For a sake of a good story, let’s make up some details to our Gospel story today: Picture! Joe and Jane are getting married. They’ve invited all their family and friends, and the whole town. It is completely acceptable in their culture to just show up at any wedding you hear about. So, Joe has a lot of company to feed. And they get roast lamb and crisp bread and as much wine as they can drink. An exciting, bountiful wedding means an exciting, bountiful marriage, right? And in this ancient time, Joe needs to turn his financial wealth into a wealth of children!
But in the middle of the wedding, long before people are ready to go home, the wine runs out. This embarrassment, this social disaster, may haunt Joe and Jane the rest of their lives.
Picture a boss looking over two applicants to work his vineyard: does he want Benny who gave good wine his entire wedding to the whole town… or Joe who was stingy, took our wedding gifts and tossed us out before we even were buzzed?
If Joe didn’t get enough wine because he’s poor, he’s looking at being a whole lot poorer in the future as the town of Cana shuns him.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is full of compassion and empathy. She sees the growing problem, recognizes it, and immediately takes it before God.
You see, four days ago she saw Jesus baptized and John testified he saw a spirit like a dove descend from God and alight upon Jesus. The following day, some of John’s disciples believed John’s epiphany, his realization, that Jesus is the Lamb of God. So they began to follow Jesus.
Then Mary saw Jesus begin to gather fishermen as disciples. Nathaniel proclaimed, “You are the son of God!” And Jesus replied, “You will see greater things than these.” Greater things than Jesus knowing Nathaniel before Nathaniel introduced himself.
Today, the third day, Mary states her epiphany – her realization – she knows who Jesus is. And so when she sees a need, and turns to prayer – she turns to Jesus since she knows he is the son of God, the Lamb, the one who has come to take away sins, the very in breaking of the new age of God.
She turns to Jesus and states her prayer: “They are out of wine.”
… It’s kind of a silly prayer. “Oh God – there is no wine to drink. Send wine.”
It reminds me of the Simpson’s episode “Pray Anything.” In that episode, Homer Simpson watches the super-Christian Ned Flanders being successful in life. He asks Flanders what his secret is. Flanders tells him things like “work hard,” “eat healthy” “and a little prayer.”
Homer only focuses on prayer, since he doesn’t like the other two. He begins to pray for things like help for finding the TV remote, and a new tasty snack, and help with a plugged up sink. He finds the remote, chocolate-covered bacon is invented, and he comes up with a scheme to make money for the sink.
His wife tells him, “God isn’t some sort of holy concierge. You can’t keep bugging him for every little thing!” But Homer ignores her.
The message of the episode isn’t that Marge, (Homer’s wife) is right, – Homer’s prayers are answered until he blanetly sins and hurts other Christians, and forgets God – No, in the episode, the message is rather to have faith.
You know, I don’t think there are any silly prayers. Prayer is a conversation, a dialogue, between you and God; between people and God; between creation and God.
Our conversations with each other have trivial things in them. Trivial concerns. Trivial joys. Trivial squirrelly thoughts that go no where. God isn’t a holy concierge, but God delights in us and does want to know about every little thing.
Mary’s prayer, this wedding at Cana, is evidence to me of this fact.
God cares for our normal, daily, life – including our frustration when we lose the TV remote.
God cares for our heart-stopping, monumental life – including the moments when we feel we can’t go on and the moments when we’re talking on Cloud 9.
God cares for us – in the big times and the little times.
God wants to hear from us when we have no big concerns and when we have gigantic concerns.
Mary’s prayer is for a single wedding. Yet God responds exuberantly in God’s own time.
Mary tells Jesus, “They’re out of wine!”
Jesus’ responding words in English sound harsh, but in his native tongue they don’t sound as bad. However, he still dismisses her. “Why is that our problem? It isn’t my time.”
John’s wonderful double meanings are in Jesus’ words. John’s whole gospel is full of this kind of word play. This isn’t Jesus’ wedding. It isn’t time for him to give out wine. But it also isn’t Jesus’ hour — time — of self-revelation and glory.
Mary, however, cannot be dissuaded. Like many of the women in the Bible, she refuses to give up hope. She turns to the servants who are working the wedding, “Do whatever he tells you to do.”
Now she places the time, the action, back into Jesus’ hands. If he tells the servants nothing – then nothing will happen, the party will end, and people will leave. If Jesus decides to act, then he can tell them what to do to assist with fixing the end of wine problem.
We read that near the wedding were gigantic stone water jars. These water jars once held clean water for people to use to wash their hands. Now they are empty. Every jar can hold twenty to thirty gallons of water. So 120 to 180 gallons of water. If that’s hard to picture, picture three of your hot water tanks.
Jesus tells the waiters and waitresses to fill the jars with water, and the workers do so all the way to the brim. Then Jesus tells them to take some of the liquid to their boss. So they stick in a dipper, remove some of the water, and find it is not the same stuff they put in it.
Faithfully, without question, they take this to the chief steward, their boss. He’s standing there thinking, “Well, this party is over. Pretty soon someone’s going to ask for wine, and we have none. This Joe really has messed up big time.” So the waiter gives the head boss this cup, the boss tastes it, and is shocked at what good wine it is. He calls over Joe with glee and laughter, “Joe! You crazy man! Everyone else gives out the good wine for their toasting and socializing, and then they use the cheap wine after everyone is drunk. No one knows the difference then. But you! You rascal! You’ve saved the best for last!”
But the servants, and the disciples who were watching, and Mary and Jesus… they know the truth. The three tanks, the six jars, the gallons and gallons of good, excellent, expensive wine was actually water just a few minutes ago. Jesus has turned plain water into excellent wine. An extravagant, overly generous, miracle has just occurred.
Jesus does his miracle on his own accord, his own time, but in response to prayer.
He then took what was old — the old Jewish stone jars. The old ways of doing things — but he made something new inside of the old. Judaism isn’t replaced, but something new is growing out of it. The prophets, the Old Testament, the teachings of Elijah and Moses and Abraham aren’t outdated and useless… but out of them, a new gospel, a new message, arises.
It’s sort of like how Jesus takes us — our same old bodies and souls — but fills us with new, marvelous Spirit.
And, when it seems like the party is over… when all is said and done… when hope is lost and there is nothing left that we can do…
… we can still pray…
… and God still has the final word.
Hope is never fully lost.
Even death – which claims us all – doesn’t have the final word.
Our bridegroom is preparing a wedding feast for us. Our bridegroom is gathering us together for the most extravagant wedding feast. Our bridegroom is coming, at some unknown hour, to start a celebration for the ages. Our bridegroom has the final word — not death, not sickness, not separation. Not isolation, or depression, or feelings of low-self worth. Our bridegroom has the final word: and that final word is one of superabundant grace, extravagant welcome, and unlimited grace.
Our God delights in us!
We delight in our God!
God delights to hear from us! God delights when we share our life with the divine!
Let us pray without ceasing. Let us pray when we have big problems and small. Let us pray when we have little joys and big joys. Let us pray by the way we live our lives! Amen.
Given to Saint Michael’s UCC 1-17-2016 Baltimore, Ohio.