Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 17, 2016

2016.01.17 “What Grace Looks Like” -John 2: 1 – 11

Central United Methodist Church
What Grace Looks Like
Pastor David L. Haley
John 2: 1 – 11
January 17th, 2016

Wedding at Cana

“10th century illuminated manuscript of the wedding at Cana. ascribed to Egbert, Archbishop of Trier, ca 977-993. Public Domain.”

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.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. – John 2: 1 – 11, the New Revised Standard Version


Last week we went to a baptism, the baptism of Jesus, at which time we remembered our own baptism. Today, let’s keep it going and go to a wedding. It was not Jesus’ wedding (which we are not told about), but a wedding Jesus attended.

Chances are you’ve already heard about this wedding. If the last wedding you attended was a Christian wedding, you heard about this wedding, because almost every Christian wedding begins with the reminder that “Jesus graced a wedding in Cana of Galilee with his presence and power.” That’s the wedding we’re attending today.

Perhaps, as we attend this wedding, if you are married, it will bring back memories of your own wedding, or other weddings you have attended. Because, as someone once said, “weddings are accidents waiting to happen.” Although you as a guest may not know it, at almost every wedding, something goes wrong. Important people are late, clothes don’t fit, rings roll around, people pass out, fights break out. As a pastor who has officiated at many weddings, I’ve seen almost all of these things happen.

Sometimes the wedding goes fine (I can’t ever say that a wedding goes off “without a hitch”) but the problems are deeper and worse. A bride once told me: “Everything about my wedding was perfect; it was a storybook wedding; the only thing wrong was the groom.” Others could say that about the bride. I’m sure we could all entertain each other for awhile with all the things we’ve seen go wrong at weddings, including relationships afterward.

It was no different at this wedding in Cana. A wedding in that time and place was a multi-day celebration, as well as a show of status and hospitality for the host family. As an aspect of that, wine was not just a beverage; it was a sign of joy and gladness, a sign of the blessing of God. So to run out of wine at a wedding before the celebration is over was troubling and ominous, like a unity candle that won’t light.

In some ways, this is an awkward story for us Methodists, a denomination long associated with the Temperance movement. After all, thanks to Thomas and Charles Welch (yes, of Welch Grape Juice), we’ve been using grape juice for communion since 1864, right up to today, risking the scorn of our Catholic, Episcopalian, and Lutheran friends. When I read the story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana I always think of the story I heard in seminary about the elderly Swedish woman, who – when reminded how even Jesus had turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana of Galilee – said: “Yeah, that’s one thing I don’t like about him.”

Given all that, at this wedding in Cana of Galilee, they began to run out of wine. Who knows, perhaps it was because Jesus got an invitation for one guest, and brought twelve, his disciples, who made the most of the free wine.

But whatever the reason, seeing the problem, Jesus’ mother, Mary, sidles up to his elbow and whispers in his ear: “They’re running out of wine.” And Jesus says, “Well, what do you expect, Mom, it’s a wedding and something always goes wrong.“ No, what he said was, “Not my problem.” Or as Eugene Peterson renders it: “Is that any of our business, Mother — yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.” This shows us, Jesus either had a sense or humor or he didn’t know everything; after all, telling his Jewish mother: “Don’t push me.”

But I understand where Jesus is coming from, don’t you? Providing more wine at a wedding party that may already have drunken guests; isn’t that enabling and isn’t liability involved? Couldn’t Jesus have rightly questioned, “For this reason I have come to earth, to be a purveyor of food and wine?” To use the gifts God has given me to save people from social disgrace? Or was it just a matter of timing? There is a timetable, Mother, and we must wait until it unfolds.

In John’s Gospel, timing is everything, to the degree that there are even two kinds of time. There’s calendar and clock time, such that it’s a few minutes after 11 o’clock on January 17th, 2016. But there’s also eternal time, God’s time, the right time, which every now and then breaks into calendar and clock time. Whenever that happens, we get a glimpse of God’s glory on earth. That’s what happened at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, remembered at every Christian wedding since.

Even as human and divine, Jesus should have known better than to say “No” to your mother, but it really didn’t matter. Like good Jewish mothers everywhere, Mary went ahead: “Whatever he tells you to do,” she told the servants, “do it.”

Either Jesus must have said “It’s not my time” with a smile, or because he too was learning what time it was, because he too went ahead, ordering the servants to fill six stone water pots – holding 20 to 30 gallons each – with water. Then he said, “Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,” which they did. As someone commented, “After all, God has been turning water into wine for thousands of years, here Jesus just speeded up the process.”

When the sommelier tasted the water-now-wine, tasting how good it was but not knowing its source, he called out, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill, brings out the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now: this is not Mogen David, this is Chateau Mouton Rothschild Pauillac, and a thousand bottles of it at that!” “L’Chayim!” I’m kinda sorry I missed it by only 2,000 years.

What is John trying to tell us? If you’re concerned about an open bar, always invite Jesus to your wedding? John tells us it was not so much a miracle as a sign, the first sign Jesus did. But a sign of what? Do we hear this story as a sign that the glass of God’s blessings is half empty, or full-to-overflowing?

Some of us might wonder, if it was worth a miracle to keep the party going long ago in Cana of Galilee, aren’t there far worse problems in the world that require God’s attention, in which a miracle would be welcome? Perhaps our Catholic friends are right, that Mary still stands by Jesus’ side in heaven, requesting his intervention in the problems we direct to him through her: “We have no food!” “No shelter.” “No health.” “No peace!” “Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!”

Just as the mother of Jesus saw her boy as one who could and should meet human need, so do we, the followers of Jesus. We see a world in need, and we believe in one who desired abundant life. We live in a world where for many there is not even clean water – let alone fine wine – so what then does it mean to speak of divine extravagance? In a world where mothers say to their children, “We have no food,” why has the hour not yet come? No matter how we understand divine activity, do we not still – like Mary – want to tug at Jesus’ sleeve and ask:” Why the divine reluctance? Why is God holding out? Why God, do you continue to say: “Not my problem.” (Carol Lakey Hess, Feasting On The Word, Year C, Volume 1, pp. 260-264)

What is the answer? Is it not yet God’s time? Because – from just such stories as this – we believe that God desires abundance and fullness of life for everyone, might it be that we must still follow the model of Mary, prodding God in our prayers for divine compassion and generosity. Might it be that without our prayers – like Mary’s plea long ago – it cannot and will not happen? Might it also be – at the same time – that God now depends upon us to do God’s work on earth, such that as we wait upon God, God waits upon us? Might Mary say to us, as she said to other servants: “Do whatever he tells you?”

And yet, seeing human need, sometimes wondering if the glass of God’s blessing is half-empty, surely this story is less about divine reluctance, than it is a sign of the abundance and extravagance of God, a foretaste of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb breaking into history at a insignificant wedding in Galilee, both a sign of what is to come and what is possible. This, says John – the sign of Jesus turning water into wine in Galilee – is what God’s grace looks like.

Think what a counter-cultural message this is! It seems the only thing people talk about these days is scarcity: we don’t have enough food or money or security or room for others, especially immigrants and refugees. During an election year, candidates like to play upon our fear of scarcity, telling us all the things that are wrong to win our vote by telling us only they can make it better.

Not that we preachers and people sometimes don’t talk that way too, even in church. Do we feel like we ever have enough; enough resources, enough money, enough people? In my forty years as a Pastor I have never left a Finance meeting saying, “We’ve got way more money than we need.”

Sometimes we even define the Gospel in the same way. To hear some Christians tell it, the only reason Jesus lived, preached, taught, healed, was crucified and resurrected was only that so that God will forgive us our sins, overlook our misdeeds.

Which is why we should be grateful to John for reminding us that God’s grace is not only about making up what we lack, but about providing more than we can ever deserve or imagine. Jesus’ sign went way beyond expectation, to provide not just a half-liter of house wine to tide them over, but a thousand bottles worth. That’s what grace looks like.

Perhaps it is time for us to take inventory, to see how we might surprise those around us with abundance of blessing. What do other people need, that we have plenty of? Smiles? In a world where suspicion is the norm, smiles could be powerful. Hospitality? What if every one of us invited one person to lunch or over-for-dinner, to demonstrate hospitality? What about space? Haven’t we as a congregation demonstrated hospitality by filling up our rooms – which would otherwise sit empty and unused – with organizations and ministries and even other congregations? Just this past week I received and replied to a letter from Home School, who meets in our building, in which they expressed how thankful they are to Central Church, for the space we provide, in which their students can experience not only learning but community, which is – after all – a Christian value. (Thanks to David Lose, Epiphany 2B: What Grace Looks Like, In the Meantime, January 11, 2016, for these suggestions and the sermon title.)

Though the party has continued through the ages, it’s time for us to take our leave. We go home from the wedding at Cana of Galilee – not driving but taking a taxi or walking (since we are slightly tipsy) – amazed at what we have seen and heard, even if we are not exactly sure what happened.

In a time of the rhetoric of scarcity, the message of Jesus’ first sign at the wedding in Cana of Galilee is a counter-cultural message that we who call ourselves Christians, need to hear again and again. Because by this sign of water turned to wine at that wedding at Cana in Galilee, we see what grace looks like: God’s grace extravagantly given to us, to be gracefully and generously shared with others. “Do what he tells you!”


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