Heretics, Murder and Brotherly Love

A few weeks back I watched “The Tudors” again on Netflix. OK fine, you got me; I binge-watched it!

I had actually seen it some years ago, but enough time had passed so that it was almost like the first time again. As I watched the story of Henry VIII unfold, I was struck with a great sense of thankfulness that I live now and not back then; what a terrible time it was. I must add that I am also thankful that when America was established, our founders went to such great lengths to ensure that no such tyranny could happen here; and so far, their precautions have worked.

Yet more than anything else, I was impressed with the complete lack of understanding that people, at least those in leadership, had of what the Christian faith is all about. To be sure, this is not a Protestant versus Catholic observation, for none of these leaders on either side seemed to have a clue. I suppose that anyone who really did “get” Christianity was murdered, their names lost to history.

The specter of Bishops, Archbishops, even Cardinals  the very people who are supposed to know better, being so full of themselves that they would assert that anyone who disagrees with them on something must be burned alive is almost unbelievable, and yet it happened on a large scale across Europe in those days: Unspeakable evil.

Of course they all knew that there is no teaching remotely akin to this in the New Testament, so why not just make reading the Scriptures a capital offense for anyone outside clerical circles? Some of them did just that. I guess I could rant all day long on this, but history really isn’t my point in writing today…

I wonder: Do we still have the impulse today, to brand other Christians as heretics if they disagree with us on some point of doctrine? Do we belong to church assemblies that assert they are the only ones who are “right” and everybody else is “wrong”? Do our churches assert that they are “true” and all others are not? Do we stick our fingers in others’ faces because they see things a little differently than we do? Do we believe it is a sin for someone to disagree with us on a doctrinal point?

You are welcome to call me crazy, but it seems to me that these things result from the same impulse that used to burn people at the stake, and that these attitudes are still with us.

I have done quite a lot of Bible teaching over my lifetime, in classrooms, in churches, in writing and in various relational environments, and I always do my honest best to be faithful to Scripture. Yet I more than anyone am very much aware of the fact that I am just as imperfect and fallible as the next guy; surely I make my share of mistakes, and I am happy to admit it and make corrections where appropriate. Even as I write this it occurs to me that I’m getting close to doing the very thing by implication that I’m writing against, so let’s be clear; no, you don’t need to do or think as I do! Instead, I would simply encourage you to ask yourself a series of questions, much like those I posed above; do some soul searching, take this to God in prayer, for this is an important issue.

Jesus taught many things during His ministry and the highest of His teachings was that we are to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves; He made this all very clear at the end of His ministry when He commanded His disciples to love one another. Doesn’t love require that we not burn one another at the stake, either literally or figuratively?

Well dear friends, at least it’s something to think about, don’t you agree?


Invitation - Public Domain ImageIt’s that time of year again, isn’t it? Family dinners, company gatherings, holiday parties? Graduations, weddings? Cantatas and concerts? Everything seems to stack up to the end of the year, doesn’t it?

For some, I suppose, invitations can be a chore or a burden. Too many, too busy, too tedious. But for most people, invitations reflect friendship, affection, joy. We invite those we treasure and care about, those we accept for who they are and whose company we value.

On the other hand, what impact does it have to the heart, to relationships NOT to be invited or included? Imagine being overlooked for a staff celebration, dinner, or party? Not receiving an expected wedding or graduation invitation? Or even, being UN-invited, where after receiving an invitation to some event, you are later contacted and requested not to come? Wow, huh? Rather like being “un-friended” on FaceBook, wouldn’t it be? Where does that leave the heart, the spirit, the trust of a relationship?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him. [John 2:1-11]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We all know this passage, this story. We’ve all heard it preached countless times. Nothing new for us here, right? Well, I kind of thought so… But as I prepared to bring an extremely SHORT message on this text, the Lord helped me see this in an utterly new way. Kind of a “21st Century” rushing-about way.

It boiled down to three fairly simple questions:

  • Why was Jesus there?
  • How impressive, how “significant”, was this miracle?
  • Did Jesus do what He was asked?

As to the first question… no complicated theology about it… the text tells us that Jesus has come simply because “both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding“. Nothing fancy or dramatic about it. It was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in Galillean territory, not far from Nazareth… Jesus wasn’t a “phenom” yet (this is his first public miracle). At this point, Jesus is just known as a “regular guy” (“Isn’t this Joseph, the carpenter’s son? Don’t we know his mother and his kinsmen?”) Jesus is just a “local”, hanging out with some fisher-folk… and some friends invite them to this wedding. Why is He there? Just because some friends love Him enough to invite Him… they want Him to come, enjoy, and share their joy as they marry.

Second question… how important the miracle? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but… really… in terms of that “Kingdom” – “Big Picture” – View we like to use when we play theologian…. um, not very much. I mean, think about it. He doesn’t heal here, or raise the dead, or feed thousands who come to hear Him speak, or take authority over and cast out demons! He doesn’t stop the sun in its path, or even forgive sin in God’s name. He, um… well… He makes wine. He makes wine from water. Not only that, but He’s not even relieving some random misfortune.

The problem He solves, is their own FAULT! (I once had a sign on the wall of my office cubicle that read… “Poor planning on YOUR part, does not constitute an emergency on MY part!”) The groom, bride, parents, or steward failed in their task of planning, budgeting, or both. The party wasn’t over yet, and the wine ran out. So what? What was the worst that would happen? A couple fewer people would get drunk, and the celebrants would be a bit embarrassed before their community. So what?

But apparently, Jesus just doesn’t think that way. For Him, this is more than a “so-what-no-big-deal” issue. Is this miracle “significant” or “important”? Apparently it was to Him. It was important enough to show His hand before His hour had yet come. Why then did He do it? Aside from the fact that it would please His mother (and there’s no getting around that one)… there was relationship involved. It would appear that He loved these friends, this bride and groom. He would not see them lose face or be embarrassed in their town. He didn’t even discuss the matter with them. The passage seems to indicate that they may never even been aware of the problem. Jesus deals entirely with servants and hirelings throughout. This miracle is a “rescue”, saving what would have been a social embarrassment and gaffe for these newlyweds, and transforming the celebration as not only success, but improving it. He diverted embarrassment and shame, leaving just joy in His wake.

Jesus wasn’t “too busy” to care, “too holy” to be bothered, or “too righteous” to intervene simply to create joy for both the newlyweds and their guests. It seems as though He (and maybe His Father, too) hold “joy” as a fairly high priority.

And the Third Question… “Did Jesus do what He was asked?”… Well, um… No. No He didn’t. He couldn’t. He wasn’t “asked” anything at all. No one made a request or petition, or asked a question. (Not formally.) Jesus responded to a situation; a situation that was specifically brought to His attention with an expectation.  Look at the sequence…

  1. Wedding feast is probably winding down, as the wine is exhausted and (as the steward points out) the guests have “drunk their fill”.
  2. Due to somebody’s poor planning, or an unexpected bounty of toasting, the servers have run out of wine with which to refill the pitchers on the tables.
  3. They tell the headwaiter/steward at some point.
  4. Jesus’ mother, Mary, notices the problem. (Maybe she knew the family. Maybe she was a skilled hostess. Maybe she was just accustomed to watching her surroundings carefully in order to “store these things up in her heart” as she had stored situations around Jesus since the day He was conceived. I know not which.)
  5. Perhaps she then tugs at His sleeve, gently lays her hand on His arm, or perhaps it’s nothing more than a raised eyebrow that brings her His attention. She simply says to Him… “They have no wine.” No big deal. No finger-pointing. Not even the petition that He fix the situation. Just… a mother’s expectation… that He will help. Like a mom will say, “dear? the trash is really full.” or “It’s getting stuffy in here, I think the heater’s set too high.”
  6. He responds… not with a refusal to help, but questioning whether this is their business or not… and with concern about the timing. After all, they are guests, not family. This is the host’s business, not theirs. And… His time to enter the public arena had not yet arrived. Mary… says nothing… to Him.
  7. Mary resolves His “whose business it is” issue, when she goes to the servants (with my very favorite line in all of the Bible) saying, “whatever He says to you, do it!” Whether by relationships, family ties, or the courtesies afforded a local matron, the servants respond and now turn towards Jesus expectantly. What did they expect? Perhaps some gold to go to the local vintner’s and restock, or instruction to go to Jesus’ lodgings where perhaps He was traveling to deliver some wine… who knows? But whatever it was they expected, I’m sure it wasn’t to see Jesus turn to them (with perhaps a resigned sigh as He watched His mother withdraw), and say “fill the waterpots to the brim and bring them to Me.”
  8. They do that. He tells them to draw some and take it to the steward. They do so. The steward goes to the bridegroom and compliments the vintage. (I’ve often thought how confused that groom must have been! Nobody had yet said diddley pip to him about the wine, as far as we know. And servers wouldn’t have troubled him about this at such a time!)

So, did Jesus do what was asked? No. He was never asked for anything but His attention. So… what exactly did He respond to?

He responded to a clear need, and a clear expectation. (Sorta reminds us of things He taught about the Father and prayer… need, expectation, trust…. huh?)

(And here’s an even COOLER thing, if we can imagine this…)

Did He just provide what was “needed’?

I mean, the party was clearly winding down. There may have been a failure of planning, but these weren’t total nincompoops. The servers had to inform the steward when they ran out. The steward isn’t walking around wringing his hands saying, “O my! We’re going to run out of wine any second now!” He says clearly to the groom, the guests had “drunk their fill”. So, much wine had already been served.

So what? So… only a modest amount of wine was “needed”. They just needed enough to “tide them over” to the end of the reception. Is that what Jesus did? Is that what Jesus provided?

No… not hardly. Jesus did not provide what they “needed”. Nor what they “wanted”. Nor what “He was asked”.

Jesus asked for the biggest vessels available, that they be filled to the “brim” (not just the “fill to here” line), totaling 120 – 180 GALLONS of the FINEST WINE!

WHAT? What in the world were the couple going to do with all this? It was vastly more than their party could imbibe. Why would He do this? And eventually the story would “track back” to Him. The steward had offered the wine to the groom, who would then question the servers, who would ultimately point at Jesus.

I realized as I pondered this, the couple probably wasn’t the richest in town… (After all, they’d underestimated their provisions for the feast, and they invited a carpenter’s son and fishermen as guests). How likely was it that their guests would finish off more than just ONE jug (20-30 gallons) of the wine? Not very likely. Which would leave the newlyweds with five (5) pure jugs (the cleanest vessels there were, for ritual purification), of divine vintage wine. What would the market value of such a gift be? Could that have been Jesus’ “wedding gift” to the couple, to help them get started as the local buzz about these folks’ “wedding wine” circulated through the area, and 100 – 120 gallons became available to share or buy?

I know not.

But I know this… Jesus’ gift to them vastly exceeded their needs, their wants, or even anyone’s expectations of them. He provided for them according to “His means”, not “their need”. Beyond abundance, beyond expectation… way over the top. “Wildly”, “vastly”, “extravagantly”, “prodigally”, all these are words we can apply to His provision. And…. (watch this)… all this without being asked, when the need was “their own fault, and His help ‘undeserved'”. (How many of us would just turn away, saying… ‘poor planning on THEIR part, does not constitute an emergency on MY part”?)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And why? Why did all this happen?

Well, simply because He’s Him and this is the only way He CAN do things! He doesn’t do “object lessons”. He gave an undeserved gift, to enter into their JOY not their disgrace. It was pure, it was clean, it was divine! He made no big deal, just dealt with the servants. He didn’t seek any acclaim, in fact He hesitated only on that account.

And all this was available, all this happened. just because He was INVITED! It was all a “relationship” thing. He was invited with His friends and family. His mom noticed a problem and gave Him a nudge. And the rest is history.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

For those of us who live in a universe of “Invitations”… of “Altar Calls”… of “Evangelism”… let’s keep this wonderful event ever in mind. “Inviting” people, because we love them, to take part in our lives, our joys and events, even our sorrows… (Jesus was invited to funerals as well). You never know what will happen when you invite someone. Invitation opens the door for relationship, for grace, sometimes even for miracle.

My mind recalls a time, a place, a church, where the leadership requested that the revival speaker NOT issue an “Invitation”, an “Altar Call” that night.  (Unheard of at a Revival!) Why? Because some people of color had entered the church, and if they came forward at the Invitation, the church would have to accept their membership… and that was NOT ok!

That’s what it’s like to “refuse to invite”, to renege on an invitation (rescind it) or to “refuse to accept an invitation”. To close the door. To reject relationship. To reject the possibility and conduits of grace, love, and community.

Invitations… such powerful things… whether we invite Jesus to be with us day to day. Or whether we respond to His invitation to be with Him, to accompany Him, to travel with Him, to party with Him. Invitations… making them and taking them… are the doorways to relationship… and relationship is the bedrock of miracle, love, and grace!

Enjoy the holidays, Gentle Reader!Invitation