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Synod of the Covenant preaching webinar invites us to join those present for the wedding at Cana

The Rev. Dr. Cindy Halvorson works to get preachers to explore biblical stories through the eyes of multiple participants

April 11, 2024

Photo by Amritanshu Sikda via Unsplash

During the Synod of the Covenant’s recent Equipping Preachers webinar,  the Rev. Dr. Cindy Halvorson worked with participants to engage John 2:1–11 — an account of Jesus’ first miracle — through the eyes of the person of their choice as part of the story of Jesus transforming water into wine during the wedding at Cana.

Halvorson works for LeaderWise and is the author of the 2022 book, “Real People, Real Faith: Preaching Biblical Characters.”

Halvorson asked participants, “why do we preach?” and “why do you preach?”

Halvorson sometimes hears preachers say, “We preach because we want to express theology and we want to encourage people to align their behaviors with their theology. … For most of us, most of the time, we are hoping all that coalesces inside the inner being that we are as people. We want their faith to grow and to know God is good and loving. By doing that … they increasingly show evidences of God’s love in the world.”

Our Western dichotomy of “head” and “heart” needn’t be so separate, she said. “Often, I find preachers want to impact the heart while they preach to the head,” Halvorson said. But “we’re very holistic beings. What impacts our mind impacts our heart, body and soul.”

Then Halvorson asked participants what caught their eye about the prospect of preaching biblical characters.

It’s their fallibility, one person said. “They’re human, just like we are — human and fallible and still children of God.”

Then it was time to explore the John 2 passage, first from the perspective of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Halvorson got participants talking about how Mary may have perceived the proceedings. How did she find out the wine had run out? What does she then do? Is she using her agency? When Jesus answers her, how might a mother feel when addressed that way by her child? When she tells the servants to “do whatever he tells you,” is she still using her agency?

Can Mary turn the water to wine? No, but she knows who can, one participant said. How does she feel when she hears Jesus tell the servants to fill the large containers of water?

The Rev. Dr. Cindy Halvorson

When a scoop of water is handed to the chief steward, does Mary wonder how this will go? “May can be proud and confident and still hold her breath because she’s scared,” Halvorson said, adding she too has wondered “when I begged God to show up and do.”

And what about the stewards? As was customary in those days, they’d been serving wine to guests for a good long time, and they were exhausted. “Now as a servant you’re told to get how much water?” asked Halvorson. One participant put it this way: “This guy and his mom are guilt-tripping you into something.”

Jesus instructs a servant to take the chalice to that guy and let him have it. How does that servant feel? “I’m so going to get fired for this,” said one participant. “But they’ll know who to blame,” said another.

“Sometimes in our churches, we feel the same way,” Halvorson said. “I’m exhausted. People are mad at me because I didn’t open up from Covid soon enough. I’m being asked to pivot and do something else, when all I really want is a good nap.”

“Suddenly, we’re in the story,” Halvorson said of this approach to preaching. “Our question is, ‘Jesus, are you going to turn our water into wine?’ We want to have faith enough that that’s a positive ‘yes,’ but we’re still asking the question.”

“All of a sudden,” she said, “John 2 has a different feel.”

She left participants with this quote by the Rev. Eugene Peterson in his book “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”: “The Bible includes us, always. Our lives are implicitly involved in everything said and done in this book. In order to realize this, we must enter the story imaginatively. We must let our conversations and experiences and thoughts be brought into the story so we can observe what happens to us in this context through this storyline, rubbing shoulders with these characters.”

Learn more about the Synod of the Covenant’s Equipping Preachers webinars here.

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Synod of the Covenant’s recent Equipping Preachers webinar

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Margaret Farmer, Facility Specialist, Building Services, Administrative Services Group (A Corp) 
Joe Ferguson, Director, Building Services, Administrative Services Group (A Corp) 

Let us pray

Lord of the Harvest, pour out your blessing on the dedicated who are striving to be your faithful field workers, showing your love and sharing your word of new life. Grant them courage and strength as they lead your people to serve their communities with joy and gratitude. Amen.