Come now oh Holy Spirit and kindle within us the fire of your love and may my words and our hearts glorify you, oh God our Rock and our Redeemer.
As you all know, Samie and I will be tying the knot soon. Over the past few weeks, we have looked at many scriptures that are commonly used at weddings. I sometimes wondered as we were reading though them, who would use some of the scriptures that were on the list. They were all lovely of course, but for a wedding we could help but scratch our heads at some of them. Today’s reading from the gospel of John was on that list. No, we didn’t choose it. It is however a wonderful story and I believe there are some things we can learn from it.
Our reading today comes right after Jesus has called his disciples. They are, as I believe, not quite sure why they are following this man, who to them is a stranger. They leave behind their families and everything they know to follow him. They know that he is the Messiah, the one Moses wrote about, but I am not sure they understand what it means to be a disciple. Three days later they along with Jesus and his mother, Mary, are attending a wedding they had been invited to. It is not far into the story that a situation arises, one that should not happen at any wedding, and that is they ran out of wine. A little history here, weddings were not one day events during this time. Weddings would last all week or for seven days. Can you imagine attending a wedding that went on for seven days? Imagine explaining that one to your boss. Needless to say, you would probably not be attending many weddings in this day and time if they went on for seven days. But here we are, presumably on day one and the wine runs dry. There were no liquor stores that you could just run down the road to and pick up some more bottles of wine and come back. No reason to fear, because they, the host, invited someone who can change everything around. Mary tells Jesus, “They don’t have any wine.” His response, which sounds kinda harsh is, “women, what do you want me to do about it. My time has not yet come. His mother told the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’.”
In a sense, Mary pushes Jesus into his ministry. She gives him no choice. She knows what he is capable of and for her the time has come that others see with their own eyes who he really is. If you remember from Mark, Jesus liked to keep is identity hidden from others. He wanted people to know who he was, not what miracles he could perform or the healing he could do. Yes, actions were important factor in believing, but Jesus had a greater message to share. Perhaps that is why here in this story in John, Jesus seems to be telling his mother, the time is not right. She didn’t listen. For her, the time was right. Timing was important for Jesus. If people just knew him for what he could do then would his message be lost? If they just listened to him, then what would make him different from other Rabbi’s of that time. He knew that many would need to see in order to believe but was this the right time? Was this the right place? He was still very early in his ministry. Timing is important for us today. When is a good time to approach someone and share the good news with them? When is a good time to start volunteering at a food kitchen? And maybe like Jesus, you need someone to give you a push to get there. Maybe you have wanted to go and help those who are homeless build some type of shelter from the elements, but just didn’t know how to get started and when was a good time to do so. I think in certain aspects of our discipleship, we need someone like Mary to give us that push. We all need family, friends, or mentors who can help us and guide us. Sometimes we just have to rely on one another. What I do believe is that when we are called to help and when the time is right to share the good news with others, we will know. We must continue to listen for the Still Speaking voice to guide us and direct us.
So there were six stone water jars that were used for Jewish cleansing rituals near by and each one held around 20 to 30 gallons of water each. More than likely these were used so that one could wash their hands prior to eating and may have had other uses as well. Jesus tells the servants to fill the jars with water and they did. They filled the jars to the brim. He told them to take some of the water and give it to the headwaiter and they did. The head waiter tasted the water that had become wine.
There are no magic tricks here. Jesus didn’t stand over the jars and wave a wand saying “abba cod bra.” What Jesus did do is he took the stone water jars and transformed them into something new. In a sense, he took the jars used for ritual cleansing, which was a law, and transformed in a way staying that something new has come about. What was would be no more. You know the ways of the Torah but I am coming to write a new chapter. I have come as God, in the flesh and things are going to be different around here. You hold on to your rituals and laws, but I have come to show that there is another way, a new way. Jesus had a way to take something as ordinary as this pen and see it and use it in a new way. I want you to know that you can do the same today. Ok, maybe you can’t turn water into wine (there are kits available online that can help you do that) but we can take the ordinary things we see in our everyday life and use them in a new way for the good of others. People have transformed old buildings that were abandoned and turned them into shelters for the homeless. Restaurants that have closed their doors have been opened and meals once again cook on the stoves to help serve those who are hungry. We have taken even spaces in a building and made good use of them. Look at where we are today. St. John has some rooms that are not used at all, and we were able to use one of them to gather in and worship God.
Just as buildings and places have been transformed, I know people who have been transformed as well. Author and UCC Pastor, Lawrence Tanner Richardson shared a memory on Facebook this past week, that the UCC had quoted him on five years ago. He said, “To find a church that affirms who I was. Who allowed me to fall in love with myself. For me that changed everything.” Lawrence’s life was transformed by the love he received from being a part of the United Church of Christ. My life and faith was transformed as well by the UCC. I had only known of a very conservative theology prior to learning about the UCC. Since joining this church almost ten years ago, my faith has grown, my path and journey has changed from who I was prior to joining. God is working in Lawrence, God is working in me, and God is working in you too. In the same way that God is transforming the lives and faith of others, God is using ordinary people in extraordinary ways. Each one of us, as followers of Christ, are called to discipleship in one way or another. Some of us are called to be pastors, musicians to bring a joyful noise to God, others are called in ways to lead committees or study hour. God is transforming us for the service and work to be God’s face and body on this earth.
I am sure the disciples along with the servants never looked at those jars of water the same again. What was once just used for ritual hand washing were now seen to supply the greatest wine of all, that anyone had tasted. The servants, according to the text, knew where the new wine had come from. They knew they had filled the jars with water but then the head waiter said it was wine. Just as the jars had been transformed, I think it would be fair to say (although the text never says this) that the lives of the servants, in some small way, had been transformed as well. What they thought they knew wasn’t really what it was at all. Some of us think that we can figure out God. But when we do, we often put God in this nice neat little box that fits what and who we think God should be. We sometimes want God to be who we want God to be. We sometimes believe that God will act when we want God to act. When we do this, we are really misleading ourselves to who God really is. When we make God who we want God to be, we are limiting what God can do based on our own understanding. The wine was transformed before their eyes. If as servants they had any idea of who God was, I am sure it was changed at that moment. Their eyes were opened to see and know God in a new and exciting way. Not only were the servants eyes opened, but those of the disciples were as well.
The head waiter was impressed but for different reasons. He only knew this was really good wine. He tells the groom that people usually serve the good wine first and you know when everyone is a little tipsy, that is when you bring out the second-rate wine. The head waiter believes that the groom has done the opposite. The people had been drinking that is why the wine is gone in the first place, but now instead of second-rate wine, this wine seems to be better than the first. The funny thing about wine is that often the best tasting wine is the oldest. The longer wine sits there and has a chance to ferment, the better quality you get. Don’t you think the same can be said about us? I have learned so many life lessons from working at the nursing home. I have listened to many stories over the years. Happy stories, sad stories but the ones that really have transformed me and my thinking have come from people that are elder than myself. I have learned that things that I really thought that matter the most in this life are not that important. People have taught me that what matters the most to them is family, love for one another, and cherishing moments that so quickly pass us by. I can’t learn from someone who is say twenty years old what I can learn from someone who is older and wiser than I am. Sometimes those that others dismiss are the very ones that God is using to transform the lives of those around them.
Even though Epiphany has passed, it is not hard to see that this story is filled with ahh moments. An ordinary wedding celebration was allowed to go on because the wine didn’t end. The host would not be chastised or spoken ill of because there wasn’t enough wine to last for seven days. If you are wondering, someone did the math on how much wine those six jars held. Depending on the actual volume, 20 or 30 gallons and the size of the average wine bottle, Jesus produced what would be equivalent to 600 to 1,000 bottles of wine. Yes, Samie and I will be having wine at our wedding however, we will not have anywhere near even 600 bottles.
As any of you know from reading John’s gospel, there is generally more to the story that what meets the eye, as in the case of this story. I believe, what is at the heart of this gospel story, is that of abundance. We often don’t think about abundance as we do that which is the opposite, scarcity. Some of us all too well know what it is like not to have enough. We often associate abundance with “things”. Some of us have an abundance of food, clothes, and necessities, especially here in America. We can turn on the TV and watch episodes of Hoarders, where people cannot even get around their homes, because they have collected so much stuff. Some have an abundance because they have a fear of running out. Those who lived though the depression era often have more than what they need, because when they were younger, they saw how difficult it was to obtain the basic things they needed due to the ration of certain items. Some people have an abundance of things because as psychologist put it they are trying to fill some void in their life. Things help fill that void, but it is temporary so they need to go and buy more and more.
There was, now thanks to Jesus, an abundance of wine. There would be no way this host would be talked about in the community for running out of wine. The guest were kept happy too. The party could go on as planned. Our story is about Jesus revealing to us God’s abundance for us. God’s love is like the jars of wine. So much love that it over-flows from the jars and runs down. There is an endless supply. There is no need to hoard God’s love, because it never runs out. God’s love is there for us to share. When we get what we need, we can share it with our neighbors. God’ grace is the same way. God’s grace for us has no end. This is what I believe is meant when the text says, “He revealed his glory.” Jesus, God made flesh, came to show us all that we have all we need from God. There are no conditions on God’s grace and love for us. No creed we must profess, no ritual ceremonies, all we must do is be who God has created us to believe. The disciples, we are told, saw all of this and believed in him. They may have been nervous leaving behind everything they knew, but now they get a glimpse of who Jesus really is.
How do we as followers, disciples, of Jesus Christ, share with those around us? We have received in abundance God’s love, but how can we share that with others? We share God’s love when we stand with those who are marginalized and outcast. When we put on our walking shoes and march in Women’s marches. When we volunteer to serve food at the food kitchen. Others reveal God’s love and share it with others when they help to reconvert and remodel old buildings, often abandoned and transform them into housing for the homeless. We share God’s love by inviting our neighbor to church with us. God’s love is shared when we gather around God’s table and share in the breaking of the bread together. Many see us becoming more divided everyday. As followers of Christ, we can help to build bridges over the divide by sharing God’s love with them. We still have much work to do around us. As Marin Luther King Jr. once said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Justice that can only be revealed when we all realize that we have enough and need to share with others. God’s grace and love was made known at the wedding feast that day. Mary first noted a crisis at hand and she gave the task of fixing it to her son. She gave Jesus the push that sometimes we can could use. Mary saved the party, let’s not look over that from the story. The problem was not only fixed but it was even better than it was originally. Jesus took what was ordinary and transformed it into something extraordinary. How is God chaining you or what is around you. Transforming us all into disciples, transforming one life at a time. Alleluia and Amen!