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Sermon for January 16, 2022 — 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

Speaking Of Life 4008 | No Comparisons

People tend to compare themselves with other people and soon after you will be in a rabbit hole of blaming, self-distrust, and anger. God reminds us time and time again that he exceptionally and wonderfully created each one of us in his own likeness. He created each one of us with our own unique gifts. God calls us for who we are amidst our imperfections.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4008 | No Comparisons
Michelle Fleming

Comparison is a trap that is so easy to fall into. It’s a cheap and easy ego boost to notice when we are bigger, better, faster, stronger than someone else we know. It can also be brutal, when we come across someone who effortlessly exceeds our abilities.

Human beings tend to compare themselves whether we know it or not. We compare our appearance, our intelligence, our personalities, and our perceived success. Comparing yourself with other people leads to dissatisfaction and poor self-esteem. The issue with comparison is that we are our own point of reference.

The wonderful truth is that we are made in God’s image. Our identity is not based on our performance or how we measure up to others. God created each one of us as his unique beloved child, with our own talents and gifts. Notice how Paul addressed this in his letter to the believers in Corinth.

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful. … All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.
I Corinthians 12:4-11 (The Message)

And this is why comparing ourselves doesn’t make sense, because God isn’t holding out on any of us. He created you uniquely, on purpose, with a purpose. Each person has been given spiritual gifts that are intended to reveal God to others, and God decides how every person can best reveal the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to the world.

Comparing yourself to others, or trying to be like someone else is ignoring the special gifting God has given you, and robbing the world of those gifts. In fellowship with one another, we reflect God’s love and glory into the world around us. And everyone benefits.

May you embrace your unique gifts from God as you share the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with the people in your world.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 36:5-10 · Isaiah 62:1-5 · 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 · John 2:1-11

The theme for this week is God’s great reversal, where God’s way of moving in the world upends human beings’ expectations. We sometimes project human tendencies for punitive anger and “quid pro quo” (a conditional exchange) on God, forgetting God’s great love, mercy, and solidarity with us (John 3:16-17). Psalm 36, our call to worship, speaks of God’s steadfast love and the abundance found in him. An example of this is found in Isaiah 62, where God says he will not rest until his people are vindicated and restored to their glory, regardless of what they may deserve. 1 Corinthians 12 shows how the great reversal happens by illustrating how there are many kinds of gifts and service. No gift is better than any other, all gifts are needed, and God is the source of them all. Our sermon text, John 2, emphasizes the beginning of the great reversal with Jesus’ first sign, turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.

The Beginning of the Great Reversal

John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

If you remember the movie The Wizard of Oz, you probably remember at the beginning how the main character Dorothy Gale was feeling down and misunderstood by her family. Her dog Toto was taken away by the nasty lady Miss Gulch to be euthanized because he had chased her cats. Toto escaped from Miss Gulch’s bicycle basket and made it back to Dorothy, but since her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry didn’t stop Miss Gulch from taking Toto the first time, Dorothy decided to run away. While talking to the traveling Professor Marvel, Dorothy noticed the wind picking up. A tornado was on the way. Dorothy made it back to her room just in time to get hit on the head, and then the tornado appeared to take the house on a wild ride to the land of Oz.

During the whole time Dorothy is in Oz, what did she want to do? [wait for response] She wanted to go home. By the end of the movie, what do we realize? [wait for response] She always was home—she had never left; it was all a dream. That was a reversal of what we, the viewers, thought was happening. We thought the fantastical land where she found herself and her new friends, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion, were real, at least real in the story. We were surprised to find out that Dorothy never left her home, and Dorothy was surprised herself to find that she didn’t want to run away and that everything she wanted was at home. The outcome reversed what we thought was really happening and what was really important.

God has always been showing humanity that what we think is important might not be what’s really essential, and that his way of moving in the world is very different from what we might expect. One example of this was the way Jesus was born to poor parents rather than to wealthy royalty (Luke 2:7). Another example is found in John 2:1-11, which tells the story of Jesus’s first sign or miracle at the wedding in Cana.

Read John 2:1-11.

What can we notice about this passage?

  • How this story fits with Epiphany in the church calendar: An “epiphany” is a unique insight. It might be helpful for us to read this familiar story with the understanding that this miracle or sign is revealing something unique about Jesus or the way God works in our world. What deeper truth does this familiar story show us?

By considering the themes in the passage, we can look at this familiar story in a new light—an epiphany:

  • The theme of hospitality: The wedding was taking place in Cana of Galilee, which was a poor area. Hospitality, though, was of the utmost importance in the culture, and the wedding hosts would have been shamed for not supplying enough wine. However, it was also customary for guests to bring drinks and food to help out. We could speculate that the community wasn’t doing its fair share to support the festivities, but we don’t have the backstory. What we are told is the wine ran out.

The good wine provided by Jesus allowed those at the wedding to experience God’s abundance of hospitality. They literally tasted it, comparing it to the wine they had tasted first. Jesus’s first miracle was to create a place of belonging and hospitality that was outside the humanmade constructs of culture. Culture (i.e., what was expected at weddings during that time) had failed; Jesus provided even better hospitality than what was expected.

  • The theme of abundant grace: Jesus’s actions show us what grace looks like. Not only was he God incarnated, but he was also grace incarnated. His miracles, or signs, were not just to benefit the people involved but rather to show the lavish kindness God bestows on his creation. One scholar suggests that “once the Word becomes flesh, the rest of the Gospel shows you what grace tastes like, looks like, sounds like, and feels like” (Karoline Lewis).

The six water pots were estimated to be 20-30 gallons each, filled with water that was changed into the best wine. Because weddings during that time could last as long as a week, the best wine was served early on, and then when the guests were less observant (and maybe tipsy), the cheaper wine was introduced. Not so in this case. Isn’t that how abundant grace works? You might be expecting something, maybe trying not to get your hopes up, when something much better comes your way. That’s an experience of Jesus’s abundant grace, an experience of God’s lavish gift-giving, that we can easily rationalize away if we’re not observant.

  • The theme of marriage and restoration: We can read about the metaphor of marriage in Hosea 2:14-23, noticing that wine is a symbol of restoration (Joel 3:18; Amos 9:11-15). In Isaiah 55:1-3, the prophet talks about enjoying “wine and milk without money and without price.” Wine symbolizes how God will make things more than right—he restores his kingdom (i.e., his way of working in the world) and our status in it, no longer subject to cultural constraints and comparisons.
  • The theme of subverted cultural norms: Jesus often pointed out the exclusionary nature of Jewish culture with its ideas about holiness and purity. There are plenty of stories about who was considered “outside,” like the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), children (Matthew 19:13-14), and the man with demons (Mark 5:1-20). Jesus chose to spend time with people considered “outsiders,” to the point that he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7:34-36).

If Jesus wanted his first sign noticed, he could have presented the wine to the hosts, or at least to the bride and groom, and explained what he did and why. Instead, the story shows us that the “insiders,” the ones in on the surprise, were the servants who filled the water pots. It was those people who were often invisible in Jewish culture who had the first glimpse of who Jesus was. The invisible ones got to see God at work in the world first, much the same way a woman (Mary) saw the resurrected Jesus first (John 20:11-18).

If we read the Bible closely, we will notice that God’s way of moving in the world disregards class or social structure or “the way things are done.” Instead, we are encouraged to invite those to dinner who cannot repay (Luke 14:12-14), and we are told we should not discriminate against the poor by favoring the rich (James 2:2-4). Most cultural norms are constructed in a way that excludes and diminishes some people; God’s way throws open the door to welcome all as beloved children, even giving special honor to those most often forgotten.

Application:

  • Watch for experiences of God’s abundant grace and hospitality in your life. It’s easy to overlook the minor blessings that come our way. You know what I’m talking about: the stranger who opens the door for you when your hands are full, the close parking spot when your knees ache, the sweet and tart taste of a grapefruit in season. These could be just coincidences, but it’s also possible a loving God used “coincidence” to shower you with an instance of loving grace.
  • Notice your own tendencies to exclude those different from you and to favor those that culture deems worthy of acceptance. It’s human nature to gravitate toward those who look or think similarly, and it’s easy to think highly of those that culture has esteemed worthy of our attention, whether it’s because of power, fame, or appearances. God’s way, however, calls on us to expand our vision for who is our neighbor (Luke 10:30-37). We are called on to reverse the cultural norms that exclude and embrace God’s way of loving acceptance.
  • When you have the opportunity, lift up those who are invisible. Giving opportunities to those who are overlooked or forgotten offers you the chance to participate with God in reversing the negative effects of discriminatory social constructs.

We can read the story of Jesus’s first sign as a miracle and as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. But we can also see the water turned into wine as indicative of Jesus’ mission itself: to reveal who God is, to reveal God’s great abundant love and grace for all, to establish God’s commitment to restore us as his beloved people, and to begin the great reversal, showing that the cultural expectations about who is worthy and who is not, or who gets to participate, or who is loved and blessed is different than what human beings might think. Just as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz realized that her perceptions of life and home were incorrect, we can understand the limitations we often place on God’s willingness to love us as well as the limitations we put on our love for others.

For Reference:

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-after-epiphany-3/commentary-on-john-21-11-6

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-after-epiphany-3/commentary-on-john-21-11-4

Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr. W3

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Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr.
January 16 – 2nd Sunday of Epiphany
John 2:1-11 “Fill the Jars!”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Do you have social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? What have you noticed about the quality of the interactions on social media sites?
  • Have you ever heard about or read criticisms of social media like Facebook and Instagram that discuss its role in encouraging unhealthy comparisons? If so, please explain how you see this happening (or not) and why you think this way.

From the sermon

  • How does noticing experiences of God’s grace in your life change your perspective? In other words, how is your relationship with God and with others enhanced?
  • The sermon noted how Jesus chose to let the servants participate in the miracle of the water being turned to wine. They were “in” on the secret surprise when normally no one noticed them. Can you think of other Bible stories where Jesus paid attention to someone who was usually considered invisible in that culture?

One thought on “Sermon for January 16, 2022 — 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany”

  1. Very eye opening explanation of how Jesus chose to work with those not noticed in society. This alone is an indication that the Kingdom of heaven does not disciminate but gives opportunity to all humans at the same level

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