Harrowing Of Hell
January 23, 2022

The Nature of Transformation

Kelli Martin, Lay Preacher

I am Kelli Martin and I have been a parishioner at Epiphany Parish for over 3 years.

We are in the season after the Epiphany. This is the time in the liturgical calendar when we reflect on how God became incarnate, meaning when God reveals God’s self, the manifestation of the divinity of Jesus Christ. This is the time when we do the work. The work that God calls us to do as Christians, as followers of Jesus.

Since this is a learning church, I learned in Bible Study that this season after the Epiphany is marked by three events: the magi visiting baby Jesus, Jesus’ baptism, and the wedding at Cana.

What happens in today’s Gospel of the wedding of Cana is the start of Jesus’ public ministry. It is also the revelation of something else: when the divinity of Jesus Christ is revealed and put before us front and center.

In our cultural lexicon, we might think of the wedding at Cana being this event where Jesus is like a magician turning water into wine before everyone’s eyes. At least that was how I’d always thought about it before coming to this church.

But that’s the thing when knowledge transforms you: God is always saying something to us. What is this story of Jesus turning water into wine saying to us? What does this story say about our God?

What it says is: THIS IS HOW GOD SHOWS UP. It might not be how you would design or storyboard God showing up, but this is what we have. This is how God shows up: by Jesus transforming water into wine. God calls on us to do the same thing: to transform.

That’s a meaty word isn’t it: transform. What’s amazing to me is I think this story offers us a new way to think about transformation.

Transformation means a thorough, complete and dramatic change in form or appearance.

We see that happening in today’s Gospel, when Jesus, his mother and his disciples are at this wedding. The wine runs out. Mary expects Jesus to do something. She says to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus seems not concerned with this lack of wine, he’s concerned about timing. “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.” But Mary knows her son. Mary says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” And he turns 120 – 180 gallons of water into wine.

What struck me about today’s story is what it reveals about transformation: transformation can often be quiet. Yes, dazzling transfigurations can happen, as we’ll see in the Lectionary readings later. But in today’s story, it is only a handful of people who know it was Jesus who turned the water into wine. Jesus knows, his mother knows, his disciples and the servants know. That’s it. The bride and bridegroom do not know it was Jesus. Even the chief steward and the wedding guests don’t know.

Our transformations don’t have to happen in a big crowd or be heralded by others. Sometimes it can be just between a few people. Sometimes it can be between God and you. Transformation is often quiet, it is often anonymous and it is often modest.

What this story might show us is that our transformation is often ushered in by someone else. In this case, Jesus’ turning water into wine may have been ushered in by Mary. She knows her son. She knows that Jesus always listened to God and obeyed God. She knows and believes that her son is the Messiah. Clearly, Mother knows best.

Today’s story reminds me of an experience I had on the day my and my husband’s daughter was born. A little backstory – my husband has always wanted to be a father. On our first date, as he talked so peacefully and lovingly about his family, I knew he was going to be a beautiful, devoted father. I just knew it.

So on the day our child Vivian was born, Vivi was only a couple hours old. We were in the hospital room, Vivian was in my arms, and I looked over at Darius and he had an expression on his face that I had never seen before. He looked shell-shocked. As I looked into his eyes, they just looked…stunned. His eyes looked like they couldn’t really believe or understand what he was seeing. I waited for a few moments and I told him to go take a nap. I said take 2, 3, 4 hours and just sleep. He seemed really reluctant to do that, but he did. And when he came back and the look in his eyes….it was light, it was peace and it was delight. And I can promise you that that look has never left him. Not when it comes to our daughter. He is a magnificent father. I didn’t usher in that transformation, but unknowingly, our daughter did. God saw to that happening.

It’s this last point that I find so exciting and moving, this last point I’d invite you to reflect on.

In today’s culture, we often think of transformation in the form of I. I transformed. I got better at XY AND Z. That might still be very kingdom of me, very you kingdom of you.

Transformation is not about or for me as an individual, it is not about you or for you as an individual. Yes it starts with you and me. But it’s not for us. Transformation is not about us. It is meant for others. It is about what we become for the people God has placed in each of our lives.

Transformations can be quiet, they can be between very few people, and they can also be messy. I remember years ago I was acting messy. I was too preoccupied with my own time and my own future. I was not proud of myself. Maybe you’ve had these moments too, where you know you’re acting goofy and you know you need to set yourself straight. I went into my bathroom and looked in the mirror. I looked right into my eyes and said out loud, “God did not make your heart to act like this. Your heart was made for the Kingdom of God.” I could hear my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Now act like it. Be how God made you.” In that moment, I think I started to transform, just a bit…from my self-preoccupied existence, and into one that really tries to consider how my actions and decisions may affect others. How God wants my actions and decisions to affect others.

Maybe you’ve experienced that too, this quiet messiness of transformation. Transformation happens when we face those rough, shadowy parts of our lives.

Are we transformed into something entirely new? Or into something that is already inside us?

I don’t think we become someone new. I think we become how God already made us. I think it’s a return. I think when we transform, we return to how God made our hearts in the first place. We can look to Cana for a perspective on that.

There may have been a moment where Jesus could have given a different reaction. Maybe what happened was he looked into his mother’s eyes, and saw a need there. Real need. His choice was to respond to that need, to the need around him. The need of the couple, who most likely would have ended up being embarrassed or looked down up on for running out of wine. Jesus saw a need. Jesus responded. Jesus’ responses were ALWAYS aligned with God’s will. ALWAYS. This gives us perspective on who God is. God responds to us. God is dynamic, responding to our every need. We listen to God. We keep our eye on Jesus. THIS is how we transform.

Transformation doesn’t just happen. It happens in response to something. Transformation is all around us. Swirling and spinning around us and in us. The Holy Spirit is transforming this world right before our eyes!

The Covid 19 pandemic is becoming endemic. HIV and AIDS has largely transformed from certain death into living with a condition that can often be managed and not stigmatized. We don’t invest in medicine just because. We invest in medicine and vaccines because people looked in too many dying patients’ eyes and saw the need for life to be lived and not to be cut unnecessarily short.

Violence against gender, sexuality and race is starting to transform from being obscured in a broad way, to being brought to justice. The need is for all people to be seen as equal and treated equally without any disparity.

In our relationships, heartache becomes healing. Sickness is transformed into health. Sadness morphs into joy. Lost love can be rediscovered the second time around. Relationships on the brink shift into something that is steady and intact.

Today’s story calls into mind another question. Did Jesus transform? I would argue no. Jesus didn’t have to. Yes, he grew in wisdom after he was lost in the temple. Yes he begged God to take this cup from him on the cross. Still, Jesus’ heart, his actions, his decisions, always followed God’s will. Jesus didn’t have to transform, but we do.

As we leave this conversation for now, maybe we can take stock of the transformations we’ve made – the little ones, the big ones, the accidental ones. We have an obligation as Christians to transform for others. But it’s more than obligation. It’s desire. Perhaps we can desire that God transform us. For whatever God needs us to be transformed into. Transformed for God’s outcome for other people. Sometimes that outcome is revealed to us, sometimes not. It doesn’t have to be. Only God knows the timing of our transformations and the needs they fill. What matters is what Mary told the servants, about Jesus Christ at the wedding at Cana. “Do what he says.” Today what we are invited to do the same: not only to do what Jesus Christ says, but to keep our eyes on Jesus. We transform for God. We transform because we love God and because God loves us. Maybe we can say to our trinitarian God, “Transform me as you see fit. For who’s needs you choose. Respond to me, God.” And God will.