The Idle Churches
In the previous blog post we saw how John used the first sign from the Book of signs, the turning of water into wine to expose the true condition of the religion of the Jews of the day. It had become infected with idleness, inertia and irrelevance. It warrants us being detained by it for a second episode because there is evidence of that reality as we examine the state of the church and even if one was to objectively say that their church has not been thus infected it should spur them towards vaccinating themselves against it. Let’s listen to John’s account at 2: 6 – 10: “6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to
Remember we pointed out that the water pots used in ceremonial cleansing were the key item in this narrative. John tells us where they were, what they were supposed to have been used for, their capacity and that they were empty. Idleness, inertia and irrelevance is what Jesus saw of the religion. In this sign he demonstrates the antitheses of dead and use religion. He harnesses that immediately recognizable symbol of that religion and displays his glory, a gory that brings abundance. He brought productive work, dynamism, and an abundant supply of hope in the time of crisis. There is a qualitative and a quantitative excellence to that which Jesus brought. The supply of wine measured 120 to 180 gallons. Jesus lavishes God’s provision on the wedding gathering. Just as he would later do on the grassy hillside when feeding the multitude and ultimately do when giving us his flesh to eat and is blood to drink by giving his life on the cross.
The quality of the wine was not missed by the governor of the wedding feast. This governor of the feast would have been a connoisseur of good wine. He takes a sip and knows that this is a superior blend. Not knowing its origin he challenges the Bridegroom on the choice of leaving the best wine stashed away till the guests were practically inebriated. “You have saved the best till now” he said. The communities had had the religious rituals and those who presided over them all this time. But in the fullness of time God brings his best to them. The prophets had come and gone, the high priests and priests were with them but God’s best was now present and there is no mistaking best in the midst of good and better. The Eternal Word, God the one and Only from the bosom of God became flesh and pitched his tent in their midst to explain and expound and clarify God to them. The best was indeed in their midst.
John is telling us this because he wants to us to note that this is the pattern we are to model. When so many of our communities are riddled with churches but there is a gulf fixed between the members of these churches and the residents we have become large empty water pots standing by. When the socio-economic realities which are systemic and in some cases calculated do not make it on the radar of the consciousness of our religion empty water pots fits us as label. When we recall the resounding success of village Bible classes of yester years and the effervescent and viral weekends that were Discover Jesus Missions for youth how can we not say that the water pots are among us. The inertia which has reduced evangelism to a once per year event of the evangelism committee plagues many of our churches. We have and really make the time for everything else but have all the excuses when it’s time to engage in personal evangelism. Where there is any of this happening it is largely the elderly women. Our youth, lettered, and career members are missing, our men are missing. Oh that the passive spirit of Adam over our church men would be broken in the name of Jesus!
Inertia is the order of the day. Our commitment to serving the persons who Jesus served the most, the ones on the margins is lack lustre. We have fallen into the same trap that the religion of the day found itself, ritualism and self-aggrandizing piety. Our shout is loud, our cymbals and chords orchestrated, our gig and dance mirrors that of David at the return of the ark of the covenant but we have little desire and energy for the care of the widows, the visiting of the sick and the imprisoned, the feeding of the hungry. In describing love in 1 Cor. 13, Paul calls that kind of thing an annoying sound. In Isaiah and Amos It is described as a trampling of God’s courts, a revulsive noise, an unrequested waste.
The idleness and inertia extend to our tacit support for flagrant injustice in our midst and in more recent times our open support for racism, bigotry, sexism and an all-out onslaught on truth. Self-preservation backs the faith community into the silence corner, the deaf corner, the blind corner on matters of injustice. News reports of such matters slide by without even awakening a spark in moral centre of our faith communities. The prayer agenda remains unchanged, the weekly activities go on as per usual. Deacons Sam Sharpe and Paul Bogle’s heritage is in jeopardy.
The correlation between our idleness and inertia and our increasing irrelevance should be obvious enough. Where crises abound and the faith community brings no presence, has no discernible difference and is not a dependable influence our piety becomes easily dismissible. We are the representatives of Jesus, therefore we ought to make it obvious that the best is here and available. The people who are all but drunk from consuming false hope and unsatisfying thrills must encounter Jesus in us and be able to exclaim, aha I have finally found the best!