Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, January 20, 2013
We all have that friend. You know what I mean, we all have that friend. That friend who is just a little off their rocker. That friend that just seems a little crazy. Do you all have that friend?
Mike is that friend for me. He’s a Ph.D. student, working on the Gospel of Mark. So already he’s that friend because he’s insanely smart. But one day, Mike and I were talking. And he says to me, “Jimmy, I’ve decided I want to run in a one hundred mile race.” Ummm…what? You mean a ten mile race, right. No, he really meant a one hundred mile race. Yeah, he was planning to run one hundred miles straight. Like at once. In one day. He wanted to become one of those guys, one of the guys who runs ultra-marathons. See, Mike is that friend.
Now, don’t take it that I doubted Mike. Well, I kind of doubted him. He was slim and all, but not in great shape. The first time we hung out we ate greasy cheeseburgers and fries. Not really the kind of food you picture an ultra-marathoner eating. Because he was a friend, my mouth said, “That’s great, Mike! Sounds like an awesome challenge.” But in my mind I was saying, “You are nuts.”
And so Mike started training. And training. And training. And training some more. You don’t just get up one day and decide to run a hundred miles. You have to build up to it. And I was really impressed. Mike was incredibly disciplined. And I remember one day – it was about 25 degrees, sleeting, and I saw Mike post online: “Off for a run!”
That, that was the moment that I knew Mike could do it. That was the instant I realized he had the discipline to do this crazy thing. And as you can guess, Mike is still working on it. He has completed his first miler. And when he crossed that finish line, he was all smiles. The training and the running in the cold and the rain and the nastiness had all paid off.
As Christians, we can learn a lot from Mike. His discipline, his gumption, his stick-to-it-ness. Even the going was tough, even when he wanted to stop because his legs were burning and the cold sleet was vicious, he kept going. Even when the wedding party was going full tilt, and they were serving the really bad wine, he stuck around. And it all paid off, because the really good wine comes at the end.
That’s the way God throws a party. When the hosts are running out of wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee; when it seems that everybody will go home disappointed; when the going gets tough: God provides. That’s just when the good wine gets served. That’s when the party really starts to go.
But here’s the trick: you don’t get to taste the good wine unless you stayed through all the bad wine. Mike wouldn’t get to cross the hundred mile finish line if he hadn’t put in all that training. It takes discipline. It takes gumption. It takes a willingness to stick to it, even when your legs are burning, even when your spirit is crying out, “How long O Lord, how long?!”
There is no better metaphor to describe what it’s like to have a spiritual life. I trust that a lot of you have had similar experiences. Have you said to yourself, “I’m going to pray every day!” So you sit down in your comfortable chair and settle in…and then start thinking about your grocery list? Has that happened to you?
Have you made an effort to read the Bible more, so you brush the dust of your Bible and start digging into the Gospel of Matthew, and then have no earthly idea as to what’s going on in the story? So you pull out your iPhone and check Facebook instead. Has something similar happened to you?
And, we can all admit it, I’m sure there’s been a time in your life when you said, “I am determined to make it to church this Sunday!” But then it’s cold that morning, and raining. And you would rather spend some more time underneath your own holy comforter. I think that has happened to all of us!
This is where the story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee can be such an inspiration for us. The hosts had to serve a lot of bad wine. In our lives with God, sometimes the party doesn’t seem all that great, and that all we’re getting is the dregs.
You don’t hear God in your prayers. You don’t understand what’s going on in the Bible. You have a hard time rolling out of bed and into church. You are at the wedding party, just before Jesus starts serving the good stuff.
So the thrust of my message this morning is really simple: stick around. There were days when I know that Mike didn’t want to go out and train for his hundred miler, but he kept his eyes on the prize. There will be days when you don’t want to pray, or read the Bible, or go to church. And you’ll justify your quitting by saying that God isn’t all that great, because all you’re getting is the bad wine.
But you have to stick around. Force yourself into that chair for prayer, and even if all you do is say, “O Lord, help me not forget anything at the grocery store,” at least that’s a start. And if all you do when you read the Bible is ask questions, at least you know the right questions to ask. And if it seems like church on Sunday is repetitive, which it is, I ask you to close your Prayer Book and close your eyes and really listen for the words. Make the effort. Show up. Be present.
I offer all these examples from experience. Just because I’m a priest doesn’t mean that I’m in constant communion with God. Like you, I have to be disciplined in saying my prayers and studying the Holy Scriptures. I have to be disciplined in making our services alive and meaningful. Everybody has to taste the bad wine. But I know that God is just around the corner with the good stuff. I’ve had to drink a lot of bad wine, but that’s just what makes the good wine so much better.
Because, believe me, the good wine is coming. I promise you. If you’re consistent and disciplined, one day you’ll flop into that chair and find yourself in silent communion with God. You’ll be devouring the Holy Scriptures. You’ll find meaning and love and comfort in the words we say week after week. The good wine is coming. But you can’t just show up at the end of the party and expect to get the good wine. You have to taste the bad wine first, and only then will you know what makes the good wine so good.
Stick around. Make the effort. I am not asking you to run a hundred miles for Jesus. This morning, I am not even asking you to die for Jesus. But I am asking for you to be inconvenienced by Jesus. Then when the time comes, and the party is rocking, you’ll be ready for the best wine.