it to the Brim
"Jesus said, 'Fill the jars with water.' and they filled them to the brim." (Jn.2:7).
"To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (I Cor.12:7).
The story from the wedding feast is reminding us that sooner or later the wine runs out; A reckoning is on the horizon. We eventually run dry, and then we need more. That is what Jesus' mother did. As a widow, she trusted her eldest son to take care of things even though she did not always understand his ways. That's also our predicament when trouble comes our way. We ask God to intervene but He does not always answer the phone on the first ring. We sometimes feel Him saying, "What concern is that to me?" (v.4). But, after a few scrapes we learn to trust Him anyway, as did Mary: She said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." (v.6, NRSV). So, they brought six large empty water barrels, each holding up to thirty gallons; that's 6 X 30 = 180 gallons, "And they filled them up to the brim." (v.7).
A Grace, power and vision are what the newly called disciples needed. They were about to begin a journey that would take them through mountains and valleys as they followed Jesus along the way of His earthly ministry. They must have felt somewhat powerless. They were away from the security of home and employment. They were not sure that they had done the right thing. John's narrative tells us that as a result of seeing the turning of water into wine they "believed in him." (v.11). Now they believed as a result of witnessing the miracle. They had initially followed him on a whim, but now they knew.
Is not human nature the same today? We want to believe, we know it must be true, and we take the plunge of faith; but only later, after a few lonely valleys and running out of our own inward strength and learning to submit, and trust Jesus, do we fully believe.
This is the point where our texts connect. The common thread is woven through God's supplying of our needs by giving us power, grace for the journey. "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit... (I Cor 12:7, NRSV). Or, as the New Living Translation phrases the same text, "A spiritual gift is given to each of us..."
Note that it is a gift. We cannot earn, or purchase, or deserve it by our merits or accomplishments. It's not like studying hard for a college degree. Gifts and graces are bestowed as a byproduct of following Him. We are each given some practical gift.
Special abilities are given to build us up; but that is not all. Spiritual gifts are given, "as a means of helping the entire church." (NLT). Or, "for the common good." (NRSV). Special functional competencies are not just given to us, but are extended through us to others. The long range objective is that we utilize our gifts to further extend the outreach of Christ's Church.
Obviously, as the world's largest people driven entity, it takes all kinds of gifts and graces to keep the engine churning. We need preachers, but aren't we glad that not everyone is called to preach? We also need folks through whom God can manifest the Spirit of Church Business Administration and Strategic Planning. "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord... These are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses." (see 4-11).
Stone Mountain First was, as you would expect, built out of chips off the largest free standing monolith in the world, for which the community is named. As the story goes, since members of the church owned the mountain and quarry, they donated the large rectangular cut stones by bringing them from the quarry on their way home in the afternoons. The granite rocks were laid one stone at a time without any mortar between them. These Methodist stonecutters were so dedicated to this special task that they cut the giant stone so carefully that no air could pass between them. Even though each stone is different from the others they are fitted together perfectly and beautifully. Sometimes the masons would insert a small amount of Georgia red clay between the stones which has seeped out over the intervening 160 years and has given the Sanctuary a unique dark red patina. The beautiful Sanctuary stands firm today in the heart of the village as a testament to a great labor of love.
This our fourth Sanctuary at Atlanta First was also built out of Stone Mountain granite; however, we paid for our stones. Thousands of individual stones make up our Gothic Cathedral that has stood since 1903. There is no stronger building material and no more beautiful exterior wall. The earth might tremble, but our church building will stand as a testimony to Christ in the heart of one of America's great cities. Our church has been built by strong individuals who were made to become that way by the power of God's gifts at work in and through their lives. This is His calling for us today.
As were the first disciples at the wedding feast, we are "Filled to the Brim" with God's Holy Spirit not so much for ourselves but for the advancement of His Kingdom.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor