[Texts: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11]
Grace, peace, and mercy to you from the Triune God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
These famous words are taken from a speech entitled “I Have a Dream”, which was delivered by The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August of 1963, during the famous March on Washington that he led.
Dr. King, whose life we celebrate and commemorate around this time every year, was probably the most important Civil Rights leader of his time. He provided much-needed leadership to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and early 60s. He advocated for peaceful, nonviolent means of achieving equality and freedom for blacks. Because he won the respect and trust of many prominent political leaders, he was able to gain a platform that was unique in the black community. Though he was assassinated at only 39 years old, his work toward racial justice and equality will never be forgotten.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was to transform the world he lived in. That dream lives on today, more than 50 years later, as we continue to strive toward a world where all are truly equal.
In today’s lectionary readings, we see a lot of transformation going on, too. Our Gospel reading tells us the story of the wedding at Cana. It’s a story most of us are probably familiar with– it’s the one where Jesus turns water into wine. Or, to borrow the words from a well-known Epiphany hymn:
Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, Priest, and King supreme,
And at Cana, Wedding-guest,
In Thy Godhead manifest;
Manifest in power divine,
Changing water into wine.
Anthems be to Thee addressed
God in man made manifest.
I think it’s appropriate that “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise” placed the two stories– this week’s Gospel reading and last week’s– side by side in a single verse. I think they go together well.
Notice that the verse begins with a reference to the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan, which was the subject of last week’s Gospel reading. We spent a lot of time last week talking about water. Remember? We talked about Jesus’s baptism and that scene from The Lion King and the story of the Brownies. And we noticed a theme in all of those stories: water as a tool for revealing one’s true identity.
Last week’s story took place in the context of a baptism. Today’s story takes place in the context of a wedding feast. What happens at a wedding? Well, a lot of things, but it’s primarily about a transformation of identity: two single individuals become a married couple. Right?
Other changes may also happen. Perhaps one or both partners will change his or her last name, as well– our names are a powerful piece of our identity, and changing one’s name indicates a shift in one’s identity. Sometimes, a person becomes a stepparent as a result of marriage. If the couple is not already living together, at least one person is about to change their address– whether they’re moving down the street or across the country from where they grew up. Finances are combined, property is shared, and every decision becomes a team effort. Being bound in marriage to another person is a very big deal– take it from someone who only very recently acquired the legal right to get married.
Yes, many changes may come with being married, even if a couple is already living together and making decisions jointly, and even if no one is going to be changing their last name. But does being married change your identity? That’s a tricky question, because marriage is a sacrament. The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, along with the other six sacraments, is, to quote St. Augustine of Hippo, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”. In other words, in any sacrament– baptism, ordination, confirmation, or what have you– a new identity is not being conferred; rather, one’s already-existing identity is being affirmed. We are not making something new true that was not true before; we are publicly acknowledging and revealing what was already true. For example, Jesus did not become God’s Son when he was baptized. Nothing about his identity changed. That piece of his identity was simply made manifest– it was revealed in a public and sacramental way. When we baptize an infant, that doesn’t make them a child of God; it’s our way of demonstrating that we know that baby is already a child of God, and promising to help the child grow up knowing and living that truth.
Likewise, you don’t get confirmed in order to gain a mature faith in Christ; you get confirmed because you want to publicly profess the faith you already have and reaffirm your vows to live according to the principles of that faith. You don’t get ordained in order to be called to the diaconate or the priesthood; ordination affirms a person’s identity as having been set apart as one called to be a deacon or a priest, and charges them to live a life befitting an ordained person.
Marriage is the same way. You don’t gain a sense of mutual trust, love, respect, and a desire for a shared future by getting married. You get married as an outward sign that you already feel that way about each other, and you are committed to living in a way that manifests that love. It is an outward and visible sign of the love and commitment you already share.
We don’t know the names of the people who got married that day in Cana. We don’t know anything about them, really, except that they knew Jesus– or more likely, his parents– well enough that he made the invite list. The marriage that took place that day, like all marriages, had an element of identity transformation, for reasons we just discussed. If anything in the world has the power to transform, it’s love.
But we also know that marriage is an affirmation and revelation of an already-existing identity. Their identity as a couple– two people committed to spending their lives together in mutual, sacred, life-affirming relationship with one another– was affirmed by their decision to publicly make promises to each other in the presence of God and everyone they loved.
At this wedding, Jesus performed what was, as far as we know, his very first miracle: the changing of water into wine. Jesus’s first miracle is one of transformation– he changes the very substance of a liquid, making it another liquid entirely. (Did you notice that water shows up again here as a means for Jesus to reveal who he is?)
Does the fact that Jesus can perform such miracles mean that he is a different person now? No. Jesus’s identity as God incarnate is revealed– his identity as “God in man” is “made manifest”– by the fact that he has the ability to do this. Jesus reveals himself to be one who can redeem a situation that seems like a disaster. He reveals himself to be one who provides, and not only that, but what he provides is much better and sweeter than what anyone else has to offer. He reveals himself to be an agent of transformation.
And in revealing who he is, he reveals who God is, because he is God.
We are not God, of course, but we bear God’s image. We, like any master artist’s masterpiece, are covered in the fingerprints and brush strokes of our Creator. And, when we behave in a manner in accordance with the nature of God– that image we bear– we reveal who God is.
When we, like Jesus, and like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others who have worked for Godly change in the world, act as agents of transformation, our true identity is revealed– and, in us, God is revealed. When we dream God’s dreams and work with God toward the realization of those dreams, God is made manifest in us.
Blessed are the transformers, God’s instruments of peace and justice and equality in a world that is so often in need of transformation.
Blessed are those who love, and whose love transforms them and those around them.
Blessed are the boycotters, the marchers, the chanters, the protestors, the people who– like the Prophet Isaiah said today– will not be silent until there is justice for all of God’s people.
Blessed are the prophets among us– Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Barack Obama, Pope Francis I, Katharine Jefferts Schori, Malala Yousafzai, Desmond Tutu– and so many others.
Blessed are the truth-speakers.
Blessed are the dreamers.