CAC Digest #12

CAC Digest #12 Covers Sept. 5, 1996

Dear CACers and guests:

Well folks, this is the last digest I’ll be doing! Remember to send your
messages to “” tomorrow. I look forward to jumping into the fray
rather than managing it.

A word of appreciation to DJ Chuang for enabling us to have a server. He’s
also trying to set up a web site. Anyone who wants to subscribe to the
Chinese American Christian list from this point on should contact DJ

I hope that this list will really move in a more pan-Asian direction (by
this, I mean that this list will be a large enough tent to discuss specific
ethnic concerns as well as broader ones affecting all Asian American
Christians). Perhaps CAC can be renamed the “Conversations of Asian American
Christians” list?

Afterwords, I’d like to put the word out to a broader audience. In the
meantime, please keep on inviting interested persons to sign up.

Finally, please pray for me. I’ll be taking part in a Promise Keeper’s
Theological Summit on Racial Reconciliation tomorrow and Saturday. I’m not
sure what to expect. Pray thatI represent Asian American brothers and
sisters well.

– – Tim Tseng

P.S. Here is a sermon/article written by Dr. Jim Forbes, my homily
professor at Union Seminary who really helped shaped my preaching style.
Forbes comes from a Black Pentecostal background and after many years of
teaching at Union, is now Sr. Minister at the Riverside Church in NYC. He is
very involved with the Cry for Renewal movement initiated by Jim Wallis
(Sojourners) and Ron Sider (Evangelicals for Social Action) as well as being
the spokesperson for SCUPE. Forbes is one of the foremost African American
preachers. He and the church history profs at Union helped me work through
my struggles with retaining my evangelical commitments. I hope you like the
sermon/article. It is written in the tradition of a jeremiad…

New Wine: Telling the truth of our need for transformation
Jim Forbes _The Other Side_ (July/August 1996): 8-11

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus’ ministry begins in a most
unusual fashion: with a party (John 2:1-12).
We all remember the story: The wedding reception at Cana in Galilee.
The whole community was gathered for the event – a grand celebration, a
social gala, a big block party.
But there was one problem which threatened to seriously disrupt the
festivities. According to John’s Gospel, Mary the mother of Jesus was the
first one to state it outright: “They have no more wine” (John 2:3).
I’m not sure how Mary knew. Maybe she detected a break in the normal
chatter and buzz. Maybe she heard complaints from those who waited in vain
for wine to be shared. Maybe she noticed people were getting irritated and
didn’t seem to be enjoying the reception anymore. Perhaps the families of
the bride and groom had broken up to opposite sides of the room, grumbling at
this inexcusable social blunder.
Somehow, Mary knew: the wine had run out. She also knew it was more
than a trivial oversight. Wine was not only crucial to this particular
wedding reception, it was an essential element in the daily lives of people
in Jesus’ culture. A staple of basic nourishment, wine was more frequently
drunk than water (which had to be purified). Often it was used medicinally,
either as a drink to soothe the stomach or as a purifying agent to cleanse
wounds. And on occasions like the festival in Cana, wine was used for mirth
– to keep the _joie de vivre_ high, to enhance community.
Maybe Mary saw the person responsible for the refreshments scrambling
around trying to figure out what to do. Maybe she noticed someone watering
down the last of the remaining wine to make it hold out a little longer.
But Mary definitely knew: the wine had run out. And she had the courage
to declare it.
I thank God for Mary, because she is a truth-teller. Many of us, when
there is a diminishment of what is essential for the good life, still keep
acting like everything is all right, still maintain a cheery face and a
smile, still try to keep others from knowing that if something isn’t done
soon, life itself will be threatened by the diminishment.
Hail to you, Mary, speaker of the truth. Something essential to the
community was lacking, and you had the strength to say it aloud: “The wine
has run out.”

We are challenged by Mary’s truth-telling. In our society today, we
must decide whether we too will have the courage to speak the truth.
Do we dare to stand up and say that something is missing in this grand
American reception, this wedding of the high ideals of democracy, equality,
and truth? Will we have the courage to say that there’s something lacking in
our good old American dream?
As I look at the state of our nation today, one thing is becoming
increasingly clear to me: The wine has run out.
When our leaders in Washington advocate proposals which balance the
budget on the backs of the poor, it’s obvious that the wine has run out.
When I read reports that New York City intends to crack down on welfare
programs in hopes that poor people will have to leave town, clearly, the wine
has run out.
When we close up the bowels of compassion in the name of fiscal policy,
in the name of relieving the poor of their dependencies, in the name of the
survival of the fittest, surely the wine has run out.
When we see increasing polarization between the races and discrimination
towards people because of different gender, sexual orientation, or beliefs
and theologies, the wine has run out.
Even in churches which claim allegiance to Jesus, we see the same mean
spiritedness. In Philadelphia not long ago, a church hung a large sign on
its door stating that those who are HIV-positive were not welcome. No one
would be admitted without a card verifying that he or she had been tested for
AIDS/HIV. I tell you: the wine has run out.
But we should not be overcome with worry and despair. Because whenever
the truth is spoken, we can find hope, even in situations of diminishing
That is why I get excited when I read that Mary goes over to talk to
Jesus. “The wine has run out,” she tells him.
This is a confession of faith. Mary has reached the point of her
extremity and realizes that her resources are not adequate in that context of
need. So she turns to Jesus – who, she understands, has been sent into the
world to bring salvation. She speaks the truth to the one who has the power
to transform the current reality of diminishment.
Mary confessed her faith by bringing her need. That is what I believe
we all must do.
In my spirit I cry for what is happening in our nation. I cry when I
think of the cruelties in the Contract with America – and I cry because some
religious leaders claim that God is a signatory. Somebody has forged God’s
name on a contract that shatters the most fundamental aspects of covenant
relationship. We need a handwriting analysis that can reveal the forgery!

The story then takes a strange and surprising twist. Jesus, in that
moment of need, expresses reticence to be a saving presence. “Woman, my hour
has not come. What has that got to do with me?” Do we detect a sassiness in
his tone, a crispness between mother and son?
Was he implying that this is _just_ a wedding reception, a mundane
social embarrassment? “I don’t want to come out big here. I don’t want any
media blitz until I have clearly set forth the theology of the realm I have
come to announce.” Maybe he wanted to wait and inaugurate his ministry when
the lectionary reading was right – as in Luke 4, when he could use the
perfect Isaiah passage.
But in the end Jesus refuses to buy into false dichotomies that separate
the spiritual from the social. He knew that what was occurring at the Cana
reception was crucial to the heart of the gospel: people were being divided,
succumbing to hostility instead of love. So, this awkward social faux pas
was as good a place as any to being his ministry.
Mary, too, understood. She saw consent in his eyes – eyes she had
looked into since his earliest days. She knew that his passion to bring
wholeness could not be restrained, even in that setting.
“Do what he tells you to do,” she said. So they filled up the water
pots. Jesus also gave orders: “Draw some out and take it to the steward.”
When the steward tasted it, he was astonished. “Wow – most people
serve their inferior wine after people have drunk!” The New Revised Standard
version goes so far as to say “after the guests have become drunk.” The
standard procedure was to bring on the inferior vintage after folks had
loosened up just a little bit, after their discerning instruments had lost a
bit of crispness. “But here you have saved the best wine for the last!”
What a mighty miracle! Jesus has turned water into wine! The story
proclaims that God sanctifies and transforms the most ordinary things in our
lives. God takes what is necessary for our basic survival, nourishment, and
healing and makes it into something filled with joy.

But I want to pose the question: What precisely was the miracle? Was it
a biological transformation of water molecules that entailed rapid coloration
and mutation into alcoholic content with fruit chemicals as well? Was the
miracle that water magically became wine? Or was it that those who drank it
tasted a new wine – the most delicious and flavorful wine – in what had been
only water?
Let us ask Jesus: what was this miracle you performed? And Jesus will
ask us in turn: What miracle do you need? A biochemical transformation? Or
do you need a transformation of your own sensory perceiving equipment?
Maybe Jesus’ miracle in Cana was a little bit of both. But what
fascinates me about this miracle, what gives me hope for our situation today,
is not the change in the elements, but the change in the perception of those
who drank.
I have come to believe that the miracle may be the wine – or it may be
us. Which is my way of saying that, according to the gospel, through Jesus
we have become aware of a power that is capable of transforming the way we
see one another.
When we drink the new wine, all of a sudden instead of seeing a Black
person or a White person, we recognize a brother or a sister. Instead of
seeing a welfare mother, we see a member of our own family. This is the
miracle of the gospel: that it changes the way we see, it transforms our
perceiving instruments.
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus begins his ministry not saving
people from their sins – but from social embarrassment. That may sound like
poor theology, but when we grasp the message of the gospel, we realize that
what appears as merely social embarrassment is in fact our deepest sin: the
divisions that tear us apart. Both in Cana in Jesus’ day and in our society
today, this is the great sin from which we need salvation.
Any religion or any gospel, whether of the Right or Left, that does not
deal with the fragmentation in the body politic, and particularly in the body
of Christ, is mere water, not wine. Any religion that does not effectively
address the social divisions between the haves and the have-nots, between
Whites, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, and others, between gays
and straights – is not the real wine but a cheap imitation.
Such wine is incapable of transforming us. It is a saccharine religion
designed to make you feel good. Just because it’s sweet doesn’t make it
If it is not the real wine, if the real wine has run out, we must speak
the truth. We don’t need the deadly substitute of Kool-Aid. We need the
real thing, with its medicinal, healing qualities. Nothing short of the real
wine of transformation will suffice.

What was in those pots of water that Jesus instructed the servants to
fill was nothing less than an inexhaustible supply of divine love.
The story speaks of six massive stone water jars that may each have held
over twenty gallons. That’s a lot of new wine! It is also a biblical way of
saying that everything we need is provided if we tap into that divine love.
In the African American tradition, we often sing that great song, “Fill
my cup, let it overflow, let is overflow with love.” In the United States
today, we need to come before God, asking God for that divine love, letting
that love fill our cups and spill over.
We need to drink down that new wine, so that the divine love fills us,
transforming our racism, our sexism, our economic exploitation, our elitism –
all of the “isms” that keep us from being united in the body of Christ or in
the body of humankind.
Let us drink deeply. Let us experience the transformation. Then we
will lift a glass and toast to the health of ourselves and our society.

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