“What if there is not enough?” Fear of not having “enough” plagues every funeral, wedding and gathering. Usually, people’s anxiety and fear causes them to order more than enough – and then discover that the caterer also wanted to be sure there was “enough” so they added to the original order and so we end up with an abundance of food – and a large quantity of leftovers.
At the Wedding of Cana, that fear became a reality. They ran out of wine. Jesus lived in a different culture than ours. Weddings lasted for days and the whole village and surrounding area was invited. Hospitality was a primary value. To run out of food or wine at a wedding celebration would have cast shame and dishonor upon the newly married couple. The social consequences of running out of food aren’t quite as desperate today – plus we have many more options. Someone can always run to the store for more. But the fear and anxiety of not having “enough” is the same today as it was then. No one wants to be embarrassed.
Out of compassion for this newly married couple, Jesus’ mother tells him, “They have no wine.” Jesus seems a bit surprised at her request. Yet, Jesus fixes the problem by transforming the water for washing the dirty hands and feet of guests into the finest wine. There’s no thunderclap announcing the miracle. Jesus doesn’t clear his throat and get everyone’s attention. As the servant brings the steward the ladle of wine, no one announces into a microphone: the gift of Jesus of Nazareth is 6 stone jars of the finest Cabernet. There was no fanfare. Yet, Jesus brings grace to a poor wedding couple, saving them from stories of scarcity and shame and transforming a sorry story into a joyful celebration.
Ordinary problems. Extraordinary generosity. Grace upon Grace. That’s the gift that Jesus brings to this wedding – and the gift that Jesus gives to us. Today’s Gospel comes from the Gospel of John. John is a bit different from the other Gospels. It begins by announcing: “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth…. we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:14 & 16 This is the Good News that Gospel of John proclaims. Everything that follows are examples, John calls them “Signs” of Jesus, the incarnate God, God with flesh on, offering grace upon grace. Into ordinary life situations, Jesus provides extraordinary grace…. Like saving a newly married couple from embarrassment and shame by providing the equivalent of 1000 bottles of the best wine ever. To those anticipating scarcity, Jesus brought surprising, amazing abundance. That’s grace.
Grace. It’s hard to define. Dictionary definitions don’t help much either. The dictionary defines grace as elegance, poise, decorum and blessing. But these words don’t capture God’s Grace – which I consider more of a combination of mercy and blessing. A better definition is found in the Gospel of John. Through very earthy signs done in ordinary places to ordinary people, Jesus demonstrates what grace looks like, smells like, feels like and tastes like.
So… if Jesus so clearly demonstrated God’s grace, why didn’t everyone at the wedding in Cana respond with faith and praise? The answer is probably because most of them had no idea what had happened. When the servants brought the steward the wine, not telling him anything about where it came from, the steward smelled it, tasted it, drank it and proclaimed it good...very good…the best wine – but he doesn’t ask where it came from -- maybe he did not want to know. After all, it was his job to manage the wedding and he was about to be embarrassed if they ran out of wine. He makes an assumption it had been kept it back – like you do with the burnt or broken cookies – we’ll serve them if we run out. Operating from that perspective, he instead asks why this great wine was kept until last?!
As for the other guests, most of the wedding guests have no idea what happened – they are probably simply glad that the rumor of “no more wine” was false. Only the servants and the disciples knew the origin of the wine. We don’t know how the servants responded. But for the disciples, who had just begun following Jesus, another transformation took place. This transformation was harder to taste or touch than the water becoming wine but was even more remarkable: they believed. They were given the gift of faith. They were given eyes of faith to see God’s grace and hearts transformed by faith to believe.
At text study this past week, I was reminded of a story in which people were quick to make judgments about scarcity – and abundance.
There was a farmer who had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to condole over his terrible loss. The farmer said, "What makes you think it is so terrible?"
A month later, the horse came home--this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors became excited at the farmer's good fortune. Such lovely strong horses! The farmer said, "What makes you think this is good fortune?"
The farmer's son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbors were very distressed. Such bad luck! The farmer said, "What makes you think it is bad?"
A war came, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer's son, because he had a broken leg, remained. The neighbors congratulated the farmer. "What makes you think this is good?" said the farmer.”
Unlike his neighbors, the farmer wasn’t quite ready to make any interpretations on his fortune. But we, as Christians, we are called to interpret our life and the world around us in light of the Gospel, the Good News of Christ.
Sometimes, what seems like scarcity – is really simply opportunity. At the wedding of Cana, if they hadn’t run out of wine, Jesus would not have been called upon to provide more. Like the guests at that wedding – who rumored to Mary that they have run out of wine… we too are apt to focus on scarcity instead of opportunity
At the Council meeting this past week, we discovered good news and bad news – the bad news is that we fell short of our budget for the year. The good news is that we received significant gifts for the elevator fund. Do we look at that as scarcity and with anxiety? Do we bemoan the shortage? Or do we celebrate the generosity of people for our capital appeal and look at the shortfall in the budget as an opportunity to remind ourselves of the “ordinary but essential” ministry that costs money too. As one of my pastor friends said at her annual appeal this past year, Grace is free. Church isn’t.
Likewise, on a cold day like today we could worry about the low attendance. Or, we can simply acknowledge that on days like today in Minnesota some people should not venture out. We could use this opportunity to remember in prayer those who, for medical or other reasons, could not leave their homes. We could think about who we could call to day to check in on them. We could wonder about who else, in our neighborhood, needs to hear Good News? We could think about how we could offer hospitality to the neighbor?
The truth is, God is still present and active in our world and in our lives. But not everyone has eyes of faith to see it. Our job, as children of God, is to proclaim God’s Word and to share Good News. God keeps offering new and surprising ways of showing us what God is up to in our world and in our lives – and offers us ways to be a part of God’s mission and ministry. And so, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us open our eyes to see and proclaim the ways God is acting in our world and in our lives offering Grace upon Grace.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
17 January 2016