a sermon on John 2:1-11 for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
preached on January 20, 2013, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
Over my seven and a half years in Whitestone, I have developed some habits and routines. Some of them have changed since I moved out of the manse last year, but others remain constant.
Saturday night is the most routine part of my routine. Because I have to work on Sunday morning and be at my best, I very rarely make plans to go out to a concert or show or even to visit with friends, and if I do, I’m almost always home by 9:00! So I have a standing dinner date with myself at the same restaurant every week, where I sit at the bar and enjoy a quiet dinner as the world speeds by all around me. I’ve been doing this for four or five years now, and I am definitely a regular in every sense of the word—all the staff there know me by name and make sure that I am taken care of!
About a year after I started this routine, I noticed a strange thing happening. One night, the glass of water that appeared upon my arrival turned into wine! Not actually the same glass, of course, but wine also appeared alongside the water! Was it a Saturday night miracle? Or was it just a turn of hospitality? Or maybe a bit of both?
Today’s gospel reading from John recounts Jesus’ first miracle, a wedding night miracle with a turn of hospitality that tells us a lot about who Jesus is and how he approaches his life and ministry. This wedding must have been a big deal—Jesus and his disciples and his mother were all there. But apparently this wedding wasn’t a big enough deal for the host to keep extra wine on hand, and they ran out. When Jesus’ mother got wind of it, she went to Jesus and told him about it. I’m not quite sure why she went to him with this news, much as I have sometimes wondered why my own mother tells me some things, and I don’t think Jesus got it, either. Confused, he asked her directly, “What concern is that to you and me?”
Jesus didn’t want anything to do with the situation, but his mother clearly thought he could step in and make a difference. He disagreed. “My hour has not yet come,” he proclaimed. It was not yet time for him to perform a miracle and make his real identity known. While the party may have needed more wine, Jesus needed more time. Still, Jesus’ mother would not take no for an answer. Without even responding to Jesus, she went to the servants and told them to follow Jesus’ instructions.
So Jesus, probably still mumbling under his breath about his overbearing mother, got involved in the crisis at the wedding. He told the servants to fill some water jugs that would have normally been used for ritual washings, but they were empty by this time of the night. After they had been filled, Jesus told the servants to draw some water out of them and take it to the chief steward. The steward was very impressed with this new wine, so he called the groom over to tell him of his surprise, for most hosts serve the good wine first and save the worst for last, but in an act of strange and wonderful hospitality he seemed to have saved the best wine for the end of the party. Little did either of them know that one of the guests had saved the day through a little nudging from his mother, pulling off both a miracle and a radical turn of hospitality.
I think this miracle is a fitting beginning for John’s gospel—or for any story of the life and ministry of Jesus. First, this story shows us a Jesus who is humble and reluctant to use his powers when the time is not right. He does not seek to show off his miraculous abilities but rather wants and needs to wait until the time is right. His goal is not for people to believe in him—although his disciples certainly do—but instead to fulfill God’s purposes all along the way. He is afraid that if he acts too soon or in the wrong way, he might not be able to live out God’s intentions, so he keeps quiet about what he can do until he believes that the time is right.
This story also shows us a Jesus who can do amazing things with something that everyone else just assumed was getting in the way. Those huge empty pots seemed to be useless until Jesus got hold of them, but somehow something incredible happened when they were filled again. Not only was there suddenly more wine—it was better than what they had had before! Jesus makes this a pattern throughout his life and ministry, constantly pushing the people around him to reimagine what they can do with their lives and moving beyond expectations to do new things with the gifts that God has given us.
And most of all, it is fitting that John begins his story of Jesus’ life and ministry with a sign that ultimately points to radical hospitality and unlimited grace. Jesus overturns the cultural expectation—and common-sense determination!—that you start with the best wine and move toward the worst, thinking that the guests will be drunk enough not to notice the bad wine at the end of the party. But when Jesus’ act brings new wine that is better at the end of the party, he suggests that hospitality really matters, that even when something might not be understood or appreciated it should still be given, that everything we do to make people feel welcome is a part of showing God’s love. And this seemingly simple act shows us that Jesus will be working to express this new and different and radical way of living in all that he says and does, that he will not be afraid to welcome all people or to do things that seem strange or uncertain if they ultimately show God’s love and care for all people.
In the end, Jesus’ reluctance to perform this miracle, his ability to transform even the emptiest of barrels, and his radical hospitality help us to see a glimpse of everything that he will be up to in his ministry even as it is just beginning. This is an incredible challenge for us. We can’t turn water into wine—unless you happen to own or operate a restaurant where you want to care for your regular customers! Even so, this story challenges us to look for other ways that we can embody God’s radical hospitality and unlimited grace.
After Hurricane Sandy, Stony Point Center did just this. While there was little or no damage at the Center itself, hundreds of people who lived in nearby low-lying areas along the Hudson River found their homes flooded or washed away. Most of these people didn’t have a lot to begin with, and many were immigrants who do not speak English or who lack proper documentation. After the storm, many of these people started showing up at the Center looking for a place to stay. No one was turned away because of inability to pay or any other reason, and word of this open-door policy spread quickly among those whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm.
This was an amazing moment of hospitality for everyone. The Center had a number of empty beds because of cancellations related to the storm, so they had plenty of space to offer. They became certified by FEMA as official disaster housing, so the government paid for many of these guests, and other donations to disaster relief through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance helped cover additional expenses. And the people who made their way to the Center had found quite possibly the best place they could. Not only did they have a bed and meals for as long as they needed it, the Center staff’s ability to speak Spanish and experience working in immigrant communities helped make connections to other social support systems that would have been far more difficult to find otherwise. Simply by doing what seemed right and opening their doors to everyone in need, Stony Point Center became a place of refuge for those in greatest need and embodied the same radical hospitality and extravagant grace that Jesus showed at the wedding at Cana and throughout his ministry.
So maybe we don’t have any empty jugs laying around, maybe we don’t have storm victims waiting on our doorstep wondering if they can have a place to stay, and maybe we can’t even turn one man’s glass of water at dinner into wine without him asking for it, but maybe we can offer others even a little glimpse of the depth and breadth of God’s hospitality for us so that we might extend that welcome to everyone through Jesus Christ our Lord.