Pastor Sherry’s message for January 16, 2022

Scriptures—Isa 62:1-5; Ps 36:5-10; 1 Cor 12:1-11; Jn 2:1-11

Etymologists who study the evolution of language tell us that Old English developed from Germanic tribes (the Angles and Saxons) invading parts of England/Scotland and blending their Germanic tongues with the Celtic and Latin spoken there, around 300AD. (I know that languages evolve because my grandkids, 7th and 9th graders, speak words that I have never heard before or use words I know but which have a different meaning from what I learned.) Have you ever noticed that the words God and good are only separated by one letter, an extra “o”? This is significant because when these Germanic folk began to worship the God of the Old and New Testaments, fully revealed in Jesus Christ, they searched for a word to describe Him. Originally, they worshipped a pantheon of pagan gods with names like Odin, Thor, and Freya. They wanted a name that differentiated the Christian God from these. I don’t know why they didn’t use Yahweh, God’s name in the Old Testament. That would have gotten my vote, but, as they began to learn more about God’s nature, they were amazed by God’s goodness. So, they decided to use a form of their word good and adapt it to mean the Christian God.

In other words, the word that made the most sense to them to use to name our God was their word, good. This was true in Old English, but also in modern German and Dutch. We know from Scripture that God is good. Isn’t it interesting that when a group of ancient, northern European people came to accept our God as their Lord and Savior, they chose to call Him by their word for good?

I wrote this sermon on Thursday and Friday, then was out of town all day Saturday. When I arrived back home after 7:00pm Saturday, I found a card from an old friend in my mailbox. The card read, “God is good, all the time.” Inside, the printed card continued, “All the time, God is good.” My friend had selected the card some days ago and sent it to me from another city, not knowing what passages I would be preaching. I was delighted that God seemed to indicate that my sermon was pleasing to Him!

Our Scripture lessons today all emphasize the goodness of our God.

A. Our Old Testament lesson comes from Isaiah 62:1-5. In it, God uses the metaphor of a bridegroom’s love for His bride to describe His love for Jerusalem—and, by extension—for us, because, thanks to Jesus, we have been grafted into His Chosen People. Despite their repeated (and current) rejection of Him, God promises the Jews that at Jesus’ 2nd Coming, He will delight in Jerusalem (He and Jesus will take up residence there); He will give her a new name—indicating a new character pleasing to God; He will marry Himself to her (not in a sexual way but indicating an intimate knowledge of her for Him and Him for her); and He will be present to her, protect her, and delight in her.

Doesn’t this just beautifully and convincingly demonstrate the loving kindness, the goodness of our God? He never gives up on us. As the prophet Jeremiah affirms in 29:11–For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.

B. Similarly, Psalm 36:5-10, written by King David, extolls the goodness of the Lord toward all His creatures, human and otherwise:

Verse 5 praises God’s love and faithfulness towards us. Verse 6 applauds His righteousness and justice toward us. Verse 7 acclaims Him as our refuge when we need one—…both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. This image of wings echoes Exodus 19:4 where God tells Moses to remind the Israelites🡪You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. It’s also present in Matthew 23:37 where Jesus mourns His rejection by His people O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you were not willing. “Under her wings” is the place of protection and security; and “under [His] wings” is the place of warmth and rest.

Verses 8-10 celebrate His abundant provision for us, in images of profuse feasting and drinking. Again, the Scriptures proclaim the goodness of God.

C. Our Gospel reading, John 2:1-11, describes Jesus’ and His mother’s response to a lack at a country wedding. Jesus may have attended many weddings over the course of His earthly life, but this one took place at Cana, a village just over the hill from Nazareth. Weddings, then like now, were joyous occasions. In small villages, everyone was invited. There was feasting and dancing. Sometimes the celebration lasted several days. If a couple were poor, there was a real danger of running out of food and wine. Wine to them was a staple with meals. Perhaps the alcohol content helped kill bacteria in their unfiltered water. But drunkenness was universally condemned.

The couple does run out of wine, and they are about to be publically embarrassed. Mary, Jesus’ mother, brings their dilemma to His attention. She says (v.3), They have no more wine. Jesus responds (v.4), Dear woman, why do you involve Me? Scholars are undecided about why she would ask Him to do something for them in this setting. Some believe she was asking Jesus and His 12 to leave, thus lessening the demand. Others speculate she was asking Him to preach in order to distract the guests—but even if He did so, the folks attending would still require food and drink. Still others suggest she wanted Him to vindicate her publically, thinking if He performed a miracle for them, He would prove He was God as she had maintained all of her life. But I think she, as His mother, knew His capabilities. I know my engineer son. He can teach me about computers, but he cannot fix my clogged drains. We mothers often know very well what our kids can and cannot do. Mary clearly had empathy for the couple, and she knew her son and trusted that He could rectify the situation. Jesus, on the other hand, knew this would “out Him,” so He was reluctant to perform a miracle—He says, My time has not yet come. Later in John’s Gospel He will say He only does what He sees His Father doing. But in this case, I think He honored His mother by taking care of things:

First, He has them gather 6 large water jars. Each, set aside for ritual purification, held 20-30 gallons. Then He quietly transforms the water into the best wine ever! 6X20=120 gallons; 6X30=180 gallons. What an exceptionally generous amount of especially delicious wine! The wedding planner is stunned! In this transformation, Jesus has just offered what John calls “a sign” of His divinity—by His will alone, He can convert one form of matter into another.

D. We know from this side of the Cross that Jesus only did what His heavenly Father told Him to do. So, why unveil His divinity at a wedding? Remember, our Isaiah lesson (62:1-5) uses the metaphor of a bridegroom’s love for his bride to describe God’s love for us. A portion of our Psalm 36:5-10 celebrates God’s love for us in images of feasting and drinking—like at a wedding reception. The 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 passage lists 9 spiritual gifts potentially given to those of us who love Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now Paul provides 3 lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians and in Romans. There are some differences among these lists. But this one cites miraculous powers. Jesus demonstrated miraculous powers at the Cana wedding. Some believe this signaled His endorsement of the marital union. Other Biblical experts assert that Jesus took something old and battered (the jugs/water pots) and filled them with something new designed to meet their needs: He took a good thing from the past—water—and turned it into a good thing for the future–really excellent wine. This way, we can begin to see the wine as a metaphor for the generous blessings of God. Whatever the truth of the matter, in solving the problem of the wine deficit, Jesus demonstrated God’s love, compassion, generosity, and His goodness.

By the way, did you know that Welch’s Grape Juice was originally created as a non-alcoholic, alternative communion wine? Prior to branching out into jams and jellies, Mr. Welch, a Methodist dentist from the 1800’s, wanted something that looked like wine but lacked its alcohol content to serve at his church communion. Some denominations use real wine; others, like us, use grape juice. I have attended a Lutheran Church which served both, the grape juice as an alternative for kids and for recovering alcoholics.

If you have trouble getting your mind around the concept that God is good—especially when you wonder about the bumps, dings, assaults, and calamities you may have experienced in this life– consider this true story recounted by Richella J. Parham in her 2019 book titled, Mythical Me (pp. 58-59, IVPress):

As I was talking with my friend Robin one day, she told me of a good deed she had done, then she stopped and said, “Of course, I know I’m just a sinner.” I then asked Robin, who has a young-adult daughter, to describe her daughter to me in twenty-five words or less. I watched as my friend’s eyes lit up and her lips tilted into a smile. “She’s beautiful. She’s fierce and wise. She’s a lover of Jesus, a friend to all, and a defender of the poor. She is my inspiration.” (Robin is very good with words.)

“Why didn’t you describe your daughter as a black-hearted buzzard?” I asked. “Isn’t she?”

“Why not?’ I queried.

“Because I love her,” came the reply.

“And why do you love her?” I pressed.

“Because she’s my daughter,” came the quick answer from my friend, now wearing a puzzled look.

“If this is how you feel about your daughter, how do you suppose your Father in heaven feels about you?” I asked, knowing the answer.

As Ms. Parham writes, compared to God, we are all black-hearted buzzards to some degree. But praise God, He sees the good in us besides, and loves us because He is good. Remember, He doesn’t send the bumps, dings, assaults, and calamities upon us–Satan does! The Lord, however, promises to be present with us in our struggles. God is good, all the time; All the time, God is good. To God be the glory!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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