June 05, 2022
• Rev. Dr. Jevon Caldwell-Gross
There comes a point when the veil is lifted, and you realize the world isn’t as perfect as you thought. When this happens, it 1 of three things. 1. Its jades you and you become a skeptic. 2. It inspires you. 3. It does a little of both.
The veil was lifted for me over 10-year ago when we started the first Freedom School in Atlantic County. Freedom School is a summer literacy program designed to help kids develop a love for learning and a passion for social action. The reason why we decided to host a freedom school at this congregation was because in doing some demographic studies of the community, I read in the census that 75 percent of kids in 3rd and 4th grade were reading below their grade level.
I thought this would a worthy endeavor considering most of the members of the church were current or former teachers. And check this out, the church was directly across the street from an elementary school. So we raised the money and the school board let us use space in the school across the street. Everything was going great until we were successful.
When we came to year two, we had a goal of moving from 50 kids to 70 kids for this summer. We decided to step out on faith and see what God could do.
A few weeks before the program started, we got a letter from an administrator from the school board saying that we would no longer be allowed to use the school facilities and we would have to find another location for 70 kids. Did I mention that this was two weeks before the program started. It gets better. The project director at the time used to be the chair of the board, so he did some investigation. He found out that the reason why we were being kicked out was because the summer school numbers were getting too low and ours were increasing. And it was believed that our numbers were impacting the summer school numbers. Apparently, this affected the funding for their salaries and they needed more kids in summer school to receive a certain amount. I couldn’t believe that a system had been set up to perpetuate the deficiencies of kids. A school board was willing to displace 70 kids that wanted to learn in the summer time because of funding.
This is why its vital to care about the education of other people. We live in a society that doesn’t always share those sentiments. We know the power of education. Histocially, education has always been tool used for dehumanization and a demarcation for the haves and have nots. Limiting the access to knowledge has been a tool for oppression (slide). In certain countries, women are not allowed to attend places of formal education. There was a time in our recent history when segregation of our schools was legal. Even now, having basic access to quality education and instruction is not a given in certain communities.
Which often leads us to wonder, how do we invest or impact the education of others? To answer that question, I want to go to a wedding. Our text takes us to Jesus’ first miracle when he turns the water into wine. This is a familiar narrative to some, but I want to put a different spin on it today. Because today we are looking at H. O. P. E. Some of you are already thinking, “What does turning water into wine have to do with education?”
Well let’s start here. A crisis arose at this wedding and they ran out of wine. This doesn’t like a national crisis, but this had culture implications on the bride and groom. They would have been disgraced. It was on the third day, which suggests that the wedding was scheduled to last a few more days and they were in dire need. So Mary, Jesus’ mother takes it a step further. She does not tell Jesus what to do. She does not tell Jesus to turn this water into wine. She simply points out the need. “They have no wine.” “Something is wrong.”
It’s a reminder and a reassurance to know that Jesus has a solution, but we just need to honest about the situation. You don’t have to know how, when, where or who. Just be honest about the need. What’s not working. Where do you need help? What hurts? What needs to be fixed? It’s the honesty of the need that invites his participation. So with the need being acknowledged, she goes to the servants and prepares them for what’s ahead, “Just do whatever he tells you to do!”
Why does she say this? She has no idea what he plans to do! Jesus has not shared with her how he plans to rectify the situation and meet the need. However, she has enough faith and confidence in his abilities that she trusts him to figure the answer out. She believes that he can do something about it. And it’s her belief that is the spring board to Jesus’ first miracle and introduction to the world.
Whatever Jesus was going to do, she believed that he could do it. Her expectations set the stage for possibilities. For many people, educational opportunities are the primary spaces where they learn about possibilities. It’s where they are daily tested in around the abilities and competencies.
But it’s also where they learn to navigate what others believe about them. It’s in these environments its where people learn who believes in them and who does not. We learn right from Jesus ministry, that people often perform at the level of other people expectations. That’s why later on in Jesus ministry when people didn’t believe in his abilities to perform miracles and speak with so much authority, Jesus declared in his hometown I can do no more miracles here.
Psychologists call this The Pygmalion effect describes situations where someone’s high expectations improves our behavior and therefore our performance in a given area. It suggests that we do better when more is expected of us. (Slide) It a common occurrence to perform at the level of expectation.
The Pygmalion effect happens because as social creatures, we are influenced by our own and other’s expectations. If we expect success from an individual, we are likely to give them greater support in order to help them achieve that success. Similarly, if we believe someone has high expectations of us, we will work harder to meet those expectations. Expectations act as a prophecy because they become motivators for hard work.
Don’t discount the power of your belief. Its why we do tutoring at place like Fox Hill Elementary School. Its why we volunteer in other school in Washington Township. It’s why we do Back to School every year. Its why we are hosting a Freedom School. The hope is that our presence is an indication of our belief.
That’s the power of belief. It should be our hope that everyone, every child that comes in contact with us believes they have something worth sharing in them. It is to believe that they can turn water into wine. It is believing that they have been gifted by God to be an answer to the problems in the world. It is believing they have something to offer. It’s believing they can meet a need. They have something this world needs. It’s believing they have something that nobody else has. It’s believing they have purpose. They have power. It’s believeing there is something so diving in them It is believing that can work miracles. It is believing that this no name, ordinary Jewish man can work miracles.
Here’s the challenge.. and the income of their parents or guadians should not be determine our or their level of expecation. Their native language should not be a deterrent. Their race, their gender, their unique learning styles, sexual preference, does not determine or negate what God has placed inside of them. Because what each child (and adult for that matter) is learning is not just about facts and figures, but they are learning and watching who believes in them. They are internalizing their possibilities. And everybody needs somebody who believes in them (slide).
Think of the people that believe in you. Somebody, somewhere believe in you. They gave you an opportunity. They let you watch how it was done. They mentioned your name. They hired you. They let you slide. They have you one more change. They were patient with you. It was because somebody believed in you.
Not only do these spaces affirm the gifts and possibilities in other, but education exposes us to a world far beyond ourselves (slide). Education expands our mind. When done well, it opens us up to world that not readily available. Learning can be liberating if we let it. Let me prove it.
Look at all the places of liberation that’s happening in this one wedding. As a young boy, Jesus would have grown up learning a lot about the scriptures. You remember when he was a young boy and his parents couldn’t find him. He was inside the temple, listening to them teach and asking questions. He grew up reading it front to back. He’s read about the prophesies. He’s studied all the miracles. Nowhere would he have had read about someone turning water into turning wine. The servants would not have read it anywhere. They certainly have never experienced it.
But look what happens. The wine runs out. This no name guest at the party that has brought an entourage with him says, “fill these empty jars with water.” Jesus has given no indication that he has any qualifications to solve this problem. This is going to be a huge failure on all their parts. There is a lot riding on this!
At no point do they asked why they are filling the jugs with water. Maybe I’m a skeptic, but if we are together and the wine runs out, don’t come back with jugs of water. If money runs out, don’t come back blank pieces of paper. He’s not asking them to do something that has a lot of precedence.
But Mary’s confidence and belief is rubbing off on them. They are open to seeing and learning something new. It is “discovering” something new. It is discovering. By all accounts water doesn’t turn into wine. By all accounts miracles don’t happen like this. By all accounts, there has to be more priests or wealthier people at this wedding that can either perform a miracle or go and get more wine!
Jesus have performed the miracle but it required their active willingness to discover something new in a familiar place. Education is not what we do in classrooms, but we should always be learning, growing, and evolving. Faith requires a willingness of discovery. Relationships. Getting older. Experiencing the fullness of God and the gifts of ourselves and others. By definition being a disciple means learner or student. You can not be a follower, or student, or learning of Jesus Christ and not be open to discovering new things. It doesn’t work.
When Jesus performs this miracle he is literally he is exposing them to a different reality of possibility, if they are open. Hes changing the narratives around whats possible. Hes changing the narrative around what a miracle worker looks like. The stewards are getting up close encounter of Jesus’s first miracles. The disciple are seeing this first hand.
Let me show what happens when we are resistant to learning.
It was my second year in seminary and I was taking the second half of my systematics theology class. The class cover the basic believes about faith. Traditionally, it’s not uncommon for “classic” thoughts about to God to stem from a white European male perspective. Except, the second semester of this course It was taught by two professors who had a more wholistic understanding of theology. Instead of looking at theology from a traditional European perspective, we looked at including voices like James Cone who introduced liberation theology. We studied Gustavo Gutierrez work theology of the poor. Feminist and womanist theology. We simply looked at ones understand of God from the perspective of marginalized voices.
The reaction from some of the students were astonishing. True story. Their was a group of students that got a petition together and went to the Dean because not only did they not believe this was “real” or “valid” intellectual thought. It was an assault on their perceived picture of authority. As one student commented and complained in the dining hall, “I’m not going to need to know this when I take my ordination exams or when I go into a congregation. As one student professed at the lunch table, “This will not be helpful to my ministry!” As if, God would never call them to diverse community or congregation. It was an admission, “I’m not filling empty jugs with water.” Their was no attempt at intellectual discovery.
Needless to say the professors reminded us they had tenure and they could drop out if they wanted but reminded us we needed this class to graduate.
The professors new something that some didn’t. They were merely exposing us to different voices and for us to learn to see and experience God in new ways.
While to me it sounds unbelievable, In what ways have we petitioned against our against our own liberation and discovery? Are their areas where God is trying to educate you and you are resistant. In what ways, have we petition against exposure to a world beyond our own narratives?
Hope just didn’t start at the wedding but it began in the fields. The miracle happened prior to this wedding date. In Jesus day, wine was still derived from grapes. But before grapes becomes a recognizable fruit, it’s just a seed. But they didn’t have intricate planting systems. Normally it was just someone with bag going out into the fields planting. They would throw these small seeds on empty fields and believe that something was possible. (Short video)
However, when the farmer plant she is making an assumption about the seed. She is planting the seed because of what she knows the seed can do. She knows the seed is more than what she sees. She knows that the seed is not done growing. She knows that the limits of the seed will grow far beyond what her eyes can see in the moment. She knows that the seed is just getting starting.
Because the goal of every plant is to get whats inside the seed on the outside. No one has to add roots to the seeds. No one has to add branches. Vines. No one has to come along and add more grapes to the vines. Everything that the seeds needs is already on the inside. The role of the educator, the coach, the mentor, the parent is try as best to get all of the gifts, all of the potential, all of the possibilities that they see on the inside on the outside.
Seeds are just concealed possibilities. On the surface it’s hard to imagine Seeds turning to barrels of wine.
Here’s the hard part. The one planting never stops believing even when it doesn’t happen overnight. They water. They till. They nature. Will some seed fall on hard ground, absolutely. But they never stop doubting.
Because for 30 years, Mary was told that Jesus would be different. For 30 years, she waits. For thirty years, she nurtuers. For 30 years, she never stops believing that something was still there. Could he has performed them in private absolutely. But this is a very public showing of his divnity. This is it. Now was the time for the seed to sprout.
This is for somebody to today who has stopped believing in “somebody.” Maybe you have stopped believing in something. We cant give up on the possibilities and the power of education. Because we have to believe that fruit comes from small seeds. We have to believe that a small no name person can be used by God to turn water into wine.