Turning What Is Into What Can Be
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on John 2: 1 – 11. Focus on how Jesus and Dr. King changed their reality into something bigger and better. Also check out the choir following the sermon.
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus’ ministry begins in a most unusual way – it begins with a party.
And it doesn’t begin at just any old party it begins at a wedding reception. The whole community was gathered in Cana for this grand celebration, a big block party by today’s standards.
But there was one problem, which threatened to disrupt the celebration, and Jesus’ mother, Mary, was the first one to notice it: The party was about to run out of wine.
Now I’m not sure how she knew this, but if she was anything like my mother she was probably scurrying around trying to make sure everyone was having a good time and seeing what she could do to help the hosts.
Mind you Mary wasn’t the hostess, but that didn’t stop her from worrying about the happiness of others. Some mothers are just born to be helpers and worriers.
So however she knew that the wine had run out she also knew that this was more than just a trivial oversight by the catering company.
So I’m very grateful for Mary, because she’s also a truth-teller.
Too many of us, when there is a diminishment of what is essential for the good life, still keep acting as if everything is all right, but not Mary.
Mary had the courage to speak the truth, to say that something essential for the good of the community was missing. “The wine has run out.”
And this truth telling by Mary poses a challenge to us. It poses the same challenge that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. posed to us when he spoke the truth nearly 40 years ago, we too must decide if we have the courage to seek and speak out of the truth.
Do we dare stand up and say that something is missing in this grand American reception, this wedding of the high ideals of liberty and justice for all? Are we only to be Americans or more importantly Christians when the mood suits us? Or do we have the courage to say that there is something lacking in our practice of these high ideals?
Maybe I’m too cynical but as I look at the state of our body politic today, one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: The wine is running out.
When political office goes to those with the deepest wallets. Then to me the wine is running out.
When I see increasing polarization between the races and discrimination toward other human beings because of their gender, or nationality, then I say the wine has run out.
But there is still hope, because of Mary who goes and tells her son – “The wine has run out.”
This is a confession of faith, because Mary has reached her limits and realizes that her resources are not adequate in this context of need. So she turns to Jesus – who, she knows has been sent into the world to bring healing and salvation.
But then a strange thing happens in our story. Jesus, in that moment of need expresses not only reluctance, but also sarcasm toward his mother’s request to be a saving presence. “Woman, (he says) my hour has not come. What has that got to do with me?”
Was Jesus implying that this is just a wedding reception, a mundane social embarrassment? “I’m not ready to make my grand entrance onto the world’s stage here Mom.
But in the end Jesus refuses to buy into false dichotomies that separate the spiritual from the social.
His mother helped him see that what was occurring in Cana, this awkward social faux pas was as good a place as any to begin his ministry.
So Mary tells the waiters: “Do what he tells you to do.” And when the wine steward tasted it, he was astonished. “Wow – most people serve the inferior wine after people have become drunk!” But here Jesus had saved the best wine for last.
What a miracle. Jesus has turned water into wine. God takes what is necessary for our basic survival, nourishment and healing and makes it into something filled with joy.
But here’s the question: What precisely was the miracle? Was it a biochemical transformation of water molecules into fruit and alcohol or was it something else?
And if we could ask Jesus what the miracle was I imagine he would turn and ask us: What miracle do you need, a biochemical transformation or do you need a transformation of the way you see reality?
You see God sees the world not as it is, but as it might ultimately be. And that same thing happens at a wedding. Both the bride and groom say they will love, comfort and honor each other to the end of their days. They say they will cherish each other and be faithful to each other always. They say they will do these things not just when they feel like it, but in good times and in bad, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, even when they don’t feel like it. In other words, the vows they make at a marriage could hardly be more extravagant. They give away their freedom. They take on themselves each other’s burdens. They bind their lives together in ways that are even more painful to unbind emotionally, humanly, than they are to unbind legally. The question is, what do they get in return?
They get each other in return. Assuming they have any success at all in keeping their promises, they never have to face the world alone again. There will always be the other to talk to, to listen to. If they’re lucky, even after the first passion passes, they still have a kindness and a patience to depend on, a chance to be patient and kind. There is still someone to get through the night with, to wake into the new day beside.
They both still have their lives apart as well as a life together. They both still have their separate ways. But a marriage made in heaven is one where they become more richly themselves together than the chances are either of them could ever have managed to become alone. When Jesus changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, perhaps it was a way of saying that God does the same with us. God looks upon the potential that he saw when he first gave us life.
I believe that the miracle lies within us, which is to say that through Jesus we can become aware of a power that is capable of transforming the way we see one another and ourselves.
When we drink the new wine, all of a sudden instead of seeing a black person or a white person, we recognize a brother or a sister, instead of seeing a gay person or a straight person, we see a member of our own family. This is the miracle of the gospel: It changes the way we see one another.
According to John’s Gospel, Jesus begins his ministry not by saving people from their sins – but from social embarrassment and judgment. That may sound like a weak way to begin building the kingdom of God, but when we realize that what appears as mere social embarrassment is in fact our deepest sin: the divisions that tear us apart because of fear and judgment.
Then both in Cana and in our society, this is the great sin from which we need salvation.
Any religion or gospel interpretation that does not deal with the fragmentation in the body politic, and particularly in the body of Christ, is mere water, not new wine.
Such wine is incapable of transforming us. It’s a saccharine religion designed to make us feel good at the expense of others. If what you need to feel good or right depends on believing that someone else has to be wrong then your not drinking new wine you’re drinking a deadly substitute. And just because it’s sweet doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
I believe what the Gospel has to offer us has more to do with helping us become human than with anything else. It’s about transforming our inhumanity that divides us into our humanity that unites us.
That’s how God’s presence in the world will be known, in and through our humanity. For me that is the miracle of the gospel. The transformation of the human spirit through the new wine offered not only to wedding parties but to societies and the likes of you and me. Amen