Monday, January 21, 2013

Abundant Love

January 20th, 2013          “Abundant Love”      Rev. Heather Jepsen
Psalm 36:5-10 with John 2:1-11
          We begin this morning with our reading from the Psalms.  Psalm 36 provides us with a beautiful image of the love of God.  God’s steadfast love extends from the mysteries of the deepest oceans to the heights of the highest heaven.  The vastness of God’s love is beyond measure and comprehension. 
So too is the vastness of creatures upon whom God showers this love.  God’s love isn’t just for people, it is for animals too.  This is a good psalm to remember when people ask that inevitable question, “Will my beloved dog or cat go to heaven?”  Does God care about all the little creatures of the earth?  The writer of Psalm 36 sure thinks so.
In fact, the writer of Psalm 36 seems to think that God’s love is for everybody; not just Jews, not just Christians, but everybody.  “All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings” the Psalmist writes.  One cannot help but remember the words of Jesus calling Jerusalem to him as a mother hen calls her chicks.  God longs to watch over us as a mother watches over her babies.
As an expression of God’ love, God provides for us with great bounty.  The Psalmist writes of the feast of abundance in the house of the Lord and the river of delights from which we are offered drink.  This is the fountain of life, this is the source of light, this is the place of salvation.  What an image of blessing, what a wonderful world!
Of course, like us, the psalmist is no fool.  The love of God may be vast and deep, but we still live in a world of sin and pain.  The psalmist does not sing as a naïve one with the wool pulled over the eyes.  No, the psalmist pens these words of hope in the midst of the same broken world you and I live in.
In the verses before our reading, the Psalmist speaks of the wicked of the world; those who don’t fear God, those who work for their own benefit only.  The Psalmist knows those people who spend their nights plotting evil and use their tongues to slander the good folks around them.  Even after our verses of hope and beauty, the psalmist speaks of the arrogant and the wicked. 
As in our own world, blessing and pain stand side by side in this Psalm.  Personally, in this comparison I find hope.  If the psalmist only spoke of the pure love of God, the writer would not speak of the world that I know.  But to speak of the abundant love of God in the midst of a sinful world, is to speak of the life that I live.  It is to speak of grace and mercy.  It is to speak of a God who persists in loving a people, in welcoming all to the feast, even as some turn away.  Just as the psalmist writes of those who are evil, the psalmist writes of a God who welcomes all people in love.  This is the abundant, extravagant love of our Lord.
Shifting to our reading from the gospel of John, we find one of my favorite Bible stories.  The wedding at Cana is all about the abundant love of God.  Jesus, his disciples, and family have been invited to a wedding and as the festivities continue the group discovers they are out of wine.  We can all relate to not only the embarrassment this would cause the host but also the shame and anxiety.  Mary asks Jesus to do something about it, but at first he brushes her off.  Later though, he tells the servants to fill the water jars and to draw from them and give it to the wine steward.  The wine steward rejoices, for the wine he has received is the best ever.
Now lots of people, scholars and laymen alike, have a problem with this story.  This is one of those miracles people like to explain away.  First of all, people don’t like this story because it is about wine and celebration.  I’ve had plenty of people tell me that Jesus didn’t really make wine, but made lemonade or grape juice instead.  Frankly, I think the wine steward would have called him out on that.  But that then begs the question; why would Jesus make wine?  And more problematic, why would Jesus make wine when the party has already gotten to the point where as the wine steward puts it, “the guests have become drunk.”  Wouldn’t this be the appropriate time for our Lord to batten down the hatches and send everyone home with an Alka-Seltzer?  That is certainly what the church would do.
The other reason that people really don’t like this story; is because it seems like a waste of a miracle.  Making wine does not seem like a holy miracle and it certainly is not a proper good life changing miracle.  This can’t possibly be the first of Jesus’ signs as John calls it.  No one was healed of blindness, no one had their daughter restored to life, no storms were calmed; this is not an appropriate miracle to read about, let alone believe in. 
          Now I understand where people are coming from in their discomfort.  Imagine the discomfort of the Jewish religious leaders as the water for purification, the holy water, is turned into the liquid of Bacchus.  As a religious leader, this is precisely why I love this miracle.  Who is Jesus if not the one who re-energizes and shakes up the stodgy religious order?  Who is Jesus if not the one that embodies the abundant love of God the psalmist writes about?  Who is Jesus if not the living God who calls us to “drink from the river of delights”? 

I love this story, (and not just because I happen to love wine) I love this story because it is such a beautiful and powerful illustration.  Jesus doesn’t just turn a glass of water into wine, he doesn’t just fill a wine bottle, this isn’t a “limited release”; rather Jesus creates a whopping 150 gallons of wine.  It’s more than the party could drink.  And though it is in jugs, this is no jug wine; this is the good stuff, the best ever.  I’ve got to tell you, if I could transport myself to a bible story, this would be the one.

The water into wine at Cana was a miracle of abundance, a miracle of celebration, and a miracle of love.  It was a wasteful miracle; more than they needed of something they really didn’t need.  But Jesus decided that it was worth a miracle to keep the party going.  It was worth a miracle to continue the festivities.  John says that this was the first of the signs, and this sign points us to who God is.  Jesus’ actions point to a loving God who wants us to enjoy life.  This sign points to a God who loves to hear the laughter and joy of people celebrating.  This sign gives us permission to be happy.  It is OK, if not even holy, to enjoy the blessings in the world around us.

          Like the writer of Psalm 36, I may be high on the abundance of God, but I am no fool.  I know as much as you that the world is not one big wedding party.  There is a lot of pain of hardship in our world.  There are a lot of folks who need water, not wine.  I find hope for the world in the voice of Jesus’ mother in this story.  She is the one to nudge Jesus to action. 

          The way that John tells things, it appears that Jesus had not considered such a miracle.  In fact, he seems to brush his mother’s request aside at first and then later changes his mind.  That’s OK, for we know that Jesus is human.  There are other times in the gospels where he seems to change his mind.  In fact, in all those instances Jesus seems to move toward showing a greater abundance of love and mercy, rather than less.  With a little nudging, Jesus seems to move toward what some might consider wastefulness, rather than prudence. 

          If Mary can nudge Jesus to act, then maybe we can too.  Maybe we can continue to petition on behalf of those who need water, and shelter, safety and peace.  Though the hour of God’s kingdom has not yet fully come, perhaps God will respond with abundance to our nudging.  Perhaps God will create a wasteful, love filled, miracle of blessing in our world.  Perhaps God will even move us to share more fully, and be more wasteful, with the abundance we have been given.

          At the wedding party, when the servants bring the wine to the steward, he gives thanks to the groom for the wine, for he does not recognize where it comes from.  How often do we do the same thing?  God has given us an abundance of blessings, an abundance of good things, 150 gallons of goodness to keep the party going, but often we don’t see it.  Either we assume that such things are not from God, or we assume that God would not want us to enjoy such things.  Perhaps we are like the guests of the party, already drunk on the mediocre wine of the world, so that we don’t even notice that the good stuff has been brought out.  We don’t even notice the abundance of blessings around us. 

          Yes, the world is a difficult and sad place.  And yet when the time comes to celebrate, there is much to rejoice in.  I believe that God wants us to celebrate.  The church should be a place of joyous celebration, a place of love and abundance, not a place of rules and regulations.  The people of God should rejoice in God’s goodness and blessings, rather than become trapped by ritual, purity, and prudence.  I am of the opinion that God does not want us to be so holy that we cannot be happy.

          The writer of Psalm 36 praises a God who is full of abundant love.  A God who calls us to feast at the table and drink from the river of delights.  A God who welcomes all people, even in the midst of a broken world, to take shelter in the shadow of God’s wings.  In John’s gospel Jesus models that abundant love of God by changing his mind, by transforming the holy water into holy wine, and by giving it in such abundance that it cannot possibly all be consumed.  Jesus invited the wedding guests to drink wine, in the midst of a broken world, simply because God loves them.  Should we not, also freely celebrate the abundant love of God?  Amen.

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