January 20, 2019: "681 Liters of Love"

January 20, 2019                                                   Rev.  Rhonda Blevins, DMIN

681 Liters of Love

John 2:1-11 

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

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A police officer approached the window of a car he pulled over, when he noticed two things: the driver was wearing a priest’s collar, and there was a bottle in a brown bag on the passenger seat. The police officer said, “Hello Father—I pulled you over for swerving back there. You haven’t been drinking have you?” “No officer, why would you ask that?” “Well I noticed the bottle on the seat next to you.” “Oh, that's just holy water.” “OK Father. So why is it in a bag?” “Well, that is to protect it from the suns rays.” “Mind if I take a sip?” “Not at all.” The officer placed the bottle to his lips and took a drink, and immediately spit it out. “Father, this is wine.” The priest said, “PRAISE THE LORD. HE’S DONE IT AGAIN!”

 Now to get that little joke, you have to be familiar with story of Jesus changing water into wine—the story we read together a moment ago. This story is only recorded in the gospel of John, but tradition holds that this is the first public miracle that Jesus performed—John calls them “signs.” It’s a curious story in many ways, one that sparks several questions for me:

·         Was Jesus as terse with his mother as the text makes it seem, or were his comments accompanied by a wink and a grin?

·         Why is Jesus’ mother not named in this story (or in the entire gospel of John)?

·         Why does his mother assume he can fix the wine shortage (has she seen him turn water into wine previously?)

·         And why is this his first public miracle? It seems that with all the problems in the world, a wine shortage at a party seems rather trivial.

 But maybe that’s the point. Maybe John chose to include this story, in part, to redeem the trivial, the mundane, the material. This seems to be John’s mission from the outset, as he was the one who wrote the powerful words, “And the Word became flesh . . .” in the first chapter of his gospel. Maybe, Thomas Aquinas and others suggest, John included this story because John was the unnamed bridegroom. This story didn’t matter to Matthew, Mark, or Luke, but it mattered to John. The “trivial” wine shortage apparently wasn’t trivial to John, which brings me to my first of three conclusions:

 No matter how insignificant your troubles may seem, they’re not insignificant to Jesus.

 That “routine” surgery that doesn’t feel so routine when you’re the one under the scalpel. That conflict with a loved one. Those financial worries. The problem at work. That habit that you just can’t break. Whatever your worries, you can hand them over to God.

 During a Lenten study I led at my last church, the participants were sharing what Lenten practice they had committed to. The usual answers surfaced: “I’m giving up chocolate,” “I’m reading a Lenten devotional guide,” “I’m giving up meat.” Then the conversation came around to a serious, devout woman whom I admired greatly. She said, “I’m giving up worry.” The others in the room laughed. She said, “No, I’m serious. I’ve been practicing this for a few days now, and whenever I find myself anxious about something, I take a deep breath, and release it to God.” I caught this woman not long after Lent and asked her how her Lenten discipline had gone. She told me that she believed this had and would continue to change her life.

 Billy Graham said it simply when he wrote, “How can you become less of a worrier? The key is to learn to give your worries to God, and trust your life and your future into [God’s] hands.”[1]

 No matter how insignificant your troubles may seem, they’re not insignificant to Jesus.

 Now for my second point.

 Consider the manner in which Jesus turned the water into wine. A Jewish wedding in those days would last seven days. The text tells us that on the third day of the feast, the wine ran out. Whoops! That wasn’t just a social faux pas—an embarrassment to the host (which would have been the bridegroom’s family)—wine was symbolic of blessing and abundance. To run out of wine at a wedding meant that the young couple was doomed.

 Whatever Jesus’ reluctance initially, he decided to change the circumstance, and maybe even the young couple’s fate. Here’s what’s striking to me. We are told that there were 6 stone jars that held water for ritual cleaning. Jesus instructed the servants to fill each of them up with water; each held up to 30 gallons. That’s the water Jesus would turn into wine. Now, here’s a math challenge for you:

·         6 jars/30 gallons each equals how many gallons total? (180)

·         1 gallon equals how many liters? (3.78541)

·         180 gallons equals how many liters? (681.374)

·         A standard wine bottle holds how much? (750 ml)

·         How many bottles of wine did Jesus produce that day? (908.5)

908 bottles! Can you imagine? That wasn’t just enough wine for the party—that was enough wine for all of Cana! Jesus didn’t just help out the embarrassed host—he offered outrageous abundance:

·         908 bottles of blessing!

·         180 gallons of grace!

·         681 liters of love!

 We are reminded of that same extravagant love, poured out for us, every time we receive the cup. We are reminded of that same amazing grace, offered us, every time we partake of the bread. We are reminded of that same outrageous blessing every time we go to God in prayer, giving thanks for the unlimited goodness we experience if we but taste and see that the Lord is good.

 So the second takeaway is this: God offers more blessing, more grace, more love than we can fathom. There are no limits to God’s supply.

 Now, don’t hear this as the prosperity gospel that suggests the stronger your faith the richer you’ll be. That’s a pretty popular modern day heresy. No, this is a recognition of how abundantly blessed we already are. Maybe you’ve noticed that when we face loss, we sometimes become more aware of blessings in other areas of your life. The key word there is “aware.” When we feel like we’re living at some kind of deficit of blessing, grace, or love, I’m convinced it’s because our awareness is dulled. Growth in faith means heightened awareness of the bounty that surrounds. So point two: God offers more blessing, more grace, more love than we can fathom. There are no limits to God’s supply.

 For our third takeaway, we go back to the beginning of the story—when Jesus’ mother discovers that the host has run out of wine and brings this to Jesus’ attention: “They have no wine,” she informs her son. I’ve already mentioned that Jesus’ response seems terse, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come,” Jesus replies. Mary says nothing more to her son. Instead, she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” And you know the rest of the story.

 What I want you to notice is that Jesus’ mother stated the problem to Jesus. She didn’t tell him how to fix it. She didn’t argue against his seeming reluctance. She didn’t give up and walk away. She simply named the problem, left it in Jesus’ hands, and trusted him to handle it, despite his lack of responsiveness.

 I think there’s a lesson for us here about prayer. Too often, when we go to pray, we decide to tell the Lord not just the problem, but we offer the Lord the six-step process by which God can fix it. “Oh, and by the way, God, this needs to happen yesterday. Chop, chop!”

 So my third point is this: In our intercession, we lift the problem. And there we leave it in God’s hands.

 My friend, Marty Singley, once told a story about someone sitting by the water, “enjoying a nice hot summer day. It was one of those days without so much as a breeze to cool and refresh. My friend said that while he was getting more and more uncomfortable under the hot summer sun, he saw a neighbor push out from a dock in a little sailboat. The boat drifted out away from shore and sort of meandered aimlessly about – until the neighbor put up the sail. And then, he said, the sail filled up with the faint breeze he could not even feel. And his neighbor sailed off, down the lake.”

 Prayer is the sail we hoist to capture the breeze and propel us forward. Even the best of sailors cannot tell the wind what to do or how to do it. And the best of sailors know that you surely can’t tell the wind when to blow. And so it goes with prayer. You lift up a prayer and let the breath of God’s Spirit do the work.

 We lift the problem. And there we leave it in God’s hands.

 Let’s review the lessons we can glean from the story of Jesus turning water into wine:

1.      No matter how insignificant your troubles may seem, they’re not insignificant to Jesus.

2.      God offers more blessing, more grace, more love than we can fathom. There are no limits to God’s supply.

3.      We lift the problem. And there we leave it in God’s hands.

 The first two lessons are informational. These are truths we can know. The last is formational. This is a spiritual practice. I close with a sailing lesson. I want to teach you how to hoist the sail—how to lift a prayer—to catch the breath of God’s grace, love and blessing. The sailing lesson is in the form of a prayer that I invite you to silently pray along with me:

 Help, Lord.
I don’t know what to do.
I don’t know how to fix this problem.
All of my efforts fall short,
And so I find myself before you,
Asking for your mercy, your grace, your love.
I’m tired of this worry—this anxiety,
That keeps me from living the abundant life you have promised.
So, Lord, please take this problem—
You know the one.
Take it from me.
And as you do, help me to let go completely,
Trusting you to take it from here.
Believing that your solution is better than mine,
Even if I don’t understand.
And if it seems that you haven’t heard my prayer,
Help me realize and trust the mystery
Remembering that your ways are often beyond my comprehension.
So take it Lord. I release it into you eternal hands.
Thy will be done.
Amen.

 

[1] Billy Graham, https://billygraham.org/answer/give-your-worries-to-god/.

Debbie Wilson