Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, November 13, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

1 Kings 11:26-39+Psalm 89:1-8, 14+2 Timothy 2: 8-12+John 2:1-11

We are almost to the end of Year W in the Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church translated and compiled by Prof. Wil Gafney. When we set out on this journey on the 1st Sunday of Advent last year, I truly had no idea how we would make our way through an unfamiliar series of readings and translations that minimize male-centered language and highlight some of the less admirable stories in scripture. It has challenged me as a preacher. It has also frustrated me at times, as word choices and paired readings have not lent themselves to forming a coherent sermon.

But here we are at the next-to-last Sunday of this liturgical year. It is also the day that we dedicate our pledges for the coming calendar year, and the gospel for today feels like it has been teed up for just such an occasion.

Usually, we read about the wedding at Cana during the season of Epiphany when Jesus’s identity as the messiah, as a miracle-worker, as the Son of God was revealed to those around him. It’s also mentioned in the liturgy for marriage as a special sign of God’s blessing on marriage, although St. Paul might not have agreed with that interpretation.

More sermons than can be counted have focused on the miracle part about the water becoming wine. A lot of other sermons, usually from women, focus on the seemingly rude response Jesus makes to his mother, addressing her as “woman” in a way that seems less than kind.

But I wonder if the real miracle isn’t that Mary, that “woman,” instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, and they do it.

Who is Jesus to them that they would listen? In John’s gospel, we are only at the beginning of the 2nd chapter, and so far, he has not performed any miracles. This is the first sign, according to John.

But keep in mind, these are servants. Who do you think is going to be in big trouble if the groom, the one in authority, found out that there was no wine for the guests? Hospitality in the time of Jesus, and even now, is a matter of honor, or pride, and to fail to show proper hospitality could bring shame on a family. It’s hard for us to grasp the importance of this, but Jesus knew. Jesus knew who would suffer the consequences if the wine ran out. Sure, the steward would have been first in line, but do you really think he would take all the blame on himself? Not likely. He would point to those lazy and worthless servants and accuse them of mishandling the wine cellar or not keeping a proper inventory for him or of drinking the wine when he wasn’t looking so that he only thought there was enough for this wedding feast. Oh yes, those servants would have suffered the consequences.

On this side of the story, we know who Jesus is, and we know whose side he is on. The powerless. The voiceless. The victimized. So, Jesus is going to look after them.

But not just Jesus.

Mary, too.

“Do whatever he tells you” (2:5).

And they do.

The bridegroom is spared his shame, but that is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that the powerless are protected from punishment for something that is not even their fault in the first place.

The same is true for us.

If we “do whatever Jesus tells us,” the powerless are protected. The hungry have food in their bellies. The unhoused have shelter over their heads. Children don’t die in war zones. Schools and places of worship are not the victims of unfettered gun violence. Our Jewish neighbors do not live in fear of attack. There is enough to go around because Jesus is a worker of signs and wonders.

Now you may think that your offering of money, your pledge to this place, is not enough to make a difference. I don’t imagine those servants thought that pouring water into those wine jugs was going to do much, either.

But it did. They did what Jesus told them, and the miracle happened.

Forty years ago, gentrification and the closure of manufacturing plants and single-room-occupancy buildings in Hoboken led to a serious crisis in housing. The homeless and hungry would go from church to church to synagogue to street corner looking for help. The faith leaders in Hoboken knew that they could accomplish far more together than they could individually, and the Hoboken Shelter was born. There was a lot of fighting about it. Civic leaders accused the newly established Communities of Faith for Housing of running an illegal hotel in the old St. John’s Lutheran Church at the corner of 3rd & Bloomfield. The court case went to the Superior Court in New Jersey and set a precedent because the Clergy Coalition argued that housing the unhoused in a church is what the Church is called to do, and to restrict that would be to infringe on religious freedom guaranteed in the 1st Amendment.

So that pledge you make to All Saints? That check or online gift you make? It is part of that tradition of service to this community. It enables us to do so much more than keep the lights on. You have made it possible for us to add a staff position to help strengthen our programming for children and families so that our children will grow up seeking and serving Christ in all people. You have made it possible for us to continue to partner with other faith communities in Hoboken to make life a little less hard for those who struggle.

All we have to do is what Jesus tells us. Pour that water, make those offerings, and watch a miracle occur.

It happened 2,000 years ago in Cana of Galilee, and it happens right here in Hoboken, New Jersey.

So, go ahead, do whatever Jesus tells you.

ASEPSermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, November 13, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas