Driving into the sunrise: an ISS with a view

Following Canadian Astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield’s twitter feed (@Cmdr_Hadfield), I along with over a quarter million other people are fed with a steady diet of inspiring photography from space.

And these photos, nothing short of amazing, are shots of cities and notable geography on our planet. Maybe it’s the perspective, and the real time nature of the photography.

These weren’t photos taken by a satellite a year ago or more you can find on Google Earth. Chris Hadfield takes these photos, and then moments later posts them on the internet: So, I’ve seen the bush fires in Australia as well as the flooding there as it recently happened.

His perspective from 400 kilometres up flying at 8 km/ second challenges my opinion on the way things are on the ground. For example, I may feel completely inundated and overwhelmed by the depth of winter in which we find ourselves now, in the southern parts of Canada. From my perspective six feet off the ground, the snow banks are high; flurries stream in daily from the heavens; the white stuff piles up and covers so much of my world.

And yet, I get a different feel when I view Chris Hadfield’s photos from space. When he’s posted live photos of Ottawa, Montreal, even Edmonton in January of 2013 — you can tell it’s winter from up there, to be sure.

But the photo isn’t completely white, as I would imagine with all this snow. Depending on the Canadian city, white may not even be the half of it. There are dark patches all over the place — sections of lakes and rivers not frozen, glades of forests, exposed rocks — that have thrown off the blanket of snow.

I watched the interview between Commander Hadfield and CBC’s Peter Mansbridge on TV last week. And I discovered Chris Hadfield to be quite philosophical and eloquent about his incredible experience. A veritable Renaissance Man, he is.

I must confess I have caught the bug of inspiration that he is sharing openly with the whole world. He says that his experience has taught him to think more globally and wonder about his place on the planet in relation to other places. When people respond to his twitter feed about the photos he posts, Hadfield is inspired by comments that suggest these places mean something more for people, places that were up until now for many just words on a page, found in an atlas. Therefore, what motivates him in his work is that because of what he does people’s vision of the world is slightly expanded.

Mansbridge asked whether what Hadfield is experiencing, given his awe-inspiring perspective of earth, can be described religious or spiritual. In response, Hadfield spoke of the night in which they were flying eastward over Canada in the dark, north of the Great Lakes towards the Maritimes. He was just able to see the lights of Quebec City and then over the Gaspe, and finally screaming at high speeds towards Newfoundland and Labrador. And just as St Johns came into view, the sun burst over the horizon.

Not just the sudden brightness, explosion of colours or heat of the sun, but the profound beauty of it, he said, brings tears to his eyes. He went on to say that “driving into the sunrise” — which happens 16 times a day for him — is a powerful experience because it is “a magnificent way to understand our planet, and to see our country as one place.”

Valentine’s Day is just over a week from now. And the red hearts, balloons and chocolates in the stores remind us of that great theme in life — love. Saint Paul’s famous speech about the greatest gift (1 Corinthians 13) echoes in our minds as we yearn for the warm fuzzies and relational peace amongst ourselves.

This kind of perspective seems almost out of reach on account of the enduring divisions, both within ourselves, and in the world. We may even have considered “love” as something reserved only for our dreams and fantasies, something expressed only in the fictional world of princesses and princes and childhood aspirations.

When Mansbridge asked Hadfield about the response he got from people after posting photos of Syria where there is much trouble and conflict, he responded: “Trouble and conflict is a basic component of the human experience, unfortunately.” He admitted that it’s not going to get solved by space travel.

But he went on to say that he thinks that if people in conflict could see the world from his visual perspective — “to be able to cross Africa in the time it takes to finish this sentence, to be able to see the whole world repeatedly over and over as one succinct, distinct place where we all live — that view would do a lot of people a lot of good.”

He also said that the ISS is visible from the earth. “If you get up early in the morning, or just before you go to bed, and we happen to be flying overhead, we are still in the light while it’s getting dark on the surface of the earth. There’s a visible example of something going on that is truly international, that is cooperative, that is leading edge that is right there overhead — the brightest star in the sky going around and around the world reminding people of what we can do when we do things right and when we do things together. And hopefully that combination will help to influence at least some people: the combination of understanding how we truly all exist together on a planet and the understanding of what we can do when we work together.”

You know what happens after Jesus announces to the people what his purpose in life is, after reading the holy scripture to the people in the Nazarene synagogue (Luke 4: 21-30). You know the response. It is violent. They want to throw their home boy off a cliff!

We may forget that when the church in Corinth first heard Paul’s words about love, those words didn’t spark the warm fuzzies in them. Paul was addressing a church in conflict, with people’s selfish, compulsive egos getting the better of them. Everything Paul says love is not, they are. Everything that Paul says love is, they are not. They reacted. They must have been angry at Paul for his challenge, his offense, his prophetic, cutting-edge preaching.

In short, both the Gospel story and this famous, idyllic passage about love from Paul tells us that Christianity even with its emphasis on love and grace doesn’t mean it’s all nice and easy and comforting.

Love is not just a feeling. It is action. It is risk-taking. It is going beyond our comfort zones in the same sense that Chris Hadfield risks all to propel his body to the edge of space in a tin can. Love ain’t easy. But the benefit, the outcome, is wonderful, inspiring.

Love exercised with determination, and motivated out of a sense of the greater, common good, for the sake of others; Love demonstrated in acts of courage and principled clarity — this is who we are. This is the Gospel character.

How does Jesus escape almost certain death by the mob who wants to kill him? Right at the end of the Gospel passage, we read that he merely “passes right through them”. Biblical scholars suggest this rather cryptic climax to the story points to the resurrection of Jesus.

As Hadfiled admitted, space travel will not solve the human experience of being in conflict and trouble. But the visual reminders will inspire Canadians, indeed all earthlings, to something better, something cutting edge, something more, something possible that we can do together. Just as small acts of true, meaningful, self-giving acts of love between individuals, families, communities, countries, will not solve all human conflict for all time. But they will stand as constant reminders of what God has called us, ultimately into: new life, resurrection, new beginnings.

We are, after all, all driving into the sunrise.

Holy Place: A Lenten Exercise

A hymn we often sing during Lent and Holy Week, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus”, leads us into an appreciation of physical space.

The title of the hymn suggests that we view Jesus from a certain standpoint, a particular perspective — at the foot of the Cross. It is from this spot on the earth that we look up to Jesus and see what he is doing for us. From this inner stance, we express our faith in the Holy One who died on that Cross to fulfill his Call of Love for us and for the whole world.

The Gospel message of Jesus finds its grounding, its rooting, in the Cross. Of course, we know the end of the story. But even the message of new life, of resurrection, fresh starts, new beginnings emerges from that original place – beneath the Cross of Jesus.

An awareness of where we are, brings us into the holy. The Lenten season is about recognizing a holy place where God meets us and we meet God.

In developing a theme of “A Holy Place”, I invite you to reflect on one space and place in your life you have considered “holy”. Describe it: What surrounded you? Was there anyone with you? What were you doing – being still, physically, or active? What did you sense in this place – smells, sounds, tastes, visions? What happened in the time you were in this place? How did you feel?

And then, consider what about this “holy place” reflects the character of God? Is it quiet or noisy? Funny or serious? Solemn or filled with laughter? Is it in some way gentle and sweet, powerful and overwhelming, or busy and active? Did the holy place come to you quite unexpectedly, like a surprise, or by accident? Or was it the result of an intentional discipline and preparation on your part? What is it about God that this holy place teaches you?

Finally, consider a biblical text, scriptural quote or story from the bible that enhances, converges with and affirms your experience of God in this holy place. Conclude with a short prayer.

Thank God, during Lent, for that holy place.

Once you’ve thought about it, would you, sometimes during the Lenten season, tell someone about your holy place?

Mixed up Christians?

A popular term I’ve heard recently in business circles, as well as in various political attempts to solve conflicts dealing with teacher contracts and Aboriginal-First Nations disputes is: “results-based management.”

A simple Google search will reveal what results-based management principles and strategies are all about. As I understand it, it is a performance driven approach to leadership, bottom-line economics, and mediation. It seems to me, such an approach pre-judges the outcome of an encounter between people who differ in some respect. Its success relies heavily on the exercise of power and who has more of it.

I wonder, though, how results-based management styles square with principles drawn from the more organic approach described in Paul’s illustration of a community of faith being like a human body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). I doubt the interaction of body parts will display health and vigor if one part lords it over another. I wonder if results-based management allows for the possibility of an outcome that neither party pre-meditated and pre-determined prior to their interaction.

The focus of prayer during this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is India. And at last year’s Luther Hostel in Waterloo I learned about some very critical aspects of India’s geography. One of those geographic wonders is the Sundarbans delta in India and Bangladesh.

The Sundarbans delta comprises of a giant estuary. Estuaries are borderlands that are continuously interlaced by the rivers on one side and lashed by the ocean on the other. The Sundarbans is the largest river delta in the world and is bordered by the largest estuarine mangrove forest in the world. It is marked by the coming together of the River Ganges and the Indian Ocean.

This estuary receives two environments that do not blend together easily. Variations in temperature, salinity, and murkiness create downright havoc in the delta. Instability is characteristic of this delta.

But this variability also proves its greatest strength.

The Sundarbans serve as the home for a large variety of animals, among them some endangered species. It’s home to the largest population of Royal Bengal tigers in India and also some of the world’s largest crocodiles, which can get to be over twenty feet long and big enough to hold two grown men. Within the forest bordering the estuary live some fifty species of mammals, about 320 species of inland and migratory birds, about fifty species of reptiles, eight species of amphibians, and about 400 species of fish. They are the breeding grounds for several species of fish and serve as nurseries.

The productivity of an estuary is estimated to be eight times that of agricultural land because of the rich organic material that the river brings in due to the give-and-take in the mixing of river and ocean.

It is no wonder that the word “Sundarbans” means “beautiful jungle” in Bengalese; the paradox of it all: How can a jungle be beautiful? And yet, it is.

Estuaries, in general, are “the schools where lessons of life are taught, where one’s eyes are opened to the reality of the world. They are margins where there is an unveiling, where revelation takes place.” (Mary Joy Philip)

This is a natural example of the mixing of two very different components resulting in a hybrid environment — a new reality. And this new reality can produce so much good for the world.

The positive consequence of mixing two distinct entities is not dilution or dissolving of those entities. For some species that cannot adapt to that changing environment it means total extinction. But for those that can adapt, the result is a transformation which is vital, giving rise to an entirely new, vigorous reality for both.

I think it is possible for distinct beings — whether those beings are groups in society at odds with one another, members of a family, business team, religious or political community in conflict, or a society struggling with its open diversity — to engage one another productively.

But in this coming together, no one can pre-meditate, and manage towards a result that either party wants. The effect and consequence of coming together in mutual respect and as equal creatures, we cannot forsee. But we are in this thing together. And it is only together, not apart, where the solution lies.

Mix it up together, we must.

Proclamation and action

Be the change you want to see. I’ve heard this advice often over the past year. I know I’ve mused about this before. But watching the inauguration of President Barack Obama at the beginning of his second term leads me again to express this desperate need for leaders — for me — to be today: words are not enough.

The president’s effective leadership will be debated for centuries to come, to be sure. But one thing stands out: He will be known for his oration. He can speak. President Obama is a model for any preacher or public speaker. His ability to use words and articulate vision, and bring it from the heart is amazing. His speech writers need to be credited as well!

At the same time, he probably knows that the rubber will hit the road when executive action follows from his words. Proclamation finds its validity in the being and doing of leadership. And then the sparks will fly.

So, who one is and what one does, as a leader, will impress upon the public as much as gifted oration will ever.

Be the change you want to see. Don’t do as I say, do as I do.

I couldn’t help make the connection with the Gospel text (Luke 4:16-22) appointed for the coming Sunday — when Jesus stands up in the synagogue to read from the scroll, the scripture appointed for him to read, from the prophet Isaiah (61). Jesus announces his purpose, his divine mission in the world. Notice the verbs:

“… to proclaim …” appears twice in that short quote from Isaiah. Jesus is called by the Spirit to proclaim release to the captives and the year of the Lord’s favour. Proclamation is part and parcel of, even foundational to, the Chrisitan ministry.

I was raised by two pastors from the Lutheran tradition who taught me that the pastor’s fundamental role was to engage in “proclamation”, in the art of preaching. Homiletics professors in seminary reinforced that mission of the ordained clergy. I’ve always found comfort in that. But why?

Not that comfort is altogether a bad thing. But when the comfort means that I conveniently avoid the other part of the equation, or shy away from it, am I being faithful to that Christian ministry?

Today I notice in younger generations who do not find their heart in the church, they see Christians who talk the talk but don’t walk the talk. I don’t believe they want someone talking to them about what it means to be Christian; they want someone to show them what it means to be Christian. They would, I imagine, be more impressed by Christians and their leaders who behave and act consistently with the proclamation.

For those concerned about effective evangelism, I suspect a church that is led by example more than anything will impress those not normally associated with the church. More so than words, acting in the mission of Jesus towards the poor, the captives, with forgiveness and grace will attract and draw others into that Christian mission and identity.

Not only is Jesus called into a mission of proclamation, the other verbs in that text from Isaiah which he quotes in the Nazarene synagogue at the beginning of his ministry are telling: “…to bring good news…” and “…to let…” These are action words.

What does it mean to bring good news to the poor, and to let the oppressed go free? These compelling verbs bring to life many possibilities in fulfilling, in deed, the proclamation of Jesus Christ in his day, and in our lives together today.

The integrity of Christian Unity

Nearly two hundred Roman Catholics, Anglicans and United Church members packed the church in east-end Ottawa. It was the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. And these people gathered on a frigid Sunday afternoon in January to celebrate Christian unity.

My heart was warmed, since normally what the world sees and focuses upon is the doctrinal infighting and squabbling among Christians from different denominations. But today those differences were placed in the perspective of the underlying basis of our unity of purpose and mission in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen!

Since I was leading part of the prayers and my name and position printed in the order of service I was regarded the token Lutheran in the crowd. Following the service most of the assembly gathered in the parish hall for a festive reception. The energy level was high. People were happy to be together. Small talk and jovial conversation prevailed.

And then, wham!

Who I presumed was a member of the French-Roman-Catholic church approached me with a smile yet determined gate. With coffee in his steady hand, he said in French he wanted to ask me an important question that would demand my full attention. He instructed me to give him three honest and concise reasons why I was NOT Roman Catholic.

My eyes momentarily darted to the heavens for inspiration. Uhhhhh. Okay. Here it goes. From the heart. Concise. I spoke, in English:

1. I was raised in a Lutheran family — born, baptized, confirmed. My upbringing and much of my socialization during my formative years was within the Lutheran church context. That has to be the first, honest answer to his question;

Then I went on the offensive …. 🙂

2. I like the core Lutheran theological orientation originally posited by Martin Luther in the 16th century that we are saved by grace through faith. We are justified by grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone. And not by anything we must do to gain favor with God and with one another. This general approach towards all things church is my theological home, my lens through which I interpret, and my joy in believing and behaving. There isn’t, quite honestly and respectfully, another denomination whose theological emphasis rings quite as true to me as this core Lutheran position. Although I recognize places in other denominations where grace is believed and practiced as such, I choose the Lutheran theological message.

… And then I pushed further ….

3. Lutherans, I said, have taken the middle road in liturgical expression, worship style, even theological nuancing — usually somewhere in between the evangelical conservative, charismatic forms on the one side, and the more contemplative, formal Roman Catholics on the other. The rigidity around those divisions, born in the Reformation era, are dissipating over time, thankfully. And yet, I continue encountering faithful Lutherans — even young ones — who identify neither with extreme, cut-and-dry positions denouncing all ritual and mystery, but who will also not forfeit a reliance on scripture and reason altogether — for example, in celebrating the Sacraments. In other words, Lutherans have normally sought a balanced approach. This, I find, is healthy and good. Very Canadian, I might add.

When I finished, silence ensued in the space between us. Then, came the broad smile. He offered his hand and with a firm shake (which felt a lot like a German hand-shake!) he said: “Very well answered. Thank you. Can we talk more about this later?”

I bit my tongue to ask him why he was not Lutheran. Although I realize that in the give-and-take of inter-denominational dialogue the timing of these questions are critical to keeping the door open to continue the conversation. I look forward to that.

Often I hear from church folk that what they fear from Christian unity is a watering down of our own identity. What some people fear in engaging other Christians and spending more time with them is dissolution of what is important to us. What some fear is a loss of integrity.

I believe it’s the opposite. We don’t lose our integrity. We find it.

In encountering other Christians who are different from us we have the opportunity to distinguish — for ourselves, maybe more importantly — what defines us.

Have we forgotten? Have we become so used to, familiar and comfortable with what we do that we’ve beocme stuck in a rut and take it for granted? Have we forgotten what to say when someone asks us, precisely, about our faith?

The church finds itself at a crossroads today. And one of the ways the church will find its way is not to shy away from opportunities to be with other Christians who are different from us. Unfortunately one reaction to the uncertainty in the world today is to barracade ourselves within a fortress mentality — not seeing beyond the comfort of our church walls and practices. This is a tragic trajectory. Let us not follow the path to cocoon in comfort.

But in celebrating our unity, yes it is a challenge. We are drawn out of ourselves for a moment. And this may make us squirm for a while. But should we stay with it, we will find ourselves within that larger Christian family. And find opporunity to share with others from where we’ve come and what’s important to us. In the end we discover and experience our unity — inner and outer — in our diversity.

Be your colour, show your colour, together

This ‘childrens chat’ can be used in worship during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Invite children to sit on the floor near the altar with you, the leader. Ask each child reach into a shoe box held above their heads to retrieve one coloured pencil. Include a variety of pencils in the box of various sizes, shapes and colours. Provide one large, blank sheet of paper on the floor in the middle of the group of children. Once each child has chosen a pencil ….

Each of you has chosen a pencil crayon from my box. Are you happy with the colour you got?

Why, or why not?

Okay, but can you still draw something with it?

I think so, since I made sure all the markers, crayons and pencils were sharpened and in good working condition before worship today.

Alright, what I would like you to do is think of something you can draw together as a group, given whatever colours you have. How can you do this?

Well, first you might want to ask your neighbour what colour they have. Then, when you know all the colours in play, you can make up a picture that can include all the colours. The picture can be whatever you want it to be, so long as you get each and every colour you have in your group on the paper as part of that picture.

Any ideas? …

As you are colouring your picture together, I want to remind you that God gave each of us a colour in our lives. This colour is like something very special that each of you has — a talent, a treasure, an ability, something you can like about yourself. This is a very special gift that God gave you and no one else. Do you know what your colour is? — your talent, treasure, ability?
If not, that’s okay. Sometimes it can take a long time before you find that out.

This gift is not something we chose to have, just like you couldn’t choose your favourite colour or pencil from the box. All we have to do is reach into our lives, like you reached into the box, to discover what that colour is. When we’ve done that, God wants us to use it!

Part of being the church together is to know your special talent or gift. But also to discover what other peoples’ talents are. And when you know what everyone has, just imagine the neat things you can do as a group.

That’s what being the church is all about. Jesus wants us to work together, using our talents, to paint a beautiful picture — like you are doing now — using all the gifts of everyone in the church. Not just one person’s talent. But everyone’s, together!

Then we can show the bright and beautiful colours of God’s love to the whole world.

Good job!

Let’s pray: Thank you God for creating me. Thank you for giving me a special gift. Help me to know that gift, and learn the gifts of others. Then, bless us with your love, so together with other people, we can use our gifts to show your love to the world. Amen.

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7)

This stuff of earth matters

Popular Canadian author, Louise Penny, in her most recent book, “The Beautiful Mystery”, writes about monks living in a monastery hidden deep in the wilderness of northern Quebec. Their holy order is characterized by a vow of silence. But not when it comes to singing:

Unique to this group of two-dozen cloistered monks is Gregorian chant. Apart from constant silence, they chant their daily, round-the-clock prayers.

A rift develops in this monastic order called “Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups” (St Gilbert among the wolves). The conflict between those supporting the Abbot (the leader) and those supporting the Prior (choir director) deepens until one morning the Prior is found murdered in the Abbot’s secret garden. Now, this religious order ‘among the wolves’ suggests that one of monks themselves is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Some years ago, their murdered Prior had led the group in recording a CD of their most enchanted singing. The recording sold millions, and had provided enough funds to restore part of the monastery building. But apparently more had to be done.

When famed chief inspector Armand Gamache and his sidekick Jean-Guy Beauvoir visit the monastery to solve the murder mystery, they hear from one of the monks the crisis facing this ancient monastery built hundreds of years ago: the foundation is cracking, to the extent that if nothing is done soon the beautiful stone building will collapse.

They also learn that the Prior had recently tried to convince the Abbot to agree to making another recording of their popular, sought-after, Gregorian chant. Doing so could raise enough funds to meet the needs of their aging building. But that would also mean suspending their vow of silence and commitment to remain detached from the world.

The Abbot refused the Prior’s plan. He believed that God wanted them to remain true to their holy calling to observe the vow of silence. By growing their own food and doing their own repairs they would thus fulfill their mission and identity as self-sufficient Gilbertines. All they had to do, according to the Abbot, was to pray that God would provide their every need, and continue as had monks throughout their history to do what they had to do without outside contact or help.

Those monks in support of the now dead Prior argue that God indeed had provided them an answer to their prayers. Using their gift of chanting, God was giving them a way through their predicament. God was giving them the financial help, through the sale of a CD recording, to do just that: solve their need.

I haven’t finished reading this story, so I can’t tell you who dun-it! But what strikes me is that their conflict is very similar to an age-old Christian tension between flesh and spirit.

The story of Jesus turning water into wine in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11) during a week-long wedding celebration suggests not either/or but both/and. Both the spiritual realm and the earthly are important. The church, nevertheless, has placed greater emphasis on ‘spiritual’ matters, often downplaying the stuff of earth.

Yet, if I remember anything from my biblical study in seminary — now, many years ago — it is this: The theology of the Gospel of John, where we find this miracle story, is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). And this theology is very much an ‘earthy’ one; that is, concepts like ‘salvation’ and ‘eternity’ are grounded in real life.

Salvation for the Jewish people was in fact experienced in the exodus from Egypt (i.e. being liberated from slavery) and in the return from exile (i.e. coming home to rebuild Jerusalem after years of captivity in far away Babylon). While throughout the Bible these places like Zion and Babylon, for example, take on symbolic weight in the poetry — especially in the Psalms and Revelation — any ‘spiritualizing’ of these places and events cannot be removed from their actual existence in world geography and history. Salvation is grounded in life on earth. It is the starting point.

Salvation, then, is not just after we die. Salvation is not merely a discussion about heaven. Salvation has just as much to do with our earthly condition and circumstance. And the Gospel message of Jesus — the good news of our faith — addresses just as much and as importantly what is going on between people and their reality on earth, as we pray every week: “Thy kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven.”

The expression of our faith, then, is reflected in what we do with what we have. These things matter: bricks and mortar, soup and sandwiches, money and politics. These are not outside the scope of our concern. Nor God’s.

Martin Luther, when he wrote hymns such as ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’ and ‘From Heaven Above’, he used popular bar tunes to develop the music in these, what we now consider, “sacred” hymns.

From a sacramental perspective, he emphasized that Christians ought to celebrate the Holy Communion as often as they assemble. Why? His passion about the Holy Communion — the bread and the wine — mediating the grace of God was unparalleled among the 16th century reformers.

Of course, God is not bound by any particular way of dispensing grace and forgiveness. But Christians have throughout the ages understood the special, intimate, albeit mysterious way in which the presence and love of the living Jesus is mediated through the sharing of a meal. How more common a human activity than eating!

The ordinary world matters. Material reality is spiritual. It is the starting point for people longing for an authentic experience of the divine.

And yet, to be sure, while the ground on which we stand and the flesh and bones of life are the initial places of engagement with God, that encounter then draws us beyond what is measurable, quantifiable and bound by our reality. We don’t remain stuck in tasting, feeling, touching, seeing. The Christian Gospel points us beyond ourselves to God’s reality which is not bound by human limitation.

While our earthly reality is valuable as a meeting point, a starting point, we begin a journey that continues eventually beyond this life. The wedding at Cana was Jesus’ first miracle. The time had come for Jesus to begin his journey to Jerusalem, death on a Cross, and the empty tomb of Easter. Our vision is not turned inward, ultimately. It is directed onward, outward and upward.

And yet, on this earthly journey, we return to that starting point, over and over again. Back to the table, to be renewed and fed. That is where Jesus waits for us. And spurs us on.

So do not lose heart. Jesus cares. And gives more than we could ask, saving the best wine for last. God cares about every part of our lives, even those Monday through Saturday realities that we might normally exclude from considering “holy”. And God is poised to engage and intersect our lives precisely in those moments of greatest material need as well as joyous celebration.

If anything, reading this familiar miracle story of Jesus gives me comfort and assurance that Jesus will exercise care and compassion to me not just when I’m engaging those more serious acts of piety in worship and formal prayer. But Jesus will provide grace, resources and ‘signs’ especially in the ordinary, commonplace aspects of living life on earth and in community.

And what is more, when those ordinary, material, needs of life are dedicated in service of God and for the love of the world — then I can be confident in faith. I am confident that Jesus will demonstrate the glory of God. God will provide around those very mundane, secular and at-first-glance unholy, irreverent and even jovial circumstances of life.

Open the eyes of our heart, Lord, to see your glory in laughter, in joy and in ordinary living with others. May this awareness lead us to offer your joy and love in providing real, material support in your mission to those in need. Amen.