Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
The story from the Gospel of John that we just heard is one of the famous ones… Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding. I think most people, whether churched or not, have heard something about this event. I’ve often thought it would be the basis for a good ad campaign.
The Gospel of John is the only one of the gospels that includes this story – and the writer identifies this miracle as the first “sign” of Jesus’ public ministry. It takes place in Cana – a back-woods kind of town about 80 miles from Jerusalem. Jesus, his mother and his disciples have been invited to a wedding, a celebration that was likely to be an event that lasted several days – lots of people, lots of partying – at least until the wine ran out.
I’ve been thinking about the characters that make an appearance in this story this week. First there is the family that’s throwing the party. Clearly they were expecting a mob – that’s why there were so many empty jars lying around – six of them, each able to hold between 20 and 30 gallons of water. The water would have been used for washing – the dusty feet and dirty hands of all the guests would have been washed upon arrival – a Jewish purification rite. The family was prepared on that end of things, not so much on the other end of things.
There are all the guests – ready to celebrate a marriage – eating and drinking – oblivious, it would seem, to the unfortunate fact that the wine was running low.
Then there’s Mary – Jesus’ mom. She is NOT oblivious to the problem. She sees that the wine is gone and believes she ought to do something about it. What could she do about it? She could get Jesus involved. Perhaps he would do something…perhaps he SHOULD do something. So she puts herself out there, dragging Jesus along with her. And when he drags his feet, she keeps right on pulling, indirectly this time, telling the servants that they should do whatever Jesus suggests.
Then there’s Jesus himself a little perturbed at having his revelry interrupted. “Woman, what does this problem have to do with me?” he asks. This sounds like Jesus’ version of my own kids telling me to “chill out” when my feathers get a little ruffled. I don’t like this part of the story. I mean, he doesn’t even call her “mother” – instead, he addresses her as “woman” – distancing himself from her and her concerns.
Something must have clicked in his heart, however, because Jesus does respond in the end. And this brings the next group of people into the story – the servants.
What a strange request Jesus makes of them … “fill up those empty jars with water and then bring some of it to the Steward.” They must have wondered what in the world he was thinking – but they did exactly as he asked anyway – filling those huge jars to the brim – which must have taken some time as well as a considerable amount of energy. But they did it.
Enter the Steward. This character is the one who is in charge of the party – a first-century wedding planner. Tasting the water-turned-to-wine, he finds that not only is it in fact wine, it’s damn good wine – but that’s all he knows; he has no clue where it came from and furthermore, the quality of the wine has him totally confused. Why in the world would the host save the best wine for last? This is just plain stupid, he may very well have been thinking.
And finally there are the disciples, new friends of Jesus who, because of this miracle, changed their minds and believed in him.
So, that’s the cast –
The hosts who have provided the necessary water for the purification their religion demanded and some, but not enough, wine.
The guests- celebrating human relationships and enjoying the fruits of the earth.
Mary, caring enough about the hosts and the guests to notice when things had gone awry.
Jesus, willing to change his mind after a little prodding from his mother.
Servants who were willing to follow strange orders.
The Steward, the voice of reason – or at least the voice of common sense.
And the disciples – moving from casual friendship with Jesus to something deeper. Having seen God’s glory revealed in Jesus for the first time they believed in him.
In Godly Play, our Children’s education program here at St. Paul’s, after we hear one of God’s stories we ask the question, “Is there anything from this story that we can take out and have it remain the same story – would the meaning change if we left out one of the characters? One of the actions?
As I’ve reflected on this story in light of the other lessons appointed for today, it seems to me that we need all the pieces in order to get the whole picture. We need the folks who are enjoying the good things God has given us. We need those who care enough to detect and do something about the things that need attention. We need workers with strong backs to carry jugs and fill them with water, we need people who are willing to change their minds, we need people to get up out their seats and to address the problem with courage and confidence. We need people to ask the hard questions – to wonder about the way we normally evaluate things – the way we “normally” do things.
Each person, each action in this story leads to a single transformation – water becomes wine – and then that transformation affects all those who made the transformation possible in the first place. It is all this together that make the miracle a sign – a transformation that points to something greater, something more lasting.
Our Epistle lesson speaks to this as well. Paul informs the church in Corinth that it is the same Spirit – the Spirit of God – who gives each person unique gifts for the good of all. One is given wisdom, one knowledge, one faith, one the gift of healing. And all these gifts, taken together, are necessary for the building up of God’s Kingdom.
To our ears, especially in light of what’s happened in Haiti this week, this story may seem irrelevant, inconsequential, thin…. That’s how I’ve felt most of the week, anyway.
I’ve had to remember that it is God’s Kingdom that we’re headed for. It is a kingdom where God’s salvation is complete – where lands will no longer be desolate, where there is no more violence – no oppression – where food and drink are abundant, where justice flourishes. It is the reality of all of creation becoming what God intended in the first place.
This Kingdom is coming – that is our hope. And that seems to be the hope of the Haitians who gather to sing hymns while their dead lie in the streets and utter devastation surrounds them on every Side. It is the hope of all people who believe, like Martin Luther King, that God is up to something we can only begin to imagine – a project of rebuilding and transformation that we’ve been invited to join.
During this season of Epiphany, as we celebrate the light of God in the person of Jesus, may we remember that God has shared his light with the whole world. Despite what some may say, we do not have a corner on this market.
Led by the Spirit, may God give us grace to be attentive like Mary, to ask the hard questions like the Steward, to roll up our sleeves like the servants, to change our minds like Jesus, and finally to believe that all things are possible because of who we believe in. Amen.