Sunday’s sermon: Expecting the Unexpected

“Water to Wine” by Hyatt Moore

Text used – John 2:1-11

  • There’s a show that I used to watch with one of my roommates during my senior year of college. Friday nights were laundry nights for us, so we’d sit there folding our laundry and watching this show.
    • Show on TLC called “What Not to Wear
      • 2 fashion experts would ambush someone (with the help of their friends and family) and present them with a choice: you can have this $5000 gift card for a shopping spree BUT you have to …
        • Come to NYC with us
        • Bring your entire wardrobe
        • Let us throw away anything we want to from that wardrobe
        • Shop by our rules
      • Before getting to the shopping, though, they would do this part of the show where the person receiving the makeover would put on a couple of their favorite outfits, then stand in what they called the “360˚ mirror” – literally surrounding them with an octagon of mirrors. → hosts would point out things about what they were wearing that were undesirable: poor fit, clashing colors/patterns, clothes that weren’t age appropriate
      • Shopping
        • Short time of shopping with the hosts following their “rules” (mostly about finding the right fit or finding different cuts and styles that flattered that person’s particular body)
        • Short time of the person trying to shop on their own (always ended disastrously)
        • Finished up with the hosts swooping in helping correct some of the mistakes made during the person’s solo shopping excursion all 3 of them finishing out the shopping spree together
          • Clothes that were appropriate for the workplace
          • Clothes that were appropriate for a night out or a special event
          • Clothes that were appropriate for hanging out at home
      • Makeover portion new haircut/color and makeup
      • 1st reveal = person showing off their new look to the hosts
      • 2nd reveal = person showing off their new look at home to their friends and family It was always fun to watch that last part – the looks of shock and amazement on the faces of the person’s friends and family as they showed off their new look and the comments that their friends and family often made:
        • “She looks even more like herself now than she did before!”
        • “It really seems like his appearance on the outside matches his personality on the inside now!”
        • And those comments really get to the crux of it – of why we enjoyed watching the show so much. In the end, it wasn’t about making everyone who appeared on it a cookie-cutter copy of the fashion plates of the day. It was about helping them express their uniqueness and individuality – helping express what was special about them – in ways that made them look and feel their best. In the end, it was always fun to see the people simultaneously the same but changed at the end of each episode.
    • Today’s gospel reading from the beginning of Jn = interesting story of Jesus who begins the story in one way but ends the story changed
  • We’re pretty near the beginning of John’s gospel at this point, so not much has happened yet.
    • Sun. before Christmas read beginning of John – “the story of the Word,” as the CEB Study Bible[1] titles it: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.[2]  This is as close as John gets to any kind of birth narrative in his gospel.
    • Following that = story of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus culminates in Jn’s account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River[3]
    • Then story of Jesus calling first disciples: Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael[4]
    • And straight after that calling, we come to today’s story: The Wedding at Cana.
  • I love this story because it’s such an odd little story within all the gospels. I think it presents such a human side of Jesus. begins the story as just another guest at the wedding
    • Come to celebrate
    • Come to enjoy the day
    • Come to be with his community – just another member like any other
    • As far as we can tell, Jesus doesn’t come to this wedding with any miraculous, divine intentions. As far as we can tell, this was a pretty normal wedding. – text: On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.[5]  There are so many spaces left for wonder in this story – so many places I want the gospel writer to pause and fill in some details for us.
      • Whose wedding was it? A cousin, perhaps? A neighbor? Or a friend from Jesus’ childhood?
      • What was the celebration like? Was it a days-long affair of hospitality and dancing, feasting and blessing?
      • Were Jesus and his disciples having fun?
      • I know these aren’t necessary details. The gospel writer’s task is to move the story along to the “good part” – the miraculous part – but when we open our imaginations into this Scripture story, we still have to wonder, don’t we?
    • The problem of this story – the main issue or conflict that our main characters are up against – is presented in short order. Just after telling us that Jesus, his disciples, and his mother are all present at this wedding celebration, we’re also told that the wine has run out. Sure, this sounds like a problem at any celebration – running out of refreshments.
      • Have to remember what a big deal this would have been in that culture – culture that places the highest emphasis and importance on hospitality Yes, running out of refreshments at a wedding before the night was over would be sort of embarrassing today. But back then, it would have been shameful. It would have been dishonorable to your guests – an insult, even. It’s an oversight that would have been unforgivable – one of those occurrences that would have haunted the entire family for generations to come, that people would have talked about and talked about and talked about.
      • Brings to mind for us all the times we have “run out”
        • Run out of something physical that we’re trying to provide, sure à run out of food or drink at some sort of gathering or event
        • Run out of ideas or inspiration in the middle of a project
        • Run out of energy or drive in the midst of some large undertaking story of Jen and I walking the 3-Day almost 7 yrs. ago and running out of stamina after the 2nd day
    • Text makes it plain that even in the face of such a social catastrophe as this host who has run out of wine too soon, Jesus doesn’t expect any sort of out-of-the-ordinary experiences at this wedding Jesus’ mother (who’s never actually called “Mary” throughout John’s gospel) approaches Jesus and informs him that the wine has run out, and Jesus’ response is more disinterested than we are used to hearing from Jesus
      • No proclamations of who he is
      • No promises of God’s goodness and faithfulness
      • No lesson wrapped in the narrative folds of a parable
      • Just a simple dismissal: “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.”[6]
        • Important to note that, while this may seem like an odd response to us – even disrespectful in the way that Jesus speaks to his own mother – it is, in fact, a fairly colloquial way for the two to converse This is one of those bits of Scripture where the nuance has been lost to us through the work of translation and the passage of time. Jesus addressing his mother in this way is not nearly as disrespectful and dismissive as it sounds.
        • And yet … pastor, author, and scholar Rev. Gibson “Nibs” Stroupe puts a finger on the challenging aspect of this exchange between Jesus and his mother: There definitely is tension in this conversation. Jesus’ mother … has an idea about her son’s power, and she is hoping that he can rescue the situation. Jesus seems hesitant or irritated (or both) at this request. Perhaps he wants his first sign to be a bit more glorious or controversial … Maybe he is even beginning to imagine how long the list of requests for action will be, once the word gets out that he has special powers. His answer to his mother – “my hour has not yet come” – indicates that this miracle is a bit premature for Jesus.[7]
    • But despite Jesus’ reluctance, his mother’s faith never waivers. – text: His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 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.[8]
      • The expectations (or lack of expectations) of those around them didn’t matter to Jesus’ mother
      • Even the lack of Jesus’ own expectations didn’t matter to Jesus’ mother
      • All that mattered to her was that she believed in her son. She believed in his ability to bring aid in the midst of a difficult situation. She believed in his purpose to help and to provide and to embody the goodness of God. She believed in all that her son was and all that he would be. Jesus’ mother believed, and her believe was met with breathtaking abundance.
        • 6 stones jars that held 20-30 gallons each
        • 6 stone jars that, even when empty, would have taken more than one person to move them
        • 6 stone jars that the servants filled with water all the way to the brim
        • 6 stone jars that Jesus turned to wine à Without a word. Without a gesture. Without any recorded movement or hint from Jesus, all that water was suddenly and inexplicably turned to wine. And not just any wine, but the best
          • Abundance of quantity
          • Abundance of quality
          • Abundance that left even Jesus changed – a different man, at least in perception, than he was when he and his disciples walked into that wedding
          • Abundance beyond expectation … well, almost all expectations, anyway. – scholar: The mother of Jesus is a woman of remarkable faith and insight. Her words to the servants indicate her own trust in the words of the one who is the divinely-human Word. They are words for us today to hear and to ponder: to build our lives upon.[9]
  • And so, friends, let us look to Jesus’ mother in this story. In the face of all that appears and feels and is lacking in the world around us and even inside ourselves, let us hold tight to the faith of Jesus’ mother.
    • Not a directing faith
    • Not a conditional faith
    • Not a faith restrained by caveats and “what ifs”
    • In preparation for the abundance, Jesus’ mother doesn’t give the steward contingencies – no Plan B or Plan C. She doesn’t micromanage either his actions or Jesus’ actions with her own ideas or directions or micro-expectations of what is to come. Her faith in Jesus is open-ended and full and sure: “Do whatever he tells you.” And that is our call still today. To come before God. To kneel before Jesus. To open ourselves up to the workings of the Holy Spirit with the words of Jesus’ mother as our surest hope and motivation: “Do whatever he tells you.” It’s daunting. It’s uncertain. It’s full of the unexpected. But through that openness, miraculous things can happen. Amen.

[1] CEB Study Bible. (Nashville: Common English Bible, 2013), 170 NT.

[2] Jn 1:1.

[3] Jn 1:19-34.

[4] Jn 1:35-51.

[5] Jn 2:1-2.

[6] Jn 2:4.

[7] Nibs Stroupe. “John 2:1-12 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospel: John, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 47.

[8] Jn 2:5-8.

[9] Dorothy A. Lee. “Commentary on John 2:1-11” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/wedding-at-cana-2/commentary-on-john-21-11-7.