This week’s Sermons in Progress blogpost comes out a few days late, and without the podcast, due to some technical difficulties on my end. Next week’s blogpost and podcast will be published on time. Thanks!
As I sit down and write this, my mind is partially on the party that I’m hosting tomorrow night with my family. Every time we have one of these big parties we inevitably ask ourselves, “Will we have enough food and drink? Will we have enough space for everyone?” It’s a planner’s preoccupation – will there be enough?
At New Joy’s first Trunk or Treat event in 2016 we ran out of food. Once we started noticing the food running low, I found my kids and told them not to eat. We needed to make sure our guests had enough food first.
This kind of thinking is bound up in limitations. We *may* run out of food tomorrow night at our party. We *may* not have enough space, and guests *may* be uncomfortably crammed. This is true. There are real limits to the amount of food we can prepare and serve, and limits to the number of guests we can welcome into our home.
This is what happened at a wedding in Cana some 2000 years ago, which we’ll hear about in Sunday’s reading from John chapter 2. [Cana is a small city in the northwestern region of ancient Israel, in the vicinity of Nazareth, Capernaum, and the Sea of Galilee.] Ancient weddings were days-long events, and at this particular wedding the wine had run out before the party was over. This is a relatively mild crisis, of course, not quite on par with nuclear war, rampant sexual harassment, or global famine. But still. It would be a major embarrassment for the hosts, and would likely bring the wedding feast to an abrupt and premature end.
Jesus, his mother, brothers, and disciples were all guests at this wedding. Jesus’ mother notices that they have run out of wine. We don’t know how she knew they ran out of wine, nor do we know if that knowledge is widespread. The text does not suggest that the party was yet disrupted by the lack of new wine, so it is likely that very few people knew the wine ran out. (This detail about who knows will become important later, as you will see).
She informs Jesus, “They don’t have any wine,” likely with an implied yet unspoken directive, “and you need to do something about it.” Jesus demurs, yet mom doesn’t seem to care. “Do whatever he tells you,” she instructs the servants. Egged on by mom, Jesus tells the servants to “fill the jars with water.” After they are filled (a process likely to take some time and effort), Jesus tells them, “now draw from the jars and take it to the headwaiter.” Unbeknownst to everyone except Jesus, his mother, and the servants, water had turned to wine. The headwaiter praises the groom for serving the best wine last.
For a sense of scale: The jars were six stone water jars used for rites of purification. These were massive jars – 20-30 gallons each. Filled with wine, that represents over 750 standard bottles of wine. It is a ridiculous amount of wine. Scarcity has become abundance. The wedding feast will now continue for some time.
And let’s take note of the actions in this story: Jesus doesn’t touch the wine, or speak any blessing. There is no pronouncement that for those who believe the wine will be restored. None of this. Instead, Jesus gives direction to a few servants who follow his words, and abundance and joy extends to everyone.
Jesus gives direction to a few servants who follow his words, and abundance and joy extends to all.
There is soooooooo much in this reading that I kind of wish I could preach on it for weeks. Here are a few threads and themes:
The theme of abundance is, well, abundant in this text. Jesus provides not only wine but massive quantities of wine, and the best wine at that. This is a sign showing us who he is – the Son of God who gives us not only grace, but “grace upon grace” (John 1:16). That is, serving up heapings of grace is Jesus’ modus operandi. In this case, the “grace upon grace” is delivered with a vast amount of the best wine.
Related, then, we see in this story the theme of grace. Nothing in this story tells us that the bride and groom deserved such a gift. The Gospel writer doesn’t tell us that this couple was righteous and loved God. Nothing of the sort. Running out of wine would have been an embarrassment and brought them shame. Jesus saves them from this shame. But more than merely saving them from embarrassment, he instead works to bring them greater honor by making it look like they saved the best for last. Jesus makes them look good. Really good.
The theme of humility also shows up in this story. Jesus acts quietly, humbly, allowing only the servants and his disciples to know what’s going on. Jesus does not draw attention to himself, erect a great monument to himself, or make a grand gesture of his generosity. No. In fact, he shield the crowd and hosts from knowing, but only allows the servants and his followers to see this sign. In this story Jesus works with and through the lowly, not the mighty, and reveals himself to humbly to the most humble.
And finally, there’s the theme that the work of a few can bless many. Just a few servants followed Jesus’ instructions, and the whole wedding party was blessed. They did not know who worked the miracle or why. They did not necessarily deserve this blessing, and Jesus certainly doesn’t demand any kind of purity or righteousness from the recipients. A dutiful few who followed his instruction brought blessings, joy, and abundance to many. May we be like those servants, bringing blessing and joy to our community!
I will likely touch on all of these themes this Sunday, but I am certainly drawn most strongly to the theme of abundance. How often do we perceive and proclaim scarcity in our lives? “There’s not enough!” we say as we stare at empty jars. While that might be true of finite resources, it is not true of God’s grace. We are so accustomed to managing finite resources that, over the generations, the church has fallen into managing God’s grace as if it were finite, limited, and given only to a few. Whereas it is understandable that we who manage our own pocketbooks, or consider the spending of a church ministry budget, do so with a measured caution, we have to be careful that we don’t apply the same management to the promises and blessings of God. God’s grace has no limits.
But more. Experiencing God’s grace and seeing its abundant provision should provoke us to reconsider why and how we think in terms of material limitations in the first place. God has given creation all it needs – and more! – to sustain itself. Why are we struggling with food shortages in some parts of our nation and world, and waste in others? It’s not that we lack resources, but that we lack the will, the desire and the faith to see to it that such resources be used how God intends – for the blessing and prosperity of all of God’s people!
Yes, what are the resources, the opportunities, the hopes that we feel have run out? In this story from John 2, Jesus shows us rather than being empty, our glasses – are jars – are filled to the brim. May we have the eyes of faith to see and the will to share from the filled-to-the-brim jars of grace and life our Lord freely gives us.