Looking back at old sermons can reveal the various ways in which our theology has developed. This sermon was first preached in 2013. Since then, I have moved to a posture that has opened me to more humble statements about the nature of the MYSTERY that is the source and ground of our being, which causes me to refrain from using the word “God” to describe that MYSTERY. Re-reading this sermon, I was tempted to edit it in ways that better reflect my current posture. However I think, perhaps such edits are best left to those of you who may be tempted or inspired by this sermon to tell your own stories alongside the anonymous gospel-storyteller’s tale of the wedding at Cana and thus reveal your own intoxication with life!.
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The gospel according to John is my favourite of all the gospels. Maybe it’s my Irish heritage but I just love a good story and the more outrageous the better. The Irish have never been known to let the facts get in the way of a good story, and neither did the anonymous writer of the Gospel we can John. This gospel was the last of the four gospels to be written and it nearly didn’t make it into the biblical cannon because the religious powers that be cited all sorts of problems with this particular portrait of Jesus. Not the least of which are all the signs and wonders that Jesus commands in this gospel. So, just for the record, let me say that I don’t believe that this particular story happened exactly the way it was written. I don’t believe that the man Jesus of Nazareth had the ability to instantaneously change water into wine. I do believe that getting hung up on whether or not Jesus could actually work miracles is to miss the point of this story all together.
This morning rather than go into a long and drawn out explanation of the historical critical method of studying the scriptures in order to explain why the anonymous writer of the gospel of John wrote this particular story and speculate upon the particular theological points the author was trying to make to his second century audience, I would like to set the history aside for a moment and look at what the author might have been trying to inspire in the people who would hear and read his or her story about the Wedding at Cana. To do that, I want to get to the heart of this story to explore what it might be like for the people who actually encountered the Man Jesus of Nazareth. I mean, on the surface of it this story is about a kind of intoxication that happened to people who come into the presence of this strange man from Nazareth. The best way I know of interpreting a story is to lay down another story right beside it and let one story interpret another.
Once upon a time, I remember it was a damp and dreary day in Vancouver that stood out from all the other damp and dreary days. It was in the middle of February; it had been overcast or raining for weeks and weeks and weeks. I was riding on the bus to work. It was the same bus that I had been riding on for two years. Every weekday morning I would commute by bus from the suburbs to the heart of the city. Every morning at six-fifteen, I would stand with the same people at the same bus stop and get on the same bus, which carried all the same people to their same jobs. On a good day the trip would usually take 45 minutes. Nobody ever spoke on that bus. Occasionally people would nod or smile at the all too familiar faces of their travelling companions, but conversation would be reserved for sunny days, when people could only manage a word or two. It was like there was this unwritten rule that nobody had the energy or the inclination to break. We saw one another almost every day, and yet we knew absolutely nothing about one another and that was the way we were determined to keep it.
On this particular February morning in addition to being tired, I was also wet. The wind was really blowing and I had to rely on my hooded jacket to keep me dry. The bus was running late and the water was just beginning to seep threw my jacket. I sat in my usual seat on the bus and I was determined to ignore the damp and get in a short nap before we reached the city. I was just dozing off when the bus screeched to a halt. Several passengers climbed aboard. All but one of them, were recognizable. I’d seen them a hundred times before. But the young man, who loudly greeted the bus driver with a “Hello,” him I’d never seen before. He struggled to fold his broken umbrella as he stumbled to the rear of the bus. He sat opposite me, and proceeded to greet everyone around him. People weren’t sure how to take this. Some just nodded and then looked away. Others mumbled a greeting before fixing their gaze out the window. I smiled, nodded and then closed my eyes, determined to escape into sleep.
The young man, continued to fuss with his umbrella. He explained in a loud voice that the umbrella was a gift from his sister and he hoped that it wasn’t ruined. He asked the gentleman seated beside him if he could help him to fold it. The somewhat flustered gentleman proceeded to fold the umbrella without a word. When the task was completed the young man, thanked the gentleman and asked him what his name was. He said he wanted to be able to tell his sister, who the nice man was, that had helped him with his umbrella. Without revealing his name the gentleman assured the young man that it wasn’t necessary to thank him. The young man on the other hand, proceeded to break all the rules, and said that his name was Michael and he told us all that he had never ridden on this bus before. He usually had to get a bus that went to the city in the afternoon and then he would get a ride home after dinner with his sister. But on this day, he would begin to work full days at his job. So he had to catch the bus in the dark. He went on to tell us that the bus we were riding in was much nicer than the one he usually caught. He decided that this bus must be a new bus, and weren’t we lucky to get to ride on a new bus. Then Michael took off his hat, held it out in front of him so we could all see it, and declared that he was the luckiest person in the world because his mother had bought him this wonderful hat that kept his head dry.
Michael went on to tell us all sorts of details about his life. At first people managed to listen, without responding. But as Michael went on describing his wonderful life, people found that in spite of themselves they were drawn into the conversation. As we approached the tunnel, that normally causes traffic to back up in rush hour, it was clear that there must have been some sort of accident in the tunnel. It would be a long wait. There would be no escaping Michael’s enthusiasm. Before long we all knew that Michael worked in the mailroom of a securities company. He assured us that this security company was a safe place to work, because they didn’t take care of the safety of people, but just took care of pieces of paper that were called stocks and bonds. Michael told us just how much he loved his job. Having a job was the best thing. Before he had the job he didn’t have any money to help his parents. But now he had enough money to help his parents and lots left over. Michael told us that he was really lucky because he worked with really nice people who took good care of him and let him do all kinds of fun jobs.
Michael began asking his fellow passengers if they too had jobs and one by one the people around him began to tell him, where they worked and what they did. Michael was full of enthusiasm for the various jobs that people held. He even managed to be excited when I told him that as an accountant, I had to count things. Michael said he was very good at counting. He had learned how when he was just a little boy. He liked counting. He thought that it would be great fun to be able to count things all day long. He sometimes was allowed to count supplies in the supplies cupboard and he liked doing that.
At some point on our journey Michael began to speak about the weather. Michael loved the rain. He told us how important the rain was and how wonderful it was that we got so much rain. Our trees could grow taller and bigger than trees anywhere else and our flowers just loved all the rain and there was so much food in the stores because the rain helped the vegetables to grow.
Michael’s joy began to infect us. People smiled at one another. People began to speak and to respond to Michael’s joy and some of us even waved at him when he got off at his stop, telling us all to have a good day and that he would see us all tomorrow. On that day and on every other day that I rode the bus with Michael, I was reminded, whether I liked it or not, of the beauty and the wonder of life. Somehow Michael managed to pierce our dullness. Somehow Michael was able to make us forget that his behaviour was inappropriate; that he was intruding on us, that the timing was all wrong, that he was breaking all our rules. Michael burst into our lives and interrupted our routines, and in the middle of a dull, damp and dreary February funk, he reminded us of how truly blessed we really are.
Well here we are in the middle of winter; not a very typical winter. It’s been more like a Vancouver winter. We’ve had more dull grey days than we are used to. But we can be pretty sure that there will be at least two more months of cold, snowy winter ahead of us. The holidays are long gone. The celebrations are over. The kids are back at school. Most of us have settled into the daily routines that make up our lives. We have hunkered down and we will find a way to grin and bear it. We have things to do, people to see, and we must accomplish it all whilst dealing with the harsh reality of winter. And in the midst of all this, it’s my job to bring you the same good news that Michael brought to me and to my travelling companions. You see, today’s gospel lesson gives us such a remarkable revelation about the nature of God, that it’s time for us to sit up and take notice of just how blessed we are.
We’ve all heard the story of Jesus turning water into wine. We’ve all marvelled at, or speculated about Jesus, whether it did or did not happen. But the story of Jesus turning water into wine has very little to do with Jesus’ ability to preform miracles. This is a story about the awesome, unimaginable, incredible grace of God. In this story, our God takes on flesh and we get a glimpse of just who God is. According to this story, Jesus is the guest at a wedding. The feast has been going on for a while. The wine has been poured and the guests have been partaking of their host’s hospitality. Eventually the wine runs out. Now at most weddings that I have been to, when the wine runs out or when the bar closes, its no big deal, the party just winds down and people go home. But at this particular party, Jesus’ mother points out that there is no more wine, clearly expecting her son to do something about it. Jesus hesitates at first because it’s not his responsibility and the timing is all wrong. But his mother just carries on like Jesus hasn’t said a word. Mary instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. And so, Jesus gives in.
Now at that point, all Jesus had to do to satisfy his mother and the rest of the guests was to provide a little more wine. But instead, Jesus provides at least one-hundred and fifty gallons of wine, and not just any wine but the best of vintages. Now I ask you, when was the last time you were at a party and when the wine ran out the host provided not just a little more but one-hundred and fifty gallons of the best wine. Now I don’t believe for a moment that the point of this story is that Jesus could work miracles. In this story, Jesus shows us in a very dramatic way, just what God is like. 150 gallons of the best wine for a group of people who have already been drinking is simply outrageous. But then isn’t that just like God. Think about it, how would you demonstrate the wonder and the generosity of the One who is the source all that is and all that ever shall be. Just look at the fruits of the earth, now the Creator did a perfectly fine job with the apple. It is a wonderful fruit. We can all be satisfied with an apple. But that wasn’t enough, the Creator took the idea of fruit even farther, just look at the Kiwi, or the passion fruit if you don’t think that the Creator is extravagantly generous. Or look at birds. Now crows and sparrows are marvellous creatures. Their wings alone are amazing. But the Creator had to go even further. Just look at humming birds if you don’t believe me, with their wings that call flap at hundreds of times a minute. Look at flowers, daises are beautiful in and of themselves, but that wasn’t good enough for Creator, the Source of All Being flowered the earth with roses, orchids, and snap dragons.
We just have to look around us to see the extravagantly generous nature of our Creator. The gifts of Jesus at the wedding feast went far beyond meeting the needs of the moment for the health or safety or nourishment of Jesus’ friends. According to the story, the gifts of Jesus encompass the celebration of life itself. The sheer abundance of the gifts Christ brings to humankind extend beyond what any human being can ask or think or comprehend. Despite the fact that we are trapped in the routine of our lives, the nature of God, which is revealed in Jesus the Christ, ought to be more than enough to cause us to rejoice every day of our lives, in joyous celebration of life itself. And just as Jesus has revealed our Creator’s grace to us, Jesus calls us to be christs to one another. We have been blessed with a sheer abundance of gifts. God’s generosity to us is beyond our comprehension, and we cannot be content to confine our charity to a discrete set of arbitrary rules that fit into the routine of our lives.
The gospel does not play by the rules. Some of us are still learning how to share a cup of water with our neighbours, when we should be breaking out a bottle of champagne to celebrate life. Now I know that it is not easy to celebrate life, but we ought to be able to at least share a cup of wine together. In order to reflect the glory of our God, it is not enough for us to meet the needs of our neighbours; we need to find ways to celebrate life with one another. Their problems may not be our problems, and the timing may be all wrong, but the Gospel does not play by the rules and refuses to be confined by our safe routine live-styles. We are called to follow Christ, and that means we are called to the kind of extravagant generosity that boggles the imagination. We are called to commit outrageous acts of kindness, inspired by the inconceivable grace of our God, and drunk with the joy of life, we must use extravagant notions of generosity as our guide, in order to achieve the will of Our Creator, who takes the time to create not just apples, but passion fruit. This dear sisters and brothers is indeed good news.
I’ve been reading the Bible with an eye towards radical love, but hadn’t really thought about God’s extravagant generosity, as you so wonderfully put it, too. The two concepts are certainly linked, and I think this will help inform my reading going forward. Thank you for such a lovely thought.
I love this sermon! We all need reminding of Pastor Dawn Hutching’s keen insight that “the Gospel does not play by the rules” and that “we are all called to celebrate life with Extravagant Kindness.”
Pastor Jon Fogleman