January 17, 2016
It's always better to have too much than too little.
Phoebe had a birthday party this year. Something she hasn't had in a while. We threw it in November rather than in December around her actual birthday because December was just so crazy -- at school and in general. We started planning a few weeks ahead, and while Phoebe focused on the guest list, I figured out what kind of spread to serve.
It was a teenager's birthday party, so I wasn't too concerned about coming up with hors d'oeuvres or canapés. Chips, dip, maybe some cookies, and soda are the necessities. I also added in a large pot of apple cider which simmered on the stove. It wasn't hard to make the decisions about what to serve, but I was worried about how much food and drink would be enough. I bought chips. Then I bought some more. I bought soda. Then when I bought more chips, I also bought a few more bottles. I bought cookies, but when I went back to buy the additional chips and soda, I also bought a few big bags of different kinds of M&M's. At the last minute, I decided to bake some pizzas. I cut them up into little appetizer pieces and served those too.
As I said, I wasn't worried about what to serve the gaggle of teenagers descending on my home. But this was this first party we had hosted in a while. It was the first time many of Phoebe's and Zach's friends had come to our house. So I wanted the party to be a success. I didn't want the food to run out. I didn't want it getting around that if you go to Phoebe and Zach's house, there won't be enough to eat. I followed the first rule of entertaining -- it's better to have too much than too little.
I wonder if the party planners for this wedding in Cana used that same rule of thumb; only something went terribly wrong because the wine ran out. Maybe some unexpected guests arrived; the ones that show up without returning their RSVP. Maybe the stewards and planners were off on their estimations of how much wine people would actually drink. Maybe they miscounted how much wine they had on hand from the beginning. After all, they were planning for a banquet that would go on for not just hours but days. Whatever the reason, on the third day the wine ran out.
To us this probably doesn't seem like that big of a deal. Perhaps it was embarrassing, but the wine would have to run out eventually. I must admit that if this were my party I would be grateful that we'd finally reached the bottom of the wine barrel.
"Look people, it's been three days. Go home!"
Yet in the context of this story, this was not just an embarrassing social oops. This was a disaster. The wine was the drink of the party, true, but even more it was a symbol of harvest and good fortune. To run out of wine was to run out of blessing. It would have cast a shadow on the bride and groom and their future life together. It's not hard to imagine the panic that must have ensued when the steward realized that the wine was all gone.
But in stepped Jesus' mother. We see Jesus' mother only twice in John's gospel: in this story of Jesus' first act of his public ministry and as she stood by his cross. When the wine was gone, she stated this to her son. Although it wasn't posed as a question, her expectation of her son's ability to do something is implicit. "They have no wine. What are you going to do about it?"
No matter how we may try to soften Jesus' response to her, it still comes across as rude, disrespectful and unloving. "Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has to yet come."
However, Jesus' mother was not put off by his response. Maybe she knew better than he did what needed to happen in that particular hour. She turned to the servants and told them, "Do whatever he tells you." Jesus does not argue any further. Six stone water jars were there for the rites of purification. Jesus told the servants to fill the jars with water. The servants "filled them to the brim." Then he told them to take some of it to the chief steward. Not knowing where it had come from, the steward tasted the water now wine and was astonished and amazed. He went to the bridegroom and commended 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."
John ends this story by writing that "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him."
Now it isn't that this incredible act by Jesus wasn't cool. Turning water into wine is quite nifty, actually. But why is changing water into wine considered a miracle and why did this act reveal Jesus' glory to his disciples?
I think it all comes back to firsts. In Mark's gospel, Jesus' first public act of ministry was to exorcise a demon. In Matthew he healed. In Luke he taught. These firsts set the tone for each gospel. While to us changing water into wine may not seem to be of the same caliber of first as the other gospels, it is completely in line with everything else that happens in John. And as always in John, there is much more going on in this story than what we read on the surface.
At a party where wine signified blessing, Jesus not only restocked the wine, he added to it. That's an understatement. Jesus didn't just add more wine, he gave an abundance of wine. Those six stone jars filled to the brim would have meant hundreds of gallons of exquisite wine. It was an abundance of wine. It was an extravagant offering. It was overflowing. It was grace upon grace.
This happened on the third day of the banquet. What else happens on the third day? Jesus is raised from the dead. Jesus not only receives new life, we are given new life. Life in abundance. Life overflowing. We are given grace upon grace upon grace upon grace.
You may be wondering about the title of my sermon. You may remember that there is a movie by the same name, and I admit that I was thinking about that movie when I went with that title. Set in the late 1960's it tells the story of a young couple who fall in love and want to get married. The woman brings her love home to meet her family and the plot thickens. Sounds like every love story ever made, except the man is black and the woman is white. This kind of relationship still gives many people trouble today. I can only imagine the outrage it would have caused when it was first made. I was thinking about this movie, not only because it is brilliant and ahead of its time in subject matter, but also because tomorrow we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Each year at this time, I re-watch his "I Have A Dream" speech -- another exercise in brilliance -- and in it he speaks of "the table of brotherhood."
While it is good and important to reflect on the message of King's speech, and to consider how far we have progressed and regressed when it comes to race relations in this country, this day has also become a call to service. Don't just use the day to shop sales and sleep in. Do something for someone else. Help to set that table of brotherhood.
A few months ago I read a story about young newlyweds in Turkey. Refugees fleeing the war and terror in Syria have flocked to Turkey, Greece and other countries. On their wedding day, this young couple decided to take the feast that would have been their reception for family and guests, and instead offer that abundance of food and drink to refugees. Not only did the newlyweds invite refugees to the table, they served them. Most likely they stood for hours and served person after person; they gave every morsel of food, everything that they had. I would have liked to see the looks on the faces of their families when they told them, "Guess who's coming to dinner?"
But what was that meal? It was a feeding of desperate peoples' stomachs. But it was also a feeding of their souls, their spirits. It was grace upon grace. It was abundance. It was love overflowing. And from his beginning to his end to his beginning again, Jesus offered love in extravagant, overflowing abundance. He gave grace upon grace. That grace continues. It is heaped upon us. It surrounds us. It embraces us. Surrounded by so much abundance, how can we be afraid to step out in faith, to give abundantly out of all that we have, to heap grace upon grace upon others? The abundance of life and love and grace that Jesus ushered into the world continues. Jesus brought love and grace and abundance to that banquet. He offers it to us as well, everyday, at every meal, at every moment. He invites us to come to the table, join the feast, and set a place for others as well. Who will we invite to the table?
Guess who's coming to dinner?
Let all of God's children say, "Alleluia!" Amen.