Where’s the Wine Gone?

Dear Friends,

I think the people of St. Paul’s would have loved to have been the guests at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. We love food, we love a good time, we love to be together, and we love to have things to celebrate. The wedding feast would have been all of those things and more – a festive setting, special clothes, and the best the host had to offer.

Which is why it was so nearly a disaster.

The greatest dread of any host is to run out of what is needed; food or drink, space or seats, or whatever is being expected and offered for the well-being of the guest. In this case, to run out of wine at a wedding was particularly humiliating. It was the bridegroom’s duty and pride to make sure that everyone would have a good time and tell the story of what a special occasion it had been. Instead, he found himself with empty wine jars and on the verge of having to reveal that he had not provided sufficiently for the banquet.

We can all think of times when we have been “called out” on some deficiency, mistake, or inadequacy. There is that moment of cold shame before the truth is revealed, the moment when we know ourselves as having fallen short, for good reason or bad. Just imagine (or remember) being on the verge of such a moment and being reprieved; of discovering that the worst was not about to be revealed after all. The relief! The fresh start!

Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine is many things, but not least, it was the saving grace of that day for the bridegroom. His provision had been inadequate and he expected to be shamed. Instead, the best wine was saved until the last through the generous love of the One who had come to love the world. So let us join the feast, eat, drink, rejoice, and know we are loved just as we are.

Blessings,

Sue
The Rev. Susan N. Eaves

Beloved

Dear Friends,

Last Sunday, on the feast of the Epiphany, we left the infant Jesus lying in a manger being adored by wise men from the east. This week, we assemble to greet Jesus on the day of his baptism and the beginning of his journey to the cross. The comfort and intimacy of new birth has been replaced by engagement with the world about us, by “business as usual.”

Just as Jesus left hearth and home to answer God’s call so we, at our own baptism, have been called into the demands of life in community. For us, this is not a private and personal spirituality, but the raw demand of a world waiting to be loved and our humble response to that need. Each of us is engaged on the work of discernment, of asking what God would have us do, and then asking for strength to do it. It was not easy for Jesus, and the gospel contains no promise that it will be easy for us.

Baptism is our moment of connection to the Epiphany, to God showing God’s self to the world. God’s love is made known in Jesus. As Jesus emerges from the waters of baptism and the heavens open before him the voice says, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” God shows us who Jesus truly is.

Consider: to declare the object of one’s love as “beloved” is to knowingly become vulnerable for the sake of the other. It is a conscious decision. Embracing that kind of love will be costly, evoking both joy and suffering. Equally, to experience oneself as “beloved” of another is a deeply moving and sacred experience. To be beloved is to be the one to whom love has been given without reservation. Such love holds before us the possibility of profound and transforming response; a response taking us beyond anything we could imagine for ourselves. This is the relationship shared between God and Jesus.

At the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, we are reminded we have become the beloved of God through our own baptism. In claiming that love, we are called to the possibility of profound and transforming response for ourselves and, in the end, all humanity.

Blessings,

Sue

The Rev. Susan N. Eaves

Traveling Light, Creating “Holy Space”

Dear Friends,

This coming Sunday, we remember the travelers who visited the infant Jesus at his birth. They came bearing gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh – and came from a far place following a distant star. They came seeking power and expected a king. They arrived at the door of the stable and discovered not a king, but vulnerability in the form of an infant lying in a manger.

They were brought to their knees by that child. They laid down their gifts and were freed to see our world as God sees. Their reality was changed from a worldview of authorities who maintained control through magic or governments, armies, or kings, to a worldview which recognized the power of God’s glory, which is whole, pure love.

For us to enter the place where we can be brought to our knees, we will have to make a conscious decision to turn our eyes to the star in the heavens. To enter the stable where all love, all hope, and all faith is incarnate in a tiny child, we will need to travel light, lest our hands become too full to receive the gift the child offers to us. That travel takes time, prayer takes time, and the heart takes time to grow the space into which love can enter.

Creating that time and space will mean letting go of a few things and settling for not having everything just the way you feel it should be. It means inhabiting our own limitations and those of others more fully. But the creation of a holy space is the very space where God “whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” In discovering that wholeness and joy, we are released from unrealistic expectations and we can stand in wonder at the stable door. The load will indeed be lighter, the star brighter, and the baby more beautiful than we could imagine.

Then we may join in the words of the Eastern Orthodox liturgy:

O my child, child of sweetness
How is it I hold thee, Almighty?
And how that I feed thee
Who givest bread to all?
How is it that I swaddle thee,
Who with the clouds encompasseth the whole earth?

Blessings,

Sue

The Rev. Susan N. Eaves

Be Truth, Be Love, Be Mercy and Justice

Dear Friends,

In the pause after the mystery of Christmas Day, we pay little attention to the feast days that follow immediately after: that of St. Stephen the martyr (depicted above), the first to die for our faith; that of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist and the author of the great fourth gospel; and finally, the commemoration of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.

These days stand in stark contrast to the stories of birth, angels, shepherds, and light. They remind us of the urgency of our task. All is not yet complete. St. Stephen calls us to be truth, St. John calls us to be love, and the Holy Innocents cry out for our mercy and justice. These are the tasks God sets before us as we contemplate the coming of a new year.

We live in a real world, not a fairy tale. Despite our world of bright lights and holiday celebration, there is darkness still. Yet we claim darkness can never overcome the light again and, in truth, the whole world longs for this moment. Our world is seeking a god who makes all our living significant, a kind god who will love and cherish us, a merciful god who will love and restore us, a strong god who will love and empower us, and a god who will make all things new. The stable and the manger have announced the time has come to make that real. That moment is now.

We have work to do. God has set us on the journey. We are to be love, peace, and mercy, truth, justice, and hope. We are to be these things so that the world may know “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

And it changed everything.

Peace and blessings,

Sue

The Reverend Susan N. Eaves

“God Becomes a Helpless Child”

Dear Friends,

In the church in which I grew up, I recall being fascinated by the church crèche. We didn’t have any kind of nativity scene at my home, so this immense crèche, dragged out from storage each year, was very impressive. Many years before, some faithful Christian had made a thatched stable to house the large and beautiful plaster figures – Mary, Joseph, the manger, ox, donkey, sheep, shepherds, and of course the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. The babe itself never appeared until Christmas Eve. We knew Christmas had really arrived when we saw it placed in the manger – a kind of plaster promise that love was real and that God had really come.

The crèche was usually erected in the back of the church in the baptistery, which contained the font. So the birth of Christ and the birth of God’s sons and daughters through baptism were to be found in the same place. It was dark back there in the back of the church, and the soft yellow light of the crèche was comforting. I always went to look at the crèche whenever I went to the church. I would stand before it and study the figures. I was looking for something. That was why I had come – although I couldn’t put words to what I was looking for, words to what this birth is all about.

How can any of us imagine we can capture God in mere words? We can be aware only of our very real longing to know that God is real and that we are loved. The Christmas event is about both that longing and that love. We have turned up, in part, to seek out a mystery. To enter once more the story of a night two millennia ago that has echoed down the years until this moment. We know from experience that this is a thin place – a place where the veil between God and ourselves has become transparent, where the invisible might at any moment become visible. This night is the night where, like the shepherds, we can enter the darkness and find it is light.

It is a dark world at times – layers of sadness, disillusionment, suffering, deprivation, anger, and brokenness infuse our common life. But we somehow sense that what happens in the stable is a tale for all time. It is the Word set over and against the darkness we fear and which threatens to overwhelm us – darkness we may try to hold at bay with gifts and parties and children and food – but a darkness that inhabits our souls nevertheless. Present with the Christ child, our instincts tell us that while it is there, while it is darkness still, we need live no longer in fear.

Those hardy shepherds hurried to the stable as the angels commanded them. They found no great spectacle, but a small homeless family huddled over a newborn child laid in a feeding trough. On the one hand, it was a scene depicting the most ordinary of human events. On the other, it was the birth of the greatest mystery of all – of God, of love, given into and expressed through the tiny body of this fragile newborn child.

Mystery may well be glimpsed in visions and dreams and signs, but true mystery is to be found in what is already here – in the apparently ordinary and generally unremarkable daily-ness of life. Mystery is enshrined in the very stuff of our own living – in a baby, in the courage of his young mother, in the unselfish and generous love of her betrothed, in birth, in shepherds who believed and were fed by what they saw.

God reaches out to us by becoming a helpless child, by surrendering into our frail and flawed arms, by God giving God into our power asking to be loved. No wonder we want to be connected to the light in the midst of darkness; to enter the mystery and wander about in it forever. Like the shepherds, we are not after solutions. We want to see and to be part of whatever God has in store.

Blessings for this holy season,
Sue

The Reverend Susan N. Eaves

Advent: Steady, Decent, Kindly, Brave

Dear Friends,

We’re almost there. The air is charged with excitement. Children can barely contain their anticipation. Cookies are flying out of stoves. Wrapping paper and gifts are coming together. Salvation Army bells ring out to remind us to care for our brothers and sister in Christ. These are the outward signs of the season – the season of hope. They point to that dream in which we have a place at the table; where people are taking care of each other; that there will be plenty for everyone and peace in the world at last.

During this time, I am reminded of the Joseph of the gospel story, the man who dared to dream. Tradition has decreed Joseph was an old man at the time of Jesus’ birth and that he died while Jesus was still young. In fact, we know nothing of him except these brief glimpses in the stories of the birth. Young or old, he is a bit of a mystery… and a surprise.

Even today, the news that one’s fiancée was pregnant prior to marriage would produce panic. In the time of Joseph, it was anathema. Yet, we learn at once that he was a decent, even kindly person who, upon learning this very news, made an honest attempt to do what was right. He did not plan to create a scene or a public scandal out of Mary’s condition, but intended simply to let the relationship go.

We are told that just when he had decided on this respectable, if sad, resolution of the situation, he was visited by a dream of a different world – the world as God would have it be. He came to understand in a profound and life- altering way that God was in this event. Joseph began to grasp that he was being called to fulfill a purpose far greater than he could ever have imagined for himself. In fact, what the humble carpenter had anticipated and what happened could not have been more different.

As we wait for the coming of this same Christ, we would do well to imitate Joseph – steady, decent, kindly, brave, and open to the word of God.

Blessings,
Sue

The Reverend Susan N. Eaves

Advent: Building the Dream in the Wilderness

Dear Friends,

God has put a dream in our hearts. It is a dream of a world where hatred, prejudice, conflict, and violence will have cease. A world where the “enough for all” is actually shared among all. A place where sickness and suffering are no more. We are called to imagine that world – a world without evil and governed by love and justice, mercy and freedom.

This dream, put in our hearts by God, is a witness to this conviction: that the imagination for the good is more than we think, and “reality” as we now see it, less.

I recall the story of LaVerne Trent Long. She died over ten years ago at the age of fifty-eight. She was an ordinary countrywoman who filled her life with very extraordinary deeds. In her mid-twenties, when her heart was moved by the saddened young black boys who were rejected by the local all-white baseball team, she took on God’s dream for the world. She declared herself their coach, begged and borrowed equipment, fetched kids who had no transportation to come to practice, ignored those who told her it could not be done, and turned those boys into a winning team – even defeating those who had rejected them. I like to think of her as a female John the Baptist, proclaiming a world on the horizon that is truly God’s world — and then helping make that world actually happen.

As we discover John the Baptist out in the wilderness this week, hold onto that dream. Watch and hear John the Baptist telling us how to live because the One who is to come will be the life that will begin the transformation of the world. Believe, and then act on it.

Blessings,
Sue

The Reverend Susan N. Eaves

Advent: Abandoning Illusion for the Real

Dear Friends,

Advent is about expanding our vision. It is about aligning ourselves with God’s dream for the creation.

Amidst the rush of our lives, it is all too easy to imagine there is no alternative to the daily struggle. We are so easily mired in the complications of human burdens and expectations. We end up feeling weary and discomfited. In short, we become sad. Only when we are able to look up, to use the seeing eye of the heart, may we hope to identify with God’s hope for us and begin to embrace it for ourselves. Advent, in fact, is the antidote for unrest.

The season of Advent is the perfect moment to abandon illusion. No number of gifts, no amount of food, no number of family gatherings, and no number of friends can ever substitute for the God-sized hole in each of us. Only when we invite the Lord to come into our hearts do all those other things become real. Only then are we able to truly receive those gifts as acts of love, eat food as divine hospitality, recognize family gatherings as gentle moments of mutual acceptance, and the fellowship of friendship as an extension of divine kindness and support.

When Augustine finally surrendered his life to God, he observed, “My heart is restless ‘til I find my rest in thee.” In abandoning illusion for the adoption of the real, he became more than he could have imagined – more solid, more centered, more joyful, more free, and, above all, at peace. The same invitation is extended to us.

Blessings,
Sue

The Reverend Susan N. Eaves

Advent: The Stone in Our Shoe?

Dear Friends,

In a world in which the rhythm of life is no longer dictated by the movements of the church year, Advent sounds a strangely discordant note. Amidst the buying of presents, decorating homes, parties, and preparing for family reunions, Advent is a bothersome season. Just when we are trying to be especially happy, the church starts talking about the return of the Lord, when we know what we want is lights and food and presents and whatever else feels good. Why does the church have to be so solemn when we just want to have a good time? It’s a bit like going to a party and finding you have a stone in your shoe, with nowhere to discreetly tip it out.

Advent, however, is the assurance that God takes us seriously. It speaks not of going to God, but of God coming to us; God being present in the here and now; God asking us to take a good look at our world and to care about it in the same way that God cares. Jesus’ call to us today is about personal accountability and re-assessment. Repentance is about the opportunity to re-connect to God and to God’s world. It is not a coincidence that Christmas, the culmination of Advent, is marked by generous gifts to and programs for the poor. It reminds us that we are to be alert to God’s world — a world that will not overwhelm us, but a world that compels our compassion. When we know compassion, we come to know God, and God comes to us with great joy.

As this Advent moves forward, take a little time to invite God to come into your life so that you may open your eyes to all that God has made. Celebrate all that is good and heal whatever is broken. Teresa of Avila wrote, “We should walk in truth before God in as many ways as possible.” Advent tells the truth about our humanity, about God’s inexhaustible love for everything that is, and God’s call to compassionate participation. Walk in the love that is this Truth.

Blessings,
Sue

The Reverend Susan N. Eaves

The Powerless Power

Dear Friends,

Next Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year, is kept as the Feast of Christ the King.

It seems strange to use the title “king” about Jesus in a world with a long history of corrupt and ineffective monarchs. In our own age, such concepts seem alien and even undesirable. Yet, the word or image of “king” may yet stir in us a sense of something we desire which is more than governments or royal titles. It may remind us that there is a dream of a time when all will be set right and, with the right ruler, we will experience justice and mercy.

In fact, this particular title for Jesus points to something we might easily miss. The lessons this coming Sunday speak not of the glory of human power and rule or the grandeur of human empires. Instead, they point to a simple man standing before a foreign judge as he is being condemned to death for witnessing to the power of the love of God. Bishop David Jenkins, the famous one-time bishop of Durham England, liked to call this “the powerless power that overpowers power.

Today, we stand before Pontius Pilate with Christ. We stand up to proclaim once again that Jesus came to be with us. He came not to rule like a human monarch but to love us even to his own death on a cross. The mystery lies in the majesty of that love and its power to raise us from the dead. It is a mystery, but not a secret.

Thus we pray,

“ … mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.”

After all, that was what Jesus had in mind.

Blessings,
Sue

The Reverend Susan N. Eaves