In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Did you hear what the Blessed Virgin Mary said? She said, "Whatever." Though not a notable word, "whatever" is a most useful word, even a comforting word, as when a mother assures a troubled child, "Whatever happens I will always love you." But today, with a cynical twist this good word has become a negative word. "Whatever," people say, meaning, "I don't care, I'm not interested. I doesn't matter what you think." But this is not how Mary uses this word. In her mouth it is a word faith, for she says of her son to servants at a party that has run out of drink, "Do whatever he tells you." This is a remarkable word of faith, for just before it appeared that Jesus had treated his mother roughly, "Dear woman, why do you involve me?" But Mary rises above this rebuke in faith and says, "Whatever." This was not the first time she had said, "Whatever." Long before she had said to the angel Gabriel, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." (Lk 1:38) Whatever! In all of this Mary is an icon of the Church and of every Christian. She knows that only Jesus can help and she accepts whatever Jesus gives. She brings her neighbor's need to his attention, and she does not specify the kind of help to be given, but leaves it up to her Lord to determine whatever is good. Whatever. The need may be one, but the solutions may be many; a truth which you all too often forget. In time of need you come to the Lord with a packaged deal. You present the need, but you also specify the exact solution and the time when the solution is to be applied. It's no longer, "Whatever", but “Do it my way!” With nagging bills and slimming finances you see the solution as more money right now! With disease attacking your body you see the solution as good health right now! When it comes to a troubled child you see the solution as a remade, changed child right now! How often hasn't the Lord answered your prayers just as you have prayed them, though all too often with little thanks from you? But isn't another solution to your troubles that you remain content with your lot in life whatever it might be, and even bear your backs again to your Father's chastening rob, so that he might drive from you all false gods, all your fleshly notions, and all your unwise dreams? The spirit within all of us answers yes, but the flesh rebels, and so the Christian struggles.
This hurts the pious. This hurts because life is difficult enough. Consider the water pots which yielded such fine wine. There were six of them. "Six days shall you labor, but the seventh day shall be a holy Sabbath unto the Lord." Our labor in life is long and hard. And even when the water pots are filled with water, it is a water which does not quench thirst. What do we get for all our labor on earth? As the old song goes, "Another day older and deeper in debt." Even though God prospers us with many material blessings, in the end, they do not satisfy. The length of our years is seventy or eighty, if we have the strength, yet their span is trouble and sorrow.
Even when we grow stronger in our faith, it often seems that the devil, the world, the flesh, and, yes, even God, are all conspiring against us. A new temptation comes along and we succumb. Another burden is heaped upon our shoulders and we stumble and fall. Yes, the span of our yeas is but trouble and sorrow. Who shall deliver us from this body of death? Mary and the Church have the answer - Jesus. Jesus did whatever the Father bid him to do, and he did unto death. He became our sin, guilt, punishment, death and damnation. Therefore, whatever happens to us, be it pleasing or painful, we know that it all came our way due to God's grace and mercy. The good did not come because we were good. The bad did not come because God was forsaking us on account of our evil. It is all wrapped up in Jesus, in his holy precious blood. Therefore, whatever comes our way has been sanctified by Christ's holy blood and made good and wholesome for us – the same holy blood which is poured over us in Holy Baptism and poured into us in the Holy Communion, giving us Life now and forever. Here the heavenly Bridegroom is joined to his Bride, the Church, and the Church cries out the great “Whatever” of faith.
Yet there is more. Mary’s word of faith is important for another reason. Just as she told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them, so the Church tells its servants of the Word to do the Lord's bidding. The Church hands the keys of the Ministry to these servants and says, "Don't do your own thing, but do whatever the Lord tells you. Don't preach your own word or ideas, but preach his truth. Don't dream up your own visions for the church, but live and walk and work in his promises. Don’t seek your own means, but administer his blessed sacraments. Do whatever he tells you."
When the servants of the Word do whatever the Savior tells them, then miracles, which are even greater than the one at Cana, take place. When the name of God is spoken and water is added a little infant is rescued from the kingdom of Satan, and receives just as much of Christ as that Christian who has studied the scriptures for a lifetime. When the word of absolution is spoken, people who thought they could never be forgiven are set at ease. People bear great burdens into church on Sunday morning, and they leave bearing those same burdens, but they also leave with the promise of God in their hearts and they bear their burdens like Christians. And when the servants of the Word speak the Lord's own words spoken on the night of his betrayal, then as the water gave way to choice wine at Cana, so common bread and wine become bearers of Christ's true body and blood. Though we do not know the how and when of this great mystery, on account of Christ's word we can be sure that just as Mary carried the baby Jesus to the Temple, so the pastor carries Christ to the communion rail, and just as Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms, so you become Simeon and bear him in your hearts and bodies for the salvation, justification, and transformation of your entire being.
Now fortified with Word and Sacrament the faithful can call out their bold "Whatever!" To the world the believer says, "Whatever! Whatever you own, attain, cherish, value, lust for, chase after, all this will be taken from you. Say what you will about my faith. Mock my beliefs. It doesn't matter. I say, 'Whatever.'" In turn, the believer says "Whatever" to his Lord. "O Lord, whatever you have in store for me, this I will receive with gladness. Be it painful or joyous, it has been sanctified by your holy blood, for you did whatever the Father asked of you, even suffering the penalty for all my sins that I might be spared. And in your dying there is Life, for I have not only witnessed the first miraculous sign at Cana, but I have witnessed your greatest miraculous sign, your glorious resurrection from the death that should have claimed me but did not. This last miraculous sign tells me that there is no limit on your power to give, and on account of your shed blood that power will never be turned against me. And the first sign, at Cana's feast, tells me that there is no limit on your will to give. Even the most minor moments of my life are of concern to you. And so, let the Feast continue with the sweet wine of your Gospel and your Supper, and I will profit from whatever you bring my way.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. §
The Reverend Peter M. Berg is pastor of Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chicago, Illinois.