Spiritual gifts, insignificance, and the wine that comes from water

Photo by Kelsey Knight on Unsplash

Welcome to my weekly ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my layman’s opinions, doubts, fears, and hopes about modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
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First thing’s first… God rejoices in who you are. Not the ego ideal of yourself. Not in the image of yourself that lies just out of reach. But who you actually are and have always been. God looks through the different particulars of what you’ve done and loves the unchanging core of who you are. God loves your heart, which beats to the rhythm of all creation.

It’s one thing to hear about God’s love in church or read about it on someone’s blog, but experiencing it is another thing. Because experiencing it requires us to get out of our heads. To stop looking for proof and assurance in the text that this is true (because there are a lot of passages that show a God who’s not very loving) or even from accounts of God from others (many people have an unloving relationship with God and are happy to project that onto you). However, that’s not the case this week as the readings showcase a God that abounds in steadfast love.

We are each significant in God.

In today’s connected world, we shift back and forth from epic moments of false significance (I got X-number of likes on that selfie!) and utter depths of insignificance (I’m stuck in traffic, my wife is mad at me, and I will die someday).

How do we maintain our significance in the human world when human love is so transient for ourselves and others? How do we not slip through the cracks and fall into obscurity, irrelevance, and… insignificance?

In God, nothing gets lost. Nothing slips through the cracks. God’s love is implanted at the very core of our being.

As Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, we each have unique spiritual gifts that make God manifest in human form.

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
 — 1 Corinthians 12:7

There is no hierarchy in God. And (this is the best part) these ‘spiritual gifts’ are often found in our wounds.

Our spiritual gifts are found not in our illusory perfection, but in our wounds.

As humans, we all have this in common — we all have wounds at some level. Why do we work so hard to hide them from each other? This is the one place where solidarity is possible.

I say it’s because we reflect the love of the God we worship (and we all worship a God of some sort).

Paul connects with the Corinthians at the level of their wounds by calling out their worship of gods that cannot speak.

When I read this, I feel it. Because I know that I, too, worship gods that cannot speak.

“No one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
 — 1 Corinthians 12:3

Do you see what he’s getting at there? It doesn’t matter what our lips say — even if they say the things our culture deems as being ‘right’. Whether you proclaim ‘Jesus is Lord’ or ‘Jesus is an idiot’ (my translation) doesn’t matter if you’re not spoken to by the Holy Spirit. The only thing that matters is that we’re moved internally by the unconditionally loving pull of God.

Then Paul throws the gauntlet down for us. These spiritual gifts he mentions are for the common good — not just for us to feel special.

Ugh, this hurts. See, I want to be more special and significant than others. Maybe not much, but at least a little. I want to be better-than. My late father would’ve been so much more proud of me if he could see how I came in 1st, not 2nd.

Or would he? (Maybe I’m making this up.)…

Either way, this doesn’t help us when it comes to our worth in God. Our God-given spiritual gifts can only unite, not divide. When we try to keep them to ourselves, they tend to self-destruct.

Before I close, I have to talk about the gospel reading from John where Jesus turns water into wine.

I’m not at a place where I can buy this, literally. Call me a heretic or a man of little faith, it’s fine. I think there’s a metaphoric interpretation of this wedding feast that cuts deeper and showcases a more profound truth.

Maybe I’m alone, but the more I hear about Jesus being a really good street magician, the more I lose connection with him. David Blaine is incredibly entertaining, but no matter how ‘real’ his magic seems, it doesn’t pull me into living a better life. They’re just things I tell people about over drinks — hey, did you see how David Blaine did that! — but that’s it.

We have to remember that this is a story written by a human decades after Jesus was killed. The later these stories were written, the more magical and god-like Jesus is portrayed.

A couple questions here…

What are some metaphorical truths that are profoundly apparent in this story? When the party goes on for days and mass amounts of wine are drunk and the host starts to get embarrassed and the drunk partiers get pissy, what’s the response you think Jesus would have had to this?

Do you think he’d be like, I got this —throw me the keys and I’ll head over to Trader Joe’s for a restock!? (I mean, this is the same sentiment as doing it with the snap of his finger.)

I don’t think so. Because that would be too predictable. And from what little I know, Jesus is never predictable.

I think he did something deeper and more internal with the water. I think the words he put around this occasion pointed to a deeper spiritual truth. I think he pointed to the idea that the enjoyment of the wine was not about the wine itself, but rather human connection, solidarity, and rejoicing. Though the wine may have been an excuse or a symbol for this type of connection, the thing that made the wine so good was love. And so, in this spirit, water can be drunk and enjoyed as the finest of wine.

As the host proclaims,

“Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!”
 — John 9:10

I’m guessing here, I have no idea what happened that day. But maybe Jesus got through the crowd’s angry demands for wine and allowed them to see that the heavenly banquet lies not in the external symbol. The external symbol is always attached to an infinite inner truth. The truth of joy and love, in this case.

I don’t know if David Blaine could pull that off.*

*No disrespect to David Blaine, of course.

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