January 20th, 2019 “Abundant Generosity” Rev. Heather Jepsen
John 2:1-11 with Psalm 36:5-10
Last Sunday we read about Jesus in the gospel of Luke and this Sunday we have a Jesus story from the gospel of John. Many of you know I preach the lectionary cycle, which is a three year set of readings chosen by the early church. We are in year C of the cycle and rather than focus on one gospel we will be jumping back and forth between Luke and John. The Jesus in the gospel of John is a very different guy than the Jesus in Luke’s gospel. This week we will look at how Jesus begins his ministry in John’s gospel and next Sunday we will look at how Jesus’ ministry begins in the gospel of Luke.
So far in John’s gospel Jesus has been baptized and has collected a few followers for himself. Now it’s the third day, and Jesus decides to attend a wedding with his mother and his disciples. It’s kind of a strange story, but the wine at the wedding runs out. The wedding party would have lasted for days and to run out of wine early on would lead to some pretty grumpy guests. Mary points out to her son that the wine is gone and Jesus brushes her aside “what concern is that to you and me?”. But before we know it, the stewards fill the ritual washing jars, Jesus waves his hand, and suddenly there were another 180 gallons of wine to go around. It’s not the cheap stuff either, as the local sommelier is impressed with this vintage’s bouquet. 180 gallons of fine wine? Now that’s some party!
The writer of the gospel of John tells us that when he did this, turning the water into wine, that it was the first of Jesus’ signs and it revealed his glory. Because of this act, his disciples believed in him.
Being a fan of fine wine myself I totally love this story. But all the same, it can be hard to find a place where this story intersects with our own lives. While we might be able to think of weddings gone awry, we can hardly relate to Jesus’ ability to just fix it. And while 180 gallons of wine sounds like a great party, it also seems like a waste of a miracle. Jesus will only perform seven signs in John’s Gospel, why waste a sign on a party? 180 gallons is probably too much wine anyway, no matter how good it is. Honestly, that could just lead to a lot of drunk people.
So what is Jesus doing here and what does this miracle mean? If this is a sign pointing to who Jesus is, then who exactly is Jesus?
John’s writing is always rich with symbology and this story is no exception. We get a clue to that right away with the mention that it’s the third day. Third day, isn’t that the day Jesus will rise again at the end of the gospel? And the wine in the ritual washing jars, that can’t be a coincidence. The washing ritual was a sign of the old religion and the purification rites necessary to attend collective meals like this. To replace that water with wine is a symbol that Jesus is turning the old ways of religion on its head. And obviously, nobody is going to be doing the ritual washing now that the jars are filled with wine. Jesus is taking old, tired, ways of doing church and making them new. Much of the gospel of John revolves around the struggle of faithful people as they seek to separate themselves from the Jewish religion and form a new faith centered on the person of Jesus Christ.
I can find a connection for us there. We are obviously part of that new religion. We are no longer bound by the traditions of the old ways, like ritual washing and such. In fact, as part of the Reformed church, we have left more than one tradition behind as we seek to respond to the continuing call of the Holy Spirit. Even in the local church story, Jesus is pouring new wine into old water jars as this church itself continues to be filled with the Holy Spirit. As new families come, the face of the church changes. We have new life and energy and are able to shift our focus with the shifting times, flexibly responding to God’s call in our world. From mission in Africa to new local ministries, from fresh worship experiences to new elders on session, are of these are new wine in old water jars. These are all ways Jesus is pouring new life into the story of the church.
Another part of the symbology of John’s text is found in the abundance of wine. 180 gallons is a lot, more than any party would need. The amount is meant to be over the top, it is meant to be shocking, and it is meant to get our attention. This abundant amount of wine is a symbol of God fulfilling promises made in the Hebrew Scriptures. Our Psalm for today is an example of those promises. The Psalmist tells us that the people of God will feast on the abundance of God’s house and will drink from the river of delights. The steadfast love of God is expressed in imagery of an abundant table. Jesus’ miracle of creating an abundance of wine is meant to be a sign of God’s abundance coming to life. It is a sign of the Old Testament promises fulfilled through the person of Jesus Christ.
As people who live lives of abundance, it can be hard for us to find a way to connect with this part of the story. Many of us here in worship today already have an abundance of food in our homes. And compared with our friends in Africa and other poverty stricken areas, even the poorest amongst us are rich. Examining my own life, I can tell you that I don’t leave the table hungry. In fact, I think I eat three abundant meals a day, and if I want more there is always more food available to me. Like most Americans, I am faced with such abundance at meals that I struggle not to eat too much. As people who are already living the promise of abundance, how can we relate to this story?
The place I found meaning in this part of the story is in generosity. Generosity and abundance are twins. Jesus’ gift of wine is abundant and it is generous. And as the wine was poured, the wine was shared. The wine steward and the host did not horde the wine, instead they shared it around. It was the best wine ever and instead of being cellared for another 10 years it was poured out and enjoyed. There was more than enough for everyone. The gift was abundant and the host was then generous.
As a person who has already experienced the abundant blessings of God, this text this morning reminds me to share. If my water jar is filled with new wine, I need to respond with generosity and share with my neighbor. This can be a financial sharing, as I give gifts of money to my church and other needs which touch my heart. This can be in a sharing of goods. Souper bowl Sunday is coming up and I can buy extra groceries and then bring them to church to share with the Food Center. This can be a sharing of food that I make, if I have a neighbor in need and my recipe is too big for my family of four, I can take soup to their house instead of freezing leftovers for myself another day. The miracle of abundance asks for a miracle of generosity.
But even more than those acts of sharing tangible goods, this morning I am thinking of sharing my talents with the world. See, I feel like I myself am filled with new wine. I am filled with new religion, if I am filled with a new love of God poured into my heart by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and then I want to share that love around. I want to be generous with my time, offering gifts of ministry and compassion wherever I go. Like folks sharing wine at the party, I want to share the spirit of Christ with the world. If there is a need, I want to fill it.
Like Jesus, I may balk at first, “what’s that to me” but eventually I’ll come around. That’s why you find me doing so many extra jobs here at the church. From mopping up a water spill to cleaning out the gutters, during the week there are tasks to do and I am ready to help and share. I can’t do it all, but I am ready to do what I can. I am also ready to share my faith with you in worship and pastoral care. I am ready to meet with you and talk through hard times. I am also ready to just be your friend, like when I bump into you at the grocery store and I’m happy to chat about the weather or the Chiefs. “Go Chiefs!”
My point is, I feel like God has filled my heart with this new wine. Where once I was simply an empty water jar, now I am filled to the brim with the best vintage. I have 180 gallons of God’s love to spread around and I am happy to share. I want to laugh and smile with you. I want to cry with you in the sad times. I want to cheer with you. And I want to help you when you need help. I want to share the love of God poured into my heart with you. God has given me an abundance of faith, love, and hope and I want to be generous with that abundance in my world. I hope you feel that way too about the abundant gifts God has given you.
The wedding at Cana is a bit of an odd story but it is a good story too. This story tells us that Jesus began his ministry at a wedding of all places, taking time to celebrate with family and friends. It tells us that Jesus was generous and valued happiness and celebration as well as a good glass of wine. This story tells us that God’s love is abundant, there is more than we could ever want or need. And this story tells us that our response to God’s abundance should be to share it around.
I hope today that you can find examples of God’s abundance in your own life. I hope you can find empty water jars that are now filled with new wine. I hope you can find gifts that God has given you to share, from financial blessings to gifts of faith and love. Our world is a hungry and broken place. Let us share God’s abundance with all those in need. Let us respond to the abundance we have experienced with our own abundant generosity. Amen.