By: Amelia McDaniel, Director of Children’s Ministries
I spent eight years living in Louisiana. I’d like to tell you a fell in love with it the minute I set foot there, but that would be a lie. I was eight months pregnant and it was June. I hated it. It was hot and miserable. I longed to be back in the part of the south I understood. The part where roaches weren’t the size of small birds. The part where the cold tap water still came out from the faucet cold instead of tepid to luke warm. The places where I understood how to say the names of streets and towns because there weren’t strings of consonants and vowels that made no sense and involved lots of u’s and x’s.
One hot afternoon I waddled myself over to the local nursery to get some plants for the pots by my door. I chose a collection of things, most of which I had never seen growing in Tennessee or Virginia. They nursery guy looked at me and said, “m’am that’s way too many plants. You won’t need that much.” I, in my wisdom, disagreed with him and I guess he thought better than to argue with the crazy pregnant lady.
I took my plants home and potted them. There was some space between the plants, just the way I had always planted them before back home. They’d fill in as the summer went on. Take that nursery man! I know what I’m doing!
Within two weeks those plants were spilling over the sides. They growing over one another, crowding each other straight out of the pot. He was right. I was in the sub tropics. Abundant growth was all around. Everything there was lush and green and full. Sometimes it was so green it almost hurt my eyes. I did fall in love with Louisiana in time and its crazy mixed up jumble of life.
Enough so that I will happily watch the football game this afternoon with the rest of Who Dat friends cheering on the Saints.
In much the same way I was shocked by the lush growth in Louisiana, we don’t live in a world that focuses much on what there is plenty of. We tend to see what is lacking. I think today’s Gospel speaks to this state we seem to live in.
I love the start of this gospel. I am willing to bet that there was more to this story between Jesus asking Mary what concern of it was it to him that the hosts were out of wine and Mary telling the servants to just do whatever Jesus said to do. I imagine a conversation between Mary and Jesus peppered with Mary saying phrases like, “No sir. You had best. And I don’t think so”. Because Mary had been in on the full story of who Jesus was from the very beginning. Mary, more so than any other human. Mary who fed him, loved on him, dried his eyes and patched up his skinned knees. Mary who had carefully tended God’s most definitive gift of love to us. She knew what he could do. And for whatever reason she knew that he should show himself at that moment. And despite possibly being little sassy with her, Jesus does do something. He shows just how abundant life with God is.
Jesus doesn’t just turn the water into some adequate wine. Not the kind of wine that I buy for cheap at Traders Joe’s hoping that it doesn’t taste like rubbing alcohol and Welch’s grape juice mixed together. No. He brings forth the best. The finest wine. The best for last. Enough and more than enough.
So Jesus’ first noted act of showing the world who he is begins with abundance. The gospel doesn’t say that these hosts were somehow especially deserving of this great miracle. The bride and bridegroom are not noted as being some kind of super special people. Jesus just begins by showing us all how wonderful and good and unexpected and full the abundance of God is. The whole wedding party is worthy of this abundance just because they are guests at the feast.
Although we are fortunate enough to live with tremendous abundance of material goods in our daily lives, I would say that the overall tenor of our culture skews far more towards a culture of scarcity. Brene Brown, a noted researcher, calls this the culture of “never enough”. When she interviews people she says that it takes nano seconds for them to fill in the phase Never ____ enough. We are never thin enough, rich enough, good enough, smart enough, safe enough. The string of not enough’s in our society never ends.
Brown says that comparison to one another and its dangerous cousin nostalgia, when we compare ourselves to our edited memories of the past are symptomatic of this never enough state, we live in. She has spent much of her early research years studying where this sense of scarcity takes hold in our communities. The root much of the problem derives from shame, not shame of ourselves as a community, but our individual sense of not being worthy enough.
For her the opposite of scarcity is not abundance but wholeheartedness, and wholeheartedness is way of living life from a place of worthiness. Wholehearted living embraces our own imperfections and vulnerabilities while holding above that the truth that we are worthy of love and belonging. As I see it, the foundation of this wholehearted living is the abundant love of God.
Last Sunday, David began his sermon by declaring the God given worth of Eloise, the newest member of this fold who was baptized that day. He reminded us that God has created her uniquely to be Eloise and that there was not one soul like her and there never will be. She is always worthy of the abundance of His love. She belongs in her family, in this church, in this community, in this world. Eloise is enough just as she is.
Paul touches on this when he tries to explain to the people of Corinth how each of them is uniquely outfitted to bear witness to the love of God. All of us given gifts like wisdom or faith or healing. We are each of us uniquely equipped to share with others this abundant love we like Eloise are heirs to.
These gifts and claim to worthiness do not mean that Eloise or you and I will never experience hardship or lack or need. That is not the promise of the fullness of God’s love. The promise is that we are members of the feast and worthy of being served from the new wine. We are loved and held worthy in a way that completely surpasses the way we humans can truly comprehend. But when we are living wholeheartedly, not afraid of not being enough, it is far easier to taste and see.
Maya Angelou in Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now, recounts how she came to recognize her place in the scheme of God’s love. While working with a voice teacher she was asked to read a passage that ended with the words “God loves me”. She says that at that point in her 20’s she was an acting agnostic. After finishing the piece, the teacher told her to read it again. She sarcastically repeated,” God loves me.” “Again,” he said. Angelou says that “after the seventh repetition I began to sense that there might be truth in the statement, that there was a possibility that God really did love me. Me, Maya Angelou. And that she suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all.”
What Angelou writes next gob smacked me I first read it as a 20-year-old and these words have rolled around in my head ever since.
She says of the truth of her belovedness to God, that knowledge humbles me, melts my bones, closes my ears and makes my teeth rock loosely in their gums. And it also liberates me.
When we come at the world from this place. From the place of the freedom where our worth is claimed through God’s love, because we are guests at the wedding feast, because He has made us to be loved and belong and be loved and share His love with others through the gifts given to us. From that place, the culture of scarcity that surrounds us doesn’t stand of a chance of breaking us. There are no more “never enoughs”.
The psalmist today says, For with you is the well of life, And in your light we see light.
This Epiphany season, is the season of light. The time when we remember the revealing of the light of Christ to the world and to our own hearts. And if we are able to see ourselves and others illuminated by this light I am convinced that what we will see is God’s abundant love. Life with God does not include any never enough’s but only the Never stops trying, Never failing, Never ending love of God for all of His creation.