Today’s story is the familiar story of turning water into wine at a joyous event – a wedding. I learned recently about weddings during Jesus’ time where great importance to these high moments of life are truly celebrated. A wedding was not just a brief ceremony, but an experience shared by the entire community. The typical wedding feast could last up to seven days. That sounds strange to us, but this offered a bright interlude in life in community. The ceremony would begin on Tuesday at midnight. After the wedding the father of the bride would take his daughter to every house so that everyone might congratulate her. It was a community experience. Weddings were a time a joy that bolstered community. Weddings are still a time of joy within communities. (sermons.com; Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, Grad Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.)
At this wedding, which Jesus attended in Cana of Galilee, there was great joy but a problem developed. There was a shortage of wine. So Mary approaches Jesus and asks him to do something. His response? “Why do you involve me woman?” (Fresh kid!) That is a good question. Why was Mary worried about this community running out of wine? As a regular guest, she would not have worried much about it, so there is speculation that she not only helped to plan the wedding, but was very close to one of the families or to the couple. She wanted to ensure that they would not be socially embarrassed and perhaps later ridiculed within their local community.
Our focus this morning is not about this first public miracle Jesus’ performs – turning water into wine. Neither is our focus on miracles in general with my telling you that miracles abound if only we notice them. Nor is it about weddings. Today’s focus is about community. Maybe it is a stretch to jump from a wedding in Cana to recognizing and honoring The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Within each setting, however, is the importance of community, and maybe an answer to Jesus’ question ‘why do you involve me?’
In my own lifetime, Martin Luther King, Jr. is so much more than an icon. I was a bit too young to fully understand the impact of his message when so many marches were taking place in the south and across the United States in the early 1960s. But I was not too young to understand his message and his speeches that I heard on TV during that time. His presence, his speeches, his work was for improving the quality of the negro community, the black community, the African American community or by whatever name that community wishes to describe itself.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was also concerned with improving the quality of life as well for all communities with the prayer and hope and dream of unity rather than division; of recognizing that we are more alike than we are different; of the fact that we are all children of God. His assassination at the age of 39 was not only troubling in the world, but also the cause of deep and real grief in my own life and psyche.
It appeared to me that the tension of race relations and prejudice had calmed down and seemingly disappeared through the following decades. I too, had a dream that MLK’s dream had become a reality. Naïve, wasn’t I. Rather than the dream coming true, I fear racism went underground and the reality of racism and prejudice continues to crop up and show us that we have still a long way to go within the white community to expand our understanding of community to all of God’s children.
Over the past two years we’ve heard some of the bigger stories that have happened of the blatant gathering of white supremacists. We’ve all heard of stories of women and men of color going about with their daily routines and people calling the police on them.
Can you believe these stories are happening closer to home as well? One story took place a few weeks ago that happened with a phone call to Fr. Ron. Why this person called him rather than the church office is a mystery to both Fr. Ron and me.
A woman called to let us know that a black man has been seen in our parking lot and that she has him on video to prove it to us. When Fr. Ron did not jump or act worried about this fact, this woman asked if we weren’t worried for all the little children who come for classes at the church. No, not really. The truth is, I’m more worried about the person who makes this type of call because it appears to be based more in fear than anything else.
The next situation was not one I witnessed at a local restaurant on Friday morning, but was shared with me. A couple had gone out for breakfast when they noticed police entering the business shortly after they arrived. They witnessed that there was no arrest or warning issued in this situation. But someone called the police because a young black man was simply having a quiet breakfast in the restaurant.
The third story is one that was on the national scene this past week where nooses were found along with “whites only” signs at a car manufacturing plant in Detroit. And I am sure that God weeps. These racist moments are happening so quickly and so frequently – yesterday’s story of young white boys taunting a Native American Elder – Nathan Phillips – who faced these boys with calm and dignity.
These are horrifying stories as far as I’m concerned. But there are some learnings that I’ve experienced that I had not experienced 50 or so years ago. I’ve learned about white privilege as a real thing. I will never be able to understand the prejudices people of color face in our country. The only thing I can get a sense of is the prejudice I have experienced as a woman minister over the past 32 years in ministry. And in the scheme of things, that’s pretty insignificant.
I cannot even begin to understand all that parents of color have to teach their children in the hopes that they will not be shot at if they walk down the street, especially their sons who are most frequently targeted. In the past the worry had been children getting shot at in a crossfire between rival warring street gangs in some of the more violent neighborhoods. That may have not changed, but now is the added worry for parents and communities – lives are at stake while walking on the street, driving in a car, or sitting in a restaurant simply having a quiet breakfast. How quickly fear turns into hatred.
My white privilege allows me to move about freely and without fear. My white privilege gives me a pass at border patrol check points. My white privilege does not make me even have on my radar the fact that someone may think my movements in stores or restaurants or on the street are suspect. My white privilege allows me entry just about everywhere. It is a sense of entitlement I was not even aware I had until recently.
My white privilege has also made me stop to question singing songs about freedom and overcoming prejudices and hardships because of my skin color. We all love to sing “We Shall Overcome” but what is it that we are needing to overcome? It certainly is not what people of color have been facing for centuries. I am still learning about my own prejudices and know that I am blind to many subtle things my brothers and sisters of color face daily.
As people of privilege in this world we cannot fully grasp this racism and its impact on individuals and groups of people – those whose homes are within our nation’s borders and those seeking asylum within these borders. As people of faith, we can stand in solidarity with those who face prejudice and denounce the evils of racism. We can confront racist jokes and those who tell them. We can confront individuals when racist terms and stereotyping of an entire group of people are noted in our hearing. When we do so we use the tools of compassion and justice – tools for which we are already equipped. We may ask – why do you involve me as Jesus did, but we already know the answer.
Community is important. This community of faith is especially important during this time in our country’s history. Within community we can make a renewed commitment for justice for all of God’s children. As Kathryn Matthews notes (sermonseeds) “what better way to begin a new year than to renew our own commitment to the vision of Jesus, who practiced compassion and justice throughout his life?” Another quote I came across this week: (clergy coaching network) “In a world torn apart by anger, hatred and conflict, we have the privilege of being living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds.” By doing so we are the beloved community. We end this morning by watching Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Monument.
Copyright DMC 2019