Sermon text: John 2: 1-11
Every summer at Zion Hoffman Church picnic you could count on certain events. For instance, and this was sheer dumb luck more than anything, you knew that you would have excellent weather for the outdoor service and picnic, and that is a rarity in Somerset County. It never failed us. Also, I knew that Mark Nicklow, one of our members, would be grilling us his amazing chicken on his own barbeque trailer, and that we would be able to hear and smell and see it during the entire service. Third, I knew that everyone coming, and this was a joint event of all four congregations I served at the time, would bring a side dish or desert. They were all excellent cooks, everything was delicious. And without fail there was a 70/30 split between desserts and sides. There would be enough salads and veggies and starches on one table, and every possible dessert imaginable on the next. We’re talking pies, cakes, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, puddings, Jell-O—never before have you witnessed such a beautiful and varied assortment of empty calories calling your name.
But then, without fail, after you had eaten your seconds, after the serving trays were scraped clean and all that was left on the dessert table was a spare piece of cake and a spoonful of Jell-O mold, when everyone felt fat and happy and on the verge of needing to undue the top button of their pants for a little breathing room, out walked Dwight Woy from the church basement with an enormous bucket of ice cream in his hands. “Ice cream! Ice cream! Who wants ice cream?” Dwight would walk around and scoop out ice cream on everyone’s plate. He was a retired car salesman, so there was absolutely no way to decline, even if you were absolutely stuff. What is the saying? Ice cream melts and fills in all the cracks in your stomach?
Every church picnic that happened (and I never really learned to save room for his ice cream). That might be the closest thing I ever experienced to the Wedding at Cana—this abundance of celebration that comes out of nowhere when it seemed like the feast was over. We don’t do gallons of wine at church picnics, so frozen cream and sugar will have to do.
If we think about miracles, they usually have to do with helping people who are in desperate need. Jesus feeds the hungry, and heals the blind, lame, and leper. He saves the demon-possessed and brings the dead back to life. These are miracles that relieve suffering, restore life, and bring wholeness. People are transformed.
And then there’s the Wedding at Cana, the first miracle recorded in John’s Gospel, and it seems a bit odd when compared to all the other miracle stories. Maybe even frivolous. What is the real danger in running out of wine? No one is sick. No one is dying. Everyone has been fed at this wedding feast. There are no demons here. The crisis here might cut the wedding celebration short or cause embarrassment for the hosts and the bride and groom, but this isn’t a matter of life and death. Jesus himself dismisses that matter until his mother presses him into action.
And into action Jesus goes! Extravagant action, in terms of quantity and quality. Jesus turns between 120 and 180 gallons of water into wine. I did the math. That’s 600 to 900 bottles of wine. That has to be a few State Store’s worth, right? And this isn’t hooch. This is the best wine the chief steward has tasted at this party. So what gives? What’s with the extravagance and what does this mean as Jesus’ first miracle?
For clarification’s sake, I should mention that John doesn’t actually call this event a miracle. In fact, there aren’t any “miracles” in John’s Gospel. He calls all these events “signs.” When you think about it, signs point us to something beyond themselves: a dead end street, a wet floor that is slippery, someone’s private property. The sign here, as Jesus changes water into wine, points us to Jesus Christ, the source of all joy and life.
In scripture wedding feasts are often used to show God’s restoration of Israel, and wine is often a symbol of joy and celebration that comes with salvation. One of my favorite funeral texts, Isaiah 25, depicts a wedding feast on God’s holy mountain where death is destroyed, the shroud of grief is removed, tears are wiped away from faces, and well-aged wines strained clear are served to the people. Here we see that Jesus is the source of those same Godley blessings. In this first sign we see that life, joy, and salvation have arrived, and they have arrived in force. As Jesus will later say, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”
Abundant life is more than survival and eking out an existence. Abundant life is more than the simple accumulation of material goods or activities on our calendars. Abundant life is to know God and to be known by God. It is an intimate relationship with the one who loves us so much that he cannot stop giving.
Abundant life doesn’t mean that life will be easy, or comfortable, or filled with luxury. Abundant life doesn’t mean that we won’t experience hardship, suffering, pain, and grief. It means that we have Jesus.
We have the extravagant grace of God to sustain us. Mercy to buoy us when we are sinking. Joy to carry us when we are struggling and sorrowful. Because when we are joined to the source of true life, how can we not be gifted?
I know that abundant life might seem like a fairy tale in this lingering stretch of restriction, illness, loss, and supply shortages, but the truth is that the source of abundant life has been with us this whole time. It might not seems like we’ve been handed a bottle of expensive wine or a giant scoop of ice cream on our plate, but Christ’s abundance will see us through. AMEN