January 27, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Have you ever been strangely captivated by television images of natural disasters and incredible destruction? In recent years we’ve seen the towers fall on September 11th, 2001, earthquakes in various places around the world, and because of the popularity of cell phones and security cameras, we have seen countless images of tsunamis in Thailand, and Japan.
But imagine with me what would happen if time travel were possible.
On April 18th, 1906 the earth shook for less than a minute in San Francisco, California, but between the shaking, poor construction, and the resulting fires, the city was devastated. Nearly 500 city blocks were destroyed, 3,000 people were killed, and 400,000 people, nearly half of the city’s population, were left homeless. Enormous tent cities grew up in Oakland in and other places across the bay as the homeless found their way across the few bridges that hadn’t been destroyed.
But imagine that someone from the twenty-first century, perhaps you, had travelled back in time and wandered the streets of those tent cities with the displaced residents of San Francisco. Imagine what they would think of your message as you told them how their city would recover, rebuild, grow, and flourish in the next century. Assuming that they believed you, can you imagine the hope that your message might bring to them. It’s difficult to imagine a brighter future, when you’re surrounded by the destruction of everything familiar. It would take something extraordinary to grasp the vision, to see and understand, that there might be a path that would return the world to normal again.
But that is exactly what Isaiah does. As Isaiah writes to the people of Judah, Syria and the northern tribes of Israel, and all their lands, have already been captured by the Assyrian army. Many people have seen the handwriting on the wall, they have heard the prophecy of Isaiah, they understand that soon, the nation of Judah would be next. The people despair for their nation, lose hope for the future, and struggle to understand what this means to their faith in God. And in the midst of this uncertainty and despair, Isaiah writes a message of hope for the future. (Isaiah 62:1-5)
62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
2 The nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
3 You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah, [ Hephzibah means my delight is in her.]
and your land Beulah; [Beulah means married.]
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
5 As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.
For the people of God, the destruction of Israel and Jerusalem is the almost the same as saying that God is a lie. Jerusalem is God’s city, it contains God’s place of worship, and Israel is God’s people. If they are all taken away, then what does it say about the reality of God himself? But Isaiah tells of time when Jerusalem and Israel are vindicated. When God, and his people, are proven right in front of the entire world. Jerusalem herself will be renamed. Instead of being known as “deserted” she will be known as “delightful.” Instead of “desolate” she will be known as “married” or perhaps we might understand it better as “my beautiful bride.” Isaiah says that just as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will God rejoice over Jerusalem, over Israel, and over his people.
Much like it would be if we could go back in time and tell the refugees from a destroyed San Francisco about the wonders of their city in the twenty-first century, Isaiah speaks of a time that is a hundred years or more in the future, when their city, their nation, and their people will be rebuilt.
It is, for them, a message of transformation… and of hope.
And then, eight hundred years later, Jesus is invited to a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee, and, quite by accident, begins his ministry by performing his first miracle. And in this miracle, Jesus brings hope to the world by bringing about a transformation of an entirely different kind. (John 2:1-11)
2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Although this is a great story, what we often miss is the culture of the time. Jesus lived in a culture of honor and shame. In that culture, there were certain events, certain taboos, that could not be broken without bringing shame, and loss of honor. That loss of honor could be personal, or quite widespread. In some cases, in the Old Testament, entire tribes were dishonored and carried that dishonor for hundreds of years. The loss of honor, as a person, as a family, or even as a tribe, could cost someone money, customers, business contracts and many other things. In this story, it is quite likely that the servants and hosts in the back rooms were in a blind panic. Weddings were attended by people from the entire village and beyond. Running out of wine so early in the celebration would have been a major embarrassment that could have caused a loss of honor to the family and to the entire village. It was a really big deal.
And so, Jesus’ mother, remembering all those things from Jesus birth and childhood that she had “treasured in heart,” comes to him with the confidence that he could do something about this problem. And Jesus, although not originally intending to begin his ministry this early, transforms 180 gallons of plain water, into fine wine. By doing so, Jesus doesn’t just save one family from a minor embarrassment and rescue one party, Jesus literally redeems an entire village from a dishonor that could have cost them jobs and livelihoods for generations.
In the very first act of Jesus’ ministry, he provides a glimpse, a sneak peek, into his transformational power that will rescue his people and redeem the entire world from sin and death.
And then, in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, the Apostle Paul describes how that same transformational power flows into the modern world that we live in today.
12:1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth, but he speaks just as clearly to us half a world away in the twenty-first century. Paul says that we used to be (past tense) pagans and unbelievers that were led astray and worshipped idols. But now, we have been filled with the Spirit of God and given gifts that have transformed our lives, prepared, and equipped us to serve the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ in our world. Each of these gifts, Paul says, is the manifestation, the living example, of the Spirit of God in the modern world, who is working for the common good of all humanity.
No one, Paul says, gets skipped, forgotten, ignored, or missed. To “each one,” to each person, the living example of the Holy Spirit is given. Not everyone is the same, and not everyone gets the same gift, but everyone is gifted, everyone receives a gift from God through the Holy Spirit. Some receive wisdom, others knowledge, some receive the gift of faith, others healing, or miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, or gifts of languages. These are all gifts of the spirit and each of these gifts is determined by the Holy Spirit, in order to advance the message and the mission of Jesus Christ in the world even in the twenty-first century.
In the time of Isaiah, God revealed that he could and would transform Israel, in the time of Jesus, God revealed that he can transform not only the physical and material world, but the lives of the people and culture around them. And in our modern world, God continues to do the work of transformation in our physical lives, our culture, our world, and in our spiritual lives as well. God pours out the gift of transforming power into the lives of his followers by giving us amazing and powerful gifts that he intends for us to use to as his agents. We are called not only to be grateful for the gifts that he has given to us, we are called to use those gifts, each and every one of us, to transform the world around us, to carry out the mission, vision, and ministry of Jesus Christ, to rescue to lost, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be a voice to the voiceless, a father to the fatherless, and in every way possible reveal the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world around us.
It is a huge responsibility and an incredible, even herculean, task.
But that is exactly why we have been transformed, gifted, and equipped by the creator of the universe to do it.
Right now, I want you to think of one person. I want you to think of one person whose life you can make better this week. Call them, love them, shovel their sidewalk, pay a bill for them, buy them a cup of coffee, for each of you, and for each person you are thinking of, it will be different. But I want you to choose one person, whose life you can change, even a little bit, and show them the love of Jesus Christ this week.
Let’s get busy.
Let’s go change the world.
At a time.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.