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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
January 20, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Epiphany 2C

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: January 20, 2019 – Epiphany 2C

1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11


Odd Signs and Odd Gifts


              If you were Jesus, where would you do your first great work? And what would it be?


              I know I’m committing a homiletical sin by going outside the Gospel of John, but Matthew and Luke tell of three possibilities proposed by the devil while Jesus was tempted in the desert. He could have turned stones into bread, feeding not only himself but also countless others. He could have thrown himself off the Temple, showing the religious leaders once and for all that he was the Christ, the only Son of God. Or he could have grasped the reigns of earthly power, taking command of all the kingdoms of the earth. He could have done any of these as his first sign. And any of them would have been incredible. They would have demonstrated his power, his glory, his identity in an unmistakable way. At least, according to the father of lies!


              But no, none of those were his first sign. Jesus’ first sign was making more wine for drunk wedding guests!


              Not a great act of mass healing or feeding. Not a grand spectacle. Not a political event. None of those. It’s more wine for the party! (And a lot of wine, too – up to 180 gallons!) It’s a sign straight out of Greek mythology; a sign that seems more worthy of Pan or Bacchus than Jesus. But strangely enough, John does describe this as the first sign. And what’s more, he says that through this, “he revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him”.


              It’s crazy what God can do through odd signs and odd gifts. It’s amazing how God can build a community of faith through unlikely people. And it’s astounding how God can create strong people despite, or even through, their weaknesses.


              Think back to John 1. Jesus begins gathering a group of disciples based on John the Baptist’s testimony. Remember that John right away points to the cross. When he sees Jesus, he says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Immediately, John indicates that Jesus isn’t some kind of warrior or emperor-messiah. He will not save people by killing other people. He doesn’t save by bullying or compulsion. Jesus saves precisely through failure and weakness – through the cross.


              And the rag-tag group of disciples he gathers aren’t exactly at the top of anyone else’s draft list. There’s Peter, the hothead, who claims he will give up his life for Jesus, only to deny all knowledge of him. Peter also has the ignoble distinction of being the disciple who decided it was time for armed rebellion in the garden, and sliced off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant. There’s Philip, who in John 14 asks Jesus to “show us the Father, and we will be satisfied”, not realizing that he’s been seeing God all along in Jesus’ face. There’s Judas, who according to John, is a thief and a hypocrite, in addition to betraying Jesus. And of course, there is the whole group of shivering, frightened disciples at the end of John’s gospel, meeting behind locked doors after Jesus’ death, absolutely petrified that they’re next. They’re still behind the doors the next week, even after Jesus appears to them!


              When Jesus picks people to work alongside him in doing God’s work of bringing abundant life and enlightenment to the world, he doesn’t pick the best and the brightest. He picks people with grand failings. People with huge weaknesses. People like us.


              And that’s the calling we have as people of God. Jesus chooses people like us with grand failings to be the people who live out his love for the world. Not by imposing our will on others. Not by bullying. Not by force. No, Jesus chooses people like us with grand failings because our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, are what most clearly shows his love for the world and his desire for it to have “abundant life”. Jesus’ public ministry begins with the odd sign of what looks like a party trick, but this odd sign actually reveals God’s abundance, God’s glory, and God’s love.


              Much of Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Corinth is about elevating the gifts of others that are often disregarded. In other words, Paul elevates “odd gifts” from odd people. In 1 Corinthians 1, he reminds them, “By ordinary human standards not many (of you) were wise, not many (of you) were powerful, not many were from the upper class.  But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong. And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing. So no human being can brag in God’s presence.” The Corinthians have an issue with elevating certain “flashy” gifts of the Spirit above other gifts. They love the gifts that offer a show – speaking in tongues, for instance. Contemporary equivalents might be the ability to attract huge crowds to worship, or being a dynamic speaker that can engage an audience of millions, or offering the “best” worship experience.


              But those gifts aren’t the whole. In fact, they aren’t even the majority of what it means to live out God’s love in the world. They can, in fact, lead to spiritual pride and arrogance on their own. Think of the temptation that the dynamic speaker must face to not make everything about him or herself. Think about the temptation the church that offers the best worship experience must face – to keep everything and everyone in line for the sake of their “product”. As Paul reminds us, all of the gifts are needed, especially the gift of love, which we’ll hear much more about next week. And those gifts can seem quite odd indeed.


              In our Joe and Jesus discussion, we talked about plants and animals that are a nuisance to us, but may actually provide a benefit. For instance, poison ivy. Poison ivy causes terrible itching in most of us. But it is an important food source for many wildlife. Let’s apply this metaphorically. Who might be the “poison ivy” in our church? We encounter people all the time who seem abrasive, who bring out conflict, or who cause us to itch. That person, if guided by God’s love, may actually be contributing a valuable gift – the gift of forcing us to take a look at our issues as a congregation, community, and nation, and address them. For instance, our tendency in the church and our nation to be “tribal” – to isolate ourselves into little communities. Our dualistic thinking – that one side is absolutely evil and the other side is absolutely good. We need someone to be the “poison ivy” in the congregation; not out of malice, but out of godly love for all. To “itch” us out of our complacency and tribalism. God gives communities people with odd gifts like these, which seem painful, but are for our good.


              I know we’re a long way from turning water into wine! But there is something about the oddity of the whole Gospel message – from the odd signs of Jesus to the odd group of disciples he chooses to the odd gifts that the Spirit gives – that is compelling. That reveals something powerful about the nature and realm of God. God’s power is shown in odd signs, in odd people, in odd gifts. Not in the best signs, the best people, or the best gifts. And that is good news for us, indeed.

              Let us pray.


              Jesus, help us to see your love in the easily-overlooked signs of our world – in the “poison ivy” of a congregation, in the random act of genuine love in a community. And help us to understand you choose people like us to be the means of bringing that love to the world, as crazy and dangerous as that might sound to us. Give us the strength we need to live that love out every day. Amen.


© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.