January 17, 2010
Commentary by Bruce G. Epperly
See also: [Year C Archive]
I Corinthians 12:1-11
This week’s readings continue the theme of global revelation, characteristic of the season of Epiphany and also introduce the question of “how shall we, as moderate and progressive Christians understand and preach about the miracles of Jesus?”
Walt Whitman once noted that “I know nothing else but miracles.” During Epiphany, miracles are to be found in the context of wedding feasts, national restoration, revelatory experiences, moments of call, guiding dreams, and God’s evolving gifts in our lives. Progressive and moderate Christians often shy away from using the word “miracle” as a result of its connection with arbitrary supernatural violations of the laws of nature. But, the word “miracle” can be reclaimed by progressive Christians in terms of our experiences of God’s transforming presence in our lives as well as unexpected quantum leaps of divine energy that can change our bodies, minds, spirits, and even natural processes.
To we assume that we know the fullness of the human and non-human world is tantamount to believing that the earth is flat. Reality, and the God who moves through all things, is always more than we can imagine. Further, while God is faithful to creation in its entirety, some moments and persons may more fully reflect God’s creative wisdom and healing presence in their time and place. In a world where “signs of God” and “quantum leaps of energy” are always emerging, faithful Christians are challenged to expect more from God and from themselves than humdrum and one-dimensional lives.
Isaiah 62 proclaims the restoration, but more than that, the transformation of a nation’s destiny. After disorientation and destruction, the “impossible” is on the horizon: the forsaken people will return home as changed persons open to new possibilities. The words of the prophet remind us that God’s aims for history involve communities and nations as well as individuals. Shalom is never individualistic, but involves the well-being of persons in community and in relationship to the non-human world. Such Shalom moments are “miraculous” and often defy our expectations. The coming of peace and the restoration of our planet is no less miraculous than the fabled restoration of Israel.
Psalm 36 describes the constancy and fidelity of God. The heavens above and depths of the ocean alike proclaim God’s creative and orderly wisdom. Our hope is not in divine favoritism or arbitrariness, the random activities of a deus ex machine, or the long-distance apathy of a deistic watchmaker. Rather, the living God is both more faithful and more surprising than any distant and all-determining deity. God supplies our deepest needs as persons with the same care that God orders the cosmos in its vastness. Yet, more than this, the wisdom that constantly renews the universe also inspires our own spiritual journeys. “For with God is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”
As I read Isaiah 62, I am inspired to ponder the possibility that within the constancy of the Cosmic Fountain of Life, there is also a movement toward novelty and surprise: God’s vision is constantly emerging. God is always doing a new thing, and wants us to be creative, too.
The words of I Corinthians 12:1-11 serve as the prologue to Paul’s hymn celebrating Christian community as “the body of Christ.” Healthy bodies and communities alike reveal and celebrate diversity of gifts, talents, and perspectives: the same Divine Spirit inspires varieties of gifts, services, and activities. According to Paul, God’s spirit moves through every person and the community as a whole.
Preachers can illuminate this passage with a series of life-changing and congregation- transforming affirmations addressed both to individuals and the congregation as a whole, such as:
This is good news for preachers! For our personal and corporate gifts imply a “call” and an ongoing quest to grow in wisdom, stature, and service. As pastors, our calling is never solitary within our congregations, but part of an interdependent, dynamic, and all-embracing “call and response” that involves everyone in our congregation. Our task as a preachers, teachers, care givers, and spirit persons, is to enable persons to experience the miracle of their giftedness and then “let their light shine” in blessing the world.
The words of I Corinthians 12 are an antidote to feelings of low self-esteem and powerlessness. It also presents us with a vision of a non-competitive God, who promotes creativity and freedom, and the healthy expression of our talents. God does not begrudge our freedom or choose our life path in advance. Rather, God inspires us, from within as well as beyond, to exercise our gifts in ways that bring wholeness and vitality to ourselves and our communities.
The miracle at Cana baffles adherents of a deterministic, closed system world view, whether in science or theology. They challenge Rudolf Bultmann’s judgment that anyone who switches on an electric light cannot believe the miracle stories as well as the more recent questioning of Jesus’ healings, or reduction of Jesus’ miracles merely to events of radical hospitality, among certain members of the “Jesus Seminar.” While we cannot describe the mechanics of Jesus’ transforming water into wine, we can let our imaginations wander afar as we imagine an interdependent world of lively and creative energies. Scientific researcher Masaru Emoto has noted the power of positive and negative thoughts to change the crystalline structure of water molecules. Kirlian photography charts the impact of human feelings on plants. Medical scientists are now studying the sacred and are discovering the positive benefits of religious activity on health and well-being as well as the power of intercessory prayer to promote health among those for whom we pray. Seen from this perspective (suggested by the theory of quantum entanglement), deeper laws of energy and interdependence make turning water into wine a metaphysical possibility. There is no reason, metaphysically speaking, to deny the possibility of quantum leaps in healing energy or deeper and more energetic manifestations of God’s presence in our lives. Perhaps, “we have not, because we ask not” in terms of opening to greater manifestations of divine energy. (See Bruce Epperly, God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus; Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice; and Reiki Healing Touch and the Way of Jesus, written with Katherine Gould Epperly.)
But, beyond the issue of whether or not miracles can occur, Jesus’ miracle at the wedding feast at Cana reveals the significance of embodiment and relationship in God’s realm of Shalom. Shalom is about celebration of human wholeness in all its forms. In a God-filled world, miracles, “acts of power” that lead us to new dimensions of spirituality, healing, and planetary care, can spring forth anywhere. A life of faith embraces relationships, children, good work, parties and playfulness, and goes beyond self-interest to support the unique giftedness of the human and non-human communities.
These passages call us beyond “ecstasy deprivation” to the integration of wonder and ethical responsibility. Inspired by our experience of the grandeur of God and the universe as well as the miracle of life itself, we are called to commit ourselves to being God’s partners in sustaining and enhancing the beauty residing in ourselves, our human companions, and this good earth.
Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education and co-pastor of Disciples United Community Church in Lancaster, PA. He is the author of sixteen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy:The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry (with Katherine Epperly).
If you found this lectionary helpful, please consider contributing to Process & Faith by making a donation or becoming a member.