SCRIPTURE – John 2:1-11 – On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Jesus, the Life of the Party
January 27, 2013
Some of you may remember last year I preached a sermon series called “Jesus Was Not a Nice Guy.” We looked at some of the more difficult statements of Jesus and tried to make sense of a Messiah who would overturn tables and say he had come not to bring peace, but a sword. It was not an easy series to preach, and I’m sure it was not an easy series to hear.
That was confirmed for me not too long ago, when I heard from several people who were unhappy that I preached about a jerk Jesus. “That’s not how we should be talking about him,” they said. So consider this sermon my olive branch. Instead of looking at Jesus as a short-tempered party pooper, we’re going to look at Jesus the wedding-crashing party animal.
A wedding is an appropriate setting for Jesus’ first miracle in John. In case you didn’t notice, Jesus didn’t really like funerals, including his own. He had an annoying habit of bringing the dead person back to life. But weddings factor consistently into his vocabulary. He tells parables about wedding feasts and compares himself to a bridegroom. And then we have this story about a wedding in Cana.
Weddings in Jewish times were much more involved than our modern-day affairs. They were week-long celebrations that often included the whole village. During the seven days, well-wishers would bring their gifts and their potluck dishes to the groom’s house, where there would be a lavish party that would include eating, dancing, and drinking. It was a lot like today’s receptions, without the awkward Best Man speech and the Electric Slide.
This seems an odd setting for Jesus’ first miracle, doesn’t it? The justice-minded among us might get a little miffed. Surely there were lepers to be healed, blind in need of their sight, lame who desired to walk again. There was no shortage of real need around Jesus. So why did his first miracle in John’s gospel involve restocking the open bar at a wedding?
To answer that question, we have to understand the heavy use of symbolism in John’s gospel. Virtually everything in this book has layers of meaning, and you have to dig below the surface of a story to find out what John is really trying to say. For example, only in John’s gospel are Jesus’ miracles called “signs.”. We have signs all around us. For example, every day we see a piece of octagonal-shaped metal painted red and white. Do we analyze the composition of the metal or the shade of colors used for the paint? No, we stop, because that’s what the sign tells us to do! The power is not in the sign itself; the power is in what the sign says to us.
So what does this sign at Cana say to us? In the midst of the wedding celebration, the host runs out of wine. That’s really bad form. Wine was an essential part of the reception, not just becuase it facilitated the ability to celebrate, but because it signified the blessing of God. The prophets Joel and Amos both write about how there will come a day when the mountains will drip with wine, symbolizing God’s overflowing abundance of grace. To have wine was to be reminded of God’s blessing.
To not have wine? Well, that’s just bad. Did you ever watch “America’s Funniest Home Videos?” Almost every show contains a wedding scene where the groom faints or Grandpa’s pants fall down at the reception. Running out of wine at a Jewish wedding would be on par with that. It was a social faux pas of the gravest kind, and also didn’t bode well for the success of the marriage. So Jesus, after some prodding from his mother, rectifies the situation. He takes six stone jars, typically used for ceremonial purification and cleansing, and has them filled to the brim. That’s as much as 180 gallons of water. He then has a servant take a taste to the wedding coordinator, who confirms that the host not only has wine, but has saved the best vintage for last, instead of serving the good stuff first and then, when everyone was properly sloshed, pulling out the Three Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s.
A few things to notice as we seek to discover what this sign says. First of all, this passage drips with abundance. As you probably know, 180 gallons is a lot of wine. I hope nobody was driving home after this wedding! That was more than enough to satisfy the wedding guests. It was probably enough to satisfy the whole region. And Jesus doesn’t have the servants fill the stone jars half-way. John tells us they are filled to the brim. They go from dry-bones empty to the point of overflowing. You see the symbolism? Abundance.
But Jesus wasn’t just responding the the wine shortage. He was responding to the grace shortage. Grace is the understanding that God loves as we are, regardless of whether or not we truly deserve it. When we forget that simply fact, we suffer from a grace shortage. Ever had one of those? They happen when we forget that God is with us during our walk. It’s terribly ironic that in this time of history where so much is at our disposal, we are most prone to worry. As relationships strain and bills pile up and violence encroaches, our litany of frets starts: Will I have enough? Are we running out? Am I rich enough? Safe enough? Good enough?
We ask our questions of scarcity, emptying the jars of our hearts of grace and hope and trust, until they are empty and we no longer have anything on which we can rely to get us through the tough times. Have you ever felt spiritually empty? Maybe it was caused by something you did, or something someone did to you. Maybe it was caused by the circumstances of life, the fickleness of health crises or financial struggles. Life can often pull the plug on our reservoirs of hope, draining us dry. And, like Jesus’ mother, we begin to worry about whether or not there will be enough.
Of course there’s not enough! If we evaluate ourselves by the world’s standards, we will never be enough. Not successful enough. Not kind enough. Not generous enough. Not loving enough. To selfish or self-interested. We can quickly drain our jars of grace, trying to be good enough, and as long as we trying to do it by ourselves, we will always have reason to question. I believe so much of the world’s problems – conflict, abuse, violence – can be traced back to the root cause of insecurity, our inability to receive grace, our futile efforts to compensate for not being good enough.
But for Jesus, we ARE good enough. Or, better yet, through Jesus we are MADE good enough. This story reminds us that our questions of scarcity are answered by Jesus with abundance. He fills the empty jars of our hearts, restoring our hope and grace, reminding us each time we eat and drink that he is with us. When we open ourselves up to Jesus, we are filled to the brim and our worries are replaced by shouts of praise, because Jesus has saved the best for us.
As John says right before our story today, “From his fullness, we all have received grace upon grace upon grace.” That’s 180 gallons of grace. That six stone jars brimming with grace. When we fall short, when we run out, when our well is dry, Jesus is there with a cup of wine and piece of bread, saying, “There is enough.”
And when there is enough, when we are filled to the brim with grace, we can’t help but let it overflow into our lives in the form of joy. That’s another thing this story tells us. Jesus does his first sign at, of all places, a party! Christians get a bad rap for being dull and boring – don’t do this, don’t do that – but that’s just not true. Joy is a defining characteristic of the Christian life. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once said, “sour godliness is the work of the devil.” A second century bishop echoed this when he said that “the mark of a true Christian is that they are hilarious.”
My grandmother was a true Christian. She was a devout Catholic who never missed church and lived out her faith in the way she raised her children and served in the community. And she was hilarious. Grandma never had her license because my grandpa drove everywhere. She went into the hospital once for surgery, and before the procedure she asked the doctor, “When this is over, will I be able to drive OK?” The doctor said, “Sure, you should be able to drive just fine,” to which my grandma replied, “Good! Because I couldn’t before.”
Grandma was filled to the brim with God’s grace, each day drinking in other glass of goodness that Christ had provided for her. I’m sure she had her empty times, but she stayed open to Jesus’ abundance in her life, and you could see it on her face. When she died, we knew that Grandma had joined the wedding banquet, singing and dancing and laughing right alongside my grandfather and the other wedding guests. At her funeral, someone said to me, “God is having a lot more fun now.” I only hope when you and I die, someone says the same thing about us.
When Jesus comes into our lives, or comes again into our lives, there is a change in us that is like transforming tasteless water into expensive wine. A life lived with Jesus is full-bodied and flavorful, overflowing with grace and punctuated by joy. No matter where we go, we can share the grace and love we’ve been given, whether it’s at a wedding or a soup kitchen, a party or a food pantry. We can turn every place into a party when we infuse it with some of the 180 gallons of grace we’ve been given. May we live our lives as if we are filled to the brim with God’s love, so that it overflows from us and drips onto all those we meet. I now pronounce us blessed, thanks be to God.