God of the Margins

Rev. Sarah Buteux
January 20, 2013
Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
Isaiah 62:1-5; John 2:1-11

 
Watch this sermon here or on Youtube.
 
For it is time. It is time for all of us who follow Christ to recognize him and to proclaim him. It is time to be prophetic about the Christ we know is present in the folks who are pushed aside, dismissed, left out, undermined, underfed, unhoused, or simply unseen and unheard. It is time for the people of God to stop marching along with the status quo in search of security, power, and control, but to stumble instead towards the margins where we will encounter a magic and a mystery that will plunge us trembling but rejoicing into the Realm of God. – Edwina Gately, Christ in the Margins
 
Pecha kucha.
 
Has anyone here ever experienced a pecha kucha?
 
Does anyone here know what a pecha kucha is?
 
Isn’t that a south American herb that can be steeped into a hot beverage?
 
No, that’s Yerbe Matte?
 
Is it a pre-Columbian Inca site in Peru?
 
No, you’re thinking of Machu Pichu.
 
Is it a little yellow Japanese monster?
 
Nope, I’m pretty sure that’s Pokemon, but hey now we’re getting close, because Pecha Kucha is a Japanese concept.
 
Pecha Kucha, which is actually the Japanese word for chit-chat, is a method someone devised to re-invigorate the good old power-point presentation we all don’t love so much.
 
When someone presents a pecha kucha, rather than listen to them read slowly through the bullet points they have suspended over their heads as they slowly drift from slide to slide, they need to keep their presentation moving because the image above them changes every 20 seconds whether they are ready or not, and the whole presentation is limited to 6 minutes and 40 seconds.
 
It’s a format that allows you to hear from multiple speakers in a short period of time, and down in Memphis last week I heard 18 of these bad boys in rapid succession. Presenters spoke on everything from the spiritual discipline of running to the value of holding church in your local pub.
 
Jay Baker, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye, talked about himself as Batman and the church as Gotham as we glimpsed close-ups of all the Batman dioramas he’s made over the years. Presenters talked about art, music, raising children, even hunting, but two of my favorite Pecha Kuchas were created by women, the first of whom talked us through her vacation to NYC.
 
Now I’m not going to presume to know how old Suzanne was, but let’s just say she was more baby boomer then Gen-Xer, and I thought it took a lot of guts to get up on that platform amidst all those techno-savvy “kids” and tell us about the trip she and her husband took to the Big Apple to celebrate their anniversary. But she did, and she nailed it.
 
Suzanne is married to Joe, a former Catholic priest. Her photos took us through their tour of the city, past bakeries and dressy stores, all the way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral just in time for worship. However, because of Joe’s status as a former priest and their membership in the Methodist church, neither of them was truly welcome at worship or able to partake of the Eucharist.
 
And so, rather than head toward the center of the Cathedral, a place where her husband had belonged for the better part of his life, Suzanne and Joe kept to the margins.
 
They moved quietly and reverently around the edges. Joe lit a candle before the patron saint of his former order; prayers were whispered, tears were shed, and then they headed out the door to go see the Broadway musical “Once.”
 
Suzanne told us about the play and the love story at its center, and then told us how, at the end of the show, all the scenery was pushed aside, a bar was moved in, and everyone was invited up on to the stage to share a drink with the performers. All the boundaries melted away as actors and audience members shared a pint and got to know one another.
 
 She didn’t come right out and say it - she didn’t have too- but it was clear where they found communion that day in New York. Banned from St. Patrick’s, Suzanne and Joe celebrated on Broadway. If her Pecha Kucha had a title, it would have been, “Where I found Jesus on My Vacation,” …and it wasn’t in the church.
 
The second presentation I want to tell you about came from the Pastor of LaSalle Church in Chicago, a racially diverse congregation with a past that is so complicated I can’t tell you what denomination it belongs to and I’m not sure they can either, but I think it would be fair to call it a progressive evangelical church.
 
Her talk was about the price of that progress.
 
Laura Truax, the pastor, shared for 6 minutes and 40 seconds about her church’s journey toward full inclusion for all GLBTQ people, and how hard and yet grace filled that journey was.
 
She told us that when she began her ministry at LaSalle, sure everyone was welcome in their church – it was a church after all - but it was more of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” sort of welcome.
 
The trouble was that people needed to tell. They needed to tell who they really were and be told that they were really welcome, because the truth is that it’s terribly hard to be an authentic person of faith when you feel you have to check the better part of your identity at the door.
 
So the folks at LaSalle carefully and prayerfully and at times painfully began a conversation about what it would mean to be a truly inclusive community.
 
And, as you might expect, people left... they always do. Pledges dropped. The Seminary down the street banned its students from attending La Salle, and for a time there it was hard. It was really hard. But, given that their vision of who God was calling them to be was centered around being an authentic community of faith, it was also necessary.
 
 Laura closed by saying that people often ask her if it was worth it, at which point the slide behind her revealed an image of Jacob and an angel.
 
“I tell people about how hard we wrestled, with God and as a community, to get to this place,” she said, “and there is no doubt that we are walking now with a limp, but we’re still walking. There is a price to pay when you engage in something like this. But the price is worth it,” she said with a smile, “because God…God is always on the side of the oppressed.”[1]
 
***
 
Take a look at the meditation in today’s program. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the greatest heroes, not just of this country, but of our faith, once said:
 
I choose to identify with the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to give my life for the hungry. I choose to live for and with those who find themselves seeing life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. This is the way I'm going. If it means suffering a little bit, I'm going that way. If it means sacrificing, I'm going that way. If it means dying for them, I'm going that way. Because I heard the voice saying: do something for others.
 
Friends, we remember the Rev. Dr. King primarily for his work around de-segregation and civil-rights, but I think it is vital to remember that King didn’t stop there. He didn’t stop with the Black community, because King saw all people as a part of his community; but particularly those who were suffering, those who had been cast down, those who had no voice because they had no power.
 
King expanded his work beyond de-segregation in order to take on the war in Vietnam and the injustice of poverty. He was planning a national occupation of D.C. called the “Poor People’s Campaign,” when he was assassinated on the streets of Memphis.
 
 He tackled race, war, and poverty head on and surely wouldn’t have stopped there, if a bullet hadn’t stopped him first, because once you understand the full truth of what Pastor Laura said, once you understand that God always sides with the oppressed, you can’t stop siding with them either… not if you’re truly trying to follow God.
 
And yes, I know it can get confusing. I know how easy it can be to lose our way. I know how easy it can be to assume that just because someone is more important than other people down here must mean they are somehow more important to The Other up there, but Jesus from the moment he was born to the moment he died came to show us that God doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t think that way. God doesn’t ascribe value that way.
 
In fact, if Jesus’ life demonstrates anything, it is a preferential option not for the privileged and the powerful, the rich and the mighty, but for the poor and the powerless, the unloved and unlikely.
 
Born in a stable, raised in Nazareth (“can anything good come from Nazareth?”), baptized in the wilderness, Jesus began his life on the margins and remained there throughout, ministering on the fringe to the poor and the outcast, the blind and the lame; a shepherd of lost sheep, a physician to those who could never hope to pay the bills.
 
Even in today’s story, a story we tend to think of as nothing more than a straight up account of Jesus’ miraculous powers, even this story bears witness to his heart for those on the margins.
 
Jesus and his ragtag new band of disciples are at a wedding. The wine runs out. Quite possibly because Jesus and his ragtag new band of disciples are at the wedding. And Jesus’ mother, not wanting the host to be shamed, calls Jesus’ attention to the fact.
 
So what does Jesus do? He steps outside. As the party continues without him, he walks around the great stone jugs that have been put in place so people can wash themselves before they leave for home and he asks the servants to fill them with water.
 
 “Now draw some out,” says Jesus, “and take it to the chief steward.” The servants comply and the chief steward is amazed! But notice that he is not amazed because Jesus has just preformed his first miracle, because the truth is, he has no idea that a miracle has even occurred.
 
He is simply amazed because the wine is good, really good, much better than anything they’ve yet brought out and usually, at least when it comes to wine, you lead with the best while people are still sober enough to appreciate it.
 
The steward says as much to the groom: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” The groom, for his part, has no idea what the steward is talking about and it doesn’t matter because the crisis is averted. The party goes on. The wedding is saved. Only no one on the inside knows how or why.
 
This is the first of Jesus’ signs, his first miracle as recorded in the gospel of John, and one of his most famous miracles to boot, but only his mother  (a woman who is not even named in this gospel, though I think you know who she is), a handful of servants, and his rag tag bunch of disciples, know it has even occurred.
 
The people at the center of this story have no idea that God is present and at work, but -as is so often the case – it is the ones on the margins that do. The people on the margins know Jesus because that is where Jesus is and that is where Jesus remains.
 
He came, not just as one willing to identify with the underprivileged, the poor, and the hungry, but as a God willing to live without privilege even if it left him poor and hungry. He chose to live for the outcast and excluded- all those for whom life is a long and desolate hallway.
 
He chose suffering. He chose sacrifice. Because that is who Jesus was and that is who Jesus is. He didn’t just hear the voice, Friends he was the voice, a voice that is still speaking and calling us to the margins where he works and where he waits for his disciples to come.
 
God is always on the side of the oppressed.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
Let us pray. O Lord, open our eyes to where you yet sit and wait amongst us that we might open our hearts to you, that we might serve you, that we might find it in our hearts to sacrifice all we have and all we are for you. Grant us courage. Grant us wisdom. But above all, grant us a love that transcends all earthly boundaries that we might love as you loved and live and you lived, always on the look out for those we might help and heal. May we be your disciples in word and in deed, in all we say and in all we do, with each and every person we encounter. Amen.
 
[1] In both cases I am trying to reconstruct the words of these women from memory. Although they may not have said exactly what is written here verbatim, I think I’ve caught the gist of what they said. I am, however, open to correction.