This sermon was presented by Geoff Pound at the Ashburton Baptist Church on Sunday, 17 January 2016.
Reading: John 2:1-11
The theme of today’s sermon is ‘Wine’!
It comes with a warning: ‘Remember to always drink responsibly’!
Let me note that many people choose not to drink wine for many good and valid reasons.
I can’t tell you what joy I’ve had researching today’s topic. This sermon wasn’t prepared in the study. It has matured in the cellar. The hours I’ve spent at Dan Murphy’s this week especially cogitating over verse 10 and learning to taste the difference between good wine and inferior wine. I’m not there yet!
I can’t do justice to this text in only one sermon. So I’ve decided to do a long thorough-going series on these eleven verses. We need to mull over this Scripture. We need to let it age. Let’s not quaff it down! Maybe after 20 weeks I’ll be serving up the good wine.
John begins this story:
2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…
It’s hard to know what, On the third day, means, but it could mean, on the third day after his baptism. Or could it foreshadow the third day of Easter and tip us off that something significant is about to happen?
If you go to the Holy Land, the tour operators can take you to Cana and for a fee, you can go through a ceremony where you can renew your wedding vows.
For a few more shekels you’ll receive a commemorative certificate of the blessing of your marriage. Then for a few more drachma, you can celebrate by guzzling down the best shiraz from grapes grown from the same vines and wine supply from which our Lord drank. I’m getting ideas for our next wedding anniversary!
Biblical scholars aren’t so sure that they’ve found Cana of Galilee, for it’s certain that if it was said: ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’, Cana was an even smaller blip on the original Google Map.
Isn’t it instructive that Jesus chose a piddly little unknown village in which to begin his public ministry? Jesus honours small people, doing little things in out of the way places. Don’t you find that encouraging?
If Jesus was doing the crossword puzzle in the Cana Courier and the clue was ‘a synonym of great’ he’d never think the answer was ‘big’. For Jesus, the word ‘small’ is never interchangeable with the word ‘insignificant’.
And the mother of Jesus was there. (2.1)
We’ve already seen that John’s nativity story has no shepherds, no wise men, no angels and no babe in a manger. He simply declares: 1:14 And the Word became flesh.
Now this is the first mention John gives of the mother of Jesus. The only other reference is the scene at the cross. (John 19:25) It’s fascinating how we tell a story as much by what we leave out as by what we include.
Maybe John is highlighting the divine nature of Jesus by leaving his mother out in the shadows, leaving her nameless and defined by another— ‘the mother of Jesus’. Do you sometimes feel like that?
2:2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
There are many countries, especially in the Middle East, where if you show up and there’s a wedding going on, you may well be invited. There was probably no family connection between Jesus and the wedding couple. This is genuine Middle Eastern hospitality but it’s risky because you’re never quite sure how many you’re catering for.
It’s always good in reading a Scripture story like this to ask yourself, ‘With whom am I identifying?’ Are you one of the guests, the chief steward, one of the waiters, Mary, one of the disciples or even Jesus?
In our world where there’s so much violence and tragedy isn’t it heartening to see Jesus celebrating? Jesus celebrating a new relationship. Jesus celebrating life, love and new beginnings.
Sometimes followers of Jesus are dull and boring. Party poopers. Wet blankets. You’d never say that about Jesus for people said of him:
“Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
(Matt 11: 19; Luke 7:14)
In one church a man named Sandy was the chair of deacons. In addition to keeping our meetings on track, Sandy took on board the arranging of social events for deacons and partners. He arranged for deacons to go 10 pin bowling. Another evening we spent at his home over pizzas. Any anniversary was a cause for celebration and this brought lots of joy to our team. It welded relationships together. I never understood the importance of celebration to a team until Sandy adopted this role.
GH does this well with our team of deacons. CA and RP organize lots of celebratory events for the staff and volunteers who work in our office. They find any excuse to bring us together to celebrate!
Who organises the celebrations in your workplace? Who initiates the fun events in your group? It’s all extra. It’s not usually on anyone’s job description but fostering festivity could be a little task you do that creates celebration and brings enormous joy to others.
As we look to this year in the life of ABC and our groups within it, let’s look at how we can bring this joy and the same spirit of celebration that Jesus added to the wedding at Cana.
2:3 When the wine gave out,
Here’s where tragedy strikes. At least for the organisers of the wedding, anxiety attacks.
In any culture this would be embarrassing but in Eastern culture even more so where honour, loss of face and shame play such a significant role.
You can tell that the fear of running out is a modern problem from seeing how often on the Internet the question is asked: ‘How much wine do you need to supply for a wedding?’
If only they’d had at Cana a Wedding Drink Calculator in which you insert the number of guests, the number of hours for the reception, the number of toasts to calculate the amount of champers, the season—is it a thirsty summer wedding and the time of the day because daytime wedding guests down more white than at dinner time when they like red with their steak. If only they’d had this they wouldn’t have got into such a liquid mess!
The mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."
Feel the tension brewing? “They have no wine,” she says. She is so indirect. So roundabout.
Doesn’t it exasperate you when people don’t come to the point? But beating around the bush is another cultural feature.
Her son’s response appears brusque and disrespectful. Don’t you wish you could hear this dialogue and see the facial expressions, the pursed lips, the arched eyebrows and the nods of the head?
2:4 "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?
My hour has not yet come."
Would you speak to your mother like this? (and survive!)
It’s good to see the sense of priority Jesus had. That he didn’t respond to every request.
He may be implying that he was off duty. This was a day for celebration not a work day!
There’s the issue of timing. More than a dozen times in John’s Gospel Jesus speaks about his hour. When was it right to go publicly revealing his identity and power?
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was not easily fobbed off as we see in v5:
2:5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."
What a definition of discipleship! How’s this for a new year resolution? The attentiveness and this action of this nameless woman set off a domino effect causing so many different people to experience joy and wonder.
Sometimes we have a partner, a colleague, a mentor or a spiritual director who says something we don’t initially like. Yet in time it becomes the word of truth and sanity. Scott Barton refers to this in his poem:
This Jewish mother knew the score;
She knew her son could do much more
Than just sit back, all uninvolved;
And so, this ponderer resolved
That she’d weigh in, and speak her mind,
E’en though, this son of hers, unkindly
Sometimes you need a push
To get yourself up off your tush;
And if that’s true of even God,
Perhaps for you, it’s not so odd.
And now to the resolution that not only overcomes the embarrassment but causes elation to flow among the hosts and joy among all the guests.
2:6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.
2:7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim.
The biblical scholars among us might think that John is comparing the plain watery religion of Judaism bound up in the purification pots of legalistic rituals with the rich, exuberant religion being launched by Jesus. But that’s a cheap shot.
The mathematicians among us are already doing their calculations, multiplying six water jars by 30 gallons, that’s 120 to 180 gallons and converting it into litres and thinking 900 to 1,000 bottles of wine!
The business people among us are already estimating how much this windfall is bringing: 80 cases of the finest Cana Cabernet at 100 bucks a case and with free delivery! The generosity of Jesus who picks up this bill for thousands of dollars!
The wine lovers among us are simply licking their lips. You love the extravagance when you hear the words: “Fill to the brim.” And you say: ‘Bring it on!’ ‘This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!’
2:8 He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it.
2:9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom
2:10 and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now."
We’ve marvelled at the quantity when the wine ran out. Here the emphasis is on the quality. The best is served whether or not the drunken guests can discern the difference.
Jesus came to give abundant life for everybody not just for the jet-set. This wasn’t the vinegar that they served Jesus on the cross (Luke 23: 36). This was grand reserve.
2:11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
The first of his signs or miracles. I love the words of Kallistos Ware when he says: “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”
Jesus is showing his glory through attending a wedding, celebrating togetherness, revealing God’s nearness. He is the mingling God who is not remote and is never too close for comfort.
There’s nothing loud or showy about Christ’s action. Maybe it was only the hosts, the waiters, Mary and the disciples who knew what was happening.
In the quiet, subtle backroom where water was turned into wine we see God’s glory. Like a chef in the shadows of the kitchen Christ looks out and beams with pleasure as he sees the enjoyment of the guests.
And his disciples believed in him.
We’d love to have our cellar filled to overflowing but more than this, when our patience is running out, when our faith is running out, when our joy is running out, when our compassion is running out, when justice is running out, when peace in our society is running out, Christ of Cana, enable us to do whatever you say to us and in your extravagant generosity, transform our scarcity into rich abundance.
Lord Jesus Christ, we praise you for the way you engaged with people in their ordinary, commonplace lives. The way you immersed yourself in the significant events of people, sharing with them at their lowest, painful times but also in their occasions of celebration and joy.
We praise you for responding to need in the spirit of extravagance and generosity, for giving the best, for enhancing and enriching lives.
We thank you for the life and contribution of Mary, for her quiet, unflappable manner, her strong, persistent faith, her attention to need and practical solutions.
In the places and groups where we find ourselves this week let us be stewards who hear your word and share in your enriching work. Save us from panic and pettiness and give us joy and humility as we serve and clean up after others.
Teach us to be your disciples, to get involved with people, to celebrate their joy, to discern your distinctive word, to respond in Christlike ways to their needs and to grow in faith in your vision and power.
So we raise our glasses with all people, especially those whose wellbeing is running out, and we say, ‘Life, joy, freedom and peace to them and all the world’.
Image: Wedding at Cana by He Qi.