Epiphany 2C January 17, 2016
A sermon on Jessie Diggins, Rosa Parks, and the Wedding at Cana
John 2: 1-11
While the sports section was covering the Vikings 12 pages at a time last week, a tiny paragraph appeared posting news that was much bigger in my world: a Minnesotan named Jessie Diggins became the first U.S. Nordic skier to win a World Cup distance race. This is big big news in cross country skiing, and the race series last week that she was part of was front page news – in Norway.
There was one article that gave it a little more attention == and what was fascinating was the way various people commented on the win. No one described it as a long-shot or a miracle. The athlete herself was both elated and humble. She said again and again that it was her team’s enthusiasm that cheered her on, her coaches and waxers that made it technically possible. The godfather of Twin Cities skiing, Ahvo Taipele, said “I saw her ski when she was 12 and I always said she would be a threat.” Her coach said “we’ve seen how she can close down a race many times.” And of course a couple of people said, “The Europeans have been put on notice!”
And her parents, her parents simply said “This is the result of 100s and 100s of hours of dedication and training.”
And most of the world still has no idea what I’m talking about.
As the Gospel of John tells the story of Jesus, it never speaks of miracles or wonders. Jesus heals the blind, raises the dead, and this morning turns water into wine, but never is what he does a miracle. It is a “sign” – an act that reveals his glory and points to who he is. It’s putting us on notice that the Word is coming into the world.
But the funny thing is, with this sign especially, it’s a pretty well-hidden sign.
Think about it: what happens truly is astonishing, and it totally saves the day for this family.
Mary knows that not having wine is going to be disastrous – are they poor? Was there an accident and something was lost? Are they just pathetically poor planners? We don’t know. But what we do know is that in the world of Middle Eastern weddings, failing to have enough wine to offer your guests at a wedding is a colossal failure, a real shame.
Mary is maybe the only one at this time who knows that Jesus can be of any help with this issue. Their relationship is-- well, probably about as complicated as you can imagine a relationship between a human mother and a not-exactly-normal son would be. The way Jesus addresses her probably has more to do with John’s theology than with Jesus here – let’s agree to leave that aside for the moment. But notice this; all she says is:
Do whatever he tells you
And they fill the jars –
This is a ridiculous amount of water. It takes some serious obedience for these servants to do this, because this is enough water to keep people drinking for weeks nearly a thousand bottles. And it’s WATER they’re putting in there. You can imagine some of them saying “Why are we doing this? What good does this do?” No one wants to drink water. There’s an old saying, “in beer there is wisdom, in wine there is joy, in water there’s bacteria.”
The real crisis here is more than wine, it’s hospitality, it’s joy. The people are not dying of thirst. They are in danger of going home because the party has lost its luster, because this is not what a good host does.
But the obedient servants fill the jars, because Jesus told them to and because Jesus’ mother told them to do what he said.
And out of all this water, after all this work, one servant takes one cup to one man, the steward.
The steward, we assume, has no idea where this cup came from; He gives all the credit to the bridegroom, who likely has no idea that the servants have been hauling water full time for the last hour, much less who ordered them to do so.
But that one cup, that little bit of what was an enormous wonder of abundant wine, that cup causes him to wonder out loud about the entire philosophy of hospitality:
You, you have saved the best wine for last.
The assumption here is that the guests are not even going to notice how good the wine is. They would have noticed when it ran out, for sure. But not the quality of what is now in front of them. Not only do they not know how closely the wedding escaped disaster. Not only do they not know that Jesus is responsible. They don’t even know that this wine is the best of all. But they sure benefit from it. They might have all kinds of other explanations for what has just happened.
So it’s an odd thing. If this is supposed to be Jesus great revelation to the world of who he is, it’s pretty well hidden. If this is supposed to be a sign, it’s a sign that does not exactly turn the spotlights on him.
The people in the best position to appreciate what has just happened are the ones who actually had to work some to make it happen – those servants must have literally hauled water for quite a while. So while the wine sort of came out of nowhere, the full jars did not. It was the result of lots of work.
In our age of instant fame and viral videos, what we seldom see is the hauling of water. We want the miracle, the great moment captured in 42 seconds on someone’s camera, but we have little patience for the process of getting there.
Think of the civil rights movement. My generation came of age learning about Rosa Parks as if her staying put at the front of the bus was a spontaneous decision, a moment that catalyzed everything that followed just by sheer force of will.
But that’s not what happened. Rosa Parks was not just tired. And she was not the first person arrested for refusing to give up her seat. She was a churchgoing woman of color who had already been active in the efforts to call attention to segregation. She was known and respected across the community because she was engaged across a broad spectrum of the Montgomery community. As her husband put it, she was more often at community potlucks than cooking dinner at home. She was already active with the NAACP and was disciplined in the art of peaceful demonstration. And when her action catalyzed the Montgomery bus boycott, there were already legions of neighbors and fellow churchgoers who were ready to not take the bus to work the next day, and the next day, and the next. There was organization, and determination and grit from not just one woman but from a community. And their actions was one part of a struggle that lasted not just days but years. There was, and still is, a lot of hauling water happening to call attention to the need for human dignity and rights for every citizen. (This is beautifully written about in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg).
The ones who realized what happened at Cana were servants, which is entirely fitting since when Jesus decided to teach his disciples his last lesson about who he was, he took a towel, and wrapped it around his waist, and got down on his knees. His last commandment to them was that they love one another. And loving one another is not one deed but thousands upon thousands.
It shouldn’t surprise us that we don’t always see the signs. The world is too drunk with its own consumerism to care most of the time. Most of the time we don’t even notice the disasters we have narrowly escaped. That is no different than before. But God’s grace still pours down; Jesus still goes about his work, healing, giving life, giving joy. If we want to see it, we have to pay attention.
Next week at St. John’s we will gather and speak of what it means to follow this servant. There will be report after report by servants in this place who can tell you of hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars, a ream of examples of deeds done in Jesus’ name. Many of us may not feel that it matters all that much, whether we show up, whether we volunteer, whether we have that conversation with someone we don’t already know or raise our hand to help out.
It is easy for us to fret that it’s not enough; it’s easy to imagine that all that water we haul week after week is not what we need to really feast in God’s presence.
But Jesus is here; as we obey his commands, as we love one another, as we tend to empty jars and empty bellies and troubled hearts and questioning minds and hungry souls, the ordinary water of everyday life becomes the wine of joy. If we pay attention, we will see him at work.
So how will you put something in an empty jar this week? It might not be dramatic, you won’t do it alone, and it might not even be noticed by anyone; and it’s entirely possible that when someone says this is the best wine I’ve ever tasted, they won’t know that it came from the work of Jesus. But Jesus offers joy to the whole party, every one. And this is just the beginning.