We begin a new sermon series today: Measuring Love. We’re continuing to focus on foundational biblical stories this year to discover more about who God is, how Jesus shows up and what we might learn from people of faith even from thousands of years ago. But we’re adding a stewardship lens today. Stewardship isn’t something we limit to every once in a while here at Bethlehem. It’s a way of being in the world as people of faith. We lift up stewardship frequently and in a variety of ways — naming both the privilege and responsibility to be good stewards of creation and the resources with which we’re blessed.
As I was living with the story from John’s Gospel — the Wedding at Cana and thinking about Measuring Love these past few weeks — I got an idea. Some of you became part of that idea firsthand this week. Last Wednesday night I made my way throughout the building and asked some of you to weigh in on a couple of questions. The first one was, “how do you measure love?” The question was consistently met with a quizzical look… and silence — except for one brave soul Linda. When I asked her how one measures love, she answered: “Do we need to? Do we need to measure love?” Question countered with a better question…
What comes to your mind as you think about measuring love? On Wednesday, after the silence, the most common response was: it’s impossible to measure love.
The second question I asked seemed to be easier for people to get their head around. The second question I asked was: “What does love look like?” I imagine if we had time to pause and hear your answers, that we would get similar responses to what people gave me on Wednesday night: kindness, sharing, thinking of others before yourself, asking for forgiveness and extending it too. Perhaps the most heartwarming answer I got came with no words. When 3-year-old Gustav heard me ask the question, he ran over to his friend Signe, who is 14 years old, and without hesitation gave her an enthusiastic hug! Gustav knew exactly what love looked like!
We get a clear picture of love in today’s story too. It seems you don’t have to look very hard — it is a wedding story after all. Love was certainly there, right? But not necessarily in the way our 21st-century context might expect. We assume that a wedding is a proclamation of love — but not necessarily so in Jesus’ day. This marriage was most likely arranged by the fathers. Marriages often occurred within clans. Marriages were usually about economics — to be a mutual benefit for the families. Marriage isn’t the next step after discovering a shared attraction or emotional connection.
But Love does show up. You might expect that I’ll point you to Jesus and while that may be true — that he embodies love — I want to direct your attention to Jesus’ mother, Mary.
If you read only John’s gospel you would not know Mary as a young girl, visited by an angel to learn that she would bear God’s son. You would not imagine her pondering anything in her heart or singing about the greatness of her Lord, even as her world is turned upside down. In John’s gospel, you don’t get any of that. Mary shows up only two times. Here at the beginning — at the wedding at Cana and then again at the end of the Gospel, at the foot of the cross. Jesus doesn’t address her as ‘mother’ in either scene. Both times he calls her ‘woman’. What’s with that? Well, that’s a sermon for another time.
Today’s story has us at a wedding in Cana, and Mary plays a critical role. She’s a catalyst to Jesus’ extravagant generosity. She prods her son to do the right thing. “They have no wine,” she tells Jesus. People are thirsty. There is an urgent need. She will not stay silent. Make it right Jesus. She speaks up on others’ behalf. She tells Jesus to solve the problem. She knows he can. She believes in him. She is love showing up in full force. She sees a need, she loves the people — so she turns to Jesus, trusting that the Messiah, God’s own son, will make things right.
And he does. Not at first. At first, he tries to argue with his mother, “my hour has not yet come.” But I wonder if as soon as the words have left his mouth he realizes his mother is right. Jesus’ response is over the top.
Jesus doesn’t calculate the exact amount needed for those who are present. His grace is excessive and all-inclusive. Jesus takes six ceremonial jars and instructs the servants to fill them with water. These empty jars are part of a purification system, a system that created a world with sharp social boundaries between clean and unclean, righteous and sinner, male and female, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile.
What Jesus does at the wedding at Cana isn’t just about changing water into wine. It’s a sign, John tells us, that points to the reality of life in God’s kingdom where systems collapse, boundaries are broken, where there is more than enough for everyone. In God’s kingdom abundance is the way of life for all people.
Mary served as a catalyst for this sign in the world. She refused to be silent and God in Jesus responds with abundant grace — plenty of wine and nothing but the best.
This is who God is. Not distant or indifferent to our needs but right here with us. This is the Love that shows up at the wedding at Cana; it’s the same divine love revealed at the cross. For there at the cross, Jesus pours out his life for you and for the whole world too. Jesus knows our suffering. We are not left to ourselves. God is with us, at work in and through us, transforming us and the world by God’s abundant grace and love. The wedding at Cana is Jesus’ first sign that points us to the truth that whenever Jesus is present transformation is possible.
God’s love can’t be measured — it’s unexpected, underserved, unmitigated, over the top and all-inclusive. And like Mary you and I get to be a catalyst for God’s extravagant generosity. What that looks like is different for each of us. For Marsh, an octogenarian, he was compelled to dust off a 60-year-old bassinet stored in the garage — used when his children were infants. He brought it to church to inspire others to join him in donating supplies to a young immigrant pregnant woman who needed resources for when her child would be born. For Joyce, a long-time member — love showed up in how she reached out to someone new to this congregation and has become a fierce advocate for him in the community.
You can read more about her story in the Measuring Love Stewardship commitment campaign material — mailed to members and regular attenders last week. If you didn’t get a packet — let me know and we’ll get one to you. We hope you’ll read the stories about your love in action that is a witness to God working in and through you. We also hope you’ll read about the dreams we have for continuing to move forward and increase our impact as a congregation. We invite each of you to prayerfully consider how you will support the mission and ministry of this congregation.
What that looks like is different for each of us but how about we follow Mary’s lead, in our story today: Keep seeing the needs of others, keep turning to Jesus, keep asking for his help; listen for what he commands; be open to the Spirit leading you, trusting that God is already at work making all things new. Amen.