JARS FILLED WITH JOY
REV. CHRISTIAN BARON – January 17, 2016 – 2 EPIPHANY, YEAR C: 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.
“Though the servants who had drawn the water knew.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… Amen.
Of all of the signs and miracles in the Bible, this is my personal favorite. You may or may not know that I grew in a theologically conservative church. I remember hearing my sunday school teachers doing flips to try to explain this passage from the gospel of John. They wanted to remain faithful to their biblical literalism, but they also considered it a terrible sin to drink alcohol. They were in quite a pickle. I am thankful for those teachers who volunteered their time to sit with me on Sunday mornings… and Sunday evenings…. and on Wednesdays… And sometimes even on Saturdays. I honestly have good memories of my time with them and I am still in contact with many of them. But, at least with this story, I don’t know if that paradigm was very helpful in understanding this story. I wonder if one of the children or youth here today, will wind up a priest and tell a similar story about my theology and my own slant and paradigm in one of their future sermons. I guess that’s how it works.
And speaking of perspectives and paradigms… Recently, I was In Texas and Mexico for about 11 days. I’m not sure if you know, but Grace has a partnership with Hope Church down the street. We have a weekly gathering of College aged students and young adults. We eat a home cooked meal and then meet at Hope College for prayer and The Eucharist. It has been a pleasure working with Hope Church and i am humbled to be able to spend sacred time with the people who are a bit younger than I am. For the second year in a row, we have taken members of our little community to south Texas to experience something very different from Holland Michigan. This cultural immersion trip, or “Encuentro”, is intended to help the participants to challenge their own perceptions of the borderlands and to help them to put into practice their understanding of justice and what that may or may not look like. Like with any group of “the other”, when individuals encounter the human person in the midst of a giant system and political issue, they come away with a new sense of truth and a new sense of who God is. This Encuentro, this Encounter with a different culture, helps the participant to see the face of the creator in the face of the individual… the immigrant, the Border Patrol Agent… the Mexican… the Texan… the child… those we agree with and those with whom we disagree.
I’m pleased to tell you that our Encuentro was a great success. We talked and we listened. We heard horror stories from the County Assistant District Attorney. We traveled across the border to Matamoros where we experienced radical hospitality… participated in a bilingual worship service… heard from priests with radically differing views than our own… and in the midst of violence and chaos, we experienced life… We experienced individuals flourishing even though justice was absent in so many ways. Part of that flourishing… that life… was an art museum… in Matamoros, Mexico… A city that the State Department says we ought not go… We showed up on a Monday morning but we were disappointed when we found out that the museum was closed on Mondays. The priest that was hosting us made a few calls and then we got a guided tour by the curator of the museum… I was pretty surprised that they opened the museum for us and that they took so much care in showing us the exhibit.
As I’m telling this story, you should know that I am not well versed in art or in the terms that the rest of the world is aware of. So, Grace, give me grace, as I stumble over some of the art jargon. The artist, Betsabeé Romero, is from Central Mexico. Her art focuses mostly on migration and was powerful and moved all of us. The most notable, was a piece that was created for the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. The artist traveled to the venue to see the space and to get a good feeling about what she wanted to create. Now this is where the story gets good… As she was there, she attended a play or the opera, or something and noticed that it was a place for the affluent… with mostly anglos in attendance. but what she also noticed was that most of the employees… most of those who were serving and those who kept the place running smoothly and who kept the place looking beautiful were Mexican. And she had a wonderful idea… a subversive idea… She made an art piece that was beautiful and for all to see and to appreciate… something for the affluent anglos to experience and to appreciate… and for the employees to also experience… But, as I understand, like most art, there was a deeper meaning… a deeper beauty… She had created a piece with long flowing tapestries… long flowing ribbons… colorful cloth that all could appreciate but that those living in Central Mexico would certainly recognize as the standard cleaning rags used by all. And it was certainly beautiful… These rags were very common and were used for cleaning windows and for mopping floors… for washing dishes and dusting living rooms… for sweeping verandas and washing cars… They are unique and easily recognizable to folks from Central Mexico. These folks who have migrated from Mexico and who now serve and work at the Kennedy Center would be able to appreciate the piece in a deeper way… would be able to understand the artist’s’ perspective in a fuller and truer way because they understood the backstory of the medium. The employees would experience an aspect of their culture that was common yet extremely beautiful… It was the artist’s brilliance that offered a little nod… a little wink to the Mexicans who worked there… to let them know that their home… their culture was valuable and lovely and not forgotten…. that THEY were valuable and lovely and not forgotten.
The gospel today not only communicates that Jesus knew how to throw a party… but it also communicates God’s joy in his people… God’s desire to see humans… and all of creation filled to the brim with His joy.
Remember, the community which the gospel of John was written for, had been cast aside … by the Romans because they were Jewish and kicked out of the Temple by the Jewish authorities because they were Jewish followers of the teachings of Jesus. And so, the Johannine community as they are called, had a chip on their shoulder… and so the gospel at times can seem to some as reactionary and bitter… some even read it as anti-semitic… So we must remember that this group did not see themselves as a part of a new religion but as a continuation of Judaism and that they were fully Jewish.
So, knowing that, as I was reading the gospel I wondered if this was a critique of the purity rituals of the Jewish authorities… The author is clear that these jars were used for that purpose.. I wondered if the author was trying to say that Jesus was now somehow trumping those purity codes… But I don’t think so. I think that Jesus is in fact just revealing himself as the Son of God and the one who will bring joy and redemption and life to God’s people… and to all of creation.
And here is the beauty… I think… of this story… Everyone at the wedding celebration is able to experience the joy of the wine… They are able to experience and participate in the depth and complexity of the good wine… the best wine which has already been consumed… the guests are now expecting the boones farm… or the thunderbird wine. Perhaps a fine Franzia from the box… they don’t expect the wine to even be equal to what they have already had. It doesn’t make sense… this far into the celebration, it would be a waste to offer good wine all night… let alone an even finer wine…
And here is what the text says… “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).” I love it that the weak… the servants… the vulnerable… get the wink and the nod. Not even the wine steward knew what was going on. He assumed that there was a mistake… that somebody had screwed up… that somebody had been irresponsible… He thought that they had switched the wine on accident… And now his reputation is on the line.
But the servants know… they understand that it was in a fact an act of irresponsibility… an act of frivolity, lavishness and wastefulness…. on Jesus’ part.
The Johannine community would have read it this way too… We aren’t second class Jews. We aren’t third class citizens. Not only do we also get to enjoy the best wine, but we get the full story… we get to know something that even the experts don’t understand. Our God… and His son just gave us a little wink to remind us how unique and special we are. Gave us a smile and a nod as if to say, “this is our little secret.”
So, Grace… The jars are filled with joy. God is pleased with you… enjoys you…. gives you a wink and a nod. Our God is a god of abundance and just when you think that you have had enough… when you feel like you have had the best that you will see… he brings out the new wine and plans for you to basque in His excess.. Our God is a God who is wasteful and a God who will continue to pour out His blessings upon us… Go ahead… and have another one. We’re filling a cup of the best wine for all to share… Come and see how sweet it is…