Hi everyone – so good to be with you all! I’m Ivy, a Pastor here.
I’m really enjoying this time of Lent that we are in, there’s something about the water imagery, Water of Life, that is centering our season – and the combination of our lengthening days of light, and warmer temps that are making me feel a little more alive in the day-to-day, this ordinary life. Which, I can’t say has been holistically true over the stretch of the last two years. I hope in part – some of that could feel true to you too.
Each week of Lent we are focusing on a particular theme related to water. The first week were waters of baptism, last week Steve talked about the waters of overwhelm. And today – as we enter our third week of Lent – we’ll talk about ordinary waters. What about the ordinary? The day in and day out aspects of life? How do we find ourselves nourished, ALIVE – rejuvenated and renewed by God? How do we find the sacred in the ordinary?
Over the last two years perhaps our version of “the ordinary” has taken on a new sheen. So often we loop the “ordinary” into our regular routines, patterns – often mundane ones that don’t stand out as particularly special moments. The walk to the bus stop, the laundromat, the dishes, the finding the other sock, the washing the hands, the doing the things that have always been done the way things have been done.
And so much of this was disrupted during the pandemic (and still). Our “normal” ways of doing things were disrupted.
But I want to make a subtle distinction and say that actually our “ordinary” wasn’t disrupted.
But the pandemics have revealed that our “ordinary” lives weren’t really “normal” all along.
The “ordinary” is not only rich, and layered and vital to our spiritual life…it is where our spiritual life takes place. And it’s helpful to see and embrace all of it. Because it’s where all new possibility exists – at our fingertips, under our feet – in the very air we breathe. The potential for something new, different, transformational.
And yet when we equate ordinary with normal and keep seeking for the normal to return, to be re-established – the way things were… we often find ourselves coming up empty. Dry. And we become thirsty for something extraordinary… something separate from what our ordinary lives seemingly don’t offer us.
It’s like me searching for a new yoga class that will give me that full stretch that it once did – when I was 10 years younger.
Or a new friendship that can fulfill you the way that old friend did.
Or a new spiritual practice that gives me that full sensory experience of God – that immediate connection to God – as it used to.
This is what we will press into a bit today – through our sermon – but also throughout the week in the Lenten guide.
We’ll consider how it is that God invites us into the ordinariness of our lives to reveal the extraordinary? Inviting us to imbibe, drink in a living source. A God that hopes we fall in love with our ordinary lives and find that the ordinary is sacred.
And that the sacred is indeed in the ordinary.
And most often – all of it – is not normal.
Thank you God for waking us up today. Thank you for this space that offers us respite and comfort right now.
Thank you for the folks online in this space who we love and know – and thanks for the folks in this room who we have yet to meet.
Thank you God that you are with us, in us, between us and for us – each and every moment – the ordinary ones and the extraordinary ones. Refresh us this morning – hydrate our souls with your presence and love… amen.
Many, many, many years ago I was at a Christian conference of sorts that had a variety of speakers – but of course the main attraction was the keynote speaker. And it was clear that people were there for this one personality, this sort of charismatic man who’s preaching many, many people followed, were enraptured by and helped by.
I was in an interesting space with God and my faith journey. I was starting to explore some of the “teachings” of my upbringing that weren’t bringing me a lot of life in those days. And yet still really hanging on to some of the more ingrained ways of “staying in the faith” hoping that that would really reveal to me the values of why I really fell in love with God. Which evidently meant I traveled to conferences…. mainly to study, be taught by particular (more scholarly, more expert) voices (not all that bad of a plan, actually).
After this guy got done preaching. There was sort of a bottle neck of people flocking around him, and I was trying to figure out how to get to the refreshment table – which was on the side of this guy.
As I tried to skirt around the masses I ran right into this guy. And I remember looking up at him, and knew that I had to say something about his talk. So I said, “thank you for your sermon.” And he replied, “Oh, tell me what you are taking away from it.”
And all I could think was, “I really want that cupcake,” and “I have no idea what you said.” BUT of course instead I offered, “you know…I’m just really taken aback – it was spectacular … really extraordinary.”
And the truth is – it was extraordinary. It was exactly extra – ordinary… because the amount of hours and study and history and the sitting with scripture and referencing commentary and placing words just “so” by this speaker was phenomenal. . . it was really interesting. But I couldn’t translate it into my life. I couldn’t map over the practical elements that would open my everyday life a little more.
And I remember being mortified by that moment – because I couldn’t say to this man – or more importantly to myself – that it didn’t land for me. It didn’t work for me. Not just the sermon, but this way of faith that never touched my lived experience, my ordinary life.
Now Jesus’ first miracle or sign has to do with ordinary water. It’s interestingly only mentioned in the Gospel of John that we’ll read from together this morning
John 2:1-9 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.”
Jesus replied, “Woman,(Mother) what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.”
His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did. The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.
Now there are a lot of points of interest that can be drawn out from these few verses. Here, in the account of John is Jesus’ first act of public ministry – turning water into wine.
And some of this story as it unfolds reveals essential characteristics of Jesus and lays out elements that are important for his ministry to come, as well as ways that are different from the way things have always been done in the religious structure … and some of this story reveals how our participation with Jesus – in our ordinary life is essential, sacred, and inseparable.
Weddings in Jesus’ day usually lasted for a week with people coming and going. Eating, drinking, singing, laughing. Families would have started saving for this event when their child was born…often the whole village would partake in the celebration.
Jesus, his mother, and the disciples were invited to this wedding and it takes place in a little nondescript town called Cana. This town is only mentioned one another time in the New Testament- it’s just an ordinary town that has this recorded moment and then fades again into anonymity.
Now families would have spent years making enough wine for this occasion – and running out of wine would be a source of humiliation/shame for the couple.
So as this very thing happens – we see Jesus take ordinary water and turn it into wine. A LOT of Wine (some sources say equivalent to 1,000 bottles) and as the verses detail if we had kept reading – really, really good wine.
And we see that God through Jesus is a God who wants to continue to shower people with lavishness and abundance. God has been a God throughout time that has been generous with provision – in the fruitfulness of creation, in manna in the wilderness, a land of milk and honey, and a return from exile.
God is one who has provided in the ordinary realm of life.
JESUS, doubles down on that generosity of provision in the ordinary – abundantly. AND YET ALSO communicates that his very PRESENCE will also be available to anyone in the ordinary – ABUNDANTLY.
Not just in this instance – but throughout scripture we see that Jesus is often found in the most ordinary of places (at a table, in fields, pastures, markets, fishing, walking in neighborhoods) talking to people in his ordinary life (tax collectors, siblings, children, servants, lepers) all the while communicating – I’m here, and I’m here… And I’m here…
And we see this stage set for him in the previous chapter of John – as John the Baptist is baptized in the wilderness. He has been known as the forerunner of Jesus-
“the voice crying out in the wilderness, making pathways to the Lord clear…”
All the while shifting the mindset and expectation that you could only encounter God in a sacred temple – to expanding that reality – and to imagine that people could meet God in the ordinary as well.
What’s tricky though about a system of religion is that as it becomes more reliant on rules and rituals to uphold it (rather than a living source) the source actually becomes petrified and frozen – stagnant. And rules start to infiltrate and impinge on our ordinary life, but never account for our ordinary life. And we can start to feel like we are slowly dehydrating because we are trying and striving to “do” faith “right” – rather than coming to a well of abundant love – being replenished by a living God.
Jesus, as he meets with people in the ordinary, always seems to not follow the “normal” way … he doesn’t seem to do it right either. He often says the wrong things, eats the wrong food, doesn’t practice the right rituals, invites the wrong people. Messaging in his actions – as he does in this instance at the wedding – that when you pay attention and embrace the moment you stand in as sacred and the people in front of you as holy – there is no “right” or “normal” way to pour out the love of God.
**You just might have to be ok with breaking open systems that try to measure your faith by merit, cleanliness, worthiness or require your oppression to exist.
Ritual cleanliness and purification requirements were not limited to the bounds of the Temple but spread through the Jewish community, in Jesus’ day. These jars that are mentioned in this scripture were required for the purification before a meal – to cleanse hands, feet, cups and more. And they had to be stone – they couldn’t be ceramic or glass vessels which were subject to impurity. And so these laws affected ordinary people, in their ordinary lives.
And the water held in these stone jars was not regarded as ordinary water. It was holy, reserved specifically for these purification rituals.
And likewise God, was a God within the temple- who wasn’t regarded as ordinary – but separate, extraordinary, holy, and reserved for those who could prove themselves worthy of such holiness.
At this wedding, Mary is actually the one who says,
It’s time for you to break in here, Jesus.
Everything is empty .
The stone jars are empty of water.
The cups are empty of wine.
And the people are thirsty.
It’s not working.
“This is not working anymore.”
And this is exactly what I couldn’t say to the sermon -guy at the conference.
“Hey if being part of this faith, of loving Jesus – is in some way supposed to be like a party – where I encounter the depth of love that’s present at a wedding. Where there’s an overflow of that love that saturates everything in my everyday life and that is supposed to MEAN something in my life…THEN it’s not working.”
That would have been my most truthful response if I could have imagined running straight for Jesus like Mary did. But I had for so long stayed in the grooves – the separate grooves of learning and studying God stuff over here – in this container. And engaging with the ordinary stuff of life over here….hoping that neither would run out of its meaning. But the work of keeping the holy and the ordinary separate is what will run us dry. It’s too much work, and it’s not normal.
But it’s easy to love the extraordinary. It is easy to pursue a spiritual path that is about the intense, immediate encounter of the extraordinary. It is easy to fall in love with spiritual practices that lead us to a “high”, a transcendent experience of God’s love, But maybe Mary is nudging us all here – that only this way of encountering Jesus will soon run its course.
I mean Jesus is amazing, beyond our realm in so many ways – but Jesus likes being where we are. Jesus likes our passenger seats, our walks to the T, our tables, what we wrestle with….
Jesus might have decided to listen to Mary and do something about the lack of wine at this wedding – because he wanted to keep being at a party. He wanted to be among people, and communicate that when you are aware and attuned to a real Jesus in your real life – it’s as good as the finest wine.
I realized at this conference that I had become really good at forgery. I had been signing off on things as if they were…
“Extraordinary… when they weren’t.”
Swallowing wine that tasted like vinegar – because if God wasn’t in the ordinary – where was God?
POISON Water courses through each and every one of us, water sustains the world around us-and life itself. And yet we often don’t consider our relationship to water – until we are dehydrated, or find the water to be contaminated.
Much of our available fresh water supply in the United States is in jeopardy and/or contaminated. I went with my dad to a natural spring for many years of my youth, to fill milk jugs with water because our water source in Maine wasn’t safe.
Flint, Michigan is another known example – that made headlines in 2015 when a change in its water supply exposed thousands of children to high levels of lead…And we are realizing how historic agricultural and manufacturing practices – are leaving a present day toxic legacy across the nation – with “ forever chemicals” in soil and water that won’t breakdown. Droughts in California are predicted to triple by 2050 – and in much of the developing world, clean water is either hard to come by or a commodity that requires laborious work or significant currency to obtain.
Free, safe, accessible water is not to be taken for granted.
Likewise, it takes active attention and action to make sure the components of our faith (love and goodness and a living, flowing source of that) doesn’t sit stagnant in a container… whether that’s a book, or a sermon, or a podcast, or someone else’s expectations or translation.
Because it will become bad water. Harmful to those who drink of it.
The religious system in Jesus’ day had become all about ritual, and had become a way to separate people into the clean and the unclean – and furthermore establishing rigid tiers of hierarchy, patriarchy and oligarchy.
Available only to a few, safe for no one.
The flow that keeps the love of God pure, and good – a source of all life… has to be for everyone.
Jesus turns the water into wine – and it is soooo much wine! Far more than just the guests who would attend this wedding. The bounty signals that the overflow of this love, this abundance is for everyone… a legacy of love (for generation after generation) that will saturate the soil, the air, the water – everything that makes up the ordinary world around us.
Jesus comes to fulfill the law, fulfill the promises of God by establishing a way of relating to God and others so we never have to forge anything. We don’t have to fake our way into “holiness” or scrub ourselves clean – because that’s actually what contaminates and dries up the well.
Jesus situates himself immediately in the ordinary – to remind us that the ordinary holds the potential of all things – including keeping us humble, real and refreshed – which is altogether a miracle and holy.
Mary invites us to consider that faith without Jesus’ abundant love at the center of our ordinary lives doesn’t work – it is akin to:
A world without water,
Or a wedding without wine…
And this is the beauty of what Mary breaks open – the elemental and fundamental nature of GOD… and water…
I love the words of Japanese poet Hiroshi Osada who says in his book about water,
“It has no color, but can be any color.
It has no shape but can take any shape.
You can touch it, but you cannot hold it.
Even if you slice into it, it won’t be cut.
It can slip through your fingers,
Like it’s nothing at all.
But life would be unthinkable without it.” Almost Nothing, Yet Everything: A Book About Water.
Faith, Jesus, love, water are not meant to be contained…
Jesus took these jars that were now empty of their purification water – and filled them with ordinary water. Ordinary water that in its purest state actually is free, shapeless, uncontained – flowing its way into the thirstiest depths of our bodies.
Just as God took a system of religion that had been full – but now had only empty stone jar vessels, and filled them with the purist vessel of all – Jesus. Who in his most natural form, pours all of who he is into us – and our thirsty souls.
This is when we get the good stuff of faith and the ordinary together – when we can embody it. It seems that we can’t get the good stuff – the abundance of God – we can’t taste the best wine – if we prevent the natural flow of the ordinary and the sacred.
The faith Jesus wants us to embody and make accessible for so many others – isn’t one that asks,
“what bullet point from my sermon were you convicted by?”
It’s not that a sermon is bad or a cleansing ritual is wrong – it’s not that at all so long as that sermon, that ritual activates something more – mobilizes your heart, body and soul. So long as it takes into account who you are (a human) walking this earth. Having hard days, and good days, and the same ole, same ole, same days.
Faith is to be lived, embodied, an experiential faith… A faith that is multiplied, takes on new forms- as it is poured out like water and one that says,
“look at your week – what you encountered – look at the riveting and sacred sermon of your life.”
Our ordinary life is so miraculous, so sacred… and it is also so hard.
This past week I had a hard morning with someone. The kind of hard that breaks your heart into a lot of different pieces and you feel the flow of all hope and life – leave you.
After it was clear that I would need to shift meetings and reschedule some appointments, I sat on the couch to give myself and the pieces of my heart a moment to re-collect. Wondering what I could do – nothing seemed to be really touching this situation in a helpful way, not a lot was working.
And my phone dinged and I got a text from someone who – we maybe text once every two months or so.
And she was saying “thanks” for something – and then at the end she said oh, and p.s. Here are the first spring flowers I have seen in our neighborhood…
And she sent a picture of these little ordinary snowdrops – these flowers that of their own accord push their way up through the debris of ordinary seasons – dead leaves and sticks, often snow – and just multiply and get more dense with each passing year.
And I saw that picture – and thought
“Jesus, you are here.”
And I wrote back,
“oh thank you for this picture – it’s been a rough morning.”
And she said,
“I feel my eyes welling up as I think of your rough morning, may you know you are loved.”
An ordinary morning, an ordinary text, an ordinary plant.
And an extraordinary, life-giving, sense of Jesus’ presence and love.
Let us love the ordinary. Let us cherish the everyday, the every breath, every celebration, every tear. Let us love the closeness of God and the sacred, here and now. ((Omid Safi))
Let us not poison the water, let us keep feasting on our very life…and once and awhile ask,
“is this working?”
This keeps the waters of life fresh.
What makes anything sacred, it seems is not its separateness, or its pure holiness. It’s as Steve mentioned last week in this trifecta of things to know in moments of overwhelm. That God is a God that is with you… in the ordinary, in the leaves of life, in the middle of the brightest moments like a wedding – there’s no splicing and dicing of where God is or isn’t. The nature of God’s love is to flow, to saturate everything and for us to drink of it, to be nourished by this water of life wherever we are at. Steve said what we can know are these three things:
God is here.
You matter to God.
There is always a way forward.
And I want to add my own trio of things that helps us remember the sacredness of this life – I learned it from Rabbi Abraham Heschel who says that all we need to know that a moment is sacred are these three things:
May this be so. As we walk our days here on this Earth.
As we close, I want to invite you into a spiritual practice that you are invited to try, daily this week through the Lenten Guide, called the Examen. It’s a way to review your day – and nurture the spirituality of the ordinary – and attune yourselves to the everyday movement of God in your life.
It’s a way to name what’s working for you and not working for you.
Let’s try that now for a moment.
We’ll hear a bit of the music Matt has written for the season, and I invite you to close your eyes, take a deep breath:
Where are you dry these days? Where are you replenished? And what do you have to say to God about that?