Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Today’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ first miracle: changing water into wine. As someone who’s worked closely with addicts in rehab and recovery, I find a story of giving drunken guests more wine disturbing. Jesus produces just under 600 glasses!…with that amount you could binge drink for days.
None of the other gospels tell this story. So why did this miracle at the wedding in Cana become part of the library of sacred texts we call Scripture? What made this miracle so important, so special it had to be the first?
Weddings in first century Cana were different than today’s American weddings. The wedding feast was not a few hours — it often lasted a week. So you can imagine running out of wine on day three would have been disastrous! More so because Middle Eastern culture values hospitality above all else. Welcome and hospitality at a wedding feast meant providing enough food and drink for everyone. 600 glasses of wine should do the trick…maybe even extend the celebration a little longer.
This story, this miracle is not about abusing alcohol or avoiding embarrassment in front of friends and family. The miracle at the wedding of Cana is extending help when one’s neighbor is in need; Jesus’ miracle of hospitality is about making everyone feel welcome. About spreading and extending the joy; about making sure there is more than enough.
By changing water into wine, Jesus changes the pattern of serving poor, cheap wine at the end. Jesus chooses not to take advantage of people’s poor judgment when they are drunk, unable to discern. Instead, he offers a wine that is so good it is unrivaled by any other.
Jesus’ ministry of hospitality and welcome is moving from a place where we think we know what the best is to a place where we let go and let God lead us to something unimaginably better.
Jesus’ ministry of hospitality and welcome is not about showing off or gaining glory — in fact, no one knows where the wine came from except the servants and Mary. Everyone else assumes it is the Bridegroom who saved the best for last.
Jesus’ ministry of hospitality and welcome is about using our gifts not to gain glory but to give glory to God and others. Paul puts it this way, “don’t puff up with pride, build up in love.”
But, we all have times in life where we are the drunken wedding guests — less aware of joy, peace, purpose. Times where we just go along, blindly taking in whatever we are given, just going through the motions on autopilot, cheaply drinking in life as it is. It is so easy to forget to savor the graces each day, to taste the miracles of God going on all around us.
I had this experience when I moved to New York. Leaving Virginia meant leaving behind the beauty of the land, the fields, the rivers, the hills, the trees, the quiet. New Yorkers recommended going to the park. The parks here are nice…but not the same as being out in nature. It felt like I had run out of the good wine of God’s Creation and was drinking the cheaper man-made version.
After a year, I realized I was looking for the beauty of God in the wrong places. The landscape of New York isn’t the parks, it’s the people. When I started seeing the people as God’s Creation rather than the hard concrete, honking horns, and high buildings, then I started to savor the real graces, to taste the infinitely better wine.
Now when I walk through the city I see bustling streets as rivers filled with white water rapids. I see crowded subways as the narrow rocky passages of a cave. I see long lines and endless waiting as walking through mountains. Always present and difficult to climb. Seeing the people as the landscape brings the same joy as being in the rural backwoods of Virginia.
The real beauty of New York is not the Arts or museums or parks. The real beauty, the real miracle is the people.
This year, my new year’s resolution was to work more with my hands. So I’ve picked up woodworking again. I got my tools for Christmas, so a couple weeks ago I went searching for some lumber to start my first project.
Now how many of you New Yorkers are into woodworking? Then you know, finding lumber in Manhattan is its own miracle! Anyway, I find a lumber store downtown so I go to the guy and say I need a couple 2×6 boards 8 feet long and a couple 4×4’s 8 feet as well. Translation — some thick, tall, wide, long heavy…verrrry heavy boards. So the guy gets them, wraps them up in this stuff that looks like saran wrap. So I think I’m all set. I’ll just pick these up, go to the subway on the corner…which isn’t that far, and I’ll ride up to Inwood. Then I try to pick the boards up…and I’m like…huh, these are heavier than I’d thought. So go back to the counter and ask the guy, “hey, do you have any twine to make some handles?”
“Got any rope?”
No problem. It’ll be awkward but I just pick this up and…yeah…I made it fifteen feet out the door…barely! So I’m standing on the street thinking…there is no way I can carry this in a subway. I might have to walk this wood home 175 blocks! And out of nowhere this guy comes out with work gloves and says, “hey you need a hand with that? You need a cab?”
“Uhhh…yeah actually yes.”
Guy picks up this lumber and slings it over his shoulder like no problem. Takes it to the corner. Helps me hail a cab. Then he and the cab driver help me figure out how to put the wood in. We ended up putting it sideways because it wouldn’t fit lengthwise from the back. I never knew his name, but he gave me his gloves to hang on the wood so we could make sure no one got whacked by the boards sticking out the side window. And that cab driver helped me take the wood to my house, and my neighbor helped me bring it in my apartment.
Three angels of hospitality and welcome.
You know a lot of times we think living our faith means offering our gifts in service to others. This is true…but the real miracle of hospitality is when we can encounter Christ in everyone we meet – when we are able to receive as well as give. Amen.