Isaiah 62: 1-5; I Cor 12: 4-11; John 2: 1-11
We are all aware that companies and products often try to rebrand or rename themselves in order to put on a new front, typically because of loss of profits and things dying and somehow making it look new and flashy is going to sell it. Sometimes it works but more often than not it doesn’t and often for good reason. The Church can be no better at times. We think making things flashy and attractive is once again going to fill pews. Well, it hasn’t. If anything, it drives more away. Of course, political parties are notorious for spin and rebranding and yet often never change. There is, as well, the government. How many different ways do you think we’re going to try to rebrand a wall. Yet, in the end, a wall is a wall is a wall.
What makes a company or product successful at it, though, isn’t about rebranding or renaming. More often than not that is simply about changing the look to make it more appealing. Companies that succeed change from the inside out. Apple has certainly learned that over the decades. They return to their essence, to who they are and what they’re really about, and reimagine themselves into the future, living into the questions of what they’re all about. The problem, it’s hard work, not only individually but for companies but also as a nation and world, it’s the only way forward. There is a third way, in some sense, the only way, and that’s to return to the essence, the Inner Beloved for us, and reimagine from that place of center.
It is the challenge that Scripture presents to us as we continue the epiphany readings today, as to how the incarnation manifests in our lives and world. In some ways, it often appears that God and the prophets try to rebrand Israel. We hear today that they are going to be given a new name. They will no longer be known as victims of desolation and forsakenness, but will learn to live into this new reality, this eternal covenant, as delight and espoused. The risk, as if often is for us, is that Israel, as soon as it returns from exile, is to go back to what they were used to, where they were comfortable. Like us, they often become their own worst enemy. It’s easier to go back to old ways than to fall into something new and to trust, to reimagine yourself in the way God sees. For Israel and for us, that’s the invitation. Isaiah is bursting at the seams to point them in this direction as to return not to their old ways but to the covenant that God made with them and us from the beginning, to return to love and to reimagine themselves as God’s people. Their time of being victim and of blaming is over. Their time of simply trying to change the way things look is done. It’s time for a new era for Israel, a return to the Inner Beloved who will now expand them beyond the horizon.
The same is true for Paul as he writes to the people of Corinth. We’re dealing with a community that as well has slowly, over time, moved themselves into exile, separating themselves from their essence. They begin to have this internal squabbles, today being that of who has the most important and most popular gift. Paul, not necessarily caring about the gift, tries to point them to the source of those gifts, that it is of one Spirit that they are given wisdom and discernment and all the rest he recites today. Throughout the letter he pushes this community, more than most, to remember who they are. Over time they have forgotten and moved away, separated from their essence as community. They begin to think it’s about them and they could do it on their own. So they find themselves clinging to their gifts, which become distorted at that point, rather than continuously returning back, not to the way things were, but to their very essence, to change from within and to live from the inside out. All of the readings these weeks in particular are about the interior change that is necessary to move beyond ourselves and to live into our essence, to mystery, to love. That’s how reimaging happens rather than simply changing the front.
John, well, in his masterpiece it’s all about reimagination. There is no new branding or naming in John’s Gospel, and from the very beginning is going to take the message of the Christ to a new level. He’s going to deliver a punch that transcends time and space, even to the point of using people and places, like Cana, that don’t exist at the time. None of that matters with John. What matters is the journey in to a changed heart. Maybe it is the fact that he’s writing with decades out from the time of Jesus, giving new perspective, but he delivers a message for the ages. Even the fact that he doesn’t use the name Mary, like the other gospels, delivers a message to all humanity and not to become attached to what you think or the history of individuals. Rather, imagine yourself there and hear the message, do as he says. It is just the beginning of believing for the disciples, as we are told, because the hour has not yet come. The disciples have not learned, yet, to let go of what was, their old way of thinking and doing, and be opened to new possibility. John will take them on an imagination ride to a transformed life, a reimaging of what it means to be disciple, seeking first a changed heart and living from the inside out.
It’s a painful process and nothing easy about it. Rebranding and Renaming may be the easy way out and a short-term fix, but in the end, it is only a life that is reimagined, that is allowed to fall into and to live into mystery, into the Inner Beloved, that we begin to see in a different way, through the lens of love. That’s when we finally begin to recognize that there is no need for fear nor walls. There is no need for war and violence. There is no need to cling to anything in life because the source of life becomes the source of your life. We can get the latest and greatest and continue to live with the illusion that all will be well, but like the companies that try it, we’ll find ourselves in the same position, still wanting more out of life. The only path, the third way, is to reimagine ourselves as God’s people. The gospel and the prophets demand it of us as individuals, as community, as nation, and as world. It’s what these epiphany weeks are really about, the awakening to a new awareness where all we can do is fall into and live into mystery, the unknown, the Inner Beloved, and pray that it may be done to us in the same way.