A song we sang for Thursday night prayers, “God the Sculptor of the Mountains” begins with this verse:
God the sculptor of the mountains, God the miller of the sand, God the jeweler of the heavens, God the potter of the land: you are womb of all creation, we are formless shape us now.
And the last verse is:
God the unexpected infant, God the calm determined youth, God, the table turning prophet, God the resurrected truth: you are present every moment, we are searching meet us now.
I love the images of this song: from God, sculptor, miller, jeweler, potter, womb of all creation, to God table turning prophet, resurrected truth, present every moment, we are formless, shape us, we are searching, meet us, now.
God, the table turning prophet is who we see today in Jesus. How did you react? Do we want to sing in response, “we are searching meet us now?” Or is this table turning Jesus too frightening, too challenging to want to meet at all.
There is something unique about this story of Jesus in John’s Gospel. Unlike the other three Gospels, where Jesus overturning tables and driving out animals and merchants comes at the very end of Jesus’ ministry and is specifically connected to the authorities plotting and finding a way to have Jesus arrested and killed, John’s Gospel places Jesus overturning tables right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, following just after Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana.
In that story Jesus joins in the wedding celebration and when the wine runs out, at his mother’s bidding Jesus makes water into the best wine in extravagant abundance. From the wedding banquet hall and a marriage feast without end, Jesus enters the temple and seeing people selling animals and changing money, he makes a whip and drives them all out, pouring out the money and overturning their tables and shouting, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” Like the Psalmist, “Zeal for God’s house consumed him,” the disciples thought.
Jesus, maker of water into new wine so the wedding joy can go on and on. Jesus, the table turning prophet, full of zeal for God’s house. Wedding guest of compassion and joy. Zealot for God and God’s purposes and people. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry begins with and continues to express both abundance and challenge. We are searching, meet us now.
The pandemic has, and in many ways continues to overturn the tables of our lives, communities and world. In just over a week, it will be one year since we closed the church for worship and all gatherings as Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic. It was like the wine had run out at a wedding. Sunday, March 15 was our last in-person worship and on Thursday, March 19 we experimented with Lenten worship online and by Sunday, March 22, worship was entirely online and has been every Sunday and festival day since. We give thanks for everyone involved in making that table turning shift possible, and if we may acknowledge specifically, especially Brian, our Cantor/choral director turned online producer in a matter of days! And with the dramatic shift in worship, so also the shift in contact and care for one another and others, in meetings of every kind, and day to day working and overseeing and supporting our church with thanks to those in leadership in our congregation, synod, national church, and everyone! in this and every church and community of faith that adapted and supported and continued to be God’s people together. It was like Jesus turning water into new wine. And we know as much as the pandemic impacted us as a church, how much more it has profoundly impacted the world, in health and health care, livelihoods and living conditions, mental health and wellbeing, in death and losses and profound grief, in connections and community, and as we continue to learn, especially for those more and most vulnerable, elders, those living in poverty, people in racial, ethnic, sexual, gender minorities, those with physical and mental health and ability challenges. Hardly a table has not been overturned by the pandemic, and we have seen and know the suffering and death, and we have seen and tasted the new wine of God’s making, in heroic and ordinary acts of compassion and care, in disparities and inequities exposed, in new vaccines and new hope for a new wedding feast for all.
I am not suggesting the pandemic is God’s doing, any more than changes to the earth and its climate are God’s doing, as much as both and all of this is overturning the tables of humanity and the whole world. But as we experience this reality before us, are we seeing, calling upon, inviting, God the table turning prophet, God the resurrected truth, God, present every moment, we are searching, meet us now.
What does it look like to invite and meet Jesus the table turning prophet in our lives? As we recognized as a community, February was Black History month. The recent issue of “Canada Lutheran” was titled “Black Lives Matter.” In the issue, editor Kenn Ward writes about the challenge in the past of producing quality photographs in the magazine of the faces of people of colour and questions why he did not see and challenge this before. In the feature article by Janelle Lightbourne, she shares brief stories of black leaders in the ELCIC, their experiences of systemic racism and exclusion, and their prayers and hopes and dreams for their church to be a church that sees and looks like and celebrates them and their gifts as God’s people, including and especially in our national leadership, staff and council. The author encourages and challenges our seeing, asking and hearing the stories of Black, Indigenous and other people of colour in and around our churches and their experiences of systemic racism in ourselves and in the ELCIC. Can we see Jesus turning over tables and driving out exclusion and racism among and within us as we see and lift up our siblings of colour in the church together toward a more inclusive and diverse church and world, as God always intended God’s house to be? We are searching, meet us now.
On Wednesday evening, MLA Murray Rankin, Minister for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation was with us at a Dessert and Dialogue hosted by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. It was a good evening of presentation and conversation about what the BC legislature’s unanimous adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples means for Indigenous people and all of us in this province and nation. There was recognition of this important action, and of the challenges of implementation and realization of those rights for Indigenous peoples in BC and beyond. There were also respectful yet challenging questions about what is and is not changing in the province’s responses to Indigenous concerns and claims, to territory, to free and informed prior consent for projects on Indigenous lands, response to protests and more. I could see Jesus the table turning prophet meeting us there as we search for truth and justice and redress and equity toward reconciliation together. We are searching meet us now.
And we could name other table turning challenges before us. Our Bishops issued a letter this week lifting up the WCC initiative of “Thursdays in Black” against gender-based violence and in solidarity with those affected by it, including domestic violence in what the UN has called, “the shadow pandemic,” increasing the suffering and taking the lives of women and children and others in the midst of lockdowns and restrictions that have further isolated them. God/Jesus we ask you to join us in overturning the tables of this violence, and every form of suffering; we are searching, meet us now.
After Jesus turns over the tables and drives out all that is preventing God’s house/world from being the place of prayer in loving word and action that God always intended, Jesus is challenged to show by what sign or authority he did this. Jesus makes the outlandish claim that they destroy this temple and in three days he will raise it up. They dismiss Jesus’ foolish sign! But the Gospel writer tells us, Jesus’ disciples later understood what Jesus was saying, in himself, destroyed on the cross, but raised up to resurrected life for the world. And they believed. As they did at the wedding feast with new wine that would never run out. They believed. As we are invited and given the abundant grace to believe and trust in the table turning prophet, the resurrected truth, we are searching, God meets us, meets this world and all God’s children and creatures, now and always. Let it be so. In all our relations. Amen.