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Don’t get me wrong I in no way consider weddings to be mundane. They’re certainly not something you come across every day. I was talking with a man recently who wants to use the church for his wedding this July. We were going over the details and making sure the date was clear and so on- the couple is thinking the afternoon. He said to me “Is there a wedding going on that morning too?” I thought “How many weddings do you think we’re hosting here?” They don’t exactly happen every day. Yet there is something a little bit quotidian, something a little bit every day about this story. It’s where Jesus works his first sign, as John calls it. Seven such signs are recounted by the Gospel writer. It’s not a healing. It’s nothing as dramatic as raising someone from the dead. It’s an everyday sort of party celebrating an event that happens, if not every day (or twice a day), with some degree of regularity. As we look at this story that speaks of the Word of Life being in the everyday, what does it have to tell us about who Jesus and what this means for those who would follow him? Let us take a look at the story this morning and see what God may have to say to our hearts.
Throughout the 1st chapter of John, we have a series of names being used for Jesus – the Word, the light, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, Rabbi, the Messiah, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth, the King of Israel, the Son of Man. I said last week that in John we have this constant intermingling of the spiritual and the mundane, the every day. At the end of chapter 1 we have the calling of the first disciples. One of the things that I love about these stories is how innocuous everything seems. “The next day John was again standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’” Jesus asks them “What are you looking for?” and they ask in turn “Where are you staying?” “Come and see,” is the invitation. People are being found. The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee and found Philip. Philip found Nathaniel and when Nathaniel famously asks “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” the invitation is given once again. Come and see. Again we hear about Nathaniel doing nothing out of the ordinary – he was simply hanging out under a tree. Don’t even know why. Jesus says of him “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” and if you think me telling you I saw you under a fig tree was something, you ain’t seen nothing yet! You’re going to see heaven opened and angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man – just like his ancestor Jacob (in whom there was a lot of deceit) saw when he saw a ladder and called the place Bethel which means house of God – and here Nathaniel is meeting a man who in whom is a whole new way of God dwelling on earth. All of these things are going on when we get to a story about a wedding.
The wedding happens on the third day. For those familiar with Christ’s story, the third day has some special meaning. Important things happen on the third day! Important things happen in the everyday. Nothing unusual in a wedding in Galilee. Jesus’ mother is there. She’s never named in John’s Gospel. Jesus and his disciples have also been invited to the wedding. Readers of John’s Gospel have been invited to the wedding too in a way. We’re invited to come and see. To situate ourselves with Jesus. To see what it is that Jesus is doing and what it means about who he is. The Greek word that we translate disciple here can also be translated pupil or learner. I like that as a self description for followers of Christ. Learners of Jesus. Students of Jesus. They’d been invited and had accepted the invitation. What is it that they and we are going to see?
“When the wine gave out…” One writer describes the phrase here as almost like having an inevitable quality – sharing “some of the characteristics of the sun’s rising or the tide’s going out… There are no details provided, no moralizings proposed. The party has come to a dessicate halt: bone dry.” This is not a matter of grave illness. It’s certainly not a matter of life and death. At least it might be said to be a matter of social embarrassment. At worst in the honour/shame society of 1st century Palestine it might have had negative implications for the life of the newly married couple and their families. For those without a lot of money, for the 99% of that day, wine was far from an everyday thing. It was the same with meat. The everyday things were water, and bread, cheese, oil. Wine meant a celebration. Wine meant a party. It meant dancing. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance and the young men and the old shall be merry. This was Jeremiah’s vision of the restoration of Israel. For what goodness and beauty are his! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women. This was Zechariah’s vision of the future ruler of Israel.
There’s a Lieber and Stoller song called “Is That All There Is” – the verses go over various life situations. A house fire. Going to the circus. Falling in love. The chorus goes like this:
Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is
Have you ever wondered if that’s all there is? Do you ever wonder? Know that people are all around us who wonder if that’s all there is. “Life has no meaning, the universe is vanishing and the only way to fight it is to ‘con’ people into being momentarily happy,” from Woody Allen. Where do we land on this? What does this story have to say to us in the face of this? Not only is the party over but we can’t even break out the booze and continue the ball because the wine has run out. Things have ground to a halt. The question that is being asked is “Is that all there is?” The happy couple and their families are saying “This is not how we expected things to go. This is not what I expected for our wedding day.” I didn’t expect things to turn out this way… Is that actually all there is?
Then along comes Mary. I love Mary in this story. Don’t be too hard on Jesus for calling her “Woman.” It’s the same word he’ll use when he’s on the cross and in the midst of all the agony and pain he’s concerned for who’ll look after his mother. Woman here is your son. Here is your mother, he’ll say to the beloved disciple. There’s a new kind of family order going on at that point. We’re all a part of it. I remember one of our kids here at church asking me why I called her dad brother. Did that mean I was like her uncle? Pretty much yes. We have Jesus here in a familiar family situation where people are trying to have a good time and checking out what everyone’s wearing and wondering how much this all cost and remembering their own weddings and all the things that have gone on at weddings since time immemorial. Mary is there with her son, who doesn’t call her “Mom” maybe because there’s something completely ordinary and completely special in this son of hers who is also the Son of Man. She remembers what she’d be told by the angel Gabriel and what Jesus had said that day they found him at 12 teaching in the Temple. No doubt Mary remembers all the other things she saw that we don’t know about and all of this must have reminded her that her son was something new. and all the other things we don’t know about that must have reminded her that her son was God with us.
Thank God for Mary because she knew the answer to “Is That All There Is?” A resounding no. No it’s not all there is. There’s something else. Someone else. Maybe there’s a knowing that God’s restoring plan is one that includes all aspects of life – even village weddings. The mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” I love that. The implied command. The response comes back and again it seems a little harsh – “Woman what concern is that to you and to me – my hour is not yet come.” What is there between us? What to me and to you? What does that have to do with us? There’s a separation here – even with his mother. God’s plan which will be carried out by Jesus is divinely ordained. It’s not governed by our expectations but God’s. We’re invited to trust in the plan. It’s hard sometimes. We like to know the plan. Talking to Abby about Blizzard two weeks ago I was reminded of the desire on the part of kids to know the plan – what’s happening next, when’s dinner, what’s for dinner, what’s after that. I appreciate that. God invites us to trust the plan.
Mary trusts. She lets go and lets God. It can be hard to do that. We like to think that the success of God’s work depends mostly on our own skills, talent, creativity, charm and charisma. It’s how things work yes? Mary doesn’t go to the family of the bride. She doesn’t even go to the chief steward – the sort of head waiter or wedding planner. To whom does she go? She goes to the servants. God works through the servants. Isn’t that heartening? God’s going to work through the least of these who are at this wedding. She gives a command that echoes down through the millenia – “Do whatever he tells you.” Do whatever he tells you. Because he’s my son and I’m proud of him? Because I’m biased? Because it will make me look good if a lot of you get behind him and follow him? No – because in him there is fullness of life. In him there is abundant life. Meaning that if you get behind Jesus you too will one day be able to have a car like mine – a house like mine (though I suppose for many those wouldn’t be selling points!)? Because in him we find life as we were created to live it – in loving communion with God who has reconciled us in the person of his son and filled us with his Holy Spirit to continue on the works of the servants.
Do whatever he tells you. What does he tell us? Believe in God, believe also in me. “I’ve got that one,” you say. Do we have that one? Do we functionally have that one? Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in me, neither can you unless you abide in me. Remain in me. What does he tell us? Rest in me. Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. Do whatever he tells you because in doing these things you will find life and light.
This life is abundant. Someone wrote that the miracles in John are big. The healing of a man who is not only blind but has been blind from birth. The raising of Lazarus after three days. Six stone water jars holding twenty to thirty gallons each. This is a lot of water. Lots of grace. I’ve said God gives generously. He poured himself out for his. He pours out his Spirit on us. He lavishes his grace on us. 150 gallons is a lot of grace. How can we hear about water being turned to wine without thinking of Jesus holding up a cup of wine and saying “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” A whole new way of living in the source of all life. A precursor of this in the 2nd chapter of John. It was on the cross that Jesus would call his mother again – “Woman, here is your son.” “Here is your mother.” Shortly after this do you know what he said in John’s gospel? “I am thirsty.” Jesus knew what it was like to be in a situation which he hoped would turn out another way. He knew what it was like for the party be dessicate and dry. He knew that he was in the hands of his father who works life from death.
His father who works miracles. Jesus issues the commands and they are followed. Fill the jars to the brim. Draw some out and take it to the chief steward. The chief steward doesn’t know where it comes from. Where are you from? This is a good question. Where do you believe this man was from and what does it mean to you? Jesus will say a little later on “I came from God and now I am here.”
Do you believe that God is here? Do you believe that God is there when you go from this place? One of the amazing things about this miracle is how little known it was. The chief steward didn’t know. The servants knew. Jesus’ learners knew. We’ve talked about wanting God to make his presence felt in a big way – to make himself known in a large dramatic way. This story shows that oftentimes it is in the everyday that the miracle of Jesus is seen. It is often in the everyday that we see the source of all life to whom we can go along with Mary and say “There is no wine.” Things are bad. Things are not going like we expected. So often it’s in these moments that Jesus can be seen. Someone sitting down on a mat beside an Out of the Cold guest, praying with them. An arm being placed around a grieving widow in a hospital room. The hand of someone in ICU being held. A volunteer helping a child in an after-school homework program. In all of these things we are invited to come and see and believe that this man who turned water into wine is the source of abundant life lived in communion with our loving and gracious and merciful and just God.
There’s an interesting postscript. After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days. Every day people. Every day family existence. But nothing should be everyday anymore. One writer puts it like this – “John knows from the experience of years now that to believe in Jesus as the Christ is to live a life within a life. Nothing is changed but everything is changed.” His disciples saw this sign and believed. The sign didn’t produce faith. The sign nurtured faith. God showing God’s glory nurtured faith. May we have eyes to see God’s glory all around us in our every day. We need our faith nurtured. We need to see Christ working new life in order for our faith to grow. I said last week that John’s gospel was written “so that you may come to believe” or “so that you may continue to believe.” I think the latter is a concern for many of isn’t it? For ourselves, for members of our families, for those we love. It’s not so much that we’re in danger of rejecting the message that this man who turned water into wine is from God. I think it’s more a danger that this belief will cease to make any difference in our everyday lives. The invitation is here. To see God’s glory, to see new life being manifest in our every day. May God give us eyes of faith to see him there. Amen