Sermon - Brad Brookins
John 2. 1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 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 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.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Right in the middle of St Paul’s letter to his church in Ephesus you find a benediction. Now usually benedictions are found at the end of a letter or a sermon, not in the middle. But Paul was never one to follow the rules.
This particular benediction is interesting because is an extreme, over the top, almost excessive, song of praise for God’s abundant generosity. Here he doesn’t give 100% praise he give at least 150%.
And you get the feeling that for Paul this still wasn’t enough. Listen to what he wrote:
“Now to God who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or imagine… to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20 KJV)
I think if he could've found more words to praise God with he would have used them. He is overwhelmed—floored by his vision of the generosity of God.
As I was working with the text for this week—the story in John’s gospel of the wedding at Cana in Galilee, I wondered if maybe John’s vision of God had been shaped by reading Paul. After all, Paul wrote his letters decades before John wrote his gospel, so it’s entirely likely he had read at least some of Paul’s work.
I was thinking this because this story of the water being turned to wine—and indeed the gospel of John as a whole, presents Jesus representing a God who is surpassingly generous; a God who gives and gives and then gives more. Exceedingly abundantly more than the people around him asked for or could even imagine asking for.
You see that in the story of the wedding when you do the math.
But first—the wine flows pretty freely in this story. If wine is a trigger for you and you’d rather not imagine imbibing in this quantity, substitute your favorite beverage. Mine, of course, would be chocolate milk. I think this story would work just as well had Jesus turned those 6 jars of water into 180 gallons of 5 1/2% butterfat organic chocolate milk—from grass fed Jersey cows, of course.
Anyway, the math in this story helps to make the point.
According to one archeologist I read, small Palestinian villages in Jesus’ time seldom had a population above 400 people. Keep that number in mind.
The water jars in the story held 20 to 30 gallons—so six of them would hold between 120 and 180 gallons. That’s a lot of water.
A bottle of wine, these days, holds about 25 ounces. Convert 120 to 180 gallons of water into a fine wine and you will have between 600 and 900 bottles. There are 5 servings in a bottle of wine.
That’s a lot of wine.
The smartest thing this bride and groom did was to invite Jesus to their wedding party. Because he was there, and without even knowing it, they went from an embarrassing shortfall to an extravagant surplus—as many as 4500 glasses of the best wine anybody there had ever tasted. That’s more than 11 glasses for every man woman and child in town. Quite a party.
And there you have the point of the story:
You want to be at the party where Jesus is.
If you’re thirsty, find you way to his party.
If you’re afraid you will embarrass yourself again—as the wedding hosts almost did, with your failure to plan or with your general tendency to plain old fail—do it at his party.
His is the party guaranteed to go on for a long, long time.
You see, Jesus is the embodiment of extravagance. When he is at the party there will alway be abundance. Exceedingly abundant abundance.
This theme is repeated just a few chapters later when 5000 people show up to listen to Jesus teach. And even though they travel out into the countryside to hear him and even though they likely expected to be out there for quite a while, almost no one thought to bring a lunch.
By evening they were hungry and they couldn’t feed themselves.
With no fanfare—like this is the sort of thing he does all the time, Jesus blesses and breaks 5 little barley loaves and feeds the whole crowd with baskets full of food left over.
The point is the same you see. Hang out with the one who embodies abundance.
If you’re better at forgetting than remembering; If you’re better at failing than succeeding; Or if you’re just plain hungry in your heart, check out Jesus’ party. Where he is you will always find “exceedingly, abundantly more than you can ever ask or think”.
Imagine if we did this today—if we lived, like he did, in reckless extravagance. There would always be enough, and to spare, for everybody, right now. For instance:
Rather than being unfunded, to pay for massive tax cuts for wealthy Americans, the Children’s Health Insurance Program would be expanded and nine million poor children would not be left in a health care black hole. Confused and bleeding patients would not be tossed onto the street in 30 degree weather wearing only a hospital gown and socks, as happened in Baltimore last week. The leader of an otherwise great nation would not write off whole countries populated by black and brown people, comparing their homeland to an open sewer.
If we walked in the abundantly generous way of Jesus, none of that would happen. Because in God’s world there is enough—right now, for everybody. We just have to get ourselves to the right party.
Forgive my little digression there; I couldn’t help myself.
It’s no accident, by the way, that bread and wine figure so prominently in these gospel stories. For a thousand years before this, bread and wine and good food had been symbols of the presence, the generosity and the abundance of God.
Every time a Jewish family sat down at the dinner table, you see, their meal was a reminder that one day they would sit together at God’s table and join in the divine feast that would forever erase their hunger and their thirst—not to mention their failures and fears.
Every bite of food was a gift from God. Every sip of wine a promise from God.
The words of Isaiah that Janelle read a little while ago are an illustration: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”
Every meal brought this promise to mind. As Amos prophesied:
“The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when… the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them…” (Amos 9)
This had been their hope for centuries.
And so when Jesus showed up and started doling out bread and wine in extravagant, feast sized portions, the meaning of what he was doing was not lost on them. They heard the echo of the prophets of old in his exceedingly abundant generosity.
The great feast was beginning at last. The kingdom was coming—on earth as in heaven.
And it would be enough!
It would always be enough—for everyone to have everything they need.
Forgiveness, for instance. God’s forgiveness—like the bread for the multitude satisfies us with plenty left over. You can’t out-sin God’s willingness forgive.
Or grace, for another example. Like the wine at the wedding, it flows forever. It is sufficient. It will always be sufficient—for you, for us, for the world. Grace is always there—before you need it, after you receive it and when you need it again.
And if we live generously—if we get ourselves to the right party—bread and wine, clean water and fresh air, housing and health care will be available to all.
The giving and receiving—the abundance doesn’t stop, you see.
This is God’s party. This is the way it is.
Near the end of his time with his friends, Jesus again took bread and wine and fed them—but this time it was different.
This time the bread and wine was not a symbol of God’s presence it was an experience of God’s presence.
Jesus blessed the bread and said “this is my body”. He blessed the cup and said “this is the new covenant in my blood”.
When we gather at his table, we eat and drink with him. That is the meaning of what we do here. We eat and drink together; and all of us together eat and drink with him. This is the party he invites us to.
And have you ever noticed this table is set before we get here;
The table is ready before we are hungry;
It will be here when we return with the same hunger and thirst, the same failure and weakness, the same hope and desire that brought us here today.
We are welcome here. And our neighbors—unworthy and unwelcome in other places are very worthy and very welcome here.
That’s just the way it works. The grace, the kindness, the generosity of God is that exceedingly abundant—without bounds; without limits; without exclusions.
There is always enough. And that’s a good thing.
Because the world is hungry; because the world is thirsty, this table is always ready.
That’s just the way is. Amen.
John 2. 1-11
1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9When 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 10and 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.’ 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
This appears, at first glance, to be a pretty straightforward, simple story. Fortunately, it is anything but. Like the rest of the gospel of John, there is always more to the story than first meets the eye. This gives rise to some difficult questions (sorry about that). But, like everything else in the Bible, struggling with the questions always yields impressive and meaningful results. Struggle on!
Turning water into wine is a pretty good party trick all by itself, and would guarantee you some notoriety. But it’s important to note that this is no party trick. This action, like everything Jesus did was done on purpose. John gives that purpose in verse 11: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
1. This is a hard question: Why does John call this a “sign” and not a “miracle”?
2. Turning water into wine “revealed his (Jesus’) glory”. There were evidently no bright lights or rockets going off and no one but the servants and the disciples new what Jesus had done. What “glory” was revealed? What does John mean and what was Jesus trying to communicate? (Another hard question).
3. John says “his disciples believed in him”. This is only the second chapter of the gospel; not much has happened yet. What do you think his disciples believed? Is it significant that John says they believed “in“ him and not “about” him? Why?
4. The steward of the feast suggests the guests have already become drunk (v10). 120 to 180 gallons (vs 6,7) is a lot of wine to add on to a party where people may have already had too much. It’s a good think no one had to drive home. Why do you think Jesus creates this apparently reckless abundance?
5. Read Isaiah 25. 6-10 and Amos 9. 13-15 (both are printed below) What similarities do you see between these Old Testament prophecies and Jesus’ action at the wedding?
6. Last week we talked about Jesus’ Jewishness and his connection to his Jewish heritage as described in our Old Testament. The Old Testament prophets promised a time to come when God’s people would experience an outrageous abundance of good things—food, wine, security. Go back to question # 1 about the sign. Is Jesus linking the wedding in Cana with the feast long promised by the prophets? Is this free flowing, almost inexhaustible supply of wine a sign that the promise is being fulfilled? Discuss the story from this angle.
7. Extra credit work to help you understand more about the gospel of John and the mission of Jesus. Consider this: There are no “miracles” in John’s gospel, there are only “signs”—7 signs to be exact. The seven signs are:
The seven signs are seen by some scholars and theologians as evidence of new creation theology in the Gospel of John, the resurrection of Jesus being the implied eighth sign, indicating a week of creation and then a new creation beginning with the resurrection. (Source: Wikipedia)
Watch this very short video. It will give you a useful perspective on the gospel of John: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L__HYo1mZFY
Isaiah 25. 6-10
6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
8 he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
10 For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.
Amos 9. 13-15
13 The time is surely coming, says the Lord,
when the one who ploughs shall overtake the one who reaps,
and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 I will plant them upon their land,
and they shall never again be plucked up
out of the land that I have given them,
says the Lord your God.