The Life of the Party

I was in my office at our little church in Petersburg, Alaska, when I received a call from my friend Fr. Gary, the priest at St. John’s in Ketchikan.  There they had a Seaman’s Center connected to the church, a not-unusual ministry for Episcopal churches in port towns.  There men (and back then, they were all men) could get a warm bed, play cards or watch TV, wash clothes and get a good meal during the few days their ship was in port.

Gary wanted to know if it might be possible that I knew of any place their manager (I’ll call him Bob) could stay while the state ferry was docked in our town for a day or so.  Sure, I told him we had a foldout sofa in my office that made into a bed exactly for such purposes.

So, Bob, a fellow in his late fifties, and I connected by phone and I told him where we were located, but he needed to know that in the early evening  

he’d have to keep to himself because on Thursday nights we hosted an AA meeting.  “Great,” said Bob.  “I can make my meeting.”

Well, Bob came and went.  Made his meeting, I supposed, and was on the ferry the next morning to Juneau.  I’d met him before when I was down at St. John’s, and he seemed like a nice fellow.  I was glad we could help.

The next Sunday, one of the women on our altar guild caught me in the hallway with a question.  “I don’t drink wine, but somehow when I got things setup for communion, what I poured out of the bottle didn’t smell like wine.”  I took a taste.  Charlotte was right – it wasn’t wine.  It was water.

Our overnight guest had turned the wine to water.

I later told Fr. Gary that we’d have to look into his seminary degree.  And maybe look over his ordination exams.  He’d led poor Bob astray.  I wondered if Bob had actually made his meeting that night.

“On the third day” – in scripture the most amazing things always seem to happen on the third day – “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’”

You know the rest of the story.  Gallons of water are turned into wine so the feasting can continue for the normal seventeen days of a wedding.  Not only were Jesus and his disciples present.  The entire town was present.  This wedding would have been the bash of the year.  Indeed, a good time was had by all.

Eastern Christianity celebrates this miracle as the Epiphany, not the star and the arrival of wisemen.  It is through this occurrence that Jesus’ divinity is perceived.  When Jesus is at the party, there is joy and good times in abundance.   

If this is so, how is it that many too often leave our churches feeling so beat down and worse for the wear?  Or even worse, bored out of their skulls.

The one take-away from this story is, God wants us to thrive, to be joyful.  As Jesus provided such fine wine, he was the Life of the Party.

How is it that we have too often taken the joyous fine wine of the Gospel of Good News and turned it into scolding, or the flat, stale water of irrelevance?

How is it that our country which springs from lofty Promise, has turned the dream of America into the polluted river of Jim Crow?  Turned it into banishment to reservations and impoverishment?  Turned it into insurrection and quack nostrums hawked at the highest level? 

I got the news this Monday that our supervising doctor in West Virginia for House of Hope had died of COVID-19.  He was an anti-vaxer.   He’d fallen for the junk science spread by the former president and Fox News.

Now we have some senators and other politicians comparing a COVID-19 mandate to the Holocaust.  Racial hate seems to be endless with these people.  No fine wine here, only rank pollution. 

“Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) on Wednesday joined that growing number of elected Republicans who have compared COVID-19 vaccine mandates to the horrors imposed on Jewish people by Nazis during the Holocaust.”[1] 

Numerous 2022 Republican House candidates, Republican members of state legislatures and conservative media personalities have also invoked Nazi Germany in criticizing mask and vaccine rules.”[2]

As no members of that party have called out these people for this racist trope, they must be okay with it.  Have they and their party lost all sensitivity to how this sounds to our Jewish brothers and sisters?  Have they no shame?  The Proud Boys and the Three Percenters would be just fine with such trash.

I can still picture the grimace and wince of Dr. Birx as she sat at a press conference while Dr. Trump expounded on the miracle cures of bleach and ultraviolet lights.  Then, on to horse-dewormer and herd “mentality.”  The fine wine of our best science and medical knowledge turned into putrefying

ignorance.  Yes — the transformation of the fine wine of learning transformed into lies and propaganda.  And for too many, with this raging pandemic, the party’s over.  Over 800,000 Americans dead.  For them the party is permanently over.  No life here.

Here was the offering of the miracle of our best science, and it was squandered – poured down the drain.  Fine wine gone to waste.  And people died.

This coming Monday we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King.  He was a prophet for the ages who took our sordid history of racism and transformed it into promise.  A foundational promise born from Gospel Joy.  All are welcome.  All flourish.  It’s the content of character that counts.  Not any outward appearance.  Not class, learning, or color.  Nobility IS character.

As the 1619 Project demonstrates, for many this promise was stillborn.  Slaves were part of the story from the inception.  And, within a generation we had banished to starvation some of the same people invited to the mythic first Thanksgiving. 

As my new, favorite poet, Joyce Chisale of Mawali says, “Little by little.”  Little by little does our nation move into this promise.  But we have so far to go.  So far.

 But when one encounters the sewage spewed by ignorant and hateful minds, I grow tired of it all.  When we encounter our inability to deal with voter suppression and election corruption, we all grow tired.  Sick and tired of being sick and tired!

So enough with the garbage already.  Let’s look at the beckoning promise.  Let’s taste a sip of some of the fine wine brought to our democracy party around the Liberty Tree.

My friend, Martha Morales, a pastor at Claremont United Methodist Church, spoke to that promise in a sermon recently on the Methodist tradition of the Watch Night Service, held on New Years eve.  The Watch Night of which she spoke was held on the eve of the day the Emancipation Proclamation was to take effect.[3]

Pastor Martha writes of the Methodist tradition of the Watch Night Service — that she’d “come to know the Watch Night Service from another vantage point, that of the African American Church. This is from the African American lectionary:

“As close as it can be historically pinpointed, the initial observance of the Watch Night Service in the African American church began on December 31, 1862, when the service was referred to as “Freedom’s Eve.” On that cold December evening thousands of enslaved descendants from Africa gathered in churches and private homes to pray and praise God, anxiously awaiting the news that the Emancipation Proclamation had become law. Prior to this evening, rumors had circulated that at the stroke of midnight, January 1, 1863, all slaves in the Confederate States would be declared legally free, as a result of the new laws set in motion by President Abraham Lincoln. When the declaration of their human independence was affirmed, the freed slaves shouted, sang songs of joy, and fell to their knees with thankful hearts for the new era of freedom that had come their way. After this occurrence African Americans continued to gather annually to commemorate their independence and praise God for bringing them safely through another year and the promise of a new era of freedom on the horizon. This was the beginning of a tradition that still remains.”[4]

This tradition is of the finest of wines our nation has produced, enriching the souls of all.  Medicine for healing.  A good remembrance for tomorrow’s celebration of Dr. King.  The work is far from done, but “little by little…”

Having read Martha’s words, Juneteenth will have a richer, deeper meaning this year.  You remember, June 19 – Juneteenth – is the date that former slaves in Texas belatedly learned of their emancipation.

In the midst of sedition, lies and subversion, there is one Republican who gets the Profiles-in-Courage award, and he gets the Last Word, or close to it.

This Last Word today goes to Mitt Romney who had the moral courage to stand up in the well of the senate and say, “Enough!”  Enough of the lies, the grift and corruption.

Here is part of his speech as he cast his vote to convict on the impeachment charges in Trump’s Senate trial:

This is what Senator Romney said: 

“As a Senator juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice.  I am profoundly religious.  My faith is part of who I am…I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”[5]

After pausing to collect himself and reviewing the charges – asking a foreign government to investigate a political rival (make up dirt), Sen. Romney continued:

“The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so.  The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders.  The president’s purpose was personal and political.  Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.  What he did was not ‘perfect.’  No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security, and our fundamental values.  Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office I can imagine.”

“Were he [Romney] to ignore the evidence and what he believed his oath and the Constitution required, it would expose his character ‘to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.’”[6]

In a stagnant cesspool of pollution, his words were a flowing spring of finest wine for our democracy, genuine refreshment of our liberties.

On Monday, we celebrate one whose words and actions have watered the Tree of Liberty.  As the Senate moves on to consider the John Lewis Voting Rights act, many of my fellow partisans would blame solely two senators if this fails to pass.

But they are wrong. 

In years past, senators on the both sides of the aisle have time and again voted nearly unanimously to renew this legislation.  Where are they now?  Senators, this is your Patrick Henry moment.  Your Dr. King moment.  Your John Lewis moment.

In Atlanta this week Our president put the existential question to America:

“So, I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered?  The consequential moments in history, they present a choice. Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”[7]

For me and my house, I say, let’s pour out the fine wine of equity, opportunity, fair play, unity and solidarity.  Let’s go for a FAIR VOTE.  Let’s raise glasses of the finest vintage of democracy to Dr. King tomorrow.  The fine wine of full inclusion of ALL.   That’s the Life of the only Party that counts.  Amen.

[1] Josephine Harvey, “Another GOP Lawmaker Compares Vaccine Mandates to the Holocaust,” Huffpost, January 12, 2022.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Martha Morales, “Freedom’s Eve,” a sermon preached at Claremont United Methodist Church, January 2, 2022.

[4] “A Watch Night Celebration: New Year’s Eve.” See Behold a New Thing for “Ideas for Celebrating a Service of Watch Nigh; The Tradition of Watch Night; How to Explore Watch Night.” Online location: -A-New-hing.pdf. accessed 21 July 2011 See also Kachun, Mitch. Festivals of Freedom: Memory and meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations. 1808-1915. Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003.; Williams, William H. O Freedom! Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1987.; Franklin, John Hope. The Emancipation Proclamation. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1963; reprint edition, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1995. Also see the Cultural Resource unit for Watch Night 2011 in Brandon Thomas Crowley, guest lectionary commentator, The African American Lectionary,

[5] Adam Schiff, Midnight in Washington (New York: Random House, 2021), 421.

[6] Op.cit., 422.

[7] Joseph R. Biden, quoted in Jackson Richman. “Biden Challenges Republicans in Fiery Speech: ‘Do You Want to be on the Side of Dr. King or George Wallace?’”, ’Mediaite+, Jan 11th, 2022,

January 16, 2022, Epiphany 2

“The Life of the Party”

The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney

Isaiah 62:1-6; Psalm 36:5-10; “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”;
John 2:1-11

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