Sharing Abundance & Spiritual Gifts

The Very Rev. James Richardson
Rector, St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany

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

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“They feast upon the abundance of your house; you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light.”

Psalm 36:8-9

          Many years ago, Lori and I took our teenage youth group on a mission trip to an Indian reservation through an amazing organization called the Sierra Service Project.

We were camped at the Shoshone-Piute reservation in the middle of Nevada – and it is about as far from the comfortable suburbs where our kids lived as you can get.

We would fix houses by day and then in the evening we would have an educational program.

One evening, a Shoshone-Piute elder came to tell us stories of the tribe. These weren’t just any stories, but stories about how the Great Creator brought the people to this place to live.

Our universe was about to expand beyond our imagining.

He began each story this way – and I want you to hold onto this. Here is how he started each story:

“I don’t know if this happened exactly this way, but this is a true story.”

Let me say that again:

“I don’t know if this happened exactly this way, but this is a true story.”

This morning we hear the story of Jesus going to a wedding and turning water into wine.

I don’t know if this happened exactly this way, but this is a true story.

Cana is about a day’s walk east from Nazareth, in the hill country on the road that descends to the Sea of Galilee.

The story of the wedding feast appears only in the Gospel of John, and it is the first miracle story in John’s gospel.

Before you get too hung up on the chemistry – or alchemy – of turning water into wine, please hold this thought:

I don’t know if this happened exactly this way but this is a true story.

In the story, Jesus is at a wedding feast, and the guests have consumed all the wine. His mother, Mary, asks him to save the party by doing one of his miracles, so Jesus converts six large stone jars of water into wine.

Biblical scholars will tell you this story from the Gospel of John has many theological layers pointing to the meaning of the Eucharistic meal, and so it does.

But I want to point out two simple elements to this story that make it a true story:

First, it is a story about hospitality – the spiritual gift of hospitality; expansive enormous hospitality – about how God’s grace extends beyond the limits of our imagination.

It is a story of how God feeds us and sustains us even when we are at our lowest moments. It is about how our Great Creator will turn the water of our tears into the food that is wine that will carry and sustain us.

Second, Jesus gives the guests the good wine.

God is not cheap. God opens the best bottle, not the worst. God gives not the leftovers, but the first fruits.

And the guests notice this, and they are startled. They expect the cheap wine, but at this party, they get the finest. They expect stinginess, and they get a feast.

Here in Charlottesville, many of us enjoy a very high standard of living. We have schools and roads and health care. Many of us have enough money to take vacations and enjoy the best that life has to offer, and some us can afford to buy the good wine.

We have all that we need and more. We have a feast.

But there are many around us who don’t share in this feast. Twenty-percent of the population in Charlottesville lives below the poverty line.

We are called to share our feast, and not the cheap wine, but our first fruits. We are called to share the best of who are, and the finest gifts that we have, to bring God’s Kingdom alive in this world, and not just the next.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and there is no better way to honor Dr. King than by sharing this feast in our community.

We can do no better to honor his memory by sharing the best of who are, as Dr. King did with us. We can do no better by bringing the best of who we are to neglected islands and hamlets of this earth.

We can open our hearts, open our hands, and open checkbooks and do what needs to be done.

We are doing that in many ways here at St. Paul’s. Many of you are involved in through PACEM providing emergency shelter for the homeless in the winter, and the Haven, a day center for those who live on the street that also provides counseling and other services.

Some of you work on one of our Salvation Army teams feeding those in need.

Our parish is involved in IMPACT, a coalition of 26 congregations here in Charlottesville working on systemic issues that hold people down. We’ve won funding for a dental clinic and transitional services for the mentally ill.

This year we are working on the knotty issues of solving homelessness and joblessness.

And look beyond Charlottesville by considering how we are called to turn our wine into water.

Turning wine into water is a miracle that happens every day. Here is how: Episcopal Relief and Development provides safe drinking water and sanitation in many rural impoverished countries. ERD suggests taking the money you might have spent on a bottle of wine and sending to ERD to buy water filters.

So here is my pledge: A bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley costs about $75. I will send that amount to ERD today. Will you join me? Write a check to St. Paul’s, put ERD on the memo line, and we will get it there.

My friends, the church is not a sanctified social club. It is a place to give thanks to God, to find sustenance for our souls, and then get up and get out and share our hospitality with the world as God gives us the spiritual gifts to do so.

The most important words we hear on Sunday morning might be these: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

In this new year, ask yourself: What is stirring in your heart that will make your faith come alive and change lives around you and far away? What spiritual gifts has God given you? How will you share yours?

What will expand your universe beyond your imagining?

I bring us back to the story of the wedding at Cana and our Eucharist – our Communion meal. The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving, and so it is that we give thanks this day by how we share our gifts.

So let us give thanks for all that we have, and give the best of who we are, and then get to work making our Lord’s prayer real: “thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.”