The Second Sunday after the Epiphany: January 17, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Well, here’s a story guaranteed to please Episcopalians. Jesus, in his first miracle, his first sign, responds to a serious crisis. The wine has run out at the wedding, the party is about to die, it’s the social disaster of the century. Jesus’ mother tugs on his sleeve. Go ahead, son, she nudges. It’s time. And so Jesus makes wine, jars and jars and jars of wine, tons of really amazingly good wine that blows the sommelier away. So much wine that there’s no way they would run out. The party is saved.
This, says the evangelist John, is the first sign Jesus performs, the first sign of who he is come into the world. Here is clue #1 to who Jesus is and what he is about. He is the life of the party. He is abundance. He is good and rich and joyfully new, and with him, life is rich and joyful and abundant.
We often call this story the Wedding at Cana. In light of recent events, I wondered briefly, who was that couple getting married on that day? But we don’t know. Seems like exactly who was getting married wasn’t the point, from the gospel writer’s perspective. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.
So we could also call this story Jesus Changes Water into Wine. Of course this story is not about the wine, either. I’m mindful of friends in recovery, and all the bad jokes about Episcopalians and alcohol. So please, substitute another good thing in this story if it makes it work better for you – chocolate, maybe, or mountains, or a really great massage. Whatever it is, Jesus brings more of it, so much more of it that you can never get to the end of it. So much more of the good thing than we can ever encompass ourselves. That’s how good it is to be with Jesus. And it’s so much better than being without him. Mary knows what she’s doing when she prompts her beloved son to step out.
Jesus has hardly got started in his ministry on earth, and already the party is rocking. Jesus is living and breathing good news, the Word of God, the love of God, opening wide and inviting us all in. So why, I wonder, why is it that so many of us just won’t join the party?
Sometimes it seems like we’ve got a problem with God’s party.
Today, this weekend, we honor and remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., someone who embodied Jesus’ good news to the world. Dr. King preached a sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery in 1954 called ‘New Wine in New Bottles.’ He remarked that someone who is described as ‘ahead of their time’ has ideas that the culture around them is not prepared to accept. Racial equality was one of those ideas, an idea that took a long time to begin to catch on. But, thank God, Dr. King came at just the right time, when even though there was strong resistance to what he preached, even though he lost his life to that resistance, the world was ready to start changing. He was new wine, and that wine was abundant enough to last through the decades. We are still learning what it means to celebrate in that party.
But there were and are many who didn’t, or don’t, want that new wine. The old bottles weren’t ready for it. People didn’t want that party because it means change. It means loss of power, power we are conscious of and much that we are unconscious of. It means having to see the world through others’ eyes, others whom some were not accustomed to seeing as anything like them. Dr. King’s dream, his vision of the Kingdom of God, still makes people nervous today. You can hear that in the rhetoric of the presidential campaign, you can see it in the reaction to the resettlement of refugees here and in Europe. You can hear it in the news of these last few days, many of our own sisters and brothers in the Anglican Communion struggling with the guest list. This party is not my party if it includes those people.
But Dr. King preached that Jesus was the real new wine, the new wine at the source of that vision of God’s kingdom. As he said, ‘The long caravan of humanity had been moving in one direction for centuries, now it was to stop and change its course.’ Jesus brought the new wine of God’s grace, abundant and delicious and offered to all, and it is something we are all thirsting for. The long movement away from God and away from love for one another was due for redirection. And now Jesus’ party really is underway.
But Jesus’ party goes deeper than political ideals. And that’s where it can start to stretch us, old wineskins that we all can be. We don’t want to drink the wine Jesus offers because, well, it means change. It means change in the world around us, yes, but it also means change in our own lives and priorities and behaviors. Jesus’ abundance means a loss of power and control over our selves, our deeply-held insistence on going off our own rails, running our own lives into the ground, destroying others as we seek after what we want. Jesus’ grace means seeing the world through God’s eyes instead of our own, knowing what it truly is to love and to give our selves up in that love. That always makes people nervous. Maybe you feel a little nervous yourself. I know I do.
So we often don’t join the party. We have a lot of reasons not to join it. We think we’re too smart for it, or too in control of our own stuff. We think the party is crazy and not really for us. We think it must be boring, a waste of time when we should be focusing on other, realer things. We affirm each other in this, sometimes; we spend a lot of time hanging out together, resisting the party. Maybe deep down, we think that any party with us on the guest list is a party we don’t want to join.
But we need this party. We need to be part of God’s hope and desire for us and for the world. Because our life, without Jesus, is not enough. Life without Jesus is the tedious wedding reception, the mediocre wine running out. And that is what Jesus is here to change. Why would we want to stay there? Having the same old conversations with the same old voices – you know, the ones you rehearse in your head, going through all the reasons why faith doesn’t work for you, why it just doesn’t make enough sense for you to buy it. Nibbling away at the stale crackers of half-dead relationships and unfulfilled dreams – chasing after that stuff that never will satisfy, never will nourish our souls. Drinking down that mediocre wine of success and fashion and wealth, hoping we drink it fast enough not to notice the bad taste it leaves in our mouths. It’s a pretty crappy party. Sometimes we think that it’s impolite or bad manners to mention it, because it’s the same party our friends and family have been at for ages. But honestly, there’s no earthly reason to stay there.
Jesus is good wine. Jesus is life abundant, life and love so abundant that it pours out over the edge for you. Jesus is the kind of wine that makes you do new things, like love other people truly and deeply, like change your life, like change the world. Jesus is the party that called Dr. King to live the way he did. A call that sounds for each one of us, here today and everyday.
Our own wine, it has a strong tendency to run out. It doesn’t taste so good anyway. Our own parties, not so great. Lots of stinginess and fear and self-righteousness. Not what God has in mind for us. There is, here in this place right now today, an invitation to do otherwise. To enter in the door of abundance and let God work on all of our watery, soggy selves, working us over and turning us into new, rich, flowing wine. It’s good news – great news, even. And it’s what Jesus wants for you. The feast is prepared. So come on in.