It Was A Set Up: So Show Them Who You Are
Year W Proper 28: 1 Kings 11:26–39; Psalm 89:1–8, 14; 2 Timothy 2:8–13; John 2:1–11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.
Let us pray:
My prayer is Miriam’s prayer,
Mother Mary’s prayer – Let it be.
Let it be with your woman-servant
according to your word.
With these words
the word of God was formed
in the woman of God.
On this day, as on that day,
let the daughter of God
bring forth the word of God. Amen.
It was a set up.
It was an ordinary Tuesday and a mama’s boy from Nazareth was attending a wedding about fifteen miles up the road. Some have speculated it was the wedding of his youngest sister. That he (or his mama) was waiting to see her settled along with the oldest and however many sisters there may have been in between, so that when he went about his Father’s business, he wouldn’t have to worry about them. (You do know Jesus had sisters, plural, at least two but actually an unknown number.) This mama’s boy went to this wedding of family or friends with his disciples and his mama because he – and for that matter she – was clearly queerly single. Yet they rolled in heavy for this particular wedding. Please indulge my sanctified womanist imagination as I paint the picture.
The text says “Jesus and his disciples.” Not just Shimon called Simon called Peter and his wife, his brother Andreas called Andrew, Ya‘akov and Yohannes ben Zebedee called James and John with their mama; Philip and Bartholomias, Thomas and Matthias (you know, the one with the dirty tax money); Ya‘akov ben Alphaeus also called James, Thaddaeus and the other Shimon called Simon – hard core revolutionary Simon and, Yehudah called Judas that bruh from Kerioth (aka Iscariot) and – since it says “disciples” and not just “apostles” — all the Miriams called Marys: Mary and Martha and Mary Magdalene and, Joanna and Salome and, all the women who get left out of the story and who, even when they are present, don’t have their name called. There’s a whole sermon about who John remembers and who he doesn’t, whose name he calls and whose he doesn’t, like the “Mother of Jesus;” he never fixes his lips or his pen to call the Blessed Virgin by her name. And there is also a conversation to be had about why Western (white) Christian tradition uses Anglicized (whitewashed) names that erase the Jewish identities of the disciples, apostles, followers and mother of Jesus. Black folk don’t cotton to other folk fooling with our names. Now that is another sermon.
But today we are remembering a wedding. From ancient Israelite religion through rabbinic Judaism, marriage is the joining of two families since there was no recognizable social structure in which two people by themselves made a family, with or without children. This is why critical biblical scholarship is so important because not even a simple word like “family” necessarily means what you think it means when read across time, geography and culture. It was always about the whole family, as many as three or four generations, coming together.
The celebration would’ve been off the hook, off the hizzay, off the chain. There would have been laughing, there would have been singing, there would have been dancing, there would have been eating and there would have been drinking. The wine was flowing and they would have drunk their hearts happy. The party was just getting started. But someone’s uncle would’ve already embarrassed himself and half the family. Folk are getting loud, singing off key. Other folk who had refused to dance all night finally got the courage after a couple of cups and showed off moves that have never been seen before or since. Mary, Jesus and the crew are getting down on the good foot. It was litty. It was poppin’, slappin’ and a whole vibe. It was crunk, crushin and a whole situation. They was going up on a Tuesday. And they drunk all them people’s wine.
And his mama perhaps looking for another cup for herself or overseeing the festivities if indeed it was her daughter’s wedding or, you know how we do, keeping track of every single detail whether it’s our family wedding or not, his mama speaks a word that would change the course of his life, the lives of those around them and the entire scope of human history. It was a set up. On this Wakanda weekend, in my sanctified womanist imagination I hear her telling him like Queen Ramonda, “Show them who you are.” It was a set up.
Step out into your inheritance. Walk in the fullness of your identity and giftedness. Come all the way out of the closet. I know that your life will change forever. But be who you are anyway. Be who God created you to be. I know that in living fully as your authentic self you will live a life of joy and you will become deeply acquainted with sorrow and grief and pain and betrayal and death. But you will also walk in a life so powerful that not even death can quench your flame. Show them who you are.
It was a set up. Whether by divine design or human hands, the wedding at Cana was indeed a set up. For in John, this is the miracle that begins at all. This is the moment that puts the name Jesus on the lips of everyone. This is the first step towards Calvary. And it all begins with a glass of wine or perhaps an empty and a holy mother who reads the sign of the times and knows it is time for her holy child to walk into the future prepared for him.
John said, “the wine gave out.” Beloved, the wine gave out because they drank it all, though I like how John words it as though the wine just disappeared into thin air.
Then Miriam bat Hannah, Mary who tradition tells us was the daughter of Anna and Joachim, Mary the Mother of God, Mary the Mother of the Church, Mary the Mother of Hope, Mary the Gate of Heaven, Mary the Queen of Angels, Mary the Queen of Prophets, Mary the Queen of Patriarchs, Mary the Queen of Matriarchs, Mary the Queen of Martyrs – but today, just Mary the single mother, husband whereabouts unknown, rejoicing over someone else’s good fortune at a wedding that must’ve brought back memories of her time with her beloved. But today there is no man on her arm, none but her son. The two of them queerly single in a culture with vastly different expectations for them. Mother Mary the daughter of Bathsheba spoke a word.
“They have no wine.” They. They, the bride and groom and their families, your hosts, your family or friends, the folks who have been providing you and all of us with such a good time are not running out of wine. They have plum run out and there is no more wine and there are hours of celebration yet to come.
If you have come from some kinds of families, families with black mamas for example, you know what is expected of you with just a look. Sometimes your behavior is corrected with a word accompanying the look.
No request has to be made. If you have one of those kind of mamas, no matter how old you are, usually the look is enough by itself. But sometimes you get caught up and miss the look or don’t take it seriously. When that look is followed by a word you know your time has run out. Often times if it reaches the level of an audibly spoken word in public, you are going to have some uncomfortable moments in private. You had better get your hind parts out of whatever chair they are resting on and go about your mother’s business if you want hind parts to bring back to your chair. And it doesn’t matter how old you are. Walk in to your mama’s house at any age or into her presence anywhere and you will quickly find out that parenting is still a verb and you are it’s object.
And here it all began with a black mama, a look and a word. I know the look is not recorded in the scriptures. But if you have a black mama, have had a black mama or are a black mama, you know that look. That look that sometimes comes with a simple statement: The trash is still in the kitchen. The grass is not cut. The lights are on all over this house.
And Jesus says to his mama, “Woman what is that to me.” Generations of black folk and other folk across time have squinched up at that. Now I know Jesus did not just sass his mama in public. He said neither “yes” nor “ma’am.” This is one case where the words of Jesus are not taken as gospel in terms of how to talk to your mama. Do not go home and say to your mama, “Woman, what…” I promise you you will not get past the second word if you have some kind of mama.
But their world is not our world. Our customs and manners are not their customs and manners. Our endearments are not their endearments and his endearment of choice to women in the Gospel of John is not the endearment of choice for most folks. But I have a girlfriend who whenever she calls me she says, “Woman how you doing? Woman, where you been? Woman, what you up to? And it wasn’t until I met her and heard someone who used the word “woman” as an endearment all the time that I understood what Jesus was doing. I looked in the gospel and heard him say from the cross, “Woman, here is your son.” In the garden, “Woman, why are you weeping? At the well, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Creator neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”
“Woman” only sounds like a harsh term when you’re not used to hearing it as an endearment because you have been fed a diet of sexism from an early age in and out of the church. But in reality, woman is a powerful word. It is a term that does not domesticate women as mama, aunty or sis in relation to somebody somewhere usually some man. Woman as an endearment is a word recognizing the embodiment of rare autonomy and self-possession.
Mother Mary knows she doesn’t have to say another word to her Holy Ghost heartbeat. In fact she turns away from him and addresses one of the waitstaff. And while doing so she offers the ultimate description of discipleship on which no one can improve, “Do what he tells you to do.” That was a set up too.
This time it is the cupbearer who is set up. Now it’s their turn to show the world who they are. Does she or he take a cup of what is obviously water to the chief steward in the middle of the wine crisis at the wedding? Even if Mother Mary is the mother of the bride, should that servant, or possibly slave, walk out on her faith, in obedience, hoping not to be made a fool of? They could’ve walked away and poured out the cup and had they done so I firmly believe they would have just poured out water. But somewhere between dipping the cup of water and walking over to the chief steward the power of God that Mary knew so well because she had born it in her body, transformed the elements of water into wine just as the elements of her body were transformed into the body and blood of Christ, bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh.
There was a another single mother and her son in our first lesson. Due to some foolishness and shenanigans, murder and mayhem, raping and pillaging, God came close to firing the entire line of David. So God sent her prophet to tell this mother’s son that he would become the first king of a new Israel, one that was broken off from Judah. It was a set up. If he did what God said, some would blame him for the breaking of the kingdom. This was a different kind of set up. Sometimes the thing God calls us to do won’t bring us any fame or any glory. Or won’t bring us the right kind of fame. It may lead to folks calling us out of our name and we may never get a chance to set the record straight. We might not even live to see the end of of our work or the whole story come out. The truth might be known to no one but God. But when the moment comes to step out into the set up, that is when we show the world and ourselves who it is that we really are, whether God is calling you to carry a cup of wine, wear a crown or carry cross.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like God sets me up. Sometimes the path before me unfolds so that I have a choice to make, so that if I take one more step it will be a step I cannot walk back from. But if I take that step, a whole world of complications follow that if I had known, I might not have taken that step. But if I do take that step I won’t take it alone. Jesus will walk with me. The folk who party with me at weddings and when I am elevated may walk with me for a little while. But if they fall away, when they fall away, Jesus will still be there and God will show you who she is.
Sometimes we need help recognizing that our time has come. And I’m here to tell you that there will always be someone who will give you the push you need to take that first step, whether saints on earth or saints in heaven, whether the Holy Ghost or Mother Mary herself. The ancestors, the glorious cloud of witnesses, the communion of the saints, is full of folk loving on you, praying for you, cheering you on because you are one of theirs, you are a child of God and that makes you kinfolk whether or not you are skin folk.
Step into your set up and while it might look like you are all by yourself, you will never walk alone. Jeroboam accepted the crown and the prophet of God walked with him along the way. The cupbearer may have thought he was all by himself. Maybe they even thought they were being made fool of. But she stepped out into her set up anyway not knowing who it was who had her back.
At the wedding of Cana Jesus stepped out into his set up. He revealed his glory in public, taking that first step on the death march towards Calvary. Later he stepped to Nicodemus and used his question as a set up for the Holy Ghost. Earlier he stepped into the waters of baptism and the Holy Ghost set up on him. He stepped to the sista at the well and set her up to preach the gospel. He stepped to the man by the pool of Bethsaida and told him to stand up and take up his mat and walk. It was a set up.
Jesus stepped to the shores of the Sea of Galilee and set up the disciples to feed the crowd with a little boy’s fish sandwiches. He stepped onto the grounds of the temple and taught like no man has ever taught before. He stepped to a sista who had been set up and he turned the tables on the men who tried to use her to set him up because he knew it was a set up. One day, Mary and Martha called for him to step on over to their house but he just wouldn’t get to steppin. They didn’t know it was a set up. But on the fourth day he stepped to the grave and Lazarus stepped out, then everybody understood, it was a set up.
Then one evening Jesus stepped into a garden to pray and found out that one of the men he loved had set him up. He stepped right into that trap. Then stepped over to the high priest’s house and he stepped into Pilate’s palace. He stepped on over to Golgotha but he didn’t walk alone. He stepped freely into his death knowing he was set up by the empire that chooses hate over love, division over unity, conquest over cooperation and death over life. He was set up to die.
On the third day after Jesus was set up for the last and final time, he stepped out of the grave with Queen Ramonda’s words that I placed on his mother’s lips ringing in his ear in my sanctified womanist imagination, “Show them who you are.” It was a set up. Death got got. Jesus got up and calls us to get up and step out into our set up so that we can show them who we are and whose we are.
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana where Jesus was set up to reveal his glory. Keep your eyes open for the set up because God is in the set up. Amen.