Scripture Lesson: John 2: 1-11
Sermon: Where’s the Wine?
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
“From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!” This prayer is associated with St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Spanish cloistered nun. So, even then Christianity was associated with people who seemed, well, miserable. We’re often seen as the religion of “Thou Shalt Not’s”. No dancing. No drinking. No smoking. And we can heap upon that the guilt, guilt, and more guilt, that Christianity has become famous for. And it doesn’t help that the main visual image for Christianity today is the cross, with or without Jesus, an instrument of torture associated with suffering and shame. It’s no wonder people don’t want to come to church! Who wants to associate with a religion known for being so sour and dour?
But the original visual image for Christianity was the garden. Abundance. Beauty. Animals. Plants. Nature. And Jesus in the midst of it all with his friends and followers.
That is much more compatible with the story that we heard this morning from the gospel of John. The story of Jesus turning water into wine is the first big splash in Jesus’ ministry in John. This is how Jesus makes his first impression. It is his debut performance so to speak. And, as we know, a debut is a defining moment intended to set the tone for what is to come. So in this gospel, the first impression we are given of Jesus is not feeding the hungry, or curing someone who is sick, or forgiving someone who has sinned. That will come later. The first defining scene is a wedding. A party. A celebration. Of love and family and community. And at this event, Jesus turns a LOT of water into a LOT of very good wine.
Benjamin Franklin observed, “Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”
In John, Jesus begins his ministry making people happy at a festive celebration that would go on for several days. At a wedding, Jesus turns water into wine. A large quantity of water. Intended for purification. Evidently from a lot of sin and guilt. Into wine. A lot of wine. Good wine. The best wine. Jesus is known for abundant life and joy. He was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton. He was known for lavish eating and drinking. His disciples were chastised for not fasting. Jesus defied conventional expectations for someone devout and religious. He was serious about turning mourning into dancing, as the psalmist says.
So, Jesus walks into a bar with the disciples. They sit down. Jesus winks at his friends and orders: “Thirteen glasses of water, please.”
In the story of the wedding in Cana, the wine has run out. This is a situation of scarcity and disappointment. Jesus turns the water into wine transforming scarcity and disappointment into abundance and joy and celebration. He transforms the situation. Jesus offers an experience of God, God’s love and grace. The Hebrew Bible associates wine with the good life, abundance, and God’s new age. Jesus is showing people that this is happening here and now, big time; 6 jars of water, each containing 20-30 gallons, turned into the finest wine. This is not a discreet gesture. This is a flamboyant display to make sure they get the message of the extravagance and superabundance of the love of God. Here. Now. With you. Among you. Within you. There is a transformation from worrying about sin and scarcity to joyfully celebrating life, community, and love.
This scene challenges our sense of order and what is possible. It challenges our dour religious sensibilities that associate faith with guilt and sacrifice. Here we see a wedding, a linking in love, a joining of humanity and the Divine, no one left out, no one lonely, all brought together, bonded by love and celebrating with joy. Jesus offers a very positive, joyous expression of faith. It is not sour or dour. It is a party. Food. Drink. Friendship. Overflowing. New possibilities. Greater things. Love.
In a recent post from Matthew Fox, known for creation spirituality, Fox talks about falling in love with the universe. Being intoxicated by creation. Experiencing life in its fullness and being blown away with awe and wonder. Fox cites the commandment: “Thou Shalt Fall in Love at Least Three Times a Day.” He explains: “At first glance, this commandment sounds threatening to our relationships, but that’s because our anthropocentric culture has taken the immensely mystical experience of ‘falling in love’ and applied it exclusively to finding a mate.
“In fact, we could fall in love with a galaxy every day (there are two trillion of them) or we could fall in love with a star, of which there are hundreds of billions in our galaxy alone. Or a species of wildflower, of which there are at least 10,000 on this planet. Or a species of bird, fish, tree, plant. Or with another human being—preferably one different from ourselves or suffering differently. We could fall in love with music, poetry, painting, dance. If we fell in love with one of Mozart’s works each week, we would have seven years of joy. How could we ever be bored?” [http://dailymeditationswithmatthewfox.org/2019/08/01/the-via-positiva-getting-drunk-on-the-beauty-of-the-universe/?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Daily+Meditations+with+Matthew+Fox%3A+August+1%2C+2019&utm_campaign=Daily+Meditations+August+1%2C+2019]
That is the superabundance and joy that we see in the defining story of the wedding at Cana. It is the kind of religious expression we see in Jesus. It’s the garden image again. Above and beyond what is expected. An invitation to abundant joy at what is and that we are part of it, together, in love, in God.
Today, people experience so many disappointments. We are consumed with scarcity in our lives. Scarcity of love, joy, money, friendship, purpose, security, beauty, connection, meaning, hope. This contributes to rising addiction, mental illness, anxiety, violence, and suicide in our society. We’ve forgotten how to be in love with life, with nature, with each other as human beings together on this wondrous planet. And this is just what our faith teaches IF we will pay attention and learn.
When Jesus got the bill for the last supper, he was shocked at the expense. Glaring at the disciples, he demanded, “Who ordered all that wine?”
It seems to be hard for us to get the hang of trusting in the way of Jesus to lead us to joy and love.
We are part of a religious expression, as we see in the story of Jesus turning water into wine, that believes in transformation. Jesus is showing us what life can be: a celebration of love and joy and community. We are part of a spiritual tradition that trusts in superabundance and solidarity. We are part of a heritage that believes in new possibilities and greater things. Christianity began as a spiritual path of joy and abundance and celebration. It found its way into judgment and guilt because that’s how to control people.
But in the story of the water into wine, Jesus is clearly out of control. His mother cannot control him. He is not controlled by the dictates of society or the desires of others. He is in God’s hands alone, controlled only by inexplicable, extravagant love. Fitting for a wedding!
So, someone asks: Does anyone know which page of the Bible explains how to turn water into wine? It’s for a party on Friday.
Friends, today, there are people dying of thirst. We are parched. Depleted. There is a deep scarcity of love, joy, meaning, purpose, worth, and community in our context. Sadly, horrifyingly, El Paso and Dayton prove this. And our religious tradition offers us not just water but wine. Our faith invites us to thrive and flourish together – to be overwhelmed – with the goodness and beauty and joy of life.
For Christians, Christmas is a celebration of joy, so let’s look to Mary, not just at the manger, but at the wedding in Cana. In this story, she shows trust and confidence in Jesus. “Do what he says.” And she is not disappointed. Nor are the wedding guests, the host, or the servers. There is more than enough of the best wine for a great party. No sour-faced saints. This story of water into wine reminds us that transformation and change are possible for us as well. If we do what he says. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.