world the gracious power of God (?) … that the first minutesof “his hour”had now come? John does not explain. He simply leaves us to wrestle with the story … with the issue of belief … and with ne necessity of deciding … how we will … or will not … allow this fleeting glimpse of God-with-us … through the sign of the wineto shape the living of our lives.

What will we do with the abundant talents and gifts of the Spirit that God has poured into us (?) … that God reminds us of … whenever we share the bread of life … and the cup of salvation … that Jesus offered to his earliest disciples … in the closing moments … of “his hour”?

Which brings us to Paul … and Spiritual gifts. He enumerates several … and notes how they are scattered abundantly among believers … as God wills. But what is especially noteworthy is Paul’s insistence that … To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. Over the two millennia since the disciples of Jesus … the original few … made the leap of faith at Cana … untold numbers of believers have done the same. Because they used the Spiritual gifts … and their God-given talents and skills … to bear witness to God’s grace … our world … though still deeply troubled … has not been conqueredby death-dealing evil. Every generation has been blessed … by God … with believers who have stood against the tide of greed / violence / racism / hatred / selfishness … and myriad other evils. Through the lives of ordinary people … who become extraordinary witnesses to the power and presence of God … the workings of God shine forth in our aching world. This weekend … we remember one notable example.

Growing up in a lily-white community … I did not become aware of the vision and courage of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. … until my high school history teacher played a recording of King’s 1963 “I have a dream” speech … in our history club meeting … in the spring of 1964 … my senior year. By then I was old enough to appreciate the implications … and I still recall how moved I was then … and now … by King’s vision. It gave me joy … then … to realize I was hearing a prophetic voice in my own historical time. It still gives me joy … whenever I see signs that people of many races recognize the Spiritual gifts of courage … faith … and belief in something more powerful than the forces of darkness that threaten the human community.

There are spiritually gifted people all around us … though we know them as teachers in our schools … leaders in our towns … workers in our offices … fields … and factories … and … yes … even young students in our schools. Some witness consciously to the joy of God in Christ Jesus in our midst … as they teach Sunday school … bring Holy Communion to the home-bound … provide a listening ear and assurance of God’s love to a hurting neighbor. Others act without awareness that they are bearing witness to the abundant grace of God … when they volunteer in non-profit organizations to provide for the needs of the poor and homeless … or simply conduct their lives and their businesses with honesty … integrity … and compassion.

Some people just radiate one or more of the specific spiritual gifts that Paul writes about … wisdom … knowledge … faith … healing … and so on. Others demonstrate courage in the face of morally outrageous conduct on the part of others … speaking out against actions … or inactions … which cause harm to others. Some have the gift of seeing the giftedness of others … and nudging them to recognize their own “hour.”

So … my friends … don’t let your intellects … overwhelm your hearts. Rejoice … in the sign of the water turned to wine … reminding us of the abundant grace of God. Hold gently the signs that God has shown to you … the spiritual gifts God has entrusted to you.

And be open … to what God says to you … something like this: My precious child, I have equipped you for life … to be a blessing to others … as long ago I blessed my ancient chosen people. I know what I have put into you … and I cannot wait … to see how you will use your gifts … for your own joy … and for mine. So … surprise me!Amen.

Children's Sermon

2019 – Children’s message – Jan 20 – Bethany – Ishpeming.

In today’s second reading … the one from First Corinthians … St. Paul writes to people about Spiritual gifts. As I thought about his words … I thought also about all the talents and interests we are given … and about how these connect with Spiritual gifts … especially when we are trying to decide what we will do with our lives … what work we will do to earn a living … what careers we might follow.

That made me think of a sermon I heard from another seminary student back when I was studying to become a pastor. One day a fellow seminarian preached in the chapel of the Episcopal Seminary in Austin, Texas, where I was one of the Lutheran students.

In his sermon, my fellow seminarian was describing the struggle of a young woman who was trying to decide what to do with her life. I don’t remember the story exactly, but it went something like this. She was in college and it was time to choose a major. She couldn’t decide whether to study science and go into medicine as a career … or maybe political science and become a lawyer. She was also a fine athlete, a talented musician, and was also thinking about joining the Peace Corps someday.

One day, she wrote about her dilemma to a favorite aunt … a woman who had become a nun and had lived for many years in a community of sisters devoted to prayer. The answer from the girl’s Aunt Lydia read something like this:

“Dearest Caroline, my precious niece,

“Your letter brought joy to my heart … first … because of the personal joy that you thought of me at this pivotal time in your young life. I suppose this is because your note reminded me of my own time of discernment so many years ago. Like you, I had many wonderful options.

“But more than that, your letter told me that you know that you are God’s beloved child … and that you desire to live out the faith in which you have been raised … to honor God by the way you use the talents God has given you. You see them as divine gifts … and I am proud of you for that!

“Because you have asked for my advice, I will share with you the answer I received … to my own prayer much like yours … full of similar anxieties … and the fear of not measuring up to the expectations of others … or of choosing the wrong thing.

“Now, before I continue, let me remind you that all the gifts and talents God has given are … in truth … spiritual gifts … when they are used for the sake of others … for building community … for showing the love of God. A theologian I know of, named Fredrick Beuchner has a great take on vocation … the work we choose to do. He writes: ‘The place God calls you to be … is where your deep gladness … and the world’s deep need … meet’ … where these two connect with each other. Now, you know the choice I made … years ago … when I received God’s answer … to my prayer … But youare not me. So you must receive the message I pass on to you for your own special life.

Sohere is the message I felt … in my whole self … the message I am absolutely certain God has always intended for me to pass on to you. I felt God say to me: My precious child, I have equipped you for life … to be a blessing to others … as long ago I blessed my ancient chosen people. I know what I have put into you … and I cannot wait … to see … how you will use your gifts … for your own joy … and for mine. So … surprise me!

All these years later … I am still blessed by that message. You are way younger than I was when I heard those words … the idea of “surprising God” by the way we live out our faith and our lives … but I hope they will come to your minds … or that someone here will remind you of them … when you get a bit older and have decisions to make.

Let’s pray: Thank you God for your love. Help us to love you back … and use all that you have put into us for others and for you. Amen.

Pastor Chrys Levesque Hendrick


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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