Serving The Best

Date: January 20, 2019/Speaker: Jon Hauerwas

“Serving the Best”

Psalm 36:5-10 and John 2:1-11

“Water is the great elixir of the Bible. One must have lived in a dry country for even a little while to know the force of the symbolism of thirst” and its relief.
In the Middle East, no one speaks ill of water. Inhabitants long for dry river beds and exhausted wells to be transformed into rivers and streams. [1]

The water described in this passage is intended “for the Jewish rites of purification. This was not water for cleansing but rather water as a sign of preparation for worship.” As we all know, “worship is when we all come together to meet God, to get close to God, to be with God.” In the Jewish worldview, “one needed to (become) clean, by ritual cleaning, in order to get close to God in worship.” Biblical scholars later noted that “only about one cup of water (was) necessary to purify a hundred men.” And yet, here in this story, “there is well over a hundred gallons of water! That is enough to purify the entire world!” [2]

The other liquid in this passage is wine. You may recall that wealthy landowners controlled the vineyards while the grapes were harvested and transformed into drink through the labor of peasants. And yet, while the poor were commonly employed in its production, they “drank little wine and ate less meat. Cheese and bread and olive oil were their fare, with water for their daily thirst. At a wedding or other family celebration, it was different. There, a couple’s parents would have scrimped and saved long to do it right. Family and friends passed harsh judgments on those who could not carry a wedding off in style. Sheep and calves and every delicacy would have been served” in plenty “and the wine would have flowed freely.” [3]

And yet, the celebration in our passage takes an unexpected turn.  “Jesus’ mother alerts him to the problem of the exhausted supply.” [4] This is no more wine. The lead servant, also known as the chief steward was “oftentimes an enslaved individual responsible for managing a feast.” And now he and the bridegroom are on the verge of a major embarrassment. The servants “are desperate to heed Mary’s advice, if only to save their own jobs.” And when Jesus and his mother step in to solve the problem, they become servants of the servants, by helping them out of what could have been a life-threatening situation. [5]

With the Christmas narrative still fresh, we remember that Jesus was from Nazareth – a place of little consequence. So, too, Cana, where this wedding takes place, is also a tiny northern village. “It does not appear in the Hebrew scriptures.” Yet its situation far from Jerusalem is central to John’s message. Galilee, in the north, is the place where (Jesus) “is almost universally received,” while Judea, in the south, is where he is widely rejected. [6]

And yet, for some reason, the time has now come in Cana for Jesus to “demonstrate and share his glory, his unique relationship with the Father. His mother seems to sense that the timing is right, for although Jesus,” now a man, “initially dismisses her concern about the wine, she still persists, telling the servants to be ready for whatever is coming next. Perhaps she knows how urgently the world needs to experience the glory Jesus has to share.” [7]

The great French writer, George Sand, once said of a friend: “‘He was a man who always longed for the pearl of great price during an age when people contended themselves with fake jewelry.’” [8] And so it is at a wedding feast in Galilee that Jesus turns water into wine. This miracle at Cana is, of course, a sign – “something that points beyond itself to something else.” When the people witnessed the sign, “they saw glory. Suddenly, the wedding party was transformed into an occasion of revelation, a moment when some were brought close to God.” [9]

Following in the footsteps of Jesus, our congregation holds fast to a similar vision of service. This, we believe, is how God is glorified. And here, I’m reminded of the feast that is prepared in our church kitchen on the third Sunday of every month. The tables are set. The community is invited. The meal is free to all. And they come. We serve our best to everyone, no questions asked.

Practically speaking, the “benefits of Jesus’ first sign are simple and hardly life-changing in and of themselves: a party continues, while a bridegroom and chief steward avoid the shame that could have resulted from their poor planning.” The message for us may be relatively simple. That is, “not every act of God has to turn the world upside down or otherwise carry cosmic significance.” [10]

The first of Jesus’ signs is a gift, much like Westminster’s Third Sunday Dinner. “By providing wine for the wedding, Jesus tacitly endorses things that make human life meaningful and pleasant: relationships, community, hospitality, meals, family, and celebration. By enabling the festivities to continue, Jesus locates himself in places where life flourishes and human relationships thrive.” [11]

And so we gather, on this cold and snowy day to celebrate the gift of life. And we rejoice in the abundance of the feast, confident that there is enough for everyone at the table. May it be so and all thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Gerard Sloyan, John, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Westminster John Knox Press: 2009), 36.

[2] Will Willimon, Lectionary Sermon Resource, Year C, Part 1, (Abingdon Press: 2018), 103.

[3] Ibid., 36.

[4] Ibid., 34.

[5] Ed. Joel B. Green, Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship, Year C, Volume 1, (Westminster John Knox Press: 2018),188.

[6] Ibid., 33.

[7] Ibid., 33.

[8] Ibid., 106.

[9] Ibid., 104.

[10] Ibid., 191.

[11] Ibid., 191.

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