Jan 20, 2019

“Saving The Best Till Last” - John 2:1-11

“Saving The Best Till Last” - John 2:1-11

            Five-year-old Suzie was telling the story of Snow White to her mother.  She’d just heard it that day at school.  “It was so exciting,” she exclaimed.  “Prince Charming kissed Snow White, and she came back to life.  But you just won’t believe what happened next.”

            "Oh, I know," said the mother.  “They lived happily ever after."

            "No," responded Suzie, with a frown.  “They got married."

            And that’s where our Gospel reading for today picks up.  A couple has just gotten married.  The day finally arrives, and they are joined together as husband and wife.  Hopefully they will live happily ever after.  Just like the girl’s mother said about Snow White and the prince.

            The ceremony goes smoothly.  Everyone says it was absolutely beautiful.  Beautiful music.  Beautiful location.  Beautiful couple.  Vows are shared.  Rings are given.  “I dos” are spoken.  Then, the new marriage is sealed with a kiss.  So far, it’s a hitch without a hitch.

            Now, it’s time to celebrate.  It’s time to party.  And the friends and family of the couple are eager to help out.  You see, in those days instead of going away on a honeymoon, everybody celebrates for a week.  People get to eat, drink, dance, sing, and laugh together.  That’s a special treat for poor people used to laboring all day long every day.

            Everybody seems to be having a really good time.  And why not?  The food is delicious.  Common people rarely get to eat such fine food.  There are yummy finger foods to munch on.  There’s a lot of meat to eat.  Poor folks hardly ever get meat to eat.  And then there’s cake for dessert.  Somebody breaks out the wine.  Peasants grow it, but hardly ever get the chance to drink it.  And it’s not cheap wine.  It’s the very best the family has to offer.  After all, it’s a wedding for Pete’s sake.

            Things are going great.  That’s when something unthinkable and inexcusable happens.  The bartender discovers that they’re all out of wine.  If word gets out, this would mean big trouble.  It would mean great embarrassment for the family.  It would mean they have failed as hosts.    It’s obvious that something needs to be done.  But what?

            That’s when an observant mother from a neighboring village walks up to her son and whispers in his ear.  “They’re out of wine.  Did you hear me?  They’re all out of wine?”

            “I hear you.  But why does that concern us?”, he replies.

            “Surely you can do something about it.  Why, if anyone can save the party, it’s you.  What do you say?  Will you do it for me?”

            As you may have guessed, this mother is Mary.  By the way, she’s never mentioned by name in John’s Gospel.  And, of course, the son is Jesus.  Let’s take a closer look at this Gospel story’s message for us.

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

            Our Gospel reading for today opens with Mary, Jesus, and some of his disciples attending a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  Cana is just a few miles north of their hometown Nazareth.  We’re not told who’s getting married.  But they plan to celebrate and to spend some quality time with friends and family.  To congratulate the newlyweds and to wish them their best.  And to enjoy some delicious food and drink together.

            You see, the Jewish people attach great importance to significant events.  Thus, a wedding is not just a brief trip to the altar.  It’s an experience the entire community shares.  A typical wedding feast could last seven days.  Just imagine that.  It sounds strange to our modern way of thinking.  But such occasions provide a bright break in an otherwise dreary existence.  After the ceremony, the father of the bride takes his daughter to every house in town.  All can then congratulate her.  All get to play a part in the happy occasion.  It is a time of great joy for all.

          And at this wedding, there is indeed great joy.  But a problem develops.  Right in the middle of everything, the wine barrels run dry.  Not only is that a social embarrassment, it’s also a bad omen.  For a wedding to run out of wine is a sign that this marriage might not reach its full potential.  It could be that joy is not in store for this couple.

            This must deeply trouble Mary as she approaches her son to help.  Somehow she senses he can do something about the situation.  As yet, she doesn’t understand him completely, but as his mother she senses that he’s special.  But then maybe that’s what all mothers think.

            Now, for those not familiar with the Gospel of John, Jesus’ response comes as quite a shock.  That’s because these words come out of his mouth.  “Why do you involve me woman?  My hour is not yet come.”  It sounds harsh and so unlike him.  But in John, Jesus only takes instructions from God.  Not family.  Not friends.  Not even from people in need.  Only God.  But Jesus must conclude that his heavenly Father wants him to do something.  So he makes his move.  He gives his first public sign that God is at work in him.  At work in him in a special way.

            Mary must sense Jesus is ready, so she gives these instructions to the servants.  “Do whatever he tells you.”  And in doing this, she ends up giving wise advice to any who would claim to be Christian.  Her advice is sound.  Her advice is still good for us.  It’s, “Do whatever he tells you.”

            And the servants do just that.  They march up to Jesus and snap to attention.  Jesus spots six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification just outside the door.  Each holds twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus says to them, “Do you see those jars over there?  Fill them with water.”  And that’s what they do.  They fill each of them up to the brim.

            When that is accomplished, they head back to Jesus.  He says, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”  Though puzzled, they do as instructed.  They take a cup of it to the guy in charge.

            Hands tremble with nervousness as they hand him what they think is plain old tap water.  They wait with baited breath, fearing what the steward’s reaction will be.  Their minds spin in panic.  “Will he be angry?  Will he blame us?  Oh, what a mess?” 

The chief steward finally takes a sip, and a puzzled look comes over his face.  That’s when he demands to see the bridegroom.  Of course by now, the servants are sweating bullets.  “Why on earth is he doing this?  This can’t possibly be good.  We’re really in for it now!”

            After what seems like forever, the bridegroom arrives.  To their amazement, the steward says this to him.  “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now.  You’ve saved the best wine ‘til last.  This is hands-down the best wine I’ve ever tasted!”  The servants breathe a huge sigh of relief.  They don’t understand what’s going on, but they know somehow that the steward is giving credit to the wrong bridegroom.  It’s really Jesus who deserves the thanks.

            Jesus does this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee.  It’s there he begins to reveal God’s glory.  Somehow, he takes ordinary water and transforms it into something extraordinary.  And he’s extravagant about it.  He doesn’t just change one measly cup.  We’re told he changes more than one hundred gallons.  That’s six to nine hundred bottles.  Wow!  But no one really understands what’s going on.  Not really.

            Years ago when Johnny Carson was the host of The Tonight Show, he interviewed an eight-year-old boy who had rescued two friends from a West Virginia coal mine.  As Johnny questioned him, it became apparent he was a Christian.  So Johnny asked if he attended Sunday school.  He said he did.  “So what are you learning in Sunday school?”

            “Last week,” came his reply, “our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine.”  The audience roared, but Johnny kept a straight face.  “And what did you learn from that story?”  The boy squirmed in his chair.  It was obvious he hadn’t thought too much about it.  But then he lifted up his face and said this.  “If you’re going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus!”  Cheers erupted.

          Of course, it isn’t just the changing of water into wine that keeps those disciples following him.  They sense something special in him.  And the nation of Israel, the people of God are ready for change.  The nation’s wine is nearly depleted.  The disciples put their faith in Jesus because they see in him a new way, a new truth, a new life.  On that day at a wedding, he changes water into wine.  But soon he will transform their ordinary lives into something extraordinary.

            So you see, the Gospel writer John is letting us know there is something very special about this Jesus.  Something very extraordinary.  Something very generous.  Something very loving.  And that this Jesus comes to obey God and comes to point us to God.

Like in this story, God truly saves the best until last.  In Jesus, God sends us the very best gift.  Greater than the covenant.  Greater than the land.  Even greater than the law.  It’s Immanuel.  It’s God with us.  Yes, to top it all off, God saves the very best gift until last.  The gift of Jesus the Christ.  The gift of freedom from the fear of death.  The gift of freedom from the fear of life.  Freedom from all fear.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.