Before we get to the Scripture reading, I first want to talk a little bit about the Gospel of John, to help us understand a little more about what it is that we are going to hear…
As you may know, the Gospel of John is the latest of the Gospels to be written and it was written in a specific Christian community in the late 1st century. At that time, Christians were undergoing painful separation from the Jewish society to which its members had belonged. You can imagine this group – devout in their faith yet allowing themselves to be reformed as they experience God in new ways. This community of believers felt alienated by the world in which they existed. They endured expulsion, disciplinary action from the synagogue authorities for their belief in the risen Christ. For some, this punishment only emboldened their confession of belief while others remained in the synagogues as secret Christians.
So as we read this text with an understanding of this climate of tension, we can see how the Gospel of John was written to inspire members of the community to maintain their belief during a troubled time, rather than to convert outsiders. It was written to encourage, yet had language that all might find attractive. The message through the symbolic presentation of Jesus as Light of the World andBread of Life as read later in the gospel was and is necessarily attractive to not only believers but also nonbelievers.
The language of this gospel is rich in symbolism and in subtle shades of meaning. Paradox and irony are common. And, by the time this Gospel was written, ideas about Jesus had started to change already. As it goes with all stories, details are embellished, or forgotten, but the themes become stronger and understood in new ways. For this community, their memories of Jesus, their ideas and beliefs because of his ministry, changed after Jesus’ lifetime on earth and John describes this development as the work of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel focuses on the belief that in Jesus, God entered into human history to save human beings, to love them and to show that love will triumph. It is clear in the Gospel of John that this theme takes center-stage while the details are back-up.
Karoline Lewis, a professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary suggests asking this of the Gospel of John: What if we take the incarnation seriously and suggest that once the Word becomes flesh, the rest of the Gospel shows you what grace tastes like, looks like, smells like, sounds like, feels like? That is, she encourages us to approach this text in a way that allows Jesus’ signs toshow us and not just tell us, what abundant grace is? ‘In the first chapter of the Gospel, we understand that, and I quote: “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (1:16). So, what does abundant grace taste like?
Let us pray and listen for the Word of God: God of all creation and goodness, startle us with your love. Startle us with your Word to strengthen in us the love that is yours and so we might know more of you and share our experience of you in the world. Amen.
John 2: 1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Friends, this is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.
The Gospel of John is a continual crescendo… every word, every experience building on the one before it. And, our text is taken from the second chapter, from the beginning of the book, and this reading presents the first of the “miracles” of Jesus. This is an important note to remember – this is the first miracle– not an independent act to be extracted from the whole story, but to be included in the context of whole. It is just the beginning and there is a long road ahead until the hour will come, as Jesus explains. As we are encouraged to listen to the gospel as a whole and tease out the themes, rather than the details, I think this is an important note. There is a long road to go and already, we are starting to see the signs of God’s abundance described. Perhaps there is reason behind being made aware of the abundance of goodness at the beginning of the journey. There is a reason to know, sooner, rather than later, that when it comes to Jesus – abundance is key and anything is possible.
There is an old adage that I often repeat aloud in various situations. It comes from the tale of the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady wins the race. I’m sure you are familiar with it and can think of a time or a dozen when that has rang true in your own life. When going on a long hike…slow and steady wins the race. When working on a large project…slow and steady wins the race. Being in a committed relationship…slow and steady wins the race. Cooking a good meal…(everyone) slow and steady wins the race. When seeking reconciliation; when working for peace; when seeking justice…(everyone) slow and steady wins the race.
Those last three – reconciliation, peace and justice – oh, how slow the pace can feel at times. Don’t you agree? We live in a time and culture where unsteadiness is prevalent and strife is normative. You know this…economies are unstable, health-care is debated, gun violence among children is rampant, and basic human experiences, which contain the essence of goodness and wholeness for humanity, have become politicized and trivialized – like marriage and family. Bullying is pervasive and excused. Racism is institutionalized. And we live in a time where space is protected and promoted to debate – meaning, argue your point and never waiver by listening – we are encouraged to debate both sides of ‘insert your choice of hot-topic here’.
It’s hard to not be seduced by the negative themes in our environment. It’s hard not to become selfish or arrogant…because we’re told over and over again, if you don’t take care of yourself, who will? You gotta look out for number 1. And, with that pressure to participate in this self-involved frenzy, it is hard to look at your neighbor, look at the person sitting right beside you in the pew much less the person sitting across the proverbial aisle, and see that they, too, have the light of God within them as you do in you. It’s hard to see or feel or hear or taste God’s grace rolling down like rushing waters – much less being ladled out of barrels.
Yet, in the midst of all of this, faithful Christians are constantly encouraged and strengthened by our covenantal relationship with God and we see the value in following Christ’s example of living a life of abundant love. Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar and theologian, wrote an article called A Litany of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity. In it, he discusses much of the harsh reality that I have just described, and that which you know all too well, I’m sure. Constantly, we are convinced by culture that there isn’t enough to go around, that we need to work harder, save more, be better, protect your own because there isn’t enough and we need to prove our worth, prove that we deserve more, at the expense of others dignity. Yet, as people of God, as followers of Christ, we are a people who confess belief in a God whose love is unending, whose grace is unrelenting, whose strength and power to endure is unparalleled, whose numerous barrels hold countless gallons of living water. So, Brueggemann asks: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people, who love to quarrel with each other, came to a common realization that the real issue confronting us is whether the news of God’s abundance can be trusted in the face of the story of scarcity? [Because], what we know in the secret recesses of our hearts is that the story of scarcity is a tale of death.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful? I think we know it would – and it is. We have proof of this in our lives, in our context, and you know it too. I don’t know if you’re on the internet very much but, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, CT and so much more tragedy and pettiness in the world, these memes splashed across the internet lifting up the ways in which goodness prevails – in the small and neighborly ways. You might remember some of the images. Or, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, feel free to google “images to restore your faith in humanity” and you’ll see. A police officer bought a pair of boots for a homeless man. A family whose power was restored after the hurricane ran extension cords to the front gate so that neighbors could charge their phones. A fire fighter rescues a family cat from a house fire. Athletes support one another so that everyone crossed the finish line or could round the bases in the midst of injury. These are sips of good wine – from the deep barrels of God’s love.
The people of God counter the myth of scarcity by witnessing to the wine. Gigantic stone barrels of water, filled to the brim and it is transformed in to delicious wine – not even bad wine like a box of Franzia or something of the like, but a fine wine – a wine with which one would expect to first toast a married couple – not pass around once taste has been overcome by drunkenness. The journey is long and to start us out, remember the abundance of goodness – scarcity is not the issue.
On this auspicious anniversary to honor the life of Martin Luther King Jr., we would be remiss not to be reminded by his words, which speak of the slow and steady race, which is most certainly worth the effort of the run. Even in the face of adversity, oppression and despair, a dream of peace, a dream of reconciliation, a dream of justice remained because even Dr. King, and the hundreds of thousands who gathered on the mall in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963, drank from the barrels at that wedding – trusting they would not run dry, reminding all that there is still enough to go around. Taking from Scripture, he preached:
“I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”