2004—Second Sunday in Ordinary Time—C
For the past five years, as the President of Regis College in Toronto, I have had the dubious distinction of being regularly asked to lead prayer for a group of professional and student theologians. Just try to imagine the number of footnotes that were required at the end of our Apostles Creed!
In order to stay out of trouble as much as I could when preaching, I used to rely a great deal on one of my favorite theologians (but one of the world's lesser known ones). He rarely disappointed. And despite his death only a few years ago, he still does not disappoint even in re-runs. I am referring to the late Charles Shultz of "Charlie Brown" and "Peanuts" fame.
Just last week, a repeat strip had Charlie and his young brother Linus engaged in serious conversation. Linus turns to his big brother and says: "I have a theological question." "When you die and go to heaven, are you graded on a percentage or on a curve?" Charlie answers quickly: "On a curve, naturally." "How can you be so sure," asks Linus. "And Charlie concludes: "I'm always sure about things that are a matter of theological opinion."
At this moment in our own church's life, at a time when opinions, theological and otherwise, seem to divide us ever more viciously and even violently at times, good old Charlie Brown reminds us again that there are only some truths, some few essentials, that can hold us together. There are some essentials, some ordinary convictions by which we are all invited to actually live our lives. These are important. And then there is the rest: opinions about which we can be certain, or at least mostly sure, or not even care very much.
Today's readings offer some of those essentials.
From Isaiah, we hear what God's judgment was, is, and always will be on God's people. "You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God. No more shall anyone call you "Forsaken," or your land "Desolate." But you shall be called "My Delight," "As bridegroom delights in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you."
There is nothing we can do to change God's opinion of us, and God is delighted in us—just the way we are! When was the last time you heard us preaching that essential to each other? That we should delight and rejoice in ourselves because that's what God does? I'm afraid we have specialized, rather, on telling each other what has to be fixed in order for God—let alone the rest of us—to find me attractive. But this word is a deep conviction spoken at the heart of the Hebrew scriptures. God delights in you, in us!
On to a second essential: St. Paul, in one of his more inspired moments, sings of the celebration of diversity within this community called "Delight." Everybody has a God-given, Spirit-driven, gift to be cherished and shared. And they are all different gifts—some more strange and much less obvious than others. Just look around this church—discretely please! Our invitation—the ordinary invitation of "Ordinary Time"—is not to chastise and correct each other endlessly, not to tell each other how to conform and look "normal" in our spiritualities and faith, but to celebrate the strange and sometimes even bizarre uniqueness that makes us a community of believers.
And John's gospel passage provides the perfect, simple model of that essential belief. A simple, relatively quiet, still young woman, Mary, Jesus' mother, appears in one of the more theologically controversial scenes of John's gospel: the wedding at Cana. Theologians have opined for centuries about the significance of this passage. But in her recent, extraordinary book Truly Our Sister, Elizabeth Johnston cuts through much of the opinion. One thing that is certain in this scene is that Mary serves as a model of faith, a model of that kind of simple belief in her son that makes disciples. Without ceasing for a moment to be his mother, she becomes in faith much more. Her words (among the few she ever has in gospel accounts) are so simple: "Just do whatever he tells you." She sounds like a Nike add: Just do it! This, too, is essential!
Today he may tell you to fill buckets of water and wait. Tomorrow he may tell you to drop what you're doing and follow him. Finally all he says to do is love one another. It may be puzzling, and hard to figure out how, but, in the end, it is not that complex. Just: Do whatever he tells you. Love one another.
Opinions that divide us are sometimes like so many beautiful, but distracting, trees; today we are invited not to miss the forest.
What would our church look like if we could hear today's three-fold invitation to the essentials? What would any of our churches look like? What might Christian unity look like (as we pray for it again this week).
To never hear the chastising word that says "You're not good enough," "You're defective," "You're desolate." To never hear that negative word again—not even in the quiet of your own heart. Because God's word says: "You look marvelous." "You are marvelous." I take delight in you!
And to never hear again that your gifts—lofty or smallish—are not welcome here! To never hear difference proclaimed as inferiority again. To know that there is room at this table for everyone's gifts, for everyone's life, for everyone's loves and for everyone's dreams.
These things really are essential. Let Charlie Brown be sure about the other theological opinions. Listen to Mary: do what he tells you. Love one another.