Recently I was having a conversation with some friends who come from a different country. Their comment, what they’ve learned about Canadians, is that we have absolutely no idea how fortunate we are to live here. Sure, we’ve got our problems but compared to other places, we’ve got it so good. Yes, in Moose Jaw we use the word road rather loosely, but none of those pot holes were caused by mortar or bomb blasts. And all those water lines that have to be replaced? How wonderful is it that we live in a place with fresh clean water available with the turn of a tap. That’s worth spending some tax dollars. Yes, I myself have complained endlessly about various governments we’ve elected but we had the privilege of electing them and never did I see armed militia trying to intimidate voters nor have I heard of any of our politicians sending out death squads to silence opposition. We have abundant food, safe communities, and if I get sick, I go to the doctor without a thought about how I’ll pay medical bills. There’s a point 3 percent chance that a child born today will be born in Canada but if you’re one of those very few, you’ve won a lottery worth more than any other monetary jackpot.
A long time ago, a couple got married and they too won a great jackpot – they just happened to invite Jesus and his mom. That was a great idea and for those of you who one day might have a wedding, be sure to put Jesus on the guest list! The whole wedding feast was about to turn into an embarrassing flop. Wedding parties in Jesus’ time and place went on for days and it was a great opportunity for the hosting family to show off their hospitality. There would be music and dancing and feasting and not a small amount of drinking. Before you imagine that this was just an excuse for a bunch of people to get snookered, we have to remember that water wasn’t really safe to drink – wine and other fermented drinks were really the order of the day. If the wine ran out, as is the case here, everyone would have had to go home, the party would have been cut short and they would forever be known as the family who failed to put on a successful wedding. Thanks goodness for Jesus, or maybe more specifically, his mom.
Mary notices the wine has run out and tells Jesus to take care of it. So, what does Mary know that we don’t. This is right at the beginning of John’s Gospel so this is the first story we hear but has Jesus been transforming food at home? Has he been practicing this at the family water well? Has he been turning fish sticks into poached salmon? Is he the real inventor of Nanaimo bars when he transformed a stale loaf of bread?
Anyways, Jesus seems to brush his mother off and tells her that it’s not their problem and it’s not yet time, for what, John doesn’t go into details. I think it’s funny though, that even after Jesus’ rejection, Mary goes to the servants and tells them to do what Jesus says. I picture this scene with a fair amount of eye rolling.
As we heard, Jesus then goes on to turn water into wine, the party is saved, and generations of people are left wondering why, with all the amazing things Jesus did, John chooses to start his version of the Gospel with a miracle showing that Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd but also the good bartender.
What John says though is that this wasn’t a miracle. A miracle is something that’s amazing for its own sake: Jesus giving sight to the blind, healing a paralyzed person. For John, these acts of Jesus are simply signs. A sign is something that points to something more important than itself. If you’re going west on the highway, you’ll see a sign for Mortlach. As nice as that sign is, it’s not the town – the town is far more important than the sign itself!
So for John, Jesus doing something miraculous is not as important as what that event or sign points to. There are several things we could say Jesus is pointing to but in this case it’s pointing to a common theme for John, the overwhelming abundance we find when we place our faith in Jesus. After all, this wasn’t just a little wine, this was about 150 gallons – more than any party would ever need. This is a sign that in God’s world, we are overflowing with blessing.
So what happened. As great as this story and the promises it contains is, sometimes we seem to be living with scarcity rather than overflowing abundance. Even here in Canada, as privileged as we are, we still have homelessness and poverty. We have communities who don’t have the simple joy of turning a tap to get clean water. Around the world, wars are being fought over dwindling resources and people are dying from hunger or from diseases that are easily treatable.
Even in our own churches and places of worship around the world, there is wailing and gnashing of teeth that we don’t have the people, we don’t have the energy, we don’t have the money to keep going much longer. Where is the abundance to which this sign is supposed to point?
Well, it’s here. The abundance is all around us. There’s lots of food and wealth and opportunity. I believe that God’s good earth can indeed provide for our every need, but it cannot provide for our every greed. God’s blessings are poured out in abundance but rather than trusting that God’s blessings will always be here for us, we too often hoard, turning an imaginary scarcity into one that is all to real. Rather than following Jesus and his call to love, we worship our own desires.
Maybe it takes a change of perspective. Maybe we could find joy and fulfilment not in accumulating more and more but in living out Jesus’ command to love each other as he loves us. And what of our churches? Oh, we’re so short of people! Really? Look around you – we’re a strong, diverse, even large bunch of people looking for a deeper communion with God through faithful community. Maybe what we’re experiencing isn’t a scarcity of people but instead an over abundance of pews! We’re also a community that has an endless supply of God’s grace as well as opportunity to share that grace with all. So maybe it’s not a scarcity of direction but rather an overabundance of walls which bounces our energy back in on ourselves, leading us to hunker down in fear and scarcity rather than joyously proclaiming to the world that God is indeed doing!
You see, whether we’re talking about we as individual Christians, a few gathered congregations or the worldwide communion of Christ’s followers we’re very much like those stone jars of wine. We too are overflowing with God’s abundant grace but also it’s not about us anymore than it was about wedding guests getting another drink. Jesus didn’t turn water into wine to show off some miracle but to be a sign of something far more important. Being a church isn’t about stained glass or organs. It’s not the committees or balanced budgets. It’s not about theological orthodoxy or attendance on Sunday mornings. We too are to be a sign of something far far more important than ourselves – we are to be a sign pointing the way to God’s realm. We are to be a living breathing engaging challenging sign so all know the direction to find love, community, truth, and overflowing abundance of God’s grace. We should be for anyone searching, a signpost along the road so that all can sign we live out, “oh this is where we find the Way of Christ!”