(John 2: 1-11)
In this season following Christmas – the season of Epiphany, Steve and I will be wandering through a sermon series called “Jesus Signs.” In the series we will preach on the 7 signs of Jesus as told in the gospel of John. In the gospel of John, the writer refers to what we might call “miracles” as signs. It may be that the writer wants us to look more at what the miracles that Jesus performs reveal to us than what the miracle itself is. Throughout the gospel of John, each of the signs of Jesus slowly opens the curtain on the revelation of Jesus. Looking at each of the signs in this gospel helps us to identify what we need to know and understand about Jesus, what the miracles in which Jesus performs, the signs, tells us about who Jesus is and what having Christ in our lives may mean.
The first sign that Jesus performs in the book of John comes in Cana at a wedding. Now, I recognize the irony involved in this being today’s scripture reading. The last time I saw the congregation in worship I had no weddings on my mind, now the first time back in the pulpit since Matt and I have announced our engagement, my first sermon is on the Wedding at Cana. The irony is deep here, I know. Anyways, irony aside, our text this week – chosen, for the record, many many months ago during a sermon planning session at the seminary – comes from the gospel of John 2:1-11.This comes immediately after John describes the calling of the disciples. So to set the scene Jesus and his newly called disciples are invited to a wedding in Cana 11 where the first sign of is performed. Listen now for God’s word to us, God’s people:
Will you pray with me? God of abundant grace, God of abundant love, God of abundant wonder – you reveal yourself to us in many ways. Some unmistakable, some harder to discern. Reveal yourself to us in the hearing of your word this morning, in the company of your people, in the majesty of your presence. May each encounter with you help us to grow ever more closely in relationship with you, enabling us to be your people in the world around us. And now Lord, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Two things to make note of about the text from John we just read from. The first: Jewish weddings in the time of Jesus, like the one we just read about in John 2 were expected to last 7 days, this is not some outlandish unending party described in John 2, this is how weddings were done. That’s a lot of partying. Running out of wine wasn’t just a little disappointing for the party guests, this isn’t a convenient last call for party-goers who should be going home anyways, this is a major concern of hospitality. The guests are supposed to be celebrating for four more days, and running out of wine would be terribly inhospitable, pretty embarrassing, and would mean an end to the celebrating of this joyous occasion.
The second thing to note is that 6 barrels is a lot of water that becomes wine. These 6 barrels are not small barrels, they are big huge barrels, that would have yielded about 75 cases of wine or 900 bottles of wine. That’s a lot of wine. And as the chief steward tells us in this passage, this is not cheap wine, but this is the best wine, fine wine. The kind of wine that people write about, savor, taste, drink slowly because its so beautiful. This is good wine, and this is a lot of good wine.
Considering those two points about the text – the question at hand comes to mind – what is being revealed about Jesus in this first of his 7 signs? As we pull the curtain back on who Jesus is, what are we learning about Jesus, what are we learning about life with Christ?
I believe that what we are learning about Jesus is that life with Christ is a fine wine kind of life. A life of extravagant joy and a life of abundant grace, a life worth celebrating and a life of abundant love.
As you probably know, this is not the image that conjures up when most people think about Christianity.
One might think about this story instead when they think of what Christianity looks like:
Paul Tournier tells this story about a pastor and his confirmation class. The pastor asked his confirmation class, “what is religion?” And one young man shot up his hand, thrilled to know the absolutely true answer. Without a doubt in his mind he responded to the pastor “Religion, religion shows us the things we must not do.”
Or maybe the image that conjures up in people’s minds about Christians is more like Dana Carvey’s church lady, a shrewd joyless woman who’s holier- than – thou attitude is exhausting while she calls everyone out on their sinful lives.
Or perhaps, at best, and perhaps a little less comically and closer to home, people see Christians as fulfilling an obligation, church as something they ought to go to get their ‘good’ points.
Or perhaps people see Christians as frozen, boring, proper.
Christianity has come down with a bad reputation – one filled with “shoulds,” requirements, blandness, even anger. But none of these descriptions are true of who Christ is revealed to be at the wedding at Cana.
At the wedding at Cana, Christ shows us, not tells us who he is and what he is about. That this is Jesus’ first sign, the mark of his ministry is poignant and also fascinating to me. The first thing Jesus wants us to know about life with Christ is that it is a life of joy, of celebration, of love, of grace.
Jesus show us that what he is about is about hospitality, making people feel welcome at the party. Jesus isn’t just a party starter here, he is the guy who keeps the party going, who keeps the guests at the party, who keeps the celebrating alive, who keeps the joy going. Jesus’ first miracle creates hospitality at a party to welcome and celebrate a joyful occasion.
Jesus shows us that he is about abundant grace. Jesus fills the buckets to the brim with water that becomes wine. Jesus does not just satisfy the thirst of the people, he far exceeds it, making sure that everyone can take a glass or 7.
And finally Jesus is about giving the finest and best wine. Jesus does not just meet the expectation of the chief steward, replacing the wine. He doesn’t go out and buy a bunch of boxes of Franzia to quiet the thirsty guests. He gives them the fine Napa cab, a thing to be enjoyed, not a thing to be swigged down out of obligation.
Jesus’s first appearance on the scene shows us that he is about joy and the abundant kind of joy, abundant grace, the extravagant kind of grace. This is what Jesus is about, this is what life with Christ looks like.
People have often asked me about my call to Trinity, “why did you come to Charlotte? Why Trinity?” they ask. There were a lot of things that contributed to my call to Trinity but the very first impression I got of Trinity set the tone.
It was a March evening nearly three years ago. At this point in my call process I had sat in a decent number of church meeting rooms across the table from a team of 6 or 7 church members for an interview process. All of them were rather similar, everyone was nice and kind, but the gist was the same, nice people in a meeting room asking questions. But Trinity was a little different, I flew to Charlotte on this March evening and after a tour of Charlotte, was brought to the home of Jane and Phil Blount, Jane was serving on the APNC, the group that called me to Trinity. We sat around her dinner table and enjoyed dinner, they even opened, gasp, a bottle of wine, at the interview. We laughed and told hilarious stories, I watched the members of the committee hug each other and love each other and laugh together. As I sat around the table, drinking my glass of wine – one, it was an interview after all – I realized that this is the kind of church I want to serve. This is a church filled with joy and laughter and love. This is a church that loves each other and knows how to enjoy each other.
That first impression of Trinity wasn’t wrong, in the nearly three years that I have served as an Associate Pastor here I have experienced tremendous joy and true community.
That’s the kind of joy and life and community that Jesus reveals at the wedding at Cana. Laughter filled tables, abundant joy, abundant love, extravagant grace.
We find the joy and grace of Christ revealed among others and in community, but that’s not the only place, there is more to grace and joy than community. That is to say, we grace is available in more places than community alone.
The joy and grace of Christ is something that can infuse our very beings from the inside out.
What Jesus reveals to us at the wedding at Cana is that his grace and joy are abundantly available, not just available but abundantly present, around us everywhere.
When I speak of the grace of Christ, I want to expand a little bit. Grace, we sometimes can limit its meaning to forgiveness. There is more to grace than forgiveness. So when I talk about grace at the wedding at Cana, I’m not referring to the forgiveness Christ extends to his people, that’s not the point of this story. The grace at Cana is more like an undeserved Spirit, an unconditional love, an impenetrable and unearned goodness. Grace is undeserved, unparalleled, and quite honestly, unexplainable with words alone. Which is why, I think, in Jesus’ very first sign, he shows us, not tells us about abundant grace. In a way we can taste, smell, savor, enjoy. Grace is something we experience, not something we explain.
Jesus’ Cana grace, this abundance and extravagance of celebration, joy, love, this is what our lives in Christ look like. Life with Christ is joyful and loving, let us experience that.
David Lose writes, “For [each] moment that we live in Jesus, has the capacity to mediate the divine. Bread and wine can bear Christ’s body and blood. An ordinary hug can convey unbounded love and blessing. The smallest donation of food or money can tip the balance between scarcity and abundance. A simple act of kindness can make all the difference in the world. And a smile, shared at just the right time, can shed light into the darkest of places.”
Each of our moments lived in Christ are moments of grace and love. Recognizing that is a joy!
It is something like this: A year or two ago around Christmas time in our Fellowship Hall at Trinity. It was one of the cold nights of the year, something like a night like tonight, our church welcomed our Room in the Inn guests for a night to have a safe, comfortable place to sleep. We do this every Wednesday in the winter. And the conversation is always nice and often funny and the food is good. But this one particular night was a bit different, it was that exuberant joy that comes to slap us in the face when we’re feeling a little distant or confused by God.
We had moved one of the pianos onto the stage of the Fellowship Hall for convenience sake simply. One of our guests walked into the room, seeing the piano she immediately asked if she could play it. Of, course, it may be pretty out of tune but go for it! Someone replied.
And play it she did, hymns, Christmas carols, familiar tunes and new ones, filling the room with a sweet sweet sound, a sound of grace, a sound of love, one that can only be experienced, not explained. One that was filled with Jesus’ Spirit – a Spirit of extraordinary love, abundant grace, overflowing love.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.