Abundance. Abundance in gifts, of work and in love. Abundance in spirit and belief. These are the themes winding through our lessons this morning.
Isaiah tells us that God loves us; Paul brings the news to the church that there are many different people and different gifts, which are given to us by God the Holy Spirit, not out of personal choice, but because God saw that this was good for all. Finally, we are witnesses to the first of Jesus’ miracles and the disciples at last come to belief.
“And his disciples believed in him.”
That’s it. That’s all the author of John says about the disciples’ reaction to the miracle at the Wedding in Cana.
As miracles go, it’s not the most spectacular, after all, no one, save the servants and the steward know that it happens. No one was raised from the dead, sight was not restored, demons weren’t cast out of a pathetic, deranged soul into a herd of unsuspecting swine. No one saw it coming. Yet the five disciples with Jesus at the wedding know that something extraordinary has happened and their friend and teacher had something to do with it.
The author of the Gospel of John tells us that he wrote the gospel ‘so that [we] may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing [we] may have life in his name.’ We know from our own reading of scripture and tradition, our history, that the Gospels tell the story of the ministry and life of Jesus of Nazareth. We know that he was a prophetic teacher, a healer, an advocate for the marginalized, and he worked miracles. Today we witness the first of the seven miracles of Jesus, turning the water into wine at Cana.
What do you think of when you hear the word, ‘miracle?’
Images are conjured from the mind, right? The parting of a vast body of water, a person walking on it, five loaves of barley bread and two fish becoming lunch for a party of lets say about five thousand. A man dead three days being brought back to life.
‘Miracle’ is defined as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.”
Well . . . let’s see, to my mind, that could be opening your eyes after a night of sleep. A child’s first smile. The words “I love you,” spoken and meant. The sunset on a warm spring evening, or rain in October. It could mean finding the courage and strength to take on a task that at first seemed daunting or impossible and succeeding. Or trying. Or failing miserably. But still hopeful.
Here, I believe we have an event of divine intervention that is twofold: first, to show that God’s working is more important than custom and tradition, and second, and most important, to show just how God works in our lives and what it means.
Weddings were a community event in first century Palestine. People came from miles around to attend and the festivities would go on for days. Hospitality was important and we see that Jesus’ mother Mary was keenly aware of its importance when she tells him the wedding party has run out of wine. That would have been a disaster of monumental proportions and perhaps she is concerned for the reputation of the bride and groom. She says to her son, “They have no wine” in a do-something-about-it now sort of manner and voice parents are uniquely equipped with, and dismisses Jesus’ comment “that now isn’t the time, Mother,” and tells the servants nearby to do as Jesus will instruct. I wonder here; does she know that Jesus has the power of God, or is she expecting Jesus to tell the servants to go and bring the bread and wine they’ve brought for the wedding feast and save face? We do not know the answer to these questions. Perhaps Jesus had been expecting an introductory moment, the perfect moment that he could identify and control to reveal his identity. Instead, his hour came upon him unexpectedly, pushed on him by circumstances and by his persistent mother. Like the dutiful son of God that Jesus is, he complies with his mother’s orders. And his Father’s.
Water is turned to wine and the steward relaxes, knowing there will be enough to go around – and even better, it’s a good vintage. The steward congratulates the host for saving the best for last, because no one does that. It’s usually the less than interesting wine that only tastes good when you’ve already had a few.
It’s God that saves the best for last.
We know that through each of the seven miracles, the power of and love offered by God manifests and increases, from the jars of water turned to wine, the blind man given sight, the woman healed of her bleeding, Jairus’ daughter brought back to life, to Lazarus walking out of his tomb, and finally The Resurrection and fulfillment of the scriptures. This is abundance as God offers it at its best.
God gives and provides, but we musn’t think it’s that easy. The miracle at Cana also shows how misguided and wrong it would be to think that God exists to meet our needs, or to merely supplement our lives with an added ‘spiritual’ ingredient. Sorry – you can’t open that blue bottle of magic pills, swallow one and get spiritual whenever you needed that boost. If it were true, I’d have that Mini Cooper I’ve been harping about on Facebook when it asked me how it was going. C’mon, Facebook, where is it?!!
If this were the case, the story John writes would need revisions, maybe this: Jesus fills the jars with the same vintage as that the host would provide after the guests were too full of the good stuff to know the difference or care. There’d be enough wine to last until the end of party. The bride and groom would sigh with relief, everyone would go home happy. End of story.
Instead, we are shown huge vessels brimming excessively, the quality of wine sublime and astonishing. We are shown a metaphor for God’s abundant love. This Gospel scripture fits in with the theme of abundance in the Hebrew scripture, the psalm and the epistle. Let us accept that the wine is love overflowing. This is true abundance and not that which is preached in “the prosperity gospel,” a twisting of Christ’s message and the meaning by some to tell themselves and others of like mind that it’s okay to have and have a lot because God will give it to you. No. I don’t believe that for a moment. What we really want, what is offered to us, I believe, is an abundance of grace, and that is found in the wealth of relationships, of community, in which all are able to give and receive. A community such as this – where we are now.
And that brings us to Paul’s comfortable words to the church in Corinth. Corinth is near the Oracle of Delphi. Imagine a fledging community of faith trying to compete with that. Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
We heard these words a moment ago; we were given a glimpse of his vision of the Christian community, the body of Christ, a kingdom of Heaven on earth where each member is blessed with gifts for mutual service and the common good and that imparts the love Christ asks us to share and bestows upon each of us a real and honest spirituality.
Our community has an abundance of gifts bestowed on us. Every day, every week, I see it in action. This little parish is known in the neighborhood as “the little church that does good.” That’s a quote from a neighbor of mine. We are blessed and we share that blessing every day when we strive to live out the Gospel.
Finally, I say that abundance, especially the divine abundance so freely given to us, is not a right. It is not a concept. It is an experience of faith and the Spirit, granting us the ability to be gifts for one another in the church.
It’s not just water turning to wine. It’s not all that we can hold at one time in our hands or what we’re hoping for. It is God working. It is about our acceptance of the hand of God in our lives and believing it can happen.