Homily for Christ Chapel on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 24 January, 2021

Dr. T. Y. Hiter +

St. John ii. 1.

“AND the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: and both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.”

It is very easy, here, to go off down a rabbit hole, here, and I intend not to do that, but I do feel like I ought to make you aware of it. We have to try to keep the main thing the main thing. John is dating the occurrence of the wedding in Cana, or appears to. Note his writing “and the third day”. We mustn’t make too much of that. Of course, we, as Christians know perfectly well that Jesus rose from the dead on “the third day”, and we know that that “third day” was a Sunday: the first day of the week. That’s why we still worship on Sundays. But “the third day” can also have a variety of other meanings, too, and that’s the rabbit hole. “The third day”, in Jewish parlance, even today, means “Tuesday”. The Jewish calendar does not name the days of the week, except for Saturday, which they call “shabat”. All the other days are called by their number: “first day”, “second day”, “third day”, and so forth. But John wasn’t using any of these meanings here. Here, he’s simply telling us when the thing happened.

If we go back several verses, we find that John was dating the event, the wedding at Cana, based on the number of days after Jesus’s having been baptized by John the Baptist. In Chapter 1, verse 20, John tells his disciples that he, John, is not the Messiah. Then in verse 29, John tells us that John the Baptist identified Jesus on the day following, and that on the next day, Jesus began calling his own disciples, some from among John the Baptist’s flock. Then on the next day after that, in other words on the third day following John the Baptist’s preaching, Jesus and his disciples were summoned to a wedding, in Cana. So we needn’t look too hard for any mystical meaning to the “third day” remark. It’s just John’s way of sequencing the events at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry.

And, that brings us to the lesson itself. I think it’s a good idea to have a pretty clear understanding of what was going on, before we jump right into the miraculous event, itself. Jesus and his disciples had been invited to attend a wedding, and that meant to a wedding feast. It may have taken them some time to get there. They had to walk, remember, and they were starting from somewhere along the Jordan River. The Jordan starts at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, so they had been down there earlier, but apparently Jesus had been moving steadily north, for we’re told he recruited his twelve first followers in Capernaum and around the northern end of the Sea, generally near the Golan Heights. Still, Cana is well north and west of Capernaum, so it is very likely that they arrived at the event a little late. The first thing they did was order wine.

And the first thing Mary, Jesus’s mother said to them was “they’re out of wine”. Now, maybe she was hinting to him that he ought to do something about that, but I’m not so sure. Later in the passage, it becomes clear that drinking wine—LOTS of wine, was standard conduct at weddings. It’s also made pretty clear that both the quality and the quantity of such wine was a pretty common measure of the success of the wedding. I think it’s very possible that she was just repeating a little juicy gossip. I mean, they had just arrived, and already the host was out of wine! How’s a marriage ever going to last, in that circumstance?

Jesus’s answer is sometime remarked upon, as well: “Woman, what have I to do with thee”, as if she was some sort of stranger. Actually, in the Greek, it’s a good deal softer. We modern English speakers would use the same words to address either a man or a woman, in most cases. Our language is very gender-neutral. But in many other languages, a speaker uses very different language to speak to a man and a woman. And it’s not a class thing; it’s just part of the language. In Vietnamese, if you wish to say “hello” to a man, you say “Chao om”. If you want to say it to a woman, you say “Chao ba”. To a girl, you say “Chao co”. That’s probably what Jesus was doing, here. In the original Greek, too, he doesn’t say “What have I to do with thee”. He says “what has that to do with me and thee”. The difference is small, but important.

And still and all, Mary knew he knew how to fix it! He didn’t want to; As far as we know, he had never done a miracle, at least in public. Even now, his protest was “My time has not yet come”. But Mary, his mother, knew better. We don’t know how she knew, but she clearly did. She didn’t argue with him. She just told the servants, “do whatever he tells you”. Now we might also note, here, that these were not slaves, who pretty much had to do what they were told. These were table waiters—employees, probably, of the host or of a wedding planner, there in Cana. “Do what he says”, she said, and they did. The end result was wine. LOTS of wine. And it was very good wine!

Our Baptist (and other teetotaling) brethren insist that it was not wine; that he turned it all into grape juice. Well, they’re wrong. If he had wanted to do a parlor trick and yet remain alcohol free, he could have turned it into Coca-Cola. He did exactly what he wanted to do, and that is turn it into wine. Excellent wine.

Let’s look at that, for a minute. “the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.” How very human that is! But, it’s not magic. The miracle, in some ways wasn’t with the turning, at all! Jesus could have made the water into grape juice. Lots of really bad wine doesn’t taste very different from grape juice, anyway. Cheap wine; poorly fermented wine; those people were well used to that sort of thing. But, they got good wine; aged to perfection, rich, strong wine often enough to know what it tasted like. And the host, or the hired emcee, made a point of congratulating the bridegroom on it. The man had showed some class! That’s what the emcee was saying. Not just, “hey, you’ve got some good wine, here”, bud”, but rather, “class act, brother, bringing out the cheap stuff first, and the good stuff later”.

Isn’t that what Jesus’s message to us is really all about? There was nothing wrong with God’s covenant with the Jews, but it was limited to the Jews. After Jesus came and worked his miracle of salvation, all mankind got the very best God has to offer: we got to be his own sons and daughters. All of us. As at Cana, “good enough” gave way to “superlative” with the changing action of Jesus Christ. And, just as it was for the whole world, so it is within each of us, individually. Whatever we had before Jesus came into our lives was nothing compared to what it has become with him in us. Always, in every case, it’s the saving action of Jesus Christ that turns the mediocre into the wonderful. Praise God!

Homily delivered at Christ Chapel on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 17 January, 2021

By: Rev’d Dr. Tom Hiter

I Corinthians 12:12-31a

By way of background, before we get into the actual “meat” of the lesson for today, I think I ought to give you some background on religion in the world, today. File these numbers away in the back of your head, somewhere. There are, as of today, approximately 1200 different “religions” in the world. Twelve are considered “major”, based on the number of followers they have. Eight of those are “monotheistic”; that is, they believe that there is one God, and reject all other Gods. Three of those eight monotheistic religions are called “Abrahamic”: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All three trace their belief systems to Abraham, the Patriarch. One of the three branches of Abrahamic Monotheism, Christianity, is divided into individual “denominations”, a word I use advisedly, for some such denominations reject it, in itself. But, if we describe a separate group of people, with unique beliefs within the overall title “Christian”, then there are approximately 30,000 separate denominations, worldwide. Some 12 hundred exist within the United States.

While we’re at it, I’ll go ahead and say that one of those “denominations” is called “the Anglican Church”, and it is the third largest denomination, worldwide, having some 110 million adherents. That, of course, is us. Now, to the lesson.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth to correct several issues that had arisen in that Church after he had left there, continuing on his Apostolic journey. One of the issues that was troubling the Church in Corinth was dividing into factions. You’ll note from what I said earlier, that things haven’t changed much.

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” According to Paul, then, there is only one Church.

On the First Sunday of every month, and several additional times during the year, we at Christ Chapel worship sacramentally, in conducting services of Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. In that service, just after we consume the bread and wine which have been consecrated as the body and blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray these words: “that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people”. In other words, in the Church there is only one body, and we are all members within it. That’s what the Scripture says.

The Apostle Paul did not say “there are 30,000 bodies and we are each members of one of them.” He did not say “there are 1200 bodies”. He didn’t even say “there are 3 bodies”. He said “There is only one body”.

Where did the other 29 thousand, nine hundred and 99 come from? The devil! Or, we humans did it for him, doing his work, as we’re so good at. God told Adam and Eve, “Do not eat the fruit of that tree. It will kill you.” The devil said “No, it won’t. Go ahead and try it”, and Eve did, and gave some to Adam. And, they both died, some years later. Paul, speaking words given to him by Jesus himself, on the road to Damascus, told us there is one Church. The devil told the Christians in Corinth “no, there’s not. You can divide up any way you like”, and they did. We humans have kept on listening to him ever since, and we have 30,000 Churches to show for it. How silly! But, let’s get on with the lesson!

Paul explained his use of the “body” as an illustration: “ For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body?” How simple! How completely clear and impossible to argue with! And yet, we have 1200 different ways of reading that explanation, in this country, alone!

Does all this mean that we all, every Christian have to worship in exactly the same way? We Anglicans kneel to pray. Baptists stand. Doesn’t this mean we’re different? Paul says “the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” Some of us need to kneel. Some of us need to stand. There is no commandment anywhere in the Bible concerning kneeling or standing in prayer. There are examples, both ways, but no commandments. Is it too much to hope that an eye might stand while a hand might kneel?

Paul goes on to write about individual gifts, and that too is a fine lesson, but first, today, let’s try to get the basic stuff down right. There’s only one Church, and we’re all members of it. That’s enough for one day.

Homily delivered at Christ Chapel on the First Sunday after Epiphany, 10 January, 2021

By: Rev’d Dr. Tom Hiter

Colossians 1:9

This morning’s second lesson seems a bit out of place, until we read it. It is from Colossians, which of course is a letter, from Paul to the Church at Colossae, a city in what is today Turkey, but at the time of the writing was Greece, though under Roman rule. Colossae was converted under Epaphras, who had been converted by Paul, and who had worked under Paul to some extent Indeed, there is some evidence to show that Paul may have actually sent Epaphras to Colossae to found the church, there. Paul wrote the letter, along, evidently, with Ephesians, with which letter this one has many similarities, sometime in the late 50s AD, or possibly the early 60s. He was in prison. Now, Paul spent much of his time in those years in prison, in one place or another, and we don’t know for sure which time or which place he was in.

It’s impossible to be completely sure why Paul wrote to the Colossians, either. He speaks in the letter of “false teaching” and “empty philosophy”, so it is likely that it was some form of Greek or Hellenistic teaching. It is tempting to think that it may have been some early form of Gnosticism, since they seem to have been thinking of Jesus as only the beginning of salvation, whereas Paul taught (and we also believe) that Jesus Christ FINISHED the work of salvation, on the Cross. At the same time, Paul makes reference in the letter to circumcision, which of course introduces the major source of error that faced 1st Century Christians, the Jews, who were at that time earnestly trying to get control of the Christian groups and bring them back under the control of the Temple. Obviously, the letter was written before the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, in 70 AD.

But, having said all that, we still do not get much closer to the reason for including this lesson in our Lectionary as a “second” lesson. Epistles tend to be covered under the title “Epistles”, after all, and while we do see them as New Testament lessons more often in Morning and Evening Prayer than we do as Propers, I think that Paul’s remarks in this lesson today do give us more of the flavor of a Gospel than many of Paul’s and the other letter-writers works do. Indeed, buried in Paul’s verbiage in this letter is one of the most succinct statements of the nature of Jesus Christ that we can find anywhere. Jesus Christ is, as Paul tells us in this passage,

“the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”

Wow! “the image of the invisible God,”. God does not have a body, or the parts of a body. God is a spirit, as John tells us in Chapter 4 of his Gospel. The places where “the right hand” of God, or the “eye” (or “ear”) of God” are mentioned are clearly symbolic and meant to be understood as such. God is invisible, as Paul clearly intends us to remember. But Jesus Christ did have a body, and that body, once crucified and buried, was resurrected, and ascended into Heaven! And that body, the resurrected body of Jesus Christ, is the “image” of God. An “image”, remember, is an exact replica of something. Or, as exact as we can get it. A “mirror” image is exact in every detail, but turned backwards. A “sensory image” is a picture that we form in our head when we see, hear, or smell certain things. The body of Jesus Christ represents God. This gets into some pretty heavy theology, here, but Paul makes it clear: “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;”. It was not by accident that Jesus, the Son of God, should be His exact image. Indeed, that was all part of God’s plan, and so it worked out. “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” All part of God’s plan! And, what was that plan? Paul tells us that in today’s lesson, too: “that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus”.

So, let’s put that all into some somewhat more understandable English! God; the invisible, spiritual Creator of everything that is, seen and unseen, the whole universe, including time, space, matter and energy, did all that through His spoken Word. Mankind fell out of relationship with God through his own sin. God then sent that same Word, his whole message to mankind, His very image, to become incarnate as a human being, and to die as such and for such, in order to become the firstborn into, and the head of, the Church, the redeemed human beings who achieved that status through belief in and acceptance of, the message, the Word, that God had sent. That is the Good News. That is the Gospel, in, what, three sentences?

What a wonderful piece of theological insight! Tucked inside Paul’s little letter to the Church at Colossae, in the middle of an attempt to correct some false teaching, that had somehow crept into that body, Paul put together as clear a synopsis of the Gospel as has ever been put together by anybody! And, now, it’s ours. Praise God!