January 20, 2019, Enough Is Not Enough – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
Here is the sermon you would have heard if there had not been a storm.
The final words of John’s gospel say: “Now there are many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” John was writing a good twenty or thirty years after the other three gospels had been written and widely disseminated throughout the Roman Empire and beyond/ He had a wealth of memories to choose from when he sat down to give his own account of the life of Jesus. But he was the only one who decided to set down this odd little story of this very first miraculous sign that Jesus performed.
It’s an odd story because it wasn’t a work of healing or casting out demons or raising someone from the dead. It wasn’t really a very important thing to rescue a bunch of party guests from running out of wine. It’s an odd story, too, because except for the servants who hauled 150 gallons of water from the well to fill up the jars, and Jesus’ own little group of friends and family, nobody at that wedding even knew that anything miraculous had happened. And it’s an odd story because it seems like Jesus only did what he did because his mother made him do it.
There’s all kinds of symbolism and deeper meanings that people have found in the various elements of the story of the wedding at Cana. The stone jars that Jesus had the servants fill were there for the purpose of purification rites, the cleansing of hands and vessels and things according to the Law of Moses. So there is the symbolism of Jesus creating something new, this miraculous wine, out of the old forms of the Law. There is the symbolism of cleansing itself, foreshadowing his forgiveness of sins, and the symbol of the wine, foreshadowing the blood of his sacrifice and the wine of the new covenant. There’s the symbolism of the wedding itself, foreshadowing the marriage supper of the Lamb and his Bride, the Church. I have even read articles discussing the meaning of the number 6, and the significance of there being 6 stone jars.
And certainly there are layers upon layers of meaning in this passage, as there is in all of Scripture, so that a scholar could write whole books on it, or a contemplative could meditate on it for hours. That is true, and good. But there is something much more simple and straightforward in this story that just cries out to be noticed. Later on in John’s gospel, Jesus says this, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” The story of the wedding at Cana reveals something about the abundant way Jesus lives, and that John wanted to put that right up front.
Remember the main point of the story – the moral, you might say. Mary had noticed that their hosts were experiencing a crisis, and she’d sort of put Jesus on the spot. He’d even argued with her – “What does this have to do with us?” he says. Despite all of that, Jesus chooses to be obedient to his mother and gracious to his host. But he doesn’t make just enough wine to get them through the feast, he makes something like 150 gallons of wine. And wine of such excellent quality that the steward takes the bridegroom aside to exclaim about it. “People usually serve out the good wine first, and then, when the guests have gotten a little jolly they bring out the cheap stuff. But not you! You saved the very best wine for last!” Where on earth did all this amazing wine come from? The bridegroom must have wondered. That’s what John remembered, when he decided to write this story down for us. Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory, his abundance. And that is the reason, John tells us, that his disciples first believed in him.
People have always been too ready to accept a god who does just enough for us. We’d happily settle for a god who provides enough food and enough clothing and enough shelter, who accepts our confession and cancels our debt, who turns his righteous anger away from us. That’s what religions are all about, really, humans trying to figure out how to do and say enough to satisfy the demands of a perfect and distant being. We build our temples and give our offerings and perform our duties in return for the things we expect god to do for us: to give us enough forgiveness so we can escape punishment or condemnation, enough righteousness so we can make it into heaven, enough comfort and hope so we can keep going and not be crushed by the troubles of this life.
But the God who made 150 gallons of the most excellent wine, just anonymously, for a neighbor’s wedding, isn’t a God who has any interest in that kind of religious barter system. One reason John chose to include the story of the wedding at Cana is because he was preparing us to read a gospel about a God for whom just “enough” is not enough – a God who is a God of abundance, even extravagance.
Later in his ministry, as Luke has recorded, Jesus would tell the story of a young man who runs off and squanders his whole inheritance with partying and prostitutes and goodness knows what else, until finally, and predictably, he’s forced to head back home in shame, penniless and miserable and starving. And all he’s hoping for, as he walks along, is that his father will take him on as a servant, so he can have something to eat and a roof over his head. That would be enough, he thinks.
But his father is watching for him. He goes running out to meet his son, and he has absolutely no intention of giving his son enough. No, he embraces him and wraps his own robe around his son’s wasted body, He puts his own ring on his son’s finger and he starts joyfully shouting out orders, “Fire up the grill! Put on the music! My son was lost, but now he is found! Let’s get this party started!” The most unworthy son receives a welcome of the most extravagantly, ridiculously, abundant kind. Because abundance is just a way of life for the God who has revealed himself to us.
We so often suspect that God is standing far off. with his arms folded, keeping a tally of our good works, just waiting for us to finally become good enough, waiting for us to finally do enough of the right things to make up for our failures. And we don’t expect too much in return, just enough – enough forgiveness, enough patience, enough reward for our little victories, such as they are.
But Jesus couldn’t care less about measuring out rewards and punishments in careful little doses. He said, “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged; don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” His whole life was about teaching us how to live abundantly. “I came,” he told us, “that you might have life, and have it in abundance.”
But as a guide to abundant living, this first sign recorded by John is not quite what we’d expect. In one of those paradoxical moments that were so common in the life of Jesus, this first revelation of his power is something he didn’t want to do. It’s almost uncomfortable to read the interaction between Jesus and Mary here. But that is what is so important, because this first act of his power is to submit his will to the will of his mother. Amazingly this first sign of Jesus’ divinity begins, not with compassion or power or great wisdom, but with humility, with denying his own will and serving at the pleasure of another human being.
It’s what he taught us: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. And you will find rest for your souls.” The last thing the world would expect from the Messiah is that his first great act, the opening salvo of his saving work on this earth, was in obedience to his mother. And it wasn’t an act of raising the dead or healing an incurable disease or casting out a demon or feeding a multitude of people or calming a storm or walking on water – though Jesus would go on to do all those things in his short life on this earth. But his first great sign was a simple act of submission and of kindness. A humble act. That was the beginning of the ministry of abundant life.
But the second great revelation of this first sign was that, having submitted his will to the will of his mother and the need of his neighbors, Jesus didn’t stop at doing just enough. He submitted in abundance. He took water and made it into an abundance of the most excellent wine. He served with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, because the heart of abundant living is love, love of God, love of our fellow human beings. That wine was astonishingly good because it was created in humble submission, and in love – and not some sappy, sentimental kind of love, but love that began with the wine at a wedding feast and ended with the blood of the cross. –
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