Some Saw the Glory; Some just Drank the Wine
Rev. Andy Ferguson
When it comes to a miracle, either you get it or you don't. What I mean is that the miracle is intended to catch those who experienced it and those, like us, who hear about it, by surprise. Listening to the story of a miracle should be like walking down an unfamiliar path and stumbling across a beautiful garden. Our habit of explaining and dissecting miracles sucks the life out of them. You are going about your normal business when something simple happens and suddenly you realize that you are in the presence of the holy. That's the experience of a miracle.
I. There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 The wine gave out . . .
[Q:] Why did the wine run out at the wedding feast?
[A:] Jesus took a bunch of fishermen with him!
At some point in the wedding, they ran out of wine. But, Jesus was there. This was a moment of possibility.
A. There is the possibility that this is going to be somewhere between embarrassing and disastrous. Weddings were big events in first-century Jewish villages. People who were getting married were expected to have big parties to entertain the whole community. The parties didn’t last for two or three hours. They went on for days! So, running out of wine is going to be remembered. At the first anniversary, at the fifth anniversary, at the tenth, or the fiftieth anniversary party, people are going to tell the story about how “That couple ran out of wine at their wedding.”
2. But this is not the only possibility. We don’t know why they ran out of wine.
+They might have been poor, and couldn’t afford enough for the party they wanted.
+They might have underestimated how much they would need.
+It may have been a bad year on the farms in that region, and there simply wasn’t any more to be found.
+Or it may have been all the fishermen who crashed the party with Jesus.
Whatever the reason, THEY RAN OUT, BUT JESUS WAS THERE. Jesus turned water into wine. He not only turned water into wine, but he turned it into the best wine! Better than what they had already been serving. So, fifty years from now, the story is going to be told: Jack and Betsy ran out of wine at their wedding. But Jesus was there! “Oh, yes! Jesus was there.”
[STORY] What does this story teach us?
A little girl who had just been told this story was asked, “What do you think this story teaches us?” And she replied, “It guess it teaches us that when you have a wedding, it’s a good idea to have Jesus at your party.” Yes, it is a good idea.
In Cana of Galilee, Jesus turns a moment of potential disaster into a moment of possibility! A moment of potential! A moment of fulfillment! Yes, it would be a very good idea to have Jesus at your wedding party. Or your anniversary party. Or any party you can throw.
II. Mary turned to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come."
Scholars have written extensively about this exchange, worrying that it was disrespectful of Jesus to speak that way, that Mary was asking something inappropriate, or that part of the story has been omitted. It is obvious that those scholars did not have a southern mother like my mother. Otherwise, they would have already understood.
My mother was one of these southern mothers who believed that the men in her life should be able to do anything that falls under the heading of “Men’s Work.” That they should do it without requiring her to listen to the details about how it was done or the amount of effort required. Lucky for her that my Dad was a farm boy from Middle Tennessee and he could, in fact, do just about anything with his hands. He was one of those men who might not know where his socks were kept, but he always knew where his tools were.
Fifty years ago when home air conditioning was just becoming available, she asked my Dad to get a window air conditioner for our house. It never occurred to her that our ‘40's era house was not wired for 220 V.A.C. So, when the big box arrived from the store, Dad took care of the details. She never paid it any attention until it was installed and ready to turn ON for the first time.
About that same time, our family got our first television – back when signals were weak and antennas were quite primitive. I only remember my Mother commenting, “Knoxville has three stations.” My Dad bought one of the antennas required and made the other two himself out of oak from the farm and some wire. They did the job until we moved from that house and left them behind.
So, when Mary turned to Jesus and said, “They have no wine,” I know exactly what she was doing. “Don’t trouble me with the details; I know you can fix this. So, make it work.”
And when Jesus replied by saying, “My time has not come,” he was thinking about the cross and the resurrection. Of course, Mary was not thinking about that. She was thinking about the wedding and the embarrassment to the family if the reception turned into a bust.
And yet, I believe that like all mothers, Mary, believed in her son and knew what was capable of doing. At his birth, when the shepherds were telling her what the angels said about her baby son, the Bible says, “Mary treasured all of these things in her heart.” You can bet she did. She was HIS mother, and I believe that Mary expected that Jesus could fix this. And if it requires a small miracle: “Well, just fix it.”
She believed that Jesus could do something about the big, important problems like life and death and life-after-death, and that he could do something about the little, important problems like running out of wine at a family wedding.
POINT: “Take comfort in what Mary saw in Jesus. Take comfort that the Jesus who can command Lazarus to rise from the grave and who will command the storm to cease also cares about the little things that bring our lives both joy and pain. Take comfort that Jesus sees eternal purposes in the little things where we live every day.
Now, take hope from the fact that Jesus brought joy to this wedding. Don't miss the joy. Jesus saved a party from being a disaster. People are too accustomed to seeking God’s presence only at the sorrowful times of life or only when they are sad and need comfort. Those, whose idea is that God is a cosmic killjoy, need to look carefully at this story. Our God is the Fountain of Life, and who provides us with a river of delights. The coming of the Lord is the time of gladness, rejoicing, exultation and joy.
III. His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water."
A. Notice something important: this miracle is the result of what the servants do. The miracle points to the glory of Jesus, which means God’s presence in Jesus. But it is only possible because of what the servants do. And, What do they do? They do just what is expected of them. Mary takes the servant role, too. She saw a need and did something about it.
Most importantly: the servants got to take part in the miracle. When Jesus says, “Put water in the jugs,” they put water into the jugs. And that little bit of servanthood, that little bit of following instructions, that little bit of believing that something good can happen makes this moment of glory possible.
What does it mean for us? It means that servants of the Lord are the ones who get to see the miracles. And when we invite this congregation to get personally involved in ministries large and small, we are only asking what Jesus asked first. The servants got to see the miracle, and they got to be part of the miracle.
B. Miracles are built of very ordinary stuff. There are no lighting bolts in this miracle – a few empty jars and lots of ordinary water. You are going about your normal business when suddenly you realize that you are in the presence of the holy.
1. When Jesus fed the 5000 with the loaves of bread, it was just bread. Jesus just gave thanks to God the way we all know how to do. But, in Jesus' hands, bread became a feast; a few loaves became food for thousands, and prayer became the moment when God threw a picnic. There were surely people that day who missed it; there were, thankfully, people who got it and told us all about it.
2. When Jesus healed the leper, it was just a patch of dead skin. Too bad the ancients still had a lot to learn about medicine. But, at Jesus' word, dead skin became healthy, and one throwaway life suddenly had a future. There were plenty of people who never realized that anything had happened. They didn't know that leper; years later they had no idea that this healthy person had been healed of her leprosy. Thankfully, there were people who got it and told us all about it.
On the day Jesus visited the wedding feast, some saw the glory, and some just drank the wine. Thankfully, there were people who saw the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary - and knew that God was moving among them. That was the miracle.
IV. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from, the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now."
The story provides us with something extraordinary. Instead of doctrine, we get a wonderful party. Stone jars for rites of purification and law-keeping are suddenly filled with the best wine. And we would explain all this away as a frivolous stunt, except that the whole thing was caused by Jesus himself.
The church of the 21st Century has become a place that piously teaches: being Christian means being
+and politically correct on every issue.
We have become a church whose unspoken symbol is the starch we put onto our dresses and our shirt collars. Christian righteousness has become a public stiffness that we throw off only in the privacy of groups where we feel safe from criticism.
There is nothing whatsoever in our religious background to prepare us for the water into wine. Everyone thought that we had to wait for heaven to have this kind of gladness. Yet, wherever Jesus goes, people experience something of heaven right there. "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand..." and there is rejoicing!
The Rev. William Sloane Coffin once said:
"Jesus turned water into wine,
But we in the Church have become very good at turning the wine back into water."
The new wine of Jesus–the fulfillment of God's hopes for the people of the world–is what we long for and hope for. Yet when we look about us, we can see oldness at every level. We carry old fears and anxieties despite our faith in God; we are weak stewards of God's gifts to us.
+Instead of being servant-minded, we are career-minded.
+Instead of freedom in Christ, we are mired in bureaucratic structures to do the world's business.
Sometimes it's hard to see the newness of life.
Six jars of wine at 25-gallons per jar are the equivalent of 900 bottles of wine - a staggering amount for a small town wedding party. Something odd does seem to be going on here. Even at a really big party, 900 bottles of wine seem like Extravagant excess. And that is the point: Jesus transformed all that water into 900 bottles of wine to demonstrate in delightfully shocking manner that God's grace is extravagant and poured out with delightful abandon. God invites us, of all people, to join the feast, to dance every dance, to hold God's hand in joyful abandon. The newness of life in Christ promises that the best is yet to come!
Years ago, during stewardship campaign time, the preacher wanted to show the children how extravagant God's grace can be. So, he took a punch bowl and filled it with candy. Then, with the punch bowl in his lap, he met the children on the steps of the chancel.
First, he let the children see this ridiculous amount of candy in the punch bowl.
Then, he gave each child one piece of candy – a gift which hardly dented the pile of candy in the punch bowl.
Finally, he asked the kids, "Aren't you glad that I shared my candy with you? Isn't this just the best day you've ever had at church?" Well, the kids were not buying it. They kept looking from their one piece of candy to the big punch bowl in the pastor's lap. They were too well behaved to object out loud, however.
When the preacher saw them squirming, he observed: "I haven't really shared my candy with you, have I? I gave you a little but kept most of it for myself. The kids nodded their heads in agreement.
Then, the preacher said: "Let me show how God shares." And he took the candy out of the punch bowl by the hands-ful and tossed it to kids in every direction. Finally, he turned the punch bowl upside down and poured the candy into the children's laps. Of course, they knew exactly what to do. The preacher watched the children scramble for the candy and observed: This is the way God gives; this is the way God's grace is given."
Much later, as he was telling me about this children's sermon, he added one more note. When the children went back to their seats, there was still plenty of candy scattered on the chancel steps. The kids couldn't carry all the candy and left some behind. So, when the service was over, the choir had step over all the grace scattered on the chancel steps.
So, what was it? Just candy? Or signs of God's grace scattered on the steps? That's the way miracles work: We are busy doing the ordinary when suddenly we stumble on grace. Some get it; some don't. Some see the glory; some just drink the wine.
1. J. Wesley Wilkey, Tremont Illinois UMC.