January 20, 2013
Texts: John 2:1-11
There I was at a high school National Honor Society banquet where I had been asked to give the invocation. After the dinner and before presentations, two students got up to sing. As they sang, a certain discomfort began to hit the room. The school superintendent, who attended the church I pastored was noticeably upset as the song continued. The duet, a boy and a girl from the high school were singing a song popular just a year or two before – “Tonight I Celebrate My Love For You.” Frequently in the song, the couple sings “when I make love to you.” It worked for Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson, but at this National Honor Society banquet, well, the superintendent just kept getting redder and redder.
Music makes a difference at celebratory events. Here might be a nice song for a wedding dance – play a bit of Frank Sinatra, “The Best Is Yet To Come.” Maybe when I retire, I will have a small business offering a combination of officiating at weddings with being the dance dj. The best is yet to come.
Jesus arrives at a wedding in Cana. The wine runs out. At Jesus’ direction, large water jugs are filled, and the water becomes wine – really good wine. Can’t you just hear, as the new wine is served, the dj playing – “The Best Is Yet To Come.”
Life with Jesus is meant to be a life of joy. It is intended to be a life of joy because with Jesus we live with a horizon of hope. A horizon of hope – the best is yet to come.
To live well, human persons need hope. Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (275): “Man must reach out for support to a dream, a metaphysic of hope that sustains him and makes his life worthwhile.” Theologian Jurgen Moltmann, The Experiment Hope (21-22): “Man hopes as long as he lives and conversely, he lives in the liveliness peculiar to him as long as he hopes.” I think of the words of African-American poet Langston Hughes: Hold fast to dreams/For if dreams die/Life is a broken-winged bird/that cannot fly.
And in Jesus, in the God of Christian faith, we find hope. Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (20): Faith in Christ gives hope its assurance…. Hope gives faith in Christ its breadth and leads it into life.
But how can we really hope? Look at the world in which we live. I am discouraged that our national conversation about gun violence and gun safety seems to have evoked more political posturing than constructive dialogue. Will we ever talk about what might really work and just what kind of society we want to live in? Current federal laws have even prohibited the National Institutes of Health from studying the causes of gun violence. What about a national conversation about climate change? Again, we seem more caught up in the politics of it than engaged in a genuine dialogue about the role human action might be playing in the climate and what we might do to mitigate negative affects. There are important conversations to be had, and we seem incapable of having them. Can we expect any better? Should we expect anything different?
More personally, don’t we all get discouraged sometimes? Aren’t we disappointed when an event we had been looking forward to turns out poorly, or a relationship we had high hope for fizzles? Perhaps it is better to give up on expectations.
Is the hope we have in Jesus only a hope for a better life after this one? Can we really link hope and joy?
No and yes. Our hope in Jesus is not only a hope for something better in another life. It is a trust that God is at work now, in our lives, in our world. Not everything turns out as God desires, but God never gives up – never gives up on us, never gives up on the world. We call that grace. Hope and joy belong together. Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (32): Expectation makes life good, for in expectation man can accept his whole present and find joy not only in its joy but also in its sorrow, find happiness not only in its happiness but also in its pain.
Because God is at work, even now, we can joyfully experience the good gifts of life and the progress that the human community makes. Huston Smith, religious scholar, and author, now in his early nineties, has written a second volume of autobiography – And Live Rejoicing. In it, he reminds us that there is good news to be noted and celebrated in our world (153):
• Never in recorded history has there been less starvation
• Never in recorded history has there been less slavery
• Never in recorded history have so many human beings lived under rulers that they themselves elected
• Never in recorded history has the position of women been as good as it is today
No matter how disappointed or discouraged we can be, there are days when we witness astonishing beauty, amazing kindness, unexpected tenderness, grace, love – moments when the ordinary water of our lives becomes wine. We need to celebrate that.
When we are hurt, disappointed, discouraged, when the world seems sadly out of kilter, we can know a modicum of joy, even then, because we trust God continues to love and God continues to be at work in our lives and in our world. Things can be different, and God is working to make them so. In that there is joy, and in the words of Joan Chittister, “joy enriches the world” (Called To Question, 220).
With Jesus, there is hope – the best is yet to come, and sometimes it breaks through. Within that horizon of hope, there is joy, and joy enriches the world.
On this United Methodist Women’s Sunday, we rejoice in the accomplishments of women in the church and in our society. We have not arrived. There is still work to be done in the church and in the world. There are still places in the church where the failure of one woman pastor leads a church to say they don’t want another female clergy person for a while. In our society, there remain too many places where women are not treated as equals, are not respected as they should be. With Jesus there is hope and joy and the energy from our hope and joy is the energy we need to keep working for change.
On this weekend celebrating the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we rejoice in the progress made in racial reconciliation because of the work of Dr. King and so many others. We have not yet arrived. There is still work to be done in the church and in the world. Racial epithets are still too common. An effigy of the president hanging from a billboard tells us that there is more to do for racial justice and understanding. With Jesus there is hope and joy and the energy from our hope and joy is the energy we need to keep working for change.
And Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this. He knew that with Jesus there is hope and joy. In his last public address, the night before he was assassinated, King spoke poignant words.
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountaintop. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
The best is yet to come. With Jesus there are always creative resources to be tapped, there is always the possibility that the water will become wine. We as a people live within a horizon of hope, and there is joy. Amen.