7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. (John 2, NIV)
Mary, the mother of Jesus, knows a need when she sees one. She and Jesus, along with the disciples, had been invited to a wedding in Cana. “They have no more wine,” Mary tells Jesus.
The bride and the groom would be embarrassed. The guests would not be able to drink and celebrate. The best wine had been served and containers had run dry. People might murmur and begin to leave. Mary sets this miracle into motion and tells the servants: “Do whatever [Jesus] tells you.” Jesus, in response, instructs the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”
What is easier to say: “Fill the jars with water,” or “Bring your empty water jars?” The water precedes the wine, but the emptiness precedes the water. I’ve often re-imagined this miracle as the miracle of the empty water jars. Half the battle is stating: “I am empty. I’ve come up short. I ran out of…” When we are able to do that, the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus is still in the business of doing something out of nothing.
Bring your empty water jars that have no water. This is what precedes the miracle of transformation. To say: I have run out of love in this relationship. I have run out of vision in this business. I have run out of patience in this group. I have run out of compassion with the insurmountable needs around me. I am empty.
Herein lies the thin place where the miracle has room to take place. Here Jesus can step in and the Kingdom breaks in. Bring your emptiness. Bring your water jar to be filled up with water. Watch that water turn into wine. It’s a slow process. If you’re here for quick wine, you will miss the gentle grace that comes with the empty in Jesus’ presence. Bring Jesus your empty water jars and do whatever Jesus says.
What or where is your empty water jar? Where do you need God’s provision?
Jesus, in our emptiness, You are near. May we draw close, honestly bringing You our empty water jars. As we bring our offering of emptiness helps us to know that, in Your grace, You accept it as enough. Amen.
16The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. (Matthew 25:14-15, NIV)
For the most part, at first glance, this parable in Matthew seems pretty straight forward. It’s a story about making wise financial investments even in the face of risk. Based on that interpretation it can serve a kind of creed for a variety of types of investments—be it our time, money, or our relational investments (see last Sunday’s Pastor’s Word). Don’t be paralyzed by fear in the face of risk, seek a solid return wherever possible, and enjoy the fruit of good stewardship!
But, when I was preparing to write this, I found some crazy theories by some who argue that it’s not the first two servants who are worth modeling our behavior after, but instead the third: the guy who buries the money in the ground. They say that based on likely money practices of the time, it’s quite possible that servants one and two engaged in exploitive business practices in order to double their money. Their theory is that the two servants were engaged in shady lending practices, the kind that prey on the vulnerable, put them in debt, and charge so much interest that it’s hard to ever get out of it. If this were to be true, the third servant who refuses to participate in such a practice is the exemplar. As farfetched and crazy as the theory may be, let’s just consider what it would mean if these people were right. What would it mean if this was a passage that was more about not participating in exploitation than it was about the fact that God loves wise investing?
Regardless of who’s the exemplar, this possibility challenges us to think about not only the risk and return involved in investing but also the methods by which profit is made. Profit is good, but not if it comes at the exploitation of others. In some ways, it feels hard to know if the money we earn costs others too much along the way. If you’re like me, your investments are managed by a company who specializes in that and whose goal is to ensure you see good returns. And, I’ll admit, I don’t always keep a close eye on things.
But, our investments go beyond the stock market. Think about all the discretionary spending you do: where you shop for clothes, what restaurants you eat at, or what news you pay for. Every choice we make to spend money is a way of investing in systems and goods and communities. And so we can ask ourselves: are we investing in ways that exploit people? Or are we investing in ways that align with God’s redemptive work in the world? If you have investments in the stock market, do some digging. Work to understand if what you’re supporting comes at the cost of others, or if it aligns with Kingdom values.
Gracious God, we want to invest in things that matter to You. We want to invest in ways that are wise and don’t exploit people. Grow our understanding and help us to recognize when we might need to look at things in a different way. Amen
During the pastoral retreat in October last year, our Senior Pastor said that, after 30 years, he still could not recite the vision statement of our church, so he simplified it to "Be a Loving Family to a Broken World", which is also the 2022 annual theme of our church. This makes our vision more specific, conspicuous, prominent, clear, and easier to remember. However, we are almost halfway through the year 2022, can you feel it leading the whole church in that direction ?
I still remember that, after three years of pastoring, a brother asked me one day, "Our church has a vision statement and we set a theme annually but how is your preaching related to the church's vision or theme?” His question left me speechless. Our church’s vision or theme should dominate the direction of all our ministries, but why aren’t my sermons directed at them? Is it because I myself was not clear on the vision, or am I not praying and seeking enough? Really, many times church vision or annual theme are merely spiritual catchphrases or just for reference.
Visions come from God, telling us the purpose of the existence of the church, so that we can focus on God's will, accept the mission from Him and reject what is not from Him, to avoid going astray and wasting the gifts and resources given to us. That being the case, if we do not understand what it means for us to "Be a Loving Family to a Broken World" or how to achieve it, then we should fervently seek God in prayer. But it is interesting that this is most often overlooked, because people tend to be overconfident and quickly come up with plans and strategies based on their own ideas, traditions, and habits. They follow the direction they think is right, isn't it true? Do you remember when was the last time, whether in fellowship, or in church-wide gatherings, you asked God for guidance, direction or clarification about His vision? All we need is to turn our eyes upon Jesus. In order for the church to fulfill God’s purposes, the most important thing is to seek through prayer, which should also be the norm in the church.
God-given visions will always be fulfilled because it defines the value and purpose of our church's existence. There will be failures and doubts in the process of fulfilling the vision of the church, but this is also the time when we learn to trust in the grace of God. The church belongs to God, He will be responsible for her and His will will never fail; We, too, belong to God, and God will never let us down but will use us to fulfill His will.