Posted on Jan 20, 2019 by Pastor Dave Whetter
As a veteran of many weddings, I am always interested in listening to wedding stories. Not only have I presided over 50 weddings, I have also been intimately involved in two family weddings, my son’s and my oldest daughter’s, and now this year we are in the midst of planning our youngest daughter, Dana’s, wedding. Weddings require so much planning and there are so many details to ensure that everything happens properly on the day of the wedding that I have come to believe that every wedding will have mistakes and faux pas.
Seriously, I am not sure there is a wedding that I have been involved with where something hasn’t gone wrong. Oh, sometimes they are minor things, like a flower girl refusing to walk down the aisle, and other times they have been more major, like the wedding cake falling over at the reception. But as I warn brides and grooms all the time, no matter what happens, as long as you stand before God and state your vows to God and to each other, the rest, as Luther would have said, is “adiaphora,” which is Greek for “it doesn’t really matter.”
So, today’s Gospel story is one I always read with much interest. The couple was married, and they were celebrating, so what was the big deal? Running out of wine had no bearing on their marriage as far as God was concerned. But what mattered was the communal relationship that existed between the groom and his guests. You see, in those times, brides and grooms celebrated their wedding not by taking a honeymoon, but by throwing a big party, and this party usually went on for about seven days. Can you imagine that? As the father of two daughters I sure wouldn’t want to have to fund a seven-day party. But then again, in those days it wasn’t the responsibility of the bride, or her family; it was the responsibility of the groom’s. These celebrations were not just about two people getting together; it was the bringing together of families. Wine was an important part of the celebration, and the host, that is the groom, was supposed to provide wine for all for seven days! Running out of wine was a major faux pas. It wasn’t adiaphora. In a culture that was very much based around shame and honor, this was no minor issue; it was something that would bring shame on not just the couple but the whole family. Running out of wine wasn’t just an inconvenience, it would have meant a loss of reputation.
With that in mind, we come to our story for today. “Jesus’ mother” (John never mentions her name in the entire Gospel) has been invited to this wedding along with Jesus and his disciples. We don’t know how they knew the family, but many scholars will argue that Mary must have known the groom's family well, because she is the one who raises the potential disaster and seeks to make sure the problem is handled.
Now, you have to love the conversation between Jesus and his mother. When Mary realized the wine was running out, she goes to her son and says, “They have no wine” (John 2:3). Apparently, his mother trusted that he could handle this problem, but Jesus’ response is either funny, or rude, if you ask me. “And Jesus said to her, 'Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come' ” (2:4). Yes, this will be an issue for the groom and his family, but this isn’t exactly a problem that should require the work of God’s Son, right? I mean, should God involve herself in such trivial human issues? Jesus wasn’t putting his mother down, or being rude, he was merely stating a fact. His hour hadn’t come, yet, which in layperson’s terms meant something like, “Mother, you know I only follow God’s will; even your authority over me as a parent is superseded by God’s will.”
But like any good mother, when a child thinks they aren’t ready yet, a mother usually knows when her child is ready, so Mary doesn’t argue with Jesus, she simply responds by speaking to the servants and the disciples who were present, “Do whatever he tells you” (2:5).
Again, without any other words, Jesus goes into action. It’s almost as if he heard the confidence of his mother and he then went into action. Immediately, in front of the servants and the disciples, he makes 120-180 gallons of the best wine possible. That would be enough to save the honor of the groom and his family. According to John, this was the first “sign” that Jesus performed in his public ministries, and these signs (we might say miracles) were always intended to point the people toward God.
Now, there are a few very important things I think we can take away from this story for our lives today. First, just as in the other stories we have read over the past couple of weeks, when God announced where Jesus was or who he was, she did so by telling the nobodies of the world. God told the shepherds, God told the magi, God told those who were of no significance, because they were the ones who needed to know God was present. In our story today, God’s power is once again revealed to servants and to the disciples only. No one else knows where the wine came from. When the shepherds and the magi saw Jesus, they believed, and today John tells us that in the witnessing of this incredible sign, “his disciples believed in him” (2:11). We have witnessed Jesus in this world, and as for me, I believe, do you?
Secondly, this sign points to God's incredible promise of abundance. Jesus could have made some cheap wine; after all, it was the custom to serve the inferior wine once your guests had had a few and most likely couldn’t tell the difference, so why serve the good stuff? Well, in God’s kingdom, there is no such thing as inferior. God offers us the best, not only at the beginning of our lives, but for our whole life and even in our death, for death is not the end. God always offers us an abundance of the best so that we might also know God’s joy & happiness.
And God always offers us more than we need. I know, it doesn’t always seem like it, but that is because the world around us is constantly bombarding us with ads and comparisons that try to convince us we don’t have enough, or we don’t look good enough, or…, but the truth is, most of us not only have all we need, we have more than we need, and today God challenges us to share that abundance, just as this abundance of wine was shared with the guests.
In addition, I believe John wants us, his hearers, to know two more things. First, that even when we think the time isn’t right for us to act, when we act with the intentions to serve God, it is always the right time. Even Jesus had to learn this. He said it wasn’t his hour, the time wasn’t right, but Mary knew differently. We never think we are ready, we always want to know more, or to have more information, but the time to act is now, the time of waiting is over. And secondly, doing God’s work should be fun. Yes, I said fun. Jesus was at a wedding celebration, and much wine was consumed, and it was a fun time. I refuse to believe Jesus was a dull, boring person. He partied, he traveled, he built relationships with people from all walks of life, and to do that, he must have had a great personality and a great sense of humor, and was one who enjoyed having fun.
The church should be that kind of place! It should be a place where people want to be in relationship with each other and experience joy and happiness. It should be a place where we are received in kindness and love and where we are willing to change so that we might serve others with kindness and love. I believe God doesn’t want our religion to be so holy that it fails to be happy. If we want to attract people to the church then we need to be able to show it is fun to be a Christian. And we show it is fun, not with words, but with our actions. Brothers and sisters, it is time to act and it is time to have fun! Amen.