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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

John 2:1-11 Wedding at Cana
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
January 18, 2004

In last Sunday’s children’s sermon, I tried to illustrate how Jesus and John went back and forth over who should baptize whom. We had two pitchers, one filled with water, and one empty. Jesus said, John, baptize me – and his water got poured into John’s pitcher. John said, Oh no, Jesus, you baptize me – and his water got poured into Jesus’ pitcher. Then Jesus said, John, you’re not listening, this is the way it’s supposed to be – and his water was poured once again into John’s pitcher.

If I were going to continue the illustration into today’s scripture lesson, things would get a little precarious. Because I’d pour the water back into the other pitcher, and instead of filling up with water, the pitcher would fill with a lovely, well-aged Bordeaux. That’s assuming the Holy Spirit would assist in the illustration. If the Holy Spirit was going for authenticity, I’d have to send the kids running to the kitchen to get all the great big pitchers (and a few of the trash cans), because we wouldn’t have just one pitcher of wine, we’d have buckets full. At which point, the kids and I (and the Holy Spirit, too) would all be in deep trouble with the session for violating the rules against alcoholic beverages on church property. All of which would make this morning’s Congregational Meeting on the pastor’s call much more entertaining.

Everything in today’s scripture points to saying that Jesus showed up at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with way too much “spirit.” But those are the facts, so what are you going to do? Are you gonna sanction him for breaking the rules? Or are you gonna have one heck of a party?

Of course, when I say “party” I’m using John’s language, and John loves to speak in metaphors. Jesus’ time on earth hardly qualified as a party. I don’t think he’s calling his disciples or calling us to a life of wine, women and song (or men and song, as your case may be). But Jesus is calling us to live as though God’s Spirit is a rich banquet – God’s Spirit is a rich banquet for lives that try to exist on Chicken McNuggets and Diet Coke.

Wrong time; fine wine.

Everything in today’s scripture points to saying that Jesus showed up at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with way too much “spirit.”

John begins this passage with the familiar Biblical phrase, “And on the third day.” Any of us who’ve ever heard the Easter scriptures know that Jesus was resurrected “on the third day.” The third day is kind of Bible-code language to say that something really important in the time of God is about to happen.

But “the third day” also tells us that there’s waiting involved. We have to wait. I keep thinking of those commercials from, what, the 1970’s (ancient history) when the corpulent Orson Welles had become the iconic spokesman for a wine company. Was it Gallo? He sat in the comfy chair in his study, holding a glass, or maybe a bottle, I can’t remember. “We will serve no wine until its time,” went the slogan. And everyone who saw the ad expected him to say, “It’s time!” and chug-a-lug.

“Fast Food Nation” is the title of a popular book, but it’s also a good description of our spirits (no pun intended). We’re not used to waiting – not one day, not two, and certainly not three days. The turnaround time on important stuff is milliseconds if you’re online, half an hour if you’ve called out for pizza, and a day if you’re using FedEx. Only God and the U. S. Postal Service still take three days to deliver. So when we pray, we expect answers at least as fast as our favorite technology.

The people of Israel had been praying, waiting for God’s Messiah for centuries. For generations they had waited for God to do what the Prophet Isaiah had foretold in the King James Version: to “make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well-refined.” (No doubt sipped in a comfy chair in a study. The King James is so British. Had King James been American, the Bible might have said something about tailgate parties. Thankfully not).

The Messiah hadn’t come. Not in one day, not in two, not even in three hundred years. Three days of the Spirit is a long time. And even when he does show up, it’s in an unimportant little town, at a wedding where we don’t even know names of the bride and groom. When Mary sees the wine has run out before the guests have (apparently a Hebrew faux pas), she whispers to Jesus, “They have no wine.” And Jesus replies, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus will serve no wine until its time.

(As an aside, a lot of people remember this passage because it’s the one time in the Bible that Jesus is rude to his Mama. I don’t care if you have a “What Would Jesus Do” bracelet: kids don’t try this at home. But look at what she does! (This is so great.) Mary doesn’t grab him by the ear. She kindly ignores him. Which to this day is how most Mamas deal with their grown children. “Do whatever he tells you,” she says to the servants.)

So in an unimportant little town, at a wedding whose bride and groom we can’t remember, spurred on by a lack of wine and his mother’s suggestion, the Messiah shows up, late – way late in the minds of the people who had been waiting. But that’s not the only mistake Jesus allegedly makes. He breaks social tradition by making it appear as though the groom has been saving the good stuff for – of all people – the servants – who eat last, back in the kitchen while the big folks are finishing up dessert. And Jesus has given the servants, literally, gallons of wine from a most excellent year. Wrong time, wrong people, wrong place, wrong wine.

The good news for you and me here is that those of us who hang in there with God until “the third day” – whenever that is – those of us who hang in there with God until “the third day” can expect to find “fat things” and “wines on the lees.” And let’s be careful here; we’re entering the land of poetic language. The promise doesn’t mean God has to reward our patience with a big party, all that we’ve ever prayed for and more. No. It means we start to see God – start to see God – when we’ve stopped expecting to brew up our own miracles, stopped trying to create our own closure, stopped answering our own unanswerables. God comes to us on the day after the day after we stopped hoping to drive through and grab God-to-go. Wrong time; fine wine.

Jesus is calling us to live as though God’s Spirit is a rich banquet.

You can learn a lot about human nature by watching people at one of those all you can eat buffet restaurants. Lately they’ve started advertising it as “all you care to eat.” (Oh yeah. It sounds so much more refined that way.) I always wonder at the people who act as if there’s some contest to see how high you can pile the food on a nine-inch plate. Forgive me if you like to do this. But I’ve been to these places enough to have faith that the same stuff’s going to be there the next time you go back. (Well, it might not. Shoney’s COULD run out of gravy. Life’s short, little preacher boy, gotta get it while you can.) I always want to grab these folks and say, “It’s OK. You can go back.” (And they’d probably say, “I plan to. Now get your hand off my arm if you don’t want to lose it.”)

Life’s short, and they might run out of the good stuff. We aren’t the generation, or the society who invented that little philosophy. It has been with us as long as time. It’s the idolatrous little way of living that sneaks into our minds, then our hearts, so quietly we barely notice. It’s idolatrous because it makes the fear of scarcity more important than God.

Life’s short, and they might run out of the good stuff. This is exactly the kind of thinking the whole story of the Wedding at Cana is preaching against. Yes, there is a limited supply of what we THINK is the good stuff. The steward’s wine runs out long before the guests have. But the TRULY good stuff – the stuff that Jesus makes out of everyday water – the supply of the TRULY good stuff is more than we can drink in, or even would care to drink in.

The good news here for you and me is that not only what we’re waiting for, but the waiting itself can be time of God’s blessing. God has arranged a marriage between today’s troubles and heaven’s hope. Jesus’ time may not yet have come, but that doesn’t stop him from being here – here in our weddings, here in our divorces; here in our anniversaries, and here in our loneliness; here in our dreams fulfilled, and here in our waiting. Whatever we’re doing, if we do it as servants trying to “do whatever he tells us,” the stuff of our days can be called, “good.”

I don’t know where you are in your faith, right now. You might be rejoicing that God has answered your greatest prayers. You might be waiting. You may have gotten tired of waiting and figure you’ll just get by on whatever you can do on your own. But wherever you are in your faith, the promise of this miracle is that by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the waters that come up to our necks can become the waters that help us float. That’s not something we can do for ourselves. Nor can friends do it despite their well-intended words of comfort. Only God can do that kind of a miracle, and turn life’s ordinary waters, or troubled waters, into well-aged wine. The promise of today’s scripture is that God is turning our wrong time into fine wine, in this time, right now.