The third day after Jesus started collecting stray disciples, there was a wedding…and somehow, they all end up going. Don’t you find that odd? Here they were, going to save the world and all and before they’ve even gotten started, they stop by a wedding?
The Gospel writer doesn’t tell us why they stopped by a wedding. What John does say is that “Jesus’ mother was there.” Which explains so much.
When the wine runs out, Mary runs to Jesus and says, “They’ve run out of wine!” Implied in the statement is the directive: “Do something about it!” Jesus’ response sounds snippy, but is more about self-differentiation than sassiness. “What is that to you or me? My time hasn’t yet come.” Quit trying to hurry God, Jesus seems to say. Things will happen in their own time. Mary must perceive that God’s time is NOW. She tells the stewards to “Do whatever he tells you.”
Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall of a family therapy session between Jesus and his mother? As intriguing as that might be, the real point of the story is what happens next.
After what I imagine to be a very deep sigh, Jesus tells the steward to fill six empty stone jars with water. When the steward tastes the contents, he’s astonished, not only that water has been turned into wine, but that water has been turned into good wine.
Isn’t this a great story? And good fodder for some of the better jokes on Facebook. “Jesus goes into a bar, orders 12 waters…then winks at his disciples.” J But what does it mean, especially as we’re contemplating how we use our space to grow in fellowship?
The Gospel of John is organized around seven “signs.” Each sign reveals something about God. What might this first sign of turning water into wine at a wedding reveal about God?
(1) First, it tells us that in Jesus, God wasn’t starting from scratch. God didn’t plan to toss out the old faith and replace it with something completely new—Note that Jesus doesn’t tell the steward to go out and buy new jars. Rather, he tells him to use the stone jars already there, jars used to hold water for Jewish purification rites. Turning water into wine was a completely new thing, but that completely new thing happened within the structure of the old faith.
I’ve seen that same dynamic at work here at Pilgrimage as we prepare to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our vote to become Open and Affirming. That vote happened in 1997, when Dick Mehlan was President of the Congregation. Our current president….Dick Mehlan… J
It’s kind of beautiful that the person who was president when our ONA journey began will be president when we celebrate the 20th anniversary. Everything we’ve done in the last 20 years to live into our ONA identity has happened because of the vision of folks who were part of this community back then. And when they came up with the then-new idea of becoming ONA, they were building on the legacy left by the people before them—a legacy of deep Christian faith, strong commitment to living that faith in the wider Cobb County community, and centuries of social justice work done by our denominational forebears.
The same will be true as we decide what to do to replace the Next Generation House. We’ll make the decision in the context of all the other decisions made by this community in the past—the decision to buy this property and build this building in the 80s, the vote to become ONA in the 90s, and Divine Redesign 8 years ago. This congregation has a history of honoring its history. We owe a great debt to those who have been members of this congregation for a long time and to those who came before them. Those folks have left us a solid legacy of healthy decisions rooted in prayer and the commitments of our Christian faith.
Old jars, new wine—new things are best birthed in the context of all that’s come before.
A second thing this first sign reveals: (2) God is a God of abundance. One commentator urges preachers NOT to downplay the extravagance of what Jesus does in this story. Don’t water it down! Each stone jar would have held 20 – 30 gallons of water. For a home to have 6 of those jars—even for a wedding—would have been overkill. The number of jars, the amount of water turned into wine, even the quality of the wine—all of it signals extravagance, abundance. The new thing Jesus is ushering in, this new understanding of God—it’s all about abundance. God is so much more, provides so much more than we can imagine!
It’s easy when new things present themselves to get scared, to look around and see only what’s not there, to focus only on what we lack. Anxiety sends us straight to a scarcity mindset. That’s where Mary is when she tells Jesus, “They’ve run out of wine!” She’s focused on what’s lacking. The same scarcity mindset plagues the disciples before Jesus feeds the 5,000. “We have these loaves and fish, but what are they among so many?”
Both these signs—turning water into wine and feeding 5,000+ people with five loaves and two fish—both are invitations to move from a scarcity mindset (where we see only the things we don’t have) to a mindset of abundance (where we see the potential that lies in the things we do have.) It’s true, the wine had run out. But they still had water, and they had those big stone jars. Jesus looked around him, saw what was there, imagined something different, and it happened. He imagined something different with those loaves and fish… and it happened.
That’s probably the biggest difference between a mindset of scarcity and a mindset of abundance: imagination. When we focus only on what we don’t have, it short circuits our imaginations. When we focus on what we do have, we might not end up with 120 – 180 gallons of good wine, or 12 baskets of leftovers from the 1st century equivalent of a Lunch-able, but we’ll certainly be able to do more than if we hadn’t imagined in the first place.
A case in point. When the cots arrived for Family Promise a couple of weeks ago, the previous host forgot to send the sheets…either that, or as Deb Loche told me, “I forgot to ask for them.” Even if someone had run over to the other congregation to get the sheets, they still would have needed washing. No time for that. Deb told me that, as they stood around trying to figure out what to do about the lack of bed linens, one person said, “I can go buy a few sets of sheets.” That led to another person, and another, and another offering to buy additional sets.
Everybody could have stood around wringing their hands, beating themselves up about not having taken care of that one detail. Instead, one person started imagining and– because imagination is infectious– other people began imagining, too. Now we have a set of sheets that will remain here at Pilgrimage and which we’ll use each time we host Family Promise. As she finished the story, Deb said, “I’m thinking now about what I need to forget next!”
Doing new things in the context of what’s gone before. Living in a mindset of abundance… two things this story reveals about God. The third thing? (3) New life in God is all about joy.
Listen to all the joy in the intro to the wedding service in the UCC Book of Worship. “We are gathered here as people of God to witness the marriage of, oh let’s say, Wayne and Steve. We come to share in their joy and to ask God to bless them. Marriage is a gift of God, sealed by a sacred covenant. God gives human love. Through that love, spouses come to know each other with mutual care and companionship. God gives joy. Through that joy, spouses may share their new life with others as Jesus shared new wine at the wedding in Cana.”
New life is birthed in joy—whether it’s the new life of marriage, the new life of a human being, new life in God, or the new life of something we’re imagining together as a community. We do a lot of joyful things here at Pilgrimage—worshiping, serving… holding babies. Perhaps the most joyful thing we do is spend time together, get to know each other better, eat together, play together. Perhaps even to play Corn Hole together. (We’ll see. J)
In talking with a friend once about the end of her marriage, she attributed the marriage’s failure to an “inability to play together. We just took everything so seriously,” she said. The same can be true in communities. When we stay focused on work, work, work, without taking time to visit and fellowship and play, community life becomes a drudge, doesn’t it?
Maybe that’s why in the Gospel of John, Jesus begins his ministry at a wedding, a party, a party where the booze runs out. This new thing God was doing? It was going to take some playfulness, some imagination, and it was going to—already was—ushering in great joy.
Assignment time. Thus far this month, we’ve been thinking about how our facility facilitates or hinders service and learning. This week, the invitation is to think about how our facility facilitates or hinders fellowship. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is a two-parter. First, as we fellowship together with food, conversation, and, if we must, Corn Hole, take note of all the ways you meet God. How is God revealed in joy, play, conversation, and a shared meal? Second, as we fellowship together this afternoon, observe (with specifics) how our facility facilitates and/or hinders our fellowship with one another.
Oh, man. Would you look at what I’ve just done? I’ve invited everyone to take this really fun day and turn it into work. Have I not been listening to this sermon? (It happens.) Tell you what, forget the assignment….and, like Jesus and the D’s on their third day of ministry together—allow yourselves to experience the joyful, playful, extravagant abundance of God!
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us and hopes for our wholeness, Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2016