St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, January 24, 2021
“Jesus saith unto them, Fill the water-pots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast.”
PEOPLE USED TO WEAR THE LABELS of their clothing behind the collar, hidden on their necks. That all changed when clothing makers began to decorate their shirts, shoes and shorts with what became known as branding, logos and stripes and the names of famous sportswear: Adidas, Columbia, L.L. Bean, Calvin Klein, North Face and Levi’s. More than quality or design, a modern kid was judged by the name shouting from his clothing labels worn outside. And none was more sought after than NIKE.
NIKE, the sportswear icon, with its swoosh and its motto: Just Do It—captures the imagination with images of athletic excellence, physical dominance, prowess, agility, speed and power. Can I be all that, just buying an overpriced shirt and putting it on? Maybe not, but in sports it is often one’s beliefs in oneself that determine an outcome of competition. If we are in other ways equal, my confidence can be my edge. It’s like a musician who wears a tee shirt with Gibson or Fender names, hoping that will pass for talent. Maybe it will.
Nike, before it was a clothing company, was the Greek goddess of victory. A winged female angel-like being, she inspired the winners of battles and of playing fields, either in her name Nike, or its Roman equivalent of Victoria. For the Greeks and Romans, the games in an arena were little different from real war, for you often left your blood and even your life in the sand of its floor.
Quietly, at the end of that brutal era, another use of the name Nike, or NIKA, became an icon with a new, special meaning. A Greek cross of equal length arms was surrounded by letters, a code for Jesus Christ Conquers: IC XC NIKA. The victory is His. After all the TV wrestlers have shouted out their bluster, receivers danced their victory romp in NFL endzones, armies with brushes on their helmets marched back to Rome and Athens in the pride of their power—when all that dust has settled, the real war in the human race is won by a man on a cross, the most pathetic and shameful of deaths, who is laid to a solemn rest, then rises to life again, bloodied but unbowed. Jesus Christ Conquers. What does that mean to you and me?
St. Paul was quite familiar with the games of arenas and the cruel chains and whips of soldiers as well. His life forfeited many times, yet he was rescued, escaped, saved again and again, on the run, chased and threatened, stoned, drowned, beaten almost to death—Paul kept getting back up for another round. He welcomed sweet death, for in that day would he meet Christ again, and stay with Him at last. But to stay upright in the battle was to him our gain, and worthy of putting his body to the test again. He wrote:
Who shall ever separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? Just as it forever remains written,
“For Your sake we are put to death all day long; We are regarded as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors and gain an overwhelming victory through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:35-39
We are more than conquerors through Him. But what have we conquered? What battle did Jesus fight and win for us, so that we might dance our victory dance, run our lap of victory with His banner raised over us? What was at stake? What prize is now ours?
St. Paul is not celebrating a world without danger. On the contrary, the tribulations of sword, famine, death, and devils are all very real and still set against us. We are still put to death all day long. Nothing seems to be changed from the brutal empires of the past. The difference? Christ’s love. He has come to earth with the Love of God toward us, celebrated by angelic choirs, displayed on Jordan’s banks, proven in the desert, lived before His astonished apostles, blessing sick and even the dead with life abundant, killed and then risen for us: Victor over death itself. Today we claim the love of Jesus Christ, which He gives and gives again. What can they take from us? Earth? This life? Our friends? Really?
We are a new race of beings. This new race can’t be defeated, not even by death. Nothing is able to conquer us. Lay us by the thousands in shallow graves and you have only stooped to debase yourself. We are unbeaten witnesses and our voices remain, an eternal declaration of the goodness of God and the love of His Son toward us. Do your worst.
That’s Paul’s attitude, and he’s earned the right to say it. Have I? Have you? What foes do you face today, as a member of Christ’s body? Do they understand you? Can they steal your membership in Him? Only one person exists who can ruin heaven for you, and that’s just you. And not by sinning alone. Our sins sour the relationship we have with the Lord, but hurry to confess them, return to Him and it’s done. Make your peace, and get back up. But don’t lose heart. Our hearts are made to enthrone Him. Let Him remain in that place—kind ruler, precious king—and nothing the world throws at you may take His place, ever.
A person who has that confidence, not in themselves, but in their almighty God, has the thrill of knowing that God will vanquish the wicked and corrupt and evil and false people who oppose us in life. Either He will turn their hearts, which we pray for, or He will grant their wish for a godless existence and send them to perdition. Either way, they are conquered, and we need not take up our boxing gloves or maces. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. Isn’t that a relief? We don’t have to defend Him. We need not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Victory looks so different after this realization. It doesn’t look like a battle at all. One day, Jesus was beginning His ministry and was invited with his new disciples to a wedding in a little hamlet called Cana. His mother was there, and she heard that the host had run out of wine, a serious miscalculation and certain to cast a shadow over the marriage and the new couple’s social status—silly concerns, maybe, but at such a juncture in life, emotionally devastating. “They have no wine!” Mary urged her Son.
The pieces in this contest were now on the board. Jesus was taking His life into His Father’s hands and away from family control. Society was no longer supreme over this Jewish carpenter. “Woman, what have I to do with thee? This is not the time for me.” You’re not in charge, mom. Will you remember that?
Something in His answer gave her hope that her desire was not blunted, but corrected. She would not interfere with the direction His life took from here on. She never did. Even at the cross, while hearing Him give her to John, and John to her, and even watching Him die, she let Him decide. He begins His miracles by ruling, and rescuing the day. “Whatever he tells you,” she said to the servants, “Just do it.”
Just do it. Nike’s motto was Mary’s urgent message to the servants who knew about the missing wine and were desperate for a solution. Jesus commanded, “Fill these urns with water and draw out.” They did, and you know how good that wine was. It tasted far better than the first stuff.
Just do it. It’s the Gospel of St. Mary. Whatever He tells you, Just do it. He will do the heavy lifting. He will die the death meant for you. He will face hell’s iron gates and break the locks, releasing those condemned and weakening the devil’s power, busting up his game, offering all humankind the option of living forever in Him. The catch? Just do it. Just say Yes, you are my Lord. You are God’s unique Son. You are the King of everything. It’s true. I want it. I will wear Your Name, if not on my sleeve, on my heart. I won’t deny You. I will face every danger and never flinch. What can they do to me? Send me to heaven? Hah.
He is victor, the conqueror over sin, death, hell, Satan, sorrow, worry, grief, loss, pain, sickness, fear, and corruption. Nike! Victory is ours in Him. The price tag for this honor? Just do it.
And is there proof of all this? You have the ladle in your hand, and a cup to bear in your other hand to the worried man seated in the wedding planner’s tent, wondering where he’s going to get wine at this hour, in this village, to save the day. This wonderful stranger tells you to draw it out. Your ladle dips into the water, you just poured into the urn, now turned deep crimson and fragrant with the promise of very good wine.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us…