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"Water into Wine" - Rev. Jennifer Gleichauf

Posted on January 20, 2019 by Kathy Miller

“Water into Wine”

John 2:1-11

Rev. Jennifer Gleichauf

January 20, 2019

 

Many years ago, I attended a wedding as someone’s plus one.  After the lovely ceremony, there was some time before the reception, but not quite enough time to go get something to eat, and since we knew there would be dinner at the reception we didn’t worry about it.  At the invited time, we showed up at the reception hall with lots of other family and friends and we all commenced waiting for the bride and groom to arrive.  There were a few plates of cheese and crackers out and we hungry guests made quick use of them.  I think many of us assumed more would be brought out, but that was not the case.  The time for the arrival of the bride and groom came and went and we heard word that they had gone to take photos and were delayed.  Spirits stayed high for 30 minutes, 45 minutes, even an hour, but as we entered into the second hour, you could see people getting a bit antsy.  I could hear my stomach grumbling.  No food and still another hour wait.  By the time the bride and groom arrived, some people had left to find fast food elsewhere, others were looking pretty cranky, several had continued to make use of the cash bar even on an empty stomach and were looking a bit more like you’d expect towards the end of the night.  I’m not sure the reception ever fully recovered to what might have been. 

In the years since, I’ve officiated enough weddings to know that things do not always go to plan - from food to flowers, wardrobe malfunctions and the family member who gets out of line. Weddings offer so many opportunities for problem solving and memorable missteps. 

 

 

 

 

 

Which of course, is what we find in today’s gospel.  Jesus and his disciples are at a wedding and the wine has run out.  This would have been cause for great shame for the family, as depending on the crowd, it might be today as well.  And so, this wedding is cause for Jesus to perform his first miracle in the gospel of John.  You may know, the gospel of John does not begin like the others.  There is no birth of Jesus in a stable or an account of Jesus’ baptism or a healing miracle or sermon on the mount.  In John, Jesus is an adult in ministry right from the start and the first miracle is this one, in the midst of a great celebration. 

 

You see, the gospel of John, written by far the latest of the gospels, is not concerned with re-telling the narrative story people have heard in the other gospels already. John wants to share examples of Jesus performing signs in the hopes that readers of his gospel will learn something more about who Jesus, and by extension, God, really is through those signs. 

 

Which means instead of asking a lot of questions about did this miracle really happen or was it a magic trick, the more important question from today’s story is: what does turning water into wine tell us about who Jesus is? 

 

Now, of course, some might simply answer: Jesus is someone who just didn’t want the bride and groom to be embarrassed and shamed for running out of wine.  Or for all the mom’s out there, we might like if this miracle was a sign that Jesus was someone who listened to his mother and did what she said. 

 

But, I think there is more to it – that there are at least three big things we learn about who Jesus is through this seemingly small miracle:

 

First, Jesus didn’t just make a little more wine.  He made more wine than they could ever possibly drink that night.  And he didn’t just make two buck chuck.  He made excellent wine that was even better than what they had been serving already.  One minister said, this is: “A sign surely of abundance, extravagance…apparently the first thing John wants us to know is that God, the Ground of all being, is like that, extravagant, abundant. John wants us to open our eyes and see the extravagant abundance of things all around us—of beauty, of the world’s fertility, of the goodness of creation, flowers and stars and moon and sparkling expanses of snow, of newborn babies, of human compassion and caring, of human love.”[1] 

 

Our nature is to worry and fear there won’t be enough, and that fear alone is so often the root of greed or the root of our hoarding more than we need.  We are afraid there isn’t enough – enough money, enough food, enough stuff, enough love.  But in this sign, Jesus shows us otherwise.  Jesus shows us a God who is abundant and extravagant. 

 

Author Wendell Berry said about this miracle of Jesus’: “Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.”[2]  In other words, this miracle of abundant wine is just a small sample of God’s extravagant, abundant provision for us.  Who is Jesus when he turns water into wine?  He is a witness to God’s extravagance and abundance. 

 

 

 

 

What else do we learn about Jesus?  Well, second, this miracle shows us that Jesus was going to turn things upside down, to go against the status quo.  Right in this first miracle, Jesus illustrates his many teachings about God’s love for everyone, even and especially, those who are usually left out. Jesus has come to show us a God bigger than had previously been imagined – a God who includes everyone. Pastor Shannon Kersher preached, “The groom, the bride, their families, the head waiter—none of the people in charge saw what took place and how it happened. But the servants did. They are the ones who are typically the last and the least, possessing little power and control over their own lives. Yet here, in the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we already see God’s great reversal starting to take hold as the last and the least become the first ones to see the revealing of the joy and fullness of God that is Jesus.”[3]  In Jesus’ time, much like through all of human history to today, there have been plenty of people who preach that the more wealth or power or status you have, the more favored you must be by God.  Jesus’ very first miracle turns that on its head to proclaim that God’s favor is not for just a few or just a certain kind of person or based on the stuff we manage to accumulate for ourselves on earth – that God sees each and every one of us as worthy of God’s love.  Who is Jesus when he turns water into wine?  He is a witness to God’s inclusion of all people.

 

And what else do we learn about Jesus?  A third thing we learn through this miracle is that God desires for us to have joy, to experience joy, to have joy in our hearts and souls, to know joy even in the darkest times and hardest places.  Preacher John Buchanan said, “surely the wedding story is a sign that God says yes to human joy, that God has created us for reunions and celebrations and laughter. Why would this Son of God, this Word of God made flesh, not begin his work in the temple or the synagogue with a solemn sermon, but at a party, turning water into wine, if it was not a sign of a God who wants us to enjoy our lives, to live fully, to love the gift of life itself?”[4]

We are invited by God to celebrate and enjoy our lives.

 

But, if you have watched the news anytime recently, or really ever in human history, you might wonder how we could ever proclaim joy in the midst of the wars and famines.  How can we proclaim joy when we see all the ways people suffer?  When the world around us is full of brokenness and despair. Buchanan goes on to say, “This is not a superficial joy in the Bible, a denial of tragedy, a refusal to be realistic, a Pollyannaish optimism that everything is just fine. Rather joy in the Bible comes in the midst of difficult and trying and sometimes tragic circumstances: exile, loneliness, persecution, suffering, death even. In all of it, God’s people continue to be joyful. And why? Not because their circumstances are wonderful, but because of the promise that regardless of circumstance, God will not let go, will not abandon, but will be with God’s people—wherever they are, whatever is happening to them.”[5]  God rejoices with us in our joy as much as God is present with us in our sorrow. And if we do not know God in our joy, it will be harder to know God’s presence in the hard and dark times. 

Not only in the bible but in our own times as well, there is the witness of people who have known God’s joy even in the unlikeliest of places.  “Places like a scrawling found on a wall of the Warsaw Ghetto:

I believe in the sun, even when it does not shine.
I believe in love, even when I do not feel it.
I believe in God, even if I do not see God.

 

 

 

 

 

We hear the witness to joy in songs raised up in the midst of persecution like the African American spirituals which “—even in the midst of slavery and discrimination and persecution and lynching…proclaimed things like:  “My Lord! What a morning, when the stars begin to fall.” “Go tell it on the mountain.” “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.” And James Weldon Johnson’s wonderful anthem “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven sing, ring with the harmony of liberty. Let our rejoicing rise—high as the listening skies. Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”[6]  We hear this joy in the voices of Civil Rights Leaders who in the face of great obstacles and persecution still stand like Martin Luther King Jr. and say, “I have a dream.” 

 

Too often we have imagined faith as something so serious, humorless and dull.  But Jesus turns water into wine as just one example of God calling us into joy.  Joy which calls us to celebrate whenever possible – to appreciate wonder and beauty, to laugh and enjoy our lives whenever we have the chance, to not always take our time with God so seriously but to enjoy, to revel, being in God’s presence.  And having known God in celebration, still find God’s joy in the hard and dark times. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mystic poet, Hafiz, wrote a poem called “Tripping Over Joy” that says:

What is the difference
between your experience of Existence
and that of a saint?

The saint knows
that the spiritual path
is a sublime chess game with God

and that the Beloved
has just made such a Fantastic Move

that the saint is now continually
tripping over Joy
and bursting out in Laughter 
and saying, “I Surrender!”

Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
you have a thousand serious moves.

Too often, religion has made people feel that there are a thousand serious moves to make before we are allowed any joy. But Jesus turned water into wine – encouraged the wedding party to continue and to continue in joy and celebration because God’s goodness is so abundant, so extravagant, and meant for everyone.  May you know God’s abundance.  May you know God means to include you, whoever you are.  May you taste God’s joy in all your days.  This is promise of water turned to wine.  Amen.



[1] Buchanan, John. “Miracle at a Wedding.” Fourth Presbyterian Church: Sermons, Jan. 2010, http://fourthchurch.org/sermons/2010/011710.html

[2] ibid.

[3] Kershner, Shannon. “Who Has Time for Joy?” Fourth Presbyterian Church: Sermons, Jan. 2016, http://fourthchurch.org/sermons/2016/011716.html

[4] Buchanan, ibid.

[5] Buchanan, ibid.

[6] Buchanan, ibid.

 
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