Turning Passions Into Ministry

This morning we turned water into wine!  Not literally of course. :) I had a beautiful altar and stole to go with worship – I cannot wait to upload the photos and show you all!

For now, enjoy the sermon …

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

Turning Passions Into Ministry

Two summers ago, Bruce and I attended the wedding of two of our good friends. The priest preached on this morning’s gospel text – the wedding at Cana and Jesus turning water into wine – during the wedding ceremony.

The sermon started with the priest very innocently retelling the story of the wedding at Cana. At one point, however, the story started to get – oh, geeze, how shall I put this? – interactive. The priest brought out a jug of water and a basin. He poured the water into the basin and began to explain that the water Jesus had turned into wine was not freshly drawn from the well. It was the water that had been used in the “Jewish rite of purification” – in other words, it was the water that had been used to wash people’s feet during the wedding ceremony.

So at this point the priest took off his sandals and stepped into the basin full of water. From there he explained that after Jesus had turned the water into wine, he told the servants to fill up the empty jars with the foot washing water.

Then the priest stepped out of the basin, dried off his feet, picked up an empty jar and filled it with the water that he had just been standing in. He went on to say that Jesus told the servants to bring the jugs to the chief steward – or, who we now know in contemporary language as, the best man – for him to drink.

So the chief steward – the best man – drank the water that had been used to wash people’s feet and – miraculously – had been turned into wine.

This was the point at which the priest picked up the jug containing the water that he had just been standing in, walked down from the altar to approach the wedding party and offered the best man a drink.

He kind of lost me at that point.

This morning’s gospel reading is set in Cana, a village located less than ten miles north of Nazareth. At first glance Cana seems like an insignificant city – it is mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament besides the Gospel of John. But it is the site of Jesus’ first miracle – and it is the first of several miracles that John records early on his gospel.

I have always thought that the miracles stories are some of the most difficult parts of Jesus’ life to preach on. It is, after all, easy to find meaning in our lives when we are reflecting on Jesus calling us to be disciples in his ministry of peace and healing, but this story exposes a supernatural power that most of us (I am assuming) cannot tap into.

Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding in a village thousands of miles away from this place nearly 2,000 years ago. Other than perhaps wishing we were able to impress people with this neat party trick, what difference does this story make to us? How does this miracle give meaning to our lives?

Hold on to that question for a moment and let us take a look at this morning’s epistle. It comes from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters,” Paul starts off by saying, “I do not want you to be uninformed.” Paul writes:

There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

What do you think this means? Paul was writing to a religious community the way that I write to this community; when he says that there are a variety of gifts in the world, what could he be saying to us, today?

The Message, which is a version of the bible written in contemporary language, translates this passage in the following way:

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 if 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!

When you look at this passage in contemporary language you start to see that it speaks to a much broader group of people – including to us and to our community.

In fact, you start to see that when Paul is talking about spiritual gifts, he is implying that we all have spiritual gifts; that we are the vessels through which God’s gifts are given to this world.

This is what I hear when I read this passage:

I hear that … God’s gifts are everywhere; the beauty and the blessings that surround us come from God.
I hear that … Everyone is able to share God’s gifts with the people around them; God is within everyone and everything that they do.
I hear that … God speaks and acts through the people who are living today, in this world; God calls all people to be ministers.
I hear that … Everyone is a part of God’s ministry; and everyone is touched by this ministry. The Holy Spirit helps people to feel their calls, to find their gifts and live out their ministries.
I hear that … No one type of person is called into ministry; God does not discriminate. Every single person in the world is called to be part of a ministry of some kind.

I love listening to Paul talk about spiritual gifts. Because when he talks about gifts and ministries he is not talking to prophets and priests or people who are in vocational ministry. He is talking to ordinary people; people who are just living their lives, trying to understand their faith and doing the best they can to make a difference in the world. He is not speaking to me, the pastor, he is speaking to you, the congregation.

I was at a church once where the back of the bulletin listed all of its staff members. The pastor’s name was listed second; right above her name it read, “Ministers: All members and friends of the congregation.”

This is your church; I may be the pastor, but you are all God’s ministers, both within this congregation and also out in the community.

God is using your gifts – your passions – to create ministry in the world. How will you be shaped by this? How will your passions be transformed into ministry?

I read a commentary this week on the wedding in Cana that said, “Changing the pots of water into pots flowing over with good wine becomes a metaphor for Jesus’ ministry as he brings vitality to the ancient religion.” {Linda McKinnish Bridges, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, Page 265}

Think about where we are right now, both as a church community and as Protestant Christians in the 21st Century. Change is on the horizon – and it is happening right now. We are looking for ways to make our historical traditions still relevant today; we are finding fresh significance within our ancient traditions; we are creating new meaning in the mysteries of this old faith.

It is time to start thinking about the different ways that you – like Jesus did as he transformed discarded water into an abundance of flowing wine for all to enjoy – can transform your passions into ministry.

You are all ministers in this church; your passions are your ministry.

Sometimes people think that the only way to become a minister is to study theology, go to seminary, get ordained and work in a church; that’s not true at all. Ministers are not just the men and women who stand behind the pulpit in a robe and preach every week.

Ministers are the church school teachers who teach our children and keep them safe. Ministers are the members of the choir who fill the sanctuary with music. Ministers are the people who knit and crochet prayer shawls that have and will continue to touch people’s lives within our community and around the world. Ministers are the Lay Shepherds who visit our shut-ins and send cards and bring meals to people in our community in need. Ministers are the people who cook and bake for our suppers and weekly fellowship. Ministers are the church officers who tend to the financial and prudential business of the church. Ministers are the congregants who have ever been involved in or donated to any kind of outreach or mission project. Ministers are the people who have coordinated trips and retreats. Ministers are the greeters in the narthex who make sure that everyone is welcomed into this church with a smile.

Ministry happens through music, dance, poetry, art, photography, woodworking, knitting, crocheting, sewing and floral arranging. Ministry happens through friendship, cooking, visiting, driving and cleaning. Ministry happens through reading, writing and organizing. Ministry happens face-to-face, on the phone, by mail and through email.

Ministry happens in ways that we have yet to think about here at this church.

This is your church; you are the ministers of the Rehoboth Congregational Church. Your passions are your ministry. Your passions are what will make this church grow and thrive. You can be the church that you want to see in this community and you can be the church that you want to see in this world.

Ministry happens within the walls of this church, but more importantly ministry happens outside of the walls of this church. You can minister to the people around you, to the people that you meet every single day along your journey through life. In a real and tangible – yet oftentimes subtle way – you can be the face of Christ to the people around you.

You do not have to be an ordained pastor in order to be a minister. God calls ordinary individuals to do extraordinary things every single day; God ignites a passion within people and the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit that exists within every single one of us – turns that passion into a tangible ministry that happens in this world.

So today we turned water in wine. But as we leave this place we will ask God to transform our passions into ministry.

And then we will watch with awe as we see where those ministries take us.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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