Celebrating God

Sometimes all we need is a little nudge… It was summer camp, I was maybe eight years old. I don’t have many memories from that camp, except for one: the high dive. By this time, I knew quite well how to swim. I had no fear of jumping in the water from the side of the pool, or even from one of the diving boards or platforms. But the high dive, sitting there approximately fourteen miles above the surface of the water, was fearsome.

It was summer camp’s ultimate proof of courage.  No matter what else you might do, it wasn’t until you conquered the high dive that you showed that demonstrated bravery. Why we cared so much to prove that, I’m not quite sure; but at the time, it was apparently the most important thing of all.

But I just couldn’t do it. The long climb up the ladder, the look over the edge, the certainty that once you hit the pool that it would hurt and that water would find its way into your body, all of that just made it seem all the more terrifying. I don’t remember how, or why, but I do remember finding myself perched on the edge of the platform, looking down into the water.

But you know what got me to jump? It wasn’t about proving I was brave, or being afraid that I would be called “chicken” for the rest of the summer. None of that really mattered. What worked was some of my fellow campers, down in the pool, counting in unison: “1…2…3!” And I did it. I didn’t particularly like it, but I did it. I conquered the high dive.

Sometimes all we need is a little nudge…

I can’t help but wonder, reading our New Testament lesson this morning, if something similar was at work. In John’s gospel, all that has happened so far is that John the Baptist has called Jesus “the lamb of God”, and Jesus has gathered four of his disciples. Jesus has done anything yet – well, if you don’t count that whole “being born the incarnate Word of God” thing, of course…But this is Jesus’ real first public appearance.

The scene is a wedding in a Galilean village called Cana. The celebration has included the whole countryside. Jesus is there, as is Mary his mother, and his disciples are in on the festivities, too. Suddenly, they have run out of wine. As embarrassing as such a scenario might be today, the ancient situation would have been unimaginable. The hosts would have experienced societal shame – not just on them, but on their entire extended family. What is at stake, then, is much more than just whether or not the party can go on into the wee hours. They could lose face.

That’s the moment when Mary turns to Jesus, and simply says, “They have no wine.” But he’s not ready. He says, “My time has not yet come.” So Mary brings the servants into the incident. Pointing to Jesus, she says to them, “Do whatever he tells you.” And the rest is history.

Sometimes all we need is a little nudge…

There is an element to faith that requires risk. There are those times when we are called to step out into the unknown. Maybe it’s that friend who suffers in private, but our upbringing has taught us not to be nosy. Or perhaps it’s that big change: a move, a job, a transition that has incredible possibilities, but would mean letting go of what we know. Or maybe it’s doing a little something that lies just beyond our comfort zones: teaching a Sunday School class, or inviting a friend to church; confiding in someone with a sacred trust, or welcoming a new, different family to the community. Faith is comforting, yes, but it is never comfortable. Faith is not complacency. And sometimes, each of us needs that little nudge.

It’s an energetic time in our life here at Oglethorpe Presbyterian. We are wrapping up a capital campaign that has exceeded many of our expectations already. The roof is replaced, and we are finalizing bids on the glass doors and the HVAC system. And even then, we will not have yet exhausted all of the funds committed. Some of us assumed that doing the campaign would have a detrimental effect on our annual stewardship, but that is not the case, either. In fact, our number of pledges and amount pledged are up from last year.

But when we look back at the process it took to get there, it brought out our anxieties. As a session, your church leadership, we waited until the last possible minute to contract with Church Development. Some of us expressed our concerns about the potential negative consequences of launching a campaign at this moment and whether or not we were rushing into it. Our conversations raised differing viewpoints about the priorities and needs in the church. Even so, somehow, we took that risk. We stepped out on faith. And, I would say, we are the better for it! Or as a young camper might have put it, we may have climbed the ladder and peered out over the edge. But we still needed that little nudge, that voice calling out, “1…2…3!”

I want to take the privilege of this moment to share one more thing with you about this present moment at Oglethorpe Presbyterian. Perhaps it’s a risk…but I figure that if Jesus could make wine for a party, or if a camper could jump off the high dive, your pastor could talk about money from the pulpit.

Your session met most of yesterday and will meet again today to discuss our current financial situation. You see, while there is much good news about the capital campaign and the stewardship drive, the reality is that there is still a gap between what we expect to spend in 2013 and what we expect to raise, to the tune of about $40,000. We are still very fortunate that we are a church with no debt, and that we still have reserve funds in the bank. Even so, we are at an important moment. We have policy to keep three months of operating funds in reserve in case of an unforeseen emergency; and we are now at the point where we could drop below that mark.

So what happens now? I think that’s the challenging question before session at this moment. And I’m pretty sure that, as I bring it up this morning, many of us feel some discomfort about it. But remember this: while there is momentary uncertainty in our present, we have just raised more than $320,000 in financial commitments to the future of Oglethorpe Presbyterian! There is so much more in front of us.

It’s almost like we’re at the party; and, for the moment, the wine looks like it might run dry. So what happens next?

Friends, I’m convinced that this is our moment; that our time has come. All we need is a little nudge. I think 2013 is our year of good fortune. Let’s give ourselves the goal of making up that difference in giving and spending this year. This is doable! The good news is that we have found the money. The bad news is that it’s in our pockets.

I won’t say much more at this point, because you will be hearing from session in the coming weeks with a plan. But I will say this for now: if you have not yet pledged to stewardship, I ask your prayerful consideration. And if you have already pledged and think you can possibly increase that commitment, please do so and let us know.

But the truly good news is this: it’s not up to us to make this happen! The groom didn’t have anything to do with the miracle of water becoming wine, the moment that allowed the party to continue. It was, simply, the work of God at work in Jesus.

And even Jesus needed that little nudge…