It’s Not All Up to Us
Updated: Jan 18, 2022
St. Philip Lutheran Church
16 January 2022 + Lect. 2c (Epiphany 2)
Rev. Josh Evans
If you tuned in for my sermon on the Third Sunday of Advent, you already know I’m quickly becoming a self-identified Dungeons and Dragons nerd. Not only have I gotten myself involved in two different campaigns, but I’ve also started watching others play the game on a weekly popular internet series.
In D&D, before you even start diving into a campaign and playing the game, teamwork and collaboration are critical - especially as you’re creating your character, who will eventually meet the other characters in their adventuring party. It’s important to have a good mix of classes - including spellcasters, healers, brains, and muscle. The diversity of skills and abilities is crucial for the adventures, tasks, and combat that lie ahead - and you quickly learn to rely on the skills and abilities of your fellow adventurers to make it through together.
D&D is a game that reminds us of an even broader truth: It’s not all up to us by ourselves.
When we think of the miracle stories in our gospels, we tend to focus on the action of Jesus - the one “performing” the miracle - whether it’s healing, feeding, or even raising someone to life. But in this first miracle story - the first of seven such stories called “signs” in John’s gospel - there’s a crucial detail we miss if we only focus on the action of Jesus.
Notice how the story begins: “The mother of Jesus was there…” (Oh, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited…) Almost like a parenthetical aside… but now back to his mother. John specifically mentions her twice in his gospel - once here and once several chapters later during the crucifixion. That inclusion at pivotal moments should pique our attention: this is important.
Jesus’s mother becomes the catalyst for this story. She’s the one who notices there’s no wine left, and she’s the one who approaches Jesus to do something about it. It makes you wonder: Does she know something that everyone else doesn’t yet?
Whatever the case may be, this story seems to highlight more than a miracle of abundance. This miracle also begins with relationship and dependence.
There is no traditional nativity story in John’s gospel. Instead, it begins with a poem-like prologue about the Word who became flesh, whose identity John ultimately reveals as “God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart…” Though perhaps a better translation would be “close to the Father’s breast” – conveying the intimacy of a parental relationship and the utter dependence of a newborn child on their parents.
That’s chapter one. Then, only a handful of verses later, we meet the mother of Jesus. John never calls her Mary, but I don’t think he forgot her name. Instead, I think John is trying to make the link explicit: Jesus is dependent on both his parents, his heavenly Father and his earthly mother. In a way, these two chapters together are like an origin story.
From that perspective, the story that follows is a story about a relationship between a mother and her son. Without his mother’s role in this story, Jesus might have never known about the hospitality crisis at the wedding. Without his mother’s insistence that her son do something, there might have never been a miracle story at all.
Jesus needed his mother in order to tap into his potential and live into his identity and calling.
We, too, need each other in order to live into our calling.
In D&D, an adventuring party of exclusively fighters and barbarians would become pretty useless pretty quickly without a cleric or a druid to cast a healing spell when someone goes unconscious. And without the fighters and barbarians, well, good luck, everyone else…
You get the idea: We need each other. We need the community. Because it’s never up to any of us by ourselves (thank God!).
In seminary, the first class I ever took was the Theology of Martin Luther King Jr. In that class, I got to experience Dr. King as a pastor and theologian, in addition to the activism he’s most well-known for.
In his sermons and other writings, King often spoke of “the beloved community” as a community born out of the principles of nonviolence and transformational justice-seeking love. In biblical terminology, we might call this the kingdom of God – the same kind of community Jesus was building.
Like any good community organizer, King understood that building the beloved community was not a solo effort but one that required collaboration. Even Jesus had his mother and his (at least twelve but probably more) disciples.
The work of transformational justice-seeking love that King and his fellow civil rights leaders so passionately strove for, that Jesus and his disciples strove for, is the work to which we too are called. The work of tearing down every dividing wall between us – the walls of racism and prejudice, classism and economic inequality, homophobia and transphobia, sexism and gender discrimination… the list goes on…
And if that list overwhelms you, you’re not alone. Where do we even start? Will we ever topple even one wall?
Dear friends, we start together. We will mess up together. We will fall short together. But we will work together, as we strive for the beloved community of the kingdom of God. It might not be fully here yet, but already it is breaking into our midst – starting here, every time we gather around word and table to hear and remember the story of a God whose self-giving love pours out their very life for us.
Paul didn’t tell the Corinthian church community that they were each expected to be it all and do it all. Instead, Paul reminded them that there are varieties of gifts, each given out by the same Spirit, for the common good.
None of us is expected to be it all or do it all. That is why we gather week after week as a church community.
We need each other in order to live into our calling. We need each other to live into the fullness of who we are created to be. We need each other to be able to share God’s extravagant love with the whole world.
It’s not all up to us by ourselves. And that’s okay.
We are church together.