January 20

God Can’t Forget You

By Marsh Chapel

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Isaiah 62:1-5

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

John 2:1-11

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Let us pray:

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Holy Men, Holy Women, page 161)

Growing up in Detroit I always relished the stories of the accomplishments of my parents and their friends.  It took a lot of perseverance in the face of racism and discrimination for them to get to the table yet alone have a seat at the table.  

I remember one story in particular of the late Wade H. McCree Jr. distinguished judge, Solicitor General, and professor.  Quoting from his obituary from the New York Times:

Judge McCree was appointed by President Kennedy as a judge on the First District Court in Detroit in 1961.  Five years later, President Johnson promoted him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit which served Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.  As a judge, he won wide praise in legal circles for intelligence and judgement.  And as Solicitor General, he enjoyed great good will from the Supreme Court justices who respected his character and legal achievements.

The story I heard growing up was: Judge McCree grew up in Boston, graduated from Harvard’s Law School, was offered and accepted at a prestigious law firm in Boston where when the partners found out he was African American immediately rescinded the offer.

When I was writing this sermon I called his son, my childhood friend and lawyer Wade III for clarification.  The corrected story goes like this:

Judge McCree did indeed grow up in Boston and attended the prestigious Boston Latin School.  He is the only African American to have his name inscribed on the famous frieze of the school which also include the names of Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He did indeed attend and graduate from Harvard’s Law School after taking a leave to serve in World War II.  So here is where the story changes.  Judge McCree was recruited by the prestigious law firm Miller Canfield, not in Boston, but in Detroit. Judge McCree arrives for his first day on the job and is asked to wait in the lobby. Time passes and no one is coming out to welcome him on his first day on the job.  He finds out later that phone calls were being made to Harvard’s law school to verify that he was a graduate and not an African American man pretending to be a lawyer.  The managing partner finally comes out to say that the firm’s white clientele would be comfortable with an African American lawyer. Judge McCree would then find immediate employment at the African American Law Firm of Harold E. Bledsoe and Hobart Taylor.  I wonder what he must have been thinking as he sat in the lobby of Miller Canfield law firm. What was the first sign that he had that the situation may not go as expected? What was plan B?  When did he know that his life’s work would be one to champion for social and economic justice from the judicial bench no less.

Daily we all observe signs to one extent or another and most of us have attended a wedding or two in our lives.  What makes these seemingly ordinary experiences, extraordinary in the life of Jesus.

Here we are on this second Sunday after the Epiphany as we read John’s gospel about Jesus’ first sign at the Wedding in Cana and the signs of God’s grace.

This passage has something important to tell us.  First it tells us who Jesus is.  Second it gives us information about God’s grace.  Third it shows us what God has in store for us.  

For the community that the writer of John was addressing we must understand two key points.  As Dean Hill points out in his book “The Courageous Gospel” the “Jesus Movement” was quote moving away from Judaism end quote”.  Dean Hill further points out the despair and disappointment in the delay of Christ’s return. What is a community of believers supposed to believe?  What is a community believers charged with doing?  How do they and we continue to live as loving and caring people of faith? What are the signs?

Signs are very important.  They give us information.  They give us a sense of direction.

I remember when I first moved to Boston.  I had been in the city of Boston proper many times for work, conferences and the annual trek with Decatur Street friends from Brooklyn to visit the original Filene’s Basement.  I was always able to navigate Boston by the T and perhaps a short walk.  When I moved to Cambridge to attend graduate school I felt confident that my navigation of Boston and surrounding areas would not be difficult.  After all I learned my way around all five boroughs of New York City, I learned my way around the greater Los Angeles area. I can hear you chuckling now.  I have never gotten so lost in my entire life. No one tells you that I-95 turns into 128.  It was counter intuitive when I was working in Randolph which is south but you have to head north toward Boston instead of going south to Canton. And if that wasn’t bad enough, nothing in my driver’s education training prepared me for navigating a traffic circle.  To this day I still cannot grasp the unwritten rules of exiting the Massachusetts Turnpike at the Alston/Brighton tolls.

In this passage, Jesus and his followers, including his mother, are attending a wedding. The wine for the wedding is running out the steward is concerned. The steward is like the caterer at today’s wedding. He would make sure there was plenty of food and refreshments on the tables as provided by the wedding party. If the food or drink got low it was the wedding party’s responsibility to procure more or basically end the party. Somehow, Mary found out about the predicament. She wants Jesus to fix the problem. Evidently, Jesus’ identity is no secret to her. Jesus’ response clues us in on Jesus’ identity. Jesus is looking ahead to what he is to do. His hour has not come.

The word hour in John’s Gospel always points to fulfillment of the end times. Jesus is the One who has come to fulfill the Word of God, to usher in the Reign of God. At the right time, the right hour, Jesus will bring in the fulfillment of the Reign of God. In just a few short verses we find out Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. We haven’t even seen the sign yet.

While Jesus’ response to Mary is a harsh rebuke but, he does what she says.  The servants fill six stone jars with water. These are large jars and we are talking about a lot of water. After they fill the jars the servants draw out the contents and instead of water it is wine. The wine is excellent. The steward is surprised by the quality of the wine. He knows nothing about Jesus’ intervention. He believes the groom has pulled a fast one. At a wedding the best wine was always served first. Then after everyone had plenty, the wine of lesser quality was served. The quality of the wine now presented to the steward is better than the wine he served at first.

It is important for us to understand the “sign” that the wine is making in this narrative.  To paraphrase the New Testament scholar Allan Dwight Callahan:

In Judean apocalyptic literature, wine is a symbol of the coming messianic age of peace and righteousness. Enoch 10:19 looks forward to the vine yielding wine in abundance, and in 2 Baruch 29:5 each vine shall have one thousand branches and each branch one thousand clusters.  The abundant wine suddenly flowing at the wedding in Cana is a sign has come.

The amount of water turned into wine is a sign for us of the abundance of God’s grace. If we stop to figure it out Jesus turned 120 to 180 gallons of water into wine. I don’t believe the wedding party was that large but God’s grace is abundant. God’s desire is for us to receive that grace. The guests received the wine even though they had no idea where it originated. We receive God’s grace daily. We open our eyes to a new day that is God’s grace. We see people we love and for whom we care. That is God’s grace. We have food to eat and a comfortable place to sleep. That is God’s grace. We know what Christ did for us on the cross and that we have a place in God’s Reign. That is God’s grace.

Not only do we see the abundance of God’s grace, we see the quality of God’s grace. We see what God has in store for us. The wine is excellent. It is the best wine. God intends the best for us. God’s desire is for us to receive the excellence of his grace and respond to the best of our ability. We receive God’s excellent grace freely. It is up to us to respond. First, we receive it and then we share it. We share the love God has given us one to another. We share the richness of what he has given us one to another. We take care of one another and support one another. We share the story of Jesus to others. We have just defined stewardship. Good stewardship is in response to recognizing God’s grace for us. Let me say that once more, Good stewardship is in response to recognizing God’s grace for us.

We can take the time on this snowy weekend to honor not only the life and legacy of Dr. King by meditating on ways that our lives have been influenced by the people who have champions of social and economic justice in our lives.  Who led and lead ordinary lives that impacted us in extraordinary ways.

As a child Judge McCree and his late wife Dores were known to me as friends of my parents.  The McCree Family along with the Bell’s, the Bledsoe-Ford’s, the Reid’s, the Holloway’s, the Hylton’s, the Lowery’s and other families who were part of a Detroit who broke racial and societal barriers during the time of Dr. King

These individuals also need to be raised up in celebration this weekend.  These men and women laid the foundation that opened the doors for their children and others.  They made sure that we were not excluded from the table. It is my duty as it is our collective duty to make sure that no one is ever excluded from the table.

On this weekend where we celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. King let us recall the part of his acceptance speech on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1964.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “is-ness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

This first sign to us is of God’s incredible grace through Jesus. Do we see the sign for what it is? Are we willing to accept the sign and follow Jesus? Are we willing to trust that God only wants the best for us? We have the choice. We can accept God’s grace or we can turn away. Amen.

-The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman

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