Sermon transcript for December 30, 2012
Pam Hawkins, preaching
Audio - MP3
Sermon transcript for January 20, 2013
A Wedding Story
Belmont UMC—January 20, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching
I have not kept up with the number of weddings I’ve done over the years; I have 7 on my calendar for this year and I look forward to each of them and to the counseling sessions for each. They provide me an opportunity to get to know the couple better. One of the weddings this year is for our son, Gairdt, and his fiancée, Lacey.
I will remind the couples that their well planned event may have a hitch (no pun intended) or two. Things can go wrong at weddings but usually these “wrong” things are small surprises that only the wedding party is aware of. It’s not unusual for couples to want their cute 4 year old nephew to serve as a ring bearer and I always caution the couple about giving a child that age a set of rings that costs several thousand dollars. Ten minutes into the service they get bored, because they are too young to do otherwise, and start tossing the ring pillow in the air.
At one wedding I was impressed by the maturity of the ten year old ring bearer. The wedding was taking place at a state park and at the rehearsal he was a model of responsibility. The wedding was held in the evening, right as the sun was going down so that the candles would be more effective and help set the tone for the couples’ experience. Twenty minutes before the wedding started the ten year old came to me and tugged on my arm, saying, “Ken, I lost one of the rings.” The boy was in tears as he showed me the grassy area where he thought the ring had fallen off the pillow. I took off my robe and got down on my hands and knees and searched in the faint light. I heard the violinist begin the processional music and almost immediately I caught a glimpse of something sparkly out of the corner of my eye. It was the ring. I tied it on the ring bearer’s pillow, gave the boy a reassuring pat on the shoulder and said, “This will be our secret.”
In fairness to young ring bearers everywhere I must say that the only time a ring was lost and not found, the ring was lost by the father of the groom who was serving as the best man. He borrowed his daughter’s wedding ring for the service and the bride wore it on the honeymoon and did not realize the switch had been made until her return.
Things at weddings don’t always go as planned, and that was true of a wedding in the small town of Cana of Galilee, not far from Nazareth. Weddings in Jesus’ day were long celebrations, often lasting several days. Jesus and his mother (who is not called by name in the Gospel of John) were there, along with some of Jesus’ disciples. It’s possible that Mary had some hosting responsibilities at the wedding. An early Coptic Gospel suggests that Mary was the aunt of the bridegroom. And it may be that the arrival of Jesus and his disciples added so much to the crowd that the wine ran out prematurely.
Wine was served in all mid-Eastern homes, drunkenness was discouraged, but wine was a symbol of hospitality and joy. The Rabbis had a saying, “Without wine, there is no joy.” (William Barclay’s commentary, p. 97) The story troubles some folks because not only did Jesus make an abundance of wine, he made very good wine. The steward notes that the good wine is usually served first and when people have had too much to care, the inferior wine is brought out. Running out of wine at the wedding would have been a source of embarrassment to the host family.
This story seems quirky and humorous from our 21st Century perspective because of the exchange between Jesus and his mother. It is Jesus’ mother who initiates the miracle when the wine gives out. She says, ‘They don’t have any wine.’
Jesus replies, “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.” (CEB) The word “woman” seems rude and harsh to us, but it is meant to be taken as a term of disengagement.
What is humorous to us is that Mary appears to ignore Jesus. She turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” It may not be his time but it’s obvious that she understands his power and authority and has likely seen him at work. It may not be his time but he does what his mother tells him to do and he instructs the servants to fill 6 stone pots with water (pots used for Jewish rites of purification), holding 20-30 gallons each, then draw some of the water out and take it to the steward. When the steward tasted it, it was good wine.
(As aside: If you go to Cana today on a Holy Land tour, you can buy a souvenir of a water pot that has a trick reservoir inside. You can pour water in the top and tilt it over so that wine comes out the spout. I did not buy one of these but I was tempted to buy it for a children’s sermon.)
We may find this miracle story uncomfortable at a couple of levels and as I prepared this sermon I allowed the places of discomfort to speak to me and guide me.
We may be surprised by Jesus’ presence at a wedding celebration, a place of human joy, where there would be laughter and levity. We have a more serious mental image of Jesus, as one who only shows up in a crisis to solve a dilemma or cure a disease, but Jesus was criticized for eating and drinking with sinners and many of his stories and parables include banquets and parties. In a month or so we will again read about the extravagant party that a father threw for his long lost son who has returned home.
At Christmastime my extended family gathered for food and fellowship. It was noisy and chaotic and we have grown in numbers so that we overfill my parents’ house. I went outside and stood behind the garage for a few breaths of air and I sensed someone beside me. It was brother; he put his hand on my shoulder and said knowingly, “Me, too.” But I had this sense that Jesus would have been at home with us, in our noise and chaos, our food sharing, laughing and joking, gift giving, and catching up with one another.
We need to reclaim an image of Jesus as a person who experienced joy at its deepest level. We have a too limited and too ordered understanding of what is holy. Wendy Wright wrote, “This is holy we say, walking the clearly demarcated boundaries between church and not church, sacred and secular, good and bad, clean and unclean, believer and non-believer, solemn and frivolous, worthy and unworthy. God, however, has a way of tickling us in the places where we’re least expecting it and, depending upon how open we are to being surprised, tricks us into laughter or finds us shrinking back in righteous outrage at being tickled when we are not in the mood.” She describes joy as “divinity dancing in us.” (Weavings, November/December 1993, p.16) May this story of a wedding in Cana remind us that Jesus joins us in those moments of deepest joy and in times of our happiest life celebrations.
We may find ourselves uncomfortable with the extravagant abundance in this passage and forget that the abundance is likely symbolic of something deeper than gallons of wine. It is considered an eschatological fulfillment. Everything in the Gospel of John is symbolic: water is not merely water, bread is not merely bread and wine is far more than wine—all are symbols of God’s fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The miracle story is a revelation of Jesus’ glory and John is intentional about sharing it at the beginning of his Gospel for this purpose.
Some writers take issue with what appears to be a frivolous and superficial miracle, asking, “How do we come to terms with such abundance in the face of poverty and suffering?” I would suggest that we need to less concerned about the symbolic abundance of 30 gallons of wine and more concerned with what we do with our own abundance.
How do we come to terms with our discomfort with our own extravagant abundance? I might need to be a bit confessional here. I like to tell my children that their mother and I lived through the Depression. I tell them that it wasn’t the Depression of the history books but it was the time we were married college students, living on very little money. But even during those lean years we were well off compared to much of the world. We were always comfortable and never missed a meal or missed paying a bill.
We recently raised $30.000 to build 3 new parsonages for pastors in Malawi in Africa. I’m not sure how you build a $10,000 parsonage but I’m told it can be done. But pastors in the Tennessee Conference have a little game they like to play. I call the game “Worst Parsonage Ever” and we sit around and tell about the worst parsonage in which we ever lived. I have one of those stories but I can tell you that the worst parsonage in which we lived, with its faulty plumbing and leaking roof, was pretty extravagant by the world’s standards.
If we are uncomfortable with extravagant abundance, I’d recommend the antidote of generosity and sharing. We are a people of abundance and God is waiting for us to share what we have with the world in need.
And as we read this quirky story about a wedding miracle of turning water into wine we can allow our discomfort with the story to lead us to experience the presence of Christ in our deepest joy and our life celebrations, and we allow our discomfort with the abundance to guide us to do God’s work of sharing in the world. And then we, too, will reveal God’s glory!