United Church of Christ

March 4, 2018

John 2: 1-13
Third Sunday in Lent

Women’s Empowerment and Persistent Action

The United Nations engaged in a process between 2014 and 2016 to bring as many voices as possible into the global conversation to identify goals for the betterment of the world. The goals of this process would follow the Millennium Development Goals and create a 2030 agenda for global Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals that emerged include the very comprehensive list.

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The United Church of Christ has been one of the voices in the shaping of these goals and now acts with others in their implementation. The UCC emphasizes community health, sustainable food and water, grassroots education, equitable economic access, and justice, peace and human rights. Throughout all of these goals, women’s empowerment and acknowledgement of women’s persistent action are central. They are important faith resources that the Christian faith brings to the implementation and shape of these Sustainable Development Goals. These are goals of God’s abundance and fullness of life for all. Christian faith brings a qualitative content of love, justice, equity and wholeness to these areas of life.

Encountering the Text

Such women’s empowerment and persistent action is present in the story we encounter in John 2:1-13, the first of Jesus’ public signs that reveal his glory and the kind of reality that is his glory. It is part of the drama that unfolds at the wedding at Cana. Mary, Jesus’ mother, is present and makes things happen. Jesus and his disciples join the wider family and community to celebrate together. This was a wedding that not only brought together two people and two households, but whole communities. As it ends up, this also was a wedding that brought together the ordinary everyday and the extravagant mystery that is Jesus’ ministry.

 Jesus, in his first public sign, turns water into wine. He turns the content of the purification jars from water, meant to limit and wash away things perceived not to belong, into wine that embodies the creation of something new (wine) out of something old and fermented (fruit). It points to who Jesus is and what he does. Jesus transforms the disruption of community into wholeness.

It is not clear in this text whether Jesus knew at the beginning of the day that this would be the setting of this sign. Mary figures prominently in the action of the story as it unfolds and seems to know what is going on both behind the scenes and in the public space of the setting. We get a sense that mother and Son are communicating at a deeper level than just the words recorded.

Mary is fully present at that wedding to which Jesus was also invited. She is involved in the behind-the-scenes work of wedding hospitality, knowing what is going on in the kitchen when neither the other wedding guests nor host have any idea that the wine has run dry. She also seems to know there is greater significance to Jesus’ presence in this place than just empty wine vats.  Mother and Son have some moments of interpersonal tension. She thinks he should do something for which he doesn’t think he is ready. We can almost see her giving him the “mother” look. “You know what you need to do.”  From her persistence, even without words, he must have indicated that he sees her point and changes.  She turns back to the kitchen to set the stage for Jesus’ action -- giving instructions to the servants.  “Do whatever he tells you.”

Mary will not be deterred in doing what she needs to do for the sake of Jesus fulfilling his purpose of abundance for the world.   This action is not unlike women experiencing situations of poverty or displacement, who will not be deterred in their prayer and actions for the well-being of their children. These are women who constantly are figuring out how to get food and clean water and health and education, not only so their families will survive, but will thrive.

When the chief steward certifies that the jars are filled not with water, but with wine, the wedding celebration at hand is saved.  The chief steward continues to praise the host for the generosity and abundance of this good wine served even after the guests have imbibed and may not be paying attention. But those who are paying attention – the servants and the disciples – experience the amazing that comes out of the ordinary and gain a glimpse of Jesus’ glory.  Jesus now is ready to go public with his ministry.  Mary made all that happen.

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The Marys of the world, empowered and persistent in action, help their communities survive and thrive. We see women’s empowerment and persistent action in villages in the Gran Chaco Region of South America that includes some of the most desolate and isolated areas of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. Women would not give up until a water collection system brought a consistent water source into their village. This water not only filled their physical needs, but also produced a greater sense of community among the villagers that leads now to cooperative work in other areas of need.  FRB Link

We see women’s empowerment and persistent action in East Timor. Women in this southeast Asia region, work diligently to create a consistent and clean water supply through newly dug wells and protected springs. Village hygiene and sanitation systems, including public latrines now give households increased access to improved sanitation. 

You are part of all of this empowerment and persistent action through your participation in the UCC’s One Great Hour of Sharing Offering. Your empowerment and persistent action join others to set the stage for signs that point to Jesus’ glory.