No Wine Before Its Time

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By Sujit kumar (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Sujit kumar (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“We will sell no wine before its time” was a famous tag line from a series of commercials featuring Orson Welles in the 1970s. There were a number of “untimely” occurrences in the wedding at Cana incident where Jesus turns water into wine, which we considered this past Sunday in our pastor’s message on John 2:1-12:

  • The wedding wine was running out, an embarrassment to the bridegroom and his family.
  • When Jesus’s mother tells him about the problem, he responds, “my hour has not yet come.”
  • Mom ignores Jesus’s words and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says.
  • Jesus tells the servants to fill up six 20-30 gallon containers used for hand washing with clean water and then take some to the banquet master.
  • The banquet master upbraids the bridegroom for his “untimely” saving of the best wine for last.

So what time is it when Jesus does these kinds of things at a wedding? What most impressed me was that turning ceremonial cleansing water to wine is considered the first of seven signs John records to point us to how Jesus will give life to those who put their trust in him. The question is: what is the reality toward which this sign points?

The ceremonial water pointed toward the Jews awareness that they were a people set apart by God and that they were to live this in all of life. Cleanliness really was next to godliness for these people–it represented outwardly what they wanted to be true inwardly–to be a people for God, to worship God in community with all the others who share in this solemn promise called a covenant.Bob Trube2

The problem with washing your hands is that you have to do it over and over again–and cleaning up my outsides doesn’t necessarily clean up my insides. And this is the wonder of what Jesus signifies in this sign–that he is the giver of the new wine that replaces the ceremonial water. We drink of him and it transforms us from the inside out.

But wine does something more. As Psalm 104:15 says, “Wine gladdens the heart.” The wine Jesus gives replaces ritual adherence with the joy and celebration of the bridegroom who has come!

There is one other element of “time” to consider here–Jesus’s statement that his hour had not yet come. What’s that all about? It seems that what Jesus is acknowledging to his mother is that it is not yet time for him to die for the sins of the world and that what she is asking will actually put him on the path that ends at the cross. The sign of wine reminds us of the cup we drink in communion that signifies and ushers us into the blood-bought intimacy with God we enjoy.

Rich concluded with a question and statement that I am pondering this week.

The question: Do we drink deeply of Jesus?

The statement: Most often, what we need most of Jesus is Jesus himself.

This challenges me in the busyness of life, and even my “religious” busyness–am I still over at water jugs washing my hands or even fretting about all the things “running out” in my life? Or am I coming with all this to drink deeply of the wine of Jesus? How about you?

Double Vision

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IMG_2270Double vision. We usually do not consider this a good thing. A friend of ours suffering from MS could not drive for a period of time because of problems with double vision. Double vision resulting from crossed eyes (strabismus) in children is treated surgically as early as possible so the brain does not become accustomed to seeing double.

At the conclusion of our pastor’s message this week, our pastor spoke of the importance of a certain kind of double vision that not only appraises and celebrates where God has brought us thus far, but also looks to the future and the good that God might do among us. His message was a kind of “review” for our congregation that explored both where we are, and where, under God’s grace, we might go.

I was also struck that there is another kind of “double vision” that was evident to me in this message. It is the double vision that looks both at our congregation and our community. I was grateful for the reflection upon each and the model of “watchful brooding” over both, the kind of watchfulness shepherds exercise that watches both the flock and the surroundings, both for good pastures and possible threats. Here are some of my own responses to each:

Congregation (Who We Are): One important insight that Rich shared was our “highly-leveraged” character. For the most part, it is not a challenge to get us to “do more” and I am grateful that this is reflected in a recognition that we don’t need to add more things to our programming or congregational calendar. Most of us see our “ministry” as something that happens outside the church walls and our impact isn’t necessarily reflected in church growth so much as in the various workplaces, organizations, and informal networks we work in. There is a kind of hiddenness in this that seems attractive and is contrary to the ABC of “attendance, budget, and campus” that serves as the metric of success in American Christianity.

Two reflections in this regard: 1) It might be fun to “map” our involvements and explore the question, “if this is how God is gifting and calling each of us, how might he be calling ALL of us?” 2) It seems that what happens in our gatherings on Sundays, in Life groups and other gatherings in some way sustains and equips us for a good deal of ministry on the outside.  What was shared about having a “contextually appropriate strategy for deepening the spiritual transformation, the growth of discipleship” for our congregation really makes sense!Bob Trube2

Community (Where We Are): I so appreciate the continued dreaming our pastor and so many are doing about serving the community that is northwest Columbus now. We have a Governance Team that really serves us well! One interesting insight for me, though, from the message, is that our building and property really is a key interface between our congregation and the wider community.

What is real for the community that encounters us is a place located at 7260 Smoky Row Road. It is a place where food is stored and distributed by caring people. It is a place where students, who traditional schools have been unable to help, have another alternative. It is a place where people grow fresh food while children play on our ark. It is a place where singers rehearse in our worship space, using our chairs and piano and lighting, while glimpsing the tangible signs of our life together as they come in and out. It is a place where people vote, and experience welcome as they do so.

So, while it doesn’t seem glamorous and seems “institutional” to pay attention to buildings, what struck me from what Rich shared is how many “flesh-and-blood” human beings interface with our congregation through the building and grounds at Smoky Row. As was noted, we’ve made lots of headway over the last years in improvements. But this realization also helps me see how urgent it is to pray for someone with the skills and passion needed to lead our stewardship of this place God has given us that is such a crucial interface with our community.

I’m moved by this message that as I pray for our church, I need to pray with “double vision” not only with regard to our past and future, but also with regard to praying both for our congregation, and for the community in the midst of which we gather and who we are called to serve. Our pastor gave us a great model of paying close attention both to what is going on inside our church and in our community. I hope I can imitate that as I pray for our life and mission.

These are the things that particularly encouraged and challenged me. How about you?

Going Deeper Questions: If you are from Smoky Row, what most encouraged you and what most challenged you from Rich’s message?

If you are someone else following the blog, what would it mean to have “double-vision” for your church and your community? What do you see as you look at each in your context?

Everything Matters

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Bob Trube2Rich, in his concluding message in the series on “The Christian and…” this past Sunday began the sermon with the assertion that everything we do as Christians matters and ended with the question, “does my life matter or not?” My immediate response to this is “of course!” And it makes me wonder why we have spent a whole summer considering as a church how all of life matters and how becoming more like Christ relates to every aspect of our lives. It seems to me that this should be as plain as the nose on my face.

Except that it isn’t.

Why is that? I think there are two reasons. The first is one basic to our nature as fallen creatures whose ingrained habit of living is to close God out of our lives except when we are really desperate. There is a part of me that resists God’s gracious overtures to make sense out of my life and to fashion me into a “little Christ” who is at the same time the unique person God intends me to be. Sometimes, the visceral response to these overtures is one of “sez who?” or maybe slightly more politely, “I can do it myself”. Sometimes I even pursue the really mixed up strategy of trying to meet the radical demands of following Jesus without his radical help. Call it being the male macho cowboy or whatever you will, I keep wanting to limit the places I let Jesus  into when he in fact is saying, “it all matters to me”. Too often, I only realize this only when I royally screw up!

The other reason is an external one. The “water we swim in” is a society that has made sharp divisions between public and private, secular and sacred that confines the expression of our faith to the private parts of life. Have you noticed how some recent public discourse no longer talks about freedom of religion but “freedom of worship?” There is a subtle message in this that says, “you may practice your faith in the privacy of your home, your car, and your church, but don’t let it intrude into any part of public life.”

In the university setting where I work, I sometimes ask graduate students if they ever stop to pray when confronted with a tough research problem or give thanks when they have a breakthrough. Do they pray about a seminar in which they will present, or for students as they grade their papers or prepare for office hours? Sometimes, I’m confronted by a blank stare that says, “I never thought of this before.” I suspect at least part of this is that we are all tempted to “go into secular mode” when we arrive at work.

Rich’s “principles and practices” seemed to me to offer helpful ways to lives as someone for whom everything matters that deal both with my resistance to following Jesus and with the false dichotomy between sacred and secular in our society. He challenged us to the principles of an integrity where the private and public part of our lives are consistent with each other, to be wise in recognizing that Christ does not call us to a life that defies the capacities and competencies he has given us, to allow Christ rather than the cultures of family, workplace, community or even church to shape us, and to rely on the resources of God in scripture, Spirit, and Christian community to live Christ-shaped lives. And he challenged us to the practices of examining our use of our time and claiming it for what matters, to creating routines that sustain us, to being defined in relationship to Christ rather than giving our identities to persons or forces like our jobs to shape us, and to live attentively.

This last one has seemed particularly important to me. Dallas Willard often advised those who sought his advice on living well to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from their lives. Hurry seems to me to be what keeps me from living attentively to both my insides and my external circumstances and the life Jesus is inviting me into in all of life. When I am hurrying through my life, I stop asking questions like “is this something that really matters to Jesus, something he wants me to do?”, “how does this matter to Jesus?”, “how might I act as someone whose life and character matters to Jesus?”

Reality for followers of Jesus is that our lives and everything we do in our bodies in this life matter deeply to him. It seems that it all comes down to whether we will live in the shadow worlds of secularity and human rebellion or the bright and good reality of Jesus where everything in our lives matters.