Sunday, January 16, 2022
Can you think of a time when someone gave you a gift that you could never repay? A time when you experienced God’s grace abundantly? Many of us feel this way towards our parents, especially when we become parents ourselves, that our parents gave us more than we could ever give them back. Can you think of other times? Rich and I got married before our last year of seminary in Chicago. Rich was getting paid peanuts on his pastoral internship, and we were paying rent and covering bills through my after-school part-time job, scholarships and loans. We were young and didn’t care, but we were pretty poor. We almost never went out to eat – we just couldn’t afford it. Rich’s seminary adviser whom I also loved as a favorite professor invited us to dinner one night. It was on the rooftop of the Hancock Tower, with beautiful views of downtown Chicago, champagne and appetizers to start, and she said, “order whatever you want on the menu.” We didn’t see the final bill, but I would not be surprised if it was $200 or more a plate. We never would have gone out to eat like that ourselves at that point in our lives. We could not repay the favor. She knew, I think, how enjoyable an evening it would be for two students, newly married, out for a great meal and conversation in the city. And that story I think captures the kind of person this professor was, a joyful, generous, compassionate presence, whose gift inspired us to be similar in our generosity and hospitality. I would add, it inspired us not to wait to be financially “ready” to be more generous and hospitable, but to do what we could with what we had even as poor seminarians to be generous and hospitable!
In John’s gospel, Jesus’ first miracle or “sign” that he is not just any ordinary person but the son of God is the miracle of him turning water into wine at this wedding in Cana. We might first think, why is THIS the first sign that Jesus chooses to perform? Couldn’t it have been more profound? He doesn’t heal anyone or save anyone’s life in providing more wine for the wedding guests. He’s not casting out demons or raising people from the dead. And did you notice? Jesus provides nearly 180 gallons of more wine, better than the first wine, according to the steward. How big was this wedding, anyway? They couldn’t have possibly drunk all of the wine! What did they do with the leftovers? Jesus’ first miracle is extravagant to the point of wasteful. What is the point of this miracle of changing water into wine?
It strikes me that too many of us think this way too often about God’s grace. “If I were Jesus, I would have used my divine power more righteously, more judiciously, more sensibly,” we might think privately to ourselves. Maybe the wine ran out for a good reason – they didn’t need anymore! Enough is enough! Why is it human nature to be so stingy and hard on each other, to assume the worst about others? Why don’t we think, “Isn’t it wonderful how generous and joyful Jesus is here?” Instead, perhaps we wish Jesus had been a bit more purposeful in revealing his power and glory to the disciples and the wedding guests. It’s all well and good when Jesus raises people from the dead, but a bunch of wine for a wedding where everyone is already possibly a bit tipsy? Why do we so quickly discount people having a good time as being legitimate, or that God would desire us to have fun at a party to be too “out there” for Jesus?
Well, we’re not alone. It seems that even Jesus has his reservations about helping this wedding party out. “What concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come, “ he tells his mother. The steward tries to make sense of what is happening. Why is there all of a sudden all of this really good wine? Who would do such a thing? Well, the son of God would, apparently. And when we ask why this is Jesus’ first miracle, couldn’t we just as well ask, “Why not?” Why wouldn’t Jesus, the son of God, reveal his glory at a party, a wedding celebration? Jesus is fun to be around! We like hanging around Jesus, don’t we? Jesus is the vine, he’ll tell us later in John 15. Jesus can provide abundantly more than we need, as we’ll see later on when he multiples the five loaves and two fish and there are 12 baskets leftover. Jesus came so that we might have life, and have it abundantly, as he tells us in John 10:10. So why not? Why not turn water into wine and offer a party that is actually a foretaste of the feast to come, a wedding banquet that foreshadows the eternal banquet that the coming Messiah will bring, that prophets like Isaiah and Amos foretold?
Our hard hearts keep us from enjoying the grace, love and joy of God. In fact, sometimes we even reject that love. “I don’t deserve it,” we tell ourselves. “God’s grace would be better used for someone else.” “I’ll be alright on my own.” But in fact, we are not alright. All of us, regardless of who we are, sick or healthy, rich or poor, old or young, need the love, grace, and forgiveness of God. And this is what Jesus does at that wedding banquet in Cana. He offers God’s grace and love poured out in abundance, to all, and there is much, much more than enough. That’s a pretty good start for a first miracle to tell us who God is and what Jesus’ ministry and mission is all about.
Jesus, today, is inviting us to relax and join the party of the kingdom of God, where all are fed, where the food and wine do not run out and in fact there’s plenty to go around, where all are invited, regardless of who you are, and where nothing is required to give in return. That’s pure grace. That’s extravagant generosity. Excessive, even. I believe, like that dinner out with our beloved professor, that generosity begets generosity. We hear this story of what Jesus can offer us through his abundant generosity, and that makes us think about how we might be more generous and abundant in our living today. Jesus, in transforming ordinary water into delicious wine as his gift to the wedding celebration, inspires us to do what we can to be generous and hospitable with what we have. What could we offer someone else that might be inspiring or make an impact, no matter how insignificant it may seem? How can we live our lives extending more grace than judgment and see our lives full of abundance, rather than only seeing scarcity? And how can we not only give, but also graciously receive, because God has given us far more than we ever could need or imagine? May we, like the disciples who see Jesus’ glory revealed at the wedding in Cana, trust and believe in his amazing grace. Amen.