To begin, it seems appropriate to immerse ourselves in the story. Sorry, this is a byob event. I didn’t bring enough for everyone.
Wine. This morning/evening we have this fun but pretty unusual story from the Gospel of John. The story before us is the kickoff of Jesus’ public ministry in John’s gospel, and to get the ball rolling he makes a lot of wine.
In the other gospels, Jesus’ inaugural act is a healing or an exorcism. A bold statement that Jesus is here to right the wrongs of the world. But in John, we get lots of wine. No healing, Jesus just kinda helps to keep a party rolling.
It’s a helpful gesture to be sure, no one wants to be the host of a party when the wine runs out, but still, we wouldn’t be the first to wonder if something else would have been better, more helpful, more Jesus-like. Was Jesus just warming up, honing his wonder-working chops or is there something more to this sign?
When I was in seminary, one of my professors told us that when we were confused reading a story, we should hug the details. Pay attention to the things that are confusing or peculiar. They’re usually there for a reason.
And there’s certainly something very peculiar about Jesus’ interaction with his mom in our reading from today. Jesus’ mother, she’s never called Mary in John’s Gospel, approaches him at a wedding with a seemingly benign statement. Hey, look they’re out of wine. At which point Jesus says, “Woman, what is that to you and to me, my hour has not yet come.”
This seems like a bizarre reaction. I could certainly never talk to my mom like this. Here Jesus’ mom is talking about very down to earth practical issues. They’re out of wine son. But Jesus starts talking about his “hour.”
Throughout John’s gospel Jesus speaks about his hour. His hour is the moment when his work will be complete. He’s talking about his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. When he talks about his hour, Jesus is signaling that something different is about to happen, something out of the ordinary, something from God.
Over and again the people who encounter Jesus believe that they have him figured out because they know how the world works. But Jesus doesn’t play by their rules. Jesus doesn’t follow the ways of the world. Jesus doesn’t follow social conventions or expectations. Jesus plays by a different set of rules. That can feel off-putting or disorienting to those who bump against Jesus. But Jesus’ disruptions always end up creating new opportunities for life and hope and healing.
So after this little back and forth between Jesus and his mother, she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. Somehow, maybe a mother’s intuition, Jesus’ mother trusts that something powerful is in the making here. “Do whatever he tells you,” are five simple but significant words of faith that demonstrate a trust in Jesus’ power to accomplish great things, even if his mother doesn’t yet know how it will happen.
It is striking to note that this is the last time that Jesus’ mother will appear in this gospel until she stands at the foot of the cross. She witnesses the first and last gift Jesus gives in his earthly life.
All right, now let’s get to the wine. Keep in mind this is no small amount of wine. We’re talking upwards of 180 gallons. That’s somewhere around 900 bottles of wine. Even for a big wedding that’s a lot of wine. Huge stone jars are overflowing, brimming with wine. Jesus’ act has certainly changed the nature of the party. You quickly get a sense of that as we hear the chief steward approaches the groom and say, and I’m paraphrasing, “where has this stuff been!”
What the steward fails to realize but the readers and the servants in the story know is that Jesus is the source of this amazing wine. It’s Jesus, not the groom, who is the source of this wine that defies expectations, wine that upends cultural norms. Jesus’ wine is an extravagant gift, it is a joyful disruption that causes people to stop and wonder where did this come from and why are we just getting this now?
When I was about 8 years old or so, my Grandma took our entire family to a retreat center in Lake Geneva, Wisc. My Grandma was excited that the Rev. Dr. Oswald Hoffman of the “Lutheran Hour Radio” program was keynoting at the conference. I was excited because there was a swimming pool. One afternoon I was standing in the lunch line, checking out my Spiderman wallet. I had two one-dollar bills in the billfold and was feeling flush with cash.
Suddenly there was a deep voice from behind me that said, “Excuse me young man. Would you mind if I traded you one of those one-dollar bills for this five-dollar bill?” I stared at him for a moment. Then I jumped at the chance, not knowing who the man was or caring for that matter. Oswald Hoffman bent down handed me the five-dollar bill and told me, that’s grace, a free gift that you didn’t deserve but that is yours none the less.
I tucked the five-dollar bill in my wallet, said thanks and turned around with the biggest grin on my face. I will always remember that moment.
The disruptive power of God’s grace breaks into our lives in the most ordinary of moments, through the most ordinary of means.
Sometimes it’s through the kindness of an old stranger, who happens to be a pretty big deal. Sometimes it’s through the gentle words of an author whose writing you stumbled across on the internet who reminds you that being you is enough. Sometimes it takes the shape of a long-estranged family member, who through some small gesture is seeking to rebuild the relationship. Usually, we encounter God’s grace when we least expect it.
A couple of weeks ago I was at a conference on engaging generosity across the generations. It was a morning well spent, learning about how each generation and each person expresses generosity differently. Historically the church has focused on financial stewardship, on giving money to the church, because like most organizations financial resources are required to make it go, to do good, to grow and to thrive. Of course, that’s true of Bethlehem, too.
The way this community gives of its financial resources allows us to more faithfully respond to what God is calling us to be about in this world. The money you give to Bethlehem allows us to continue to be a church that partners with God in healing the world. We get to do that together.
But there are other ways that we can be generous. There are other ways that you are generous. We can be generous in our hospitality, in our welcome. We can create space that is free of judgment and filled with unqualified acceptance and kindness. This campus has been doing this for years with Families Moving Forward and the Minneapolis campus is so excited to be learning with you and sharing that hospitality in December when that campus hosts for the first time.
We can be generous with our emotional and relational support. The ways we show up for one another in crisis and in joy. This is grace-filled generosity.
You are generous with your time. Volunteering to care for this facility, to care for the grounds, to care the watershed and the local school and all kinds of ways you be present in the community.
When you are generous, when you give of yourself and your time and your money in these ways the richness of God’s love and grace flows through in surprising and extravagant ways. Ways that you might not even realize, but matter deeply for someone else.
At this wedding, in Cana of Galilee, Jesus shared with those gathered some of the richest and best vintage in incredible amounts. It was a sign that God’s kingdom, God’s presence was at hand. It was made accessible to all in Jesus Christ, the lived and walked among them. At the cross, at Golgotha in Jerusalem, Jesus graciously and generously poured out his life for the whole world. We get to be a part of pouring the good stuff of life into this world, today and always. Amen.