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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

January 17, 2016

Gospel: John 2:1-11 
1st Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5 
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

I hope no one is alarmed by this revelation: I am not a big fan of wine. So 180 gallons of it doesn't excite me as much as it might some people. Now if the story was changing water into beer, I could probably get behind that, although that is a lot of beer to drink before it goes flat. 

Christians have argued about whether one can drink alcohol and be a Christian, and I have to refer to this scripture. Jesus changed water into wine—it can't be all bad. It doesn't say here that he drank any of it, but he certainly did at the last supper. Some folks have been concerned enough to ask me whether wine or beer could be brought into the sanctuary for fundraising events, and I appreciate being asked. I have to reply that we have wine in the sanctuary every week for Holy Communion. There is a difference to me, though, between enjoying ourselves and throwing a big drunken party and there may be a time and place for each. Some have difficulty setting that line for themselves, so we offer the grape juice as well for Communion. And I suppose we might have to ask someone to leave if they got out of control for a fundraising event. But a little drinking doesn't bother me. I don't mind drinking and have been known to have a beer from time to time, although I don't tend to drink with my flock because I don't want to be impaired at work and I don't drink and drive, even one beer. I also appreciate and have great respect for those who have recognized their addiction and taken steps to avoid alcohol, knowing how it can destroy them and their relationships. I do think this Gospel story shows that God isn't made of stone or all serious, but someone who appreciates a celebration and brings people together in praise and thanksgiving and new life. 

This is Jesus' first miracle in the Gospel of John—apparently there are 7, a number meaning wholeness. It seems important that this first miracle doesn't heal anyone or feed anyone. Maybe the family is poor and that is why they ran out of wine. Certainly Jesus saves them from embarrassment by providing not just wine, but good wine. This gift of wine ensures the celebration goes on—when the wine runs out, that's when everyone goes home. Jesus makes sure that they stay and build relationships together. When people apologize for being late to church, I always say, “You made it for the most important part, Holy Communion.” They made it to God's table, and to me that is the central event of Sunday morning.

I don't think this miracle was a once and for all kind of thing—a one time event a long time ago. It is a miracle that I have seen repeated many times in my life. There is nothing wrong with water. It is refreshing. It is cleansing. It is necessary for life. It is also without taste or color. It is very basic. Many times the recipe calls for water. I hope we drink it more than we drink anything else. We'd be healthier if we did. Yet, sometimes the occasion calls for something a little more festive.

I heard a wonderful sermon many years ago at a wedding about God turning the water of our lives and relationships from the odorless, colorless, plainness of water, into something beautiful and colorful and celebratory of marriage. This couple was very sweet. The woman had come from Burundi in Africa. She had experienced horrors of war and hunger. The man had an earlier failed marriage. They were bringing the water of their lives together, filling all the stone water jars with the water to the brim and trusting that Jesus would make something of it that would be beautiful, something to celebrate and bind them closer in relationship. It isn't that this couple wouldn't have to work at their relationship and Jesus would do all the work, but that each one would contribute and trust and work together and that Jesus would change their water into wine.

Those of us who have been married a long time—yes I'm counting my 20 years—don't have stars in our eyes anymore. We are looking with eyes wide open at all these jars, either drained empty or leaking and maybe it seems impossible that Jesus would be able to do anything about it. When we know what to expect year after year, it is hard to be ready for a miracle, for anything new at all. I don't think this analogy of water into wine is only for newlyweds. There is still a chance for closeness and romance and turning toward each other again. There is still a chance to learn to trust again, to learn to love again, for the blah water to become the deep sweet red of wine. Some encounter it simply by surprise, turning toward each other during a crisis or pain. Some attend a workshop together to strengthen their marriage. Some see a counsellor. Some read a book together. One of my favorites is “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” It is a very realistic way of looking at marriage. It isn't called “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Fun,” but it does offer some steps to turn back toward each other even after a long period of growing apart. Jesus is still turning our water into wine.

We celebrate Martin Luther King Day tomorrow. Could we consider the Civil Rights Movement as God working through Brother Martin to make wine into water? This is a whole large group of people who were told they could have water and maybe even stagnant water, but no right to live full lives, never to taste the good wine of celebration and relationship. But these activists were unwilling to accept life as second-class citizens, and their actions helped make the water of our nation more into wine, although that transformation is still occurring as we struggle as a nation about how we treat people with darker skin color.

We will be talking briefly on the 31st at our Annual Meeting about the use of our church property. We have this land that has been like water to us. You've changed it into wine a couple of times. One was when you put in the parking lot and made it safer and easier to get in and out of and more beautiful. The other was when you sold the property down below and were able to pay off some bills. Now those streets are full of happy children and families making a life for themselves. Yet there is more we can do to make wine out of water. I explored community gardens on my sabbatical. Is there a way to grow food on this land to feed hungry people? There are so many possibilities of what we can do with this beautiful gift that God has given us.

Jesus whole ministry was one of changing water into wine. This miracle really indicates the kind of Messiah he will be. In this miracle, he took the stone vessels of purification that were used to wash people and make them holy enough to be in God's presence or to be in community. He took the ritual washing vessels and filled them with wine. It would be like filling the baptismal font with wine. Probably if that happened here we would be shocked. Some might be pretty offended. Jesus was never afraid to offend people's sense of what was religiously proper. He healed on the Sabbath. He touched lepers and sick people. He overturned the tables of the money changers. He told off men of great religious power. If there is something we are holding closer to our hearts than God, something we see as sacred, Jesus destroys it—it doesn't belong there. We don't need any holy water to be in God's presence. We can't let our human rules keep us from bringing healing and hope to people in despair. His use of the water for purification also shows us that it isn't our rituals that cleanse us, but the blood of Christ. 

Many of our human rules keep us from enjoying the wine. Some of us have strong feelings about regularly using a screen. That isn't holy. That is for those other churches. However, we had a member here for a couple of years who was deaf. A deaf person sings with their hands. But if she is holding a hymnal, she won't be able to sing. What might it have meant to her to be able to have her hands free to be able sing in sign language as she looked at the words up on the screen? How much paper could we save if we didn't have to have so many words in the bulletin and could put them up where people could see them? How would it be to look up and out while in worship instead of in and down? What is sacred is not how we've always done things, but making Jesus' love more accessible to people, bringing real benefit and life to others. Certainly there were some people offended at Jesus' actions in the Gospel. When we are offended do we wonder what is wrong with the person who offended us, or do we look within to find out what it is we hold closest to our hearts and why do we feel that way? Is there room for Jesus amongst all the clutter of our rituals and traditions?

Jesus isn't waiting to see. He's here offending us, partying down with the wedding guests and he's saying to join him in the celebration of all of life, join him in relationship with sinners of all kinds, loosen up, smile, give thanks. 

In his death on the cross, Jesus poured out his blood of salvation that we drink this morning. He didn't do that to make us miserable and always focused on his suffering. The reason I know that is that his Disciples came to him after he had been raised and they felt terrible. He said that he did what he did to give us life and the best way for us to thank him was to share that life with others no matter who is offended.

Turning water into wine isn't simply a matter of taking lemons and making lemon aid. Here in Holy Communion we take the wine, the blood of Jesus. The people of Israel didn't know a whole lot about anatomy and the science of how the body worked, but they did know that blood is life. Jesus poured himself out for us, to give us abundant life now and eternal life. Jesus' miracles are about the abundance of life, the sharing of life, the celebration of life, and so that miracle goes on and on.

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