Sunday’s sermon: Quenching an Unknown Thirst

water to wine

Texts used – Psalm 36:1-10; John 2:1-11

  • “Don’t talk to strangers” … “Your face is going to freeze like that” … “Money doesn’t grow on trees” … “You can’t judge a book by its cover” … “Wait an hour after eating before you swim” … “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt” … and my personal favorite, “Don’t take wooden nickels.” I mean, really … what is a wooden nickel, anyway?! *sigh* All those lovely, endearing little bits of advice we’ve gotten from parents or parental figures throughout the years. Some of them carry a grain of truth. Others … well, less so. (In all my years, I’ve never, ever met someone whose face did, in fact, “freeze that way.”)
    • One nugget that has been proven more truthful than we may have expected in recent years = old adage “Don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach”[1]
      • Study done through the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management
        • 2 groups, neither of which had eaten in at least 4 hrs.
        • Groups both asked to take a survey on binder clips → told they could request as many samples of clips as they wanted
        • Before the survey, group A was given a blind taste test → fed cake before they were asked about binder clips
        • Those in group B (the hungry, non-cake group) asked for 70% more binder clips than the group who had eaten
      • Another study surveyed consumers who had just shopped at a large department store → those who were hungry spent 64% more money than those who were less hungry
      • Most interesting part of these studies = much of the shopping had nothing to do with the actual need → much of the shopping was not food shopping: finding: “Being hungry amps up your desire to acquire things” → So put more broadly, when we feel that empty feeling inside ourselves, we’re more likely to try to fill it with whatever we can – whatever’s easy, whatever’s close at hand, whatever’s convenient, whatever’s popular. But plenty of times, the things we choose actually have nothing to do with satisfying our actual bodily hunger. We try to fill it with entirely the wrong thing.
        • Even applies if we’re in a grocery store – shopping hungry rarely results in a cart full of health food, right? → Feeling that primal, elemental need deep within ourselves has a tendency to override our rational brain. The need to be filled takes over and we begin wandering from one aisle to the next, mindlessly grabbing whatever tickles our fancy and tantalizes our tastebuds until we find ourselves at home with 15 grocery bags to put away, none of which contain what we went to the store for in the first place. Right?
    • Hmmm … filling an emptiness … fulfilling a need. I wonder what our Scriptures may have to say about that this morning.
  • Let’s take a look at that strangle little story from John’s gospel first.
    • Background
      • Beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the gospel of John
      • Prior to this = John the Baptist’s witness/testimony to the One coming, Jesus’ baptism, Jesus calling his disciples
      • Today’s story = 1st of seven “signs” in the gospel of John
        • “miracles” in other gospels = “signs” in John → Remember that John was written much later than the rest of the gospels – 30-40 years after Matthew, Mark, and Luke and at least 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In all that time, the early church had the opportunity to develop a good deal of theology and theological language surrounding who Jesus was, his purpose and mission as the Son of God, and how his coming related to various passages of the Hebrew Scriptures (or what we call the Old Testament). Part of that theological development included naming those miracles that Jesus performed “signs” – signs that he was, indeed the Son of God, the Messiah for whom they had waited.
          • Other signs: 3 healings, Jesus walking on water, feeding the 5000, and raising Lazarus from the dead
          • Some sources include an 8th sign – miraculous catch of fish when Jesus appears to the disciples after his death and resurrection at the end of the gospel
    • Today’s story = such an interesting gospel story for so many reasons
      • 1st: could probably be subtitled “The Miracle of the Reluctant Savior” → Jesus has to be persuaded (dare we say “goaded”?) by his mother into performing this first and crucial sign – text: When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.” Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.” His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”[2]
        • Interesting because in all the stories in all the other gospels (including all the other stories in Jn), Jesus appears to be the driver, the one calling the shots and progressing his ministry forward → But in today’s story, it’s not Jesus who initiates the ministry. Not really. It’s his mother, Mary. She was invited to this wedding, and Jesus and the disciples came along as her “plus one” (and then some!). During the celebration, she somehow found out that the wine was gone, and despite his initial protestations, she encourages Jesus to do something.
        • Also interesting because of the way Mary goes about this → She doesn’t tell Jesus what to do. She doesn’t lay out a plan. She simply says to the servants at the wedding, “Do whatever he tells you.”
          • “whatever” = not one specific word in Gr. but a combination of small words that are all sort of contingent on each other – meaning = “all the things” → So Mary is basically telling to the servants to do something, anything, everything … whatever Jesus says. And in doing this, she’s encouraging them into discipleship. It may be more of a situational discipleship than the life-devoting discipleship of those closest to Jesus. But by listening to Jesus and carrying out his instructions, the wedding servants become temporary disciples nonetheless.
      • Could also be subtitled “Miracle of Ludicrous Abundance” – text: Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did. The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. The headwaiter called the groom and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first. They bring out the second-rater wine only when the guests are drinking freely. You kept the good wine until now.”[3]
        • Need was clearly there: the wine had run out
        • After being prompted by his mother, Jesus fills that need → But he doesn’t just fill the need. If he was simply filling the need to the most basic, bare-minimum parameters, Jesus would have made the wine mediocre. Or he would have filled only one 20-30 gallon jar. Or he would have skipped the massive jars altogether and simply had the servants fill a few empty wine skins – just enough to get by. But instead, Jesus has them fill six empty jars with 20-30 gallons each and turns that water into the finest wine – even finer than what had already been served. Even before most of the guests know that the wine is out … even before most of them are aware of their need … Jesus fills that need with radical abundance.
          • Scholar: It is a miracle of abundance, of extravagance, of transformation and new possibilities. … The extravagance of Jesus’ act, the superabundance of wine, suggests the unlimited gifts that Jesus makes available. … The story invites the reader to see what the disciples see, that in the abundance and graciousness of Jesus’ gift, one catches a glimpse of the identity and character of God.[4]
          • Hansen: Glory shines when the presence of the Word turns the basic into the sublime. … That overwhelmingly generous gift, the equivalent of 605 bottles of the very best wine, is the way the Word made flesh honors human celebration itself. Because Jesus is present, God is present. Because God is present, let the good times roll.[5]
  • Identity and character of a God of radical abundance = what we see played out in OT reading this morning, too
    • 2nd half of the ps = all about the over-abundant goodness and mercy of God – text: But your loyal love, Lord, extends to the skies; your faithfulness reaches the clouds. Your righteousness is like the strongest mountains; your justice is like the deepest sea. … Your faithful love is priceless, God! Humanity finds refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the bounty of your house; you let them drink from your river of pure joy. Within you is the spring of life. In your light, we see light. Extend your faithful love to those who know you; extend your righteousness to those whose heart is right.[6] → The psalmist speaks of God’s blessing – grace, faithfulness, loyal love, light, joy. And these blessings are not in short supply. God doesn’t meter them out cautiously, stingily, making sure each person gets a miniscule apportionment and no more. No. “Your loyal love, Lord, extends to the skies; your faithfulness reaches the clouds. Your righteousness is like the strongest mountains; your justice is like the deepest sea.” There is no halfway for God. There is no partial blessing. There is no holding back. God’s blessing is abundant – bigger, wider, more vast and more all-encompassing than we can even begin to imagine.
      • Reminds me of that Sunday school song: “Deep and wide / Deep and wide / There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide”[7]
      • This is the overflowing, abundant God that Jesus knew. This is the overflowing, abundant God whose love was so vast and extravagant that it could wash over everything – even the horror and pain and darkness of the cross – just to get to us. This is the overflowing, abundant God that turns water not into a bottle or two of mediocre wine but gallons upon gallons of the richest, best wine.
        • Hansen: This scene from the Word’s incarnate life reveals things about what God is like that are hard to find so clearly elsewhere. Jesus is earthy, humble, and generous. God in flesh is ready to care for others, both up close and at a distance. He gives really quirky gifts. Jesus, the incarnate Word, affirms the very human, the ordinary, and the mundane. There’s glory for you.[8]
  • So what about us?
    • 17th century mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.”
      • Often misquoted: “There is a God-shaped hole,” not vacuum
      • But there’s something more powerful, something truer about a God-shaped vacuum, isn’t there? A hole is a stagnant, lifeless thing. It doesn’t do anything. It simply exists. But a vacuum is active. It has strength. It has pull. It consumes. And there are plenty of times in our lives when we keenly feel the emptiness left behind by that vacuum, aren’t there? Times when we try to fill that void with anything and everything else: relationships, food, drink, busyness/activity, money, material items, homes, cars … the list could go on and on. But like the study that we talked about earlier – like making the mistake of going shopping on an empty stomach – all of those other things that we try to use to fill that God-shaped vacuum will not do. Only God can fill that space, that longing, that emptiness. And as we see in our Scripture readings this morning, friends, God is ready and waiting to radically and abundantly fill it, not with the things we think we want, but with the things God knows we need: grace, love, mercy, joy, and hope. “In your light, we see light. Extend your faithful love to those who know you; extend your righteousness to those whose heart is right.”[9] “He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.”[10] And so do we. Alleluia, and amen.

[1] Kate Ashford. “Shopping Hungry? You’ll Spend More (Even If You’re Not Buying Food)” from Forbes online, https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateashford/2015/02/25/shopping-hungry/#24befbf919dd. Posted Feb. 25, 2015, accessed Jan. 19, 2019.

[2] Jn 2:3-5.

[3] Jn 2:6-10.

[4] Gail R. O’Day. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 540.

[5] Gary Neal Hansen. “John 2:1-12 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: John, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 46, 48.

[6] Ps 36:5-6a, 7-10.

[7] “Deep and Wide” from http://childbiblesongs.com/song-11-deep-and-wide.shtml.

[8] Hansen, 48.

[9] Ps 36:9b-10.

[10] Jn 2:11b.