I was in the 9th grade. Sitting there in the front row of my biology class, I looked at my teacher in the back of the room. We were talking about acids and bases that day. She took in her hands one glass of water and one glass with a clear base solution. Then raising both glasses, she poured the water into the other glass. As the water hit the bottom of the other glass, one could see a chemical reaction happen immediately. The water had become a deep, dark, red. Our teacher looked up and said, “See……water into wine.” And at that moment, I could not help but think to myself, “Aha! That’s how Jesus did it….”
Our gospel story for today is the infamous wedding at Cana. Jesus’ inaugural event in the Gospel of John in which Jesus saves the day. He saves the wedding guests from their sobriety and the wedding party from the embarrassment of running out of wine. He does all of this of course, by turning over 120 gallons of water into wine. Not just any wine – the best wine. But with many of Jesus’ miracle stories, this story begs the question: really? What really happened that day out in Cana? Really, someone turning water into wine? C’mon.
I mean, maybe something else happened. Perhaps Jesus simply pulled out a secret stash of wine from underneath the table. Or maybe everyone was too drunk to notice that Jesus and the servants had left to make a quick run to the liquor store. Or who knows, perhaps Jesus knew something about acids and bases, like my biology teacher, and was able to pull off a similar kind of magic trick.
So often we get caught trying to explain how miracles such as this either did or did not happen and we start making up theories that help us cope with the strangeness of such stories. But is that really the point? Is it important to know how it happened? Because in the end it just sounds like magic and I have to believe that Jesus is more than a magician. Maybe the purpose of this story is not for us to wonder whether or not the miracle happened and how. Instead, perhaps the purpose is to wonder what the miracle points to, or reveals, about God.
You see, John doesn’t even refer to this event as a miracle. He refers to it as a sign. It is the first of Jesus’ signs. And signs are things that point. Signs point us toward things. They show us how to get somewhere, like highway signs. And in John, Jesus’ miracles are no different. Jesus’ miracles are never what we are supposed to focus on. Instead, we are to focus on what these miracles, or signs, point to.
So let’s try again. Let’s look at the story with new eyes. Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding and the wine has run out. Something always goes wrong at a wedding, doesn’t it? At ours, the musicians started too early and no one went to get Lauren when the ceremony was about to start. If there is a wedding, you can be sure something is going to go wrong.
Back in the day, weddings typically lasted a week. Which means the time hasn’t run out on this wedding reception quite yet. And they are going to need more wine. So Jesus’ mother makes a plea with Jesus to do something. Jesus resists the idea a little bit at first, saying that it isn’t really his problem. It is the families of the bride and grooms problem.
But, like a good son, Jesus listens to his mother and comes around. Jesus tells the servants to fill six huge stone jars with water and then to take some of it to the chief steward. The water becomes wine; the chief steward tastes it. And then he proclaims with great joy that the bridegroom had saved the best wine for last. You see, back in the day, during such feasts, hosts would serve the best wine first. You know, while people were still paying attention to such things as the quality of the wine. But once people became, let’s say, less attentive to details, they would bring out the boxed wine. The cheap stuff. But Jesus not only turns water into wine. He turns it into the best wine that is saved for last. It was the first of his signs, the text says. So the question isn’t “How did he do this?” The question is, “What is this sign pointing to?”
To answer this question, perhaps a little history. You see, in the Old Testament times, an abundance of good wine was a sign of restoration and the coming of a new age for God. Lots of wine was a sign of joy and blessing. The absence of wine, on the other hand, was a sign, of God’s wrath and God’s judgment. So you can imagine the embarrassment of running out of wine at your wedding. You can imagine the shame. How humiliating for the couple and their parents for the sign of blessing to run out. But then Jesus shows up, delivering gallons and gallons and gallons of the best wine.
You start to see what this sign is pointing to. It is “in the abundance and graciousness of Jesus’ gift, [that] one catches a glimpse of the identity and character of God.”
That is, with God the blessing never runs out. Jesus’ sign reveals to us something about the character of God. With God, there is always enough blessing to go around. God is not one who withholds wine, but God is one who gives it abundantly as a sign of our relationship with God, as a sign of God’s abundant and everlasting love for all of creation.
If it’s true. If there is always more than enough blessing, then maybe there is enough for you and me, even now. Have you ever experienced a blessing? Have you ever not had enough of something? Enough money to pay your bills, enough food to settle your stomach, enough love to keep living? And then suddenly, whoosh. There it is. In an envelope in the mail, or a friend stopping by with dinner, or phone call just in time?
Has worship ever been a time of blessing for you? A time where you just walked out feeling uplifted? Perhaps the hymn speaks the words that you needed to hear or Communion filled you right where you need it. Or what about passing the peace? We’ve started passing the peace in the past year. Some of you really like it. And for others, it has been a challenge. Wherever you are, let me tell you how the passing of the peace has been a blessing. Someone once shared with me, “My favorite part of worship is passing the peace. It’s the only time of the week where someone touches me.” Contrary to popular opinion, the passing of the peace is not simply social hour or a greeting. Passing the peace is quite literally…passing peace. It is to encounter another’s humanity. Another person’s body. It is looking someone in the eyes, and seeing them. It is touching someone’s withered, or weathered, young or yearning hand, and saying, “Peace to you.” And you don’t quite get that until you’ve had a hard conversation with someone in church. Where you don’t agree. Where you might even be mad at each other. I’ve had that with some of you. And then you pass the peace. It means something. It is a time to make peace. And it can be the greatest blessing. The truth is that once you’ve been blessed in some way, it is not hard to see how you can be a blessing to others.
We are going to talk a lot this next year about bodies. Our focus theme for this year is: Feeding Body with the Love of Jesus. Having a singular theme like this helps to unify us as a congregation. We come together to ask: what is it our bodies need in order to feel blessed and cared for by God? Is it a ride to church? Someone to come and visit us when we are lonely? Is it shelter and a warm meal? I invite you to join us in this focus this year. Keep an eye out for what your body needs. Keep an eye out for what other people’s bodies need. And keep an eye out for how you might be abled to help.
Brothers and sisters, do not hear this story of Jesus turning water into wine as a time to wonder about the laws of chemistry or Jesus as a magician. That is not the point. And it is too easy to get stuck there. But hear this story as a time to wonder what Jesus is revealing about the character of God. With God, blessing never runs out. There is always more. And as you are blessed by God, then may you be a blessing to others. AMEN