Ordinary 2 – January 20, 2013 – So Help Me God
Why three bibles? As you have probably heard today President Barack Obama will be sworn in privately using Michelle Obama’s family bible. Tomorrow in the public inaugural event he will take the oath of office using the traveling bible of Martin Luther King Jr. and the one used by Abraham Lincoln when he began his second term. Why three when there is only one word of God. Because the bibles also contain the stories and memories of the families.
The use of the bible or any reference to God is not required by the Constitution. The expression “so help me God” was first used by Chester Arthur in 1881. The connection is all too obvious. The bible is full of stories about God helping human beings.
There are some things we simply cannot do by ourselves. No amount of military, moral or monetary might can help us get out of all of our troubling situations. And when we or other humans can’t get something done it we usually turn to some other source, some other power. We might even say, “So help me God.”
Take today’s gospel for example. Now isn’t this one of those stories we love to hear? Who cannot help but wonder “how did he do that?” “How can I learn to do that?” However, Jesus seemed annoyed and even sassy in this story. He calls his mother “woman!” He didn’t want to be bothered and told her he is not ready to do this kind of work.
In the Mediterranean culture boys were raised mostly by their mothers. In this story Jesus was probably a young adult, finding his own identity, anxious to assert his independence. Maybe Jesus was embarrassed in front of his young disciples who most likely were wondering how he would handle the situation. Maybe Jesus said, “So help me God!”
This gospel was was written for Jews who lived long after Jesus. They were afraid of confessing their faith in Jesus in public for fear of being tossed out of their synagogue. Not a conversion speech it a pep talk to encourage the Jews, the first Christians, to be courageous in their faith. The miracle in the story represents Jesus’ mission to reveal the beauty in all creation; to save it from what is evil.
There are times when you and I just don’t want to do what someone asks us to do. When a street person begs for money and we are in a hurry? When a close friend or member of the family asks a favor and we are too busy? Maybe there are times when we get embarrassed because we are being asked to do something we are not quite sure how to do. Sometimes reaching out to help others involves taking risks, exploring new paths. Jesus took many chances to do what he believed his father in heaven was asking him to do. His mission was to liberate all people from the burdens of oppression, sickness and even death. Who can carry out such a mission without some help?
Consider Martin Luther King Jr. in our own time. He had a dream that all peoples could be free. He believed his dream. Once while in prison he wrote to his wife Coretta, “I have the faith to believe that this excessive suffering that is now coming to our family will in some little way make Atlanta a better city, Georgia a better state and America a better country. Just how, I do not yet know. But I have faith to believe it will.”  Martin Luther King Jr. was dreaming about turning water into wine.
Today’s second reading challenges you and me to work some miracles in our lives and the lives of others. The first reading from Isaiah said do not be silent, do not be quiet. The psalm called for proclaiming marvelous deeds to all the nations. The letter to the Corinthians describes Christians as people with many diverse gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracle working, prophecy and discernment to name a few. We each cannot take on all these roles. We have to find what gift is ours and then use it for the common good.
The litany of tasks is long. I invite to you join in the response – So help me God!
How are we using our gifts to bring peace to captives, to stop violence against women and children, to feed those who are hungry? So help me God! So house those who have no place to sleep, to voice our concern for minorities, immigrants, unfair labor practices and the unemployed. So help me God! How do we respect our planet and all human beings? How do we advocate for fairness in our own churches and in our country? So help me God!
Martin Luther King’s convictions informed the leadership of the American Civil Rights Movement. Many activists like Medgar Evers followed in his footsteps at great risk. Evers was murdered by a white supremacist in 1963. Tomorrow his wife, Myrlie Evers-Williams, will give the invocation at the presidential inauguration. She is the first non-ordained woman to do so. When asked about praying in public she said “I have never been shy in mentioning my relationship with what I call God, a Spirit … there have been times when I have called on him or her in public. I believe that there is a supreme being that sees us through. 
This is a holiday weekend of transitions and memories when all of us together might think about crying out loud, “So help us God.”
1 Martin Luther King Jr, October 26, 1960, Georgia State Prison, Reidsville, GA
2 Interview with Adelle M. Banks, Religious News Service posted 1/15/13 on Huff Post Religion