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The Second Sunday after Epiphany John 2:1-11 __ January 20, 2019
I have been thinking a lot about this story this past week. On Tuesday morning the ever faithful band of Bible study attenders arrived to my stripped down office and together we read and talked about this story from John’s gospel. Suffice to say I had done some reading and preparing prior to their arrival.
On Wednesday at Confirmation this was the focus of our evening class on Epiphany stories, stories that reveal who is this man Jesus? As I prepared for my Confirmation class I pulled up a number of paintings of the Wedding at Cana from a number of artists. Some were classic in style and some were modern and many were from other cultures and perspectives. All were rather intriguing.
And as you might imagine I have been viewing just about everything through the lens of my upcoming and your upcoming time of transition. The stuff I read, the conversations I have, the steps I take—all seem to touch on in some way the next step. Needless to say, that lens has influenced what I seem to have picked up in today’s reading.
That being said, let’s take a closer look. Weddings were a big deal in the first century. They still are. A number of years ago my brother-in-law Tom gave me a book entitled “Cinderella Dreams”, a study on the outrageous cost of some modern day weddings. Trust me when I tell you, we have had some elaborate weddings here, but none came close to the price tags mentioned in that book. It was enough to encourage one’s daughter to elope! (Katie, you can ignore this comment when that day comes!)
Back to the story—one of the things I mentioned to the confirmation students was that I noticed that Mary had noticed. She noticed that something was amiss. She was the poster child of my favorite adage: You can learn a lot when you pay attention. And that leads me to this question--If you had been a guest at the wedding in Cana, do you think you would have known what was going on? Would you have had the eyes and the heart to see? Or would it have been just another wedding?
Not that weddings were drab affairs. Just as they are today, a wedding was a significant event, especially if you are the parents of the bride and you are paying all or most of the tab. The wedding in Cana must have been tough on somebody’s checking account. This wedding in Cana, like most weddings of that day, probably lasted seven days. Seven days of eating and drinking. Think of what that must have meant to a peasant farmer! Keep in mind, we are not talking about McDonald, Burger King or assorted pizzas! We are talking a real spread, the very best, the good stuff.
It must have taken those poor parents years and years of sacrifice and savings to put on a wedding, because a wedding was a time when there was meat and food for a week. A wedding was a time of feasting. The dull, drab diet of bread and cheese was replaced this week with a banquet of meat — and wine. You see, at such a wedding as this, hospitality is everything. Honor was everything. If you invite people to a wedding, hospitality demands that everyone have enough. Enough to eat. Enough to drink.
When Mary, comes to Jesus and says: “They have no wine,” we face more than a minor inconvenience to an otherwise festive occasion. Do you know what that means to this family? Disgrace — that’s what it means. To invite guests and not have enough means that this family is forever disgraced among its neighbors in a small town. I mentioned earlier that Mary noticed. She noticed a problem and she spoke up. What did she say? “They have no wine.” This is an important line. It is important because we are supposed to hear those words as if they include us somehow? And this raises the question: Is this story really about me — and you?
So, let me ask you—and let’s be honest with ourselves--when did you first realize it? Where were you? How old? What happened that caused you to see, to know, to confess at some deep place inside — that your own wine had run out? That your life wasn’t working and would never work as a self-made project. When did you figure it out? That all the bailing wire and duct tape in your repair kit couldn’t patch or fix the “you” that was broken. When did you hit the wall with the truth about yourself: that your brains, your beauty, your money, your connections, your luck — or whatever else it was that you were counting on — was empty or impotent when you needed it the most.
At times like this I am reminded of the lines from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:
(Ecclesiastes 9:11-12). Or, as another translation puts it: ““The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, or favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster”Bad luck happens to everyone. You never know when your time is coming,”
You never know when your wine is going to run out. When did it happen?
Bill Gates, the richest young man in America — richest person, period — recently said church was not part of his schedule. For Mr. Gates it’s a matter of efficiency. He said recently: “There is a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.” Well, who could argue that? If efficiency is the standard, then by all means, don’t let yourself be held back. Get out there with Gates. Beat the competition. Make the deal. Climb that ladder.
I recently read a discouraging article noting that college students today are interested in grades, graduate school and success. The payoff is more money. Evidently they are not interested in learning. And they definitely — according to the survey — are not in college to become deeper, richer, more ethical, thinking, feeling persons. Too inefficient? Get out there and make a deal. Get out there and make your own wine. Do you remember yet when it didn’t work anymore?
Every year during January, during the season of Epiphany, we hear this story, we hear those haunting words: “They have no wine.” And while we may not want to hear those words, they do invite us to listen closer to the rest of the story and the eventual miracle or as John, calls it, a sign of God’s presence and power and glory.
Like the paintings I shared with the Confirmation students, every year this miracle is painted again on the canvas for all to see. The large empty jars are filled with water — gallons and gallons of water. Someone dips in the ladle and takes it to the head waiter. Wine. The best wine. Let’s see: six jars, 30 gallons each. That’s 700, maybe 800 or more bottles of wine.
And here is the Good News—and the invitation or challenge, depending on how you want to look at it. There is wine for the journey. There is no scarcity. There is enough. No, there is more than enough grace and love for all of us. The abundance. See? More than we would ever need to claim. Grace flows in your life. And mine. Grace and love never run out. Many jars. Hundreds of bottles. Plenty and more than plenty. More than we can carry. More than we can fathom. More, certainly, than we ever deserve.
The miracle here is not that water was changed into wine. The real miracle is that regardless of what happens to us today or tomorrow; regardless of what losses we suffer; regardless of what hills we have to climb; regardless of what hurts we have to just endure; regardless of whatever next step this community of faith has to undergo — the grace of God greets us and is inexhaustible.
The miracle is that God takes ordinary people, ordinary things, ordinary events and changes them into new wine, and gives them to us as gifts of love and grace. Gifts that strengthen, encourage and heal. I cannot tell you what the next weeks, months and beyond will be like. I can’t tell you who your next pastor will be, or what he or she might be like. I can’t tell you what will happen in your life tomorrow. But whatever it is, God’s grace and strength to face it will meet you on that day. And it is good wine, the best wine, inexhaustible, abundant.
By the way, as I gathered those painting to insert into my power point presentation for the Confirmation class--I saw you in one of the pictures. I did. Each and every one of you were painted into the scene. When Jesus said to the servant, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward” I saw each of you in the picture drawing out the wine and taking it to someone else. That’s what we do in church, isn’t it? For one another in this place. And for one another in whatever place God puts us. You carry the wine from person to person to person. You see people take it and respond: “This is the best wine ever. Where did it come from? How can I have it?” That’s the best part of the story, I’ve found. That’s the part I like most. You and I are in the picture. We dip into the jar. Out comes the wine. We take it to one another where surprise and wonder never cease. “Where did you get this kind of wine?”
The best thing about us is that we are the ones who take this wine to someone else. And we get to tell the old, old story of God’s abundant grace, God’s overflowing love, and God’s invitation to trust and follow Jesus. Amen