January 17, 2010
The Rev. Natasha Brubaker Garrison
Isaiah 62:1-5, Ps 36:5-10, 1 Cor. 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
When I hear the words of the steward in this story, “everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk”, I always give a wry smile. In the midst of this amazing story of grace, overflowing grace, there is a moment of subtle humor…and within it the crucial point for us. The steward reminds me of those music clubs that entice one in with “select 10 free and only buy 5 more at regular club prices” type of deals. Reading through that list of options is a music-lovers’ dream. All these latest and greatest groups! And so one blithely signs up only to discover down the road that it seems like the future selections aren’t as good and neither are the prices. We are given categories and definitions that may or may not be very good or accurate. Or on a more serious note we see it in our social discourse that seems so stuck in old and tired, virtually meaningless clichés, such as choice, freedom, socialism, development, free market, the American Dream, that we end up not really having much of a discussion at all. We’ve been hearing words and definitions of the way things are for so long that even when reality is truly presenting a starkly different picture we struggle to adjust our view. It must fit the old category!
The steward gets all confused and lost in conventional categories. He thinks that the bridegroom has broken etiquette, that something got confused in the planning. He tries to explain this miracle of superabundant and superb quality wine by the usual rational means. Consequently, he misses the whole point. The disciples, in contrast, and this is the point, recognize that God has worked in an unexpected and transformative way through our world to shower us with abundant grace. It is a gift larger than we can explain in our limited capacities; it is running straight into God’s glory and accepting it.
This story of the miraculous is John’s first showing of who and what Jesus is and offers. After the lyrical prologue, after his baptism, and after his calling together his disciples, the first major act of Jesus in this Gospel is the story we hear today. It is a story that gives us a first definition of God who can and desires to transform our world into a place saturated with grace. It is God that offers us the very best wine, that can convert our lives into vessels of beauty and holiness, plenty and good. It is a God that meets our needs if we are open to give God the space to act in ways that are unexpected yet so truly meeting our needs and our places of brokenness.
This is the God the disciples meet in Jesus. It is the God we meet in Jesus: God with us to shower us with this grace. We meet God in the face of a fellow human who can take what we have and through his love and holiness turn it into the kingdom of God. We can’t do it without him, but with him we can do things, as Jesus says later in this Gospel, even greater than these. Jesus, we are told, is the well of life of which the psalmist speaks. Jesus is that good wine drawn from the jars. He is the wine we drink after we have drunk the wine of the world and realize it can only offer so much. Even the best wine from the finest vineyards in France is inferior, eventually gives out, when compared to the wine of Jesus, which he freely gives.
The community that gave us the Gospel of John experienced intensely this grace found in Jesus. It is why it is the first and foundational story of this Gospel. Through that grace they withstood being kicked out of the synagogue (this community was Jewish), they withstood rejection, and they flourished because they continued to draw on the love and grace of Christ. This was the Jesus they shared with the world. It invited them into living in this world but within new definitions, new categories, and the trust that through Jesus working in them they too could be the initiators of miracles as great as providing abundant wine to others—be it spiritual or material sustenance. What a glorious vision they held! And even in the face of their own losses and adjustments, they knew they had the better portion.
Which leads me to Martin Luther King, Jr. He is honored tomorrow in our calendar of saints, but our music today is in tribute to him and the movement that he represents is worthy of our attention, gratitude and continued allegiance. In preparing this sermon I spent time watching footage of his speeches and of the larger struggle of for civil rights. The images are arresting: thousands of people gathered, stirring speeches, vibrant, hope-filled faces, dogs, fire hoses, lynchings, beatings, the hate-twisted faces of other Americans yelling at men and women forcefully yet peacefully demonstrating their utter humanity and demand to be acknowledged as people of dignity and worth, equal in the eyes of God. What sustained them was not only the belief in the justice of their cause, not only great leaders, not only a desire that their children be given a better world, but a drawing on the wine of Jesus, a continual drawing on the grace and power of the crucified and risen one that enfolded them in a hope and a truth that was larger than the world.
They drank of the wine of that grace, relied on it, and trusted it would see them through years of struggle. In drinking that wine they lived into different categories—who they were and who they were to become; and how to reach the end for which they were aiming. If they had chosen violence to match the violence inflicted on them nothing would have been transformed. If they had chosen to adopt a belief of racial superiority over whites that would justify inverting the system nothing would have been transformed. If they had chosen to work within the established categories of media, lawsuits and so on, nothing would have changed or it would have been a continuation of the snail-like pace they already knew. They drank the wine and created new categories…categories founded on a justice rooted in love and reconciliation.
For us the invitation is to believe in the outpouring of God’s grace as revealed in Jesus Christ. He draws wine from the water jar and offers it to us if we can open our hearts to a larger world. He offers that wine so that our hearts will open for this is his desire for us. To drink of his wine is to live into a new category: living members of the Christ. Before all else, this is who we are. It can’t be put on a passport or seen in our language or ethnicity. It is a reality that can’t be made to fit into the world’s categories. But it is our reality, and we are reminded of it and nourished from it each time we receive Holy Communion, each time we look with Christ’s eyes on the world, each time we step out and offer our lives to be incarnations of the kingdom of God.
Such a reception of Jesus’ abundant grace may draw us into struggles just as intense and profound as that of the Civil Rights. God knows they are out there. It will help us be open to new categories in our perception. God knows they are needed. But first and always we must take our empty vessels to Jesus and ask that he fill them and transform them so that it is indeed his wine that we are drawing from and that it is his grace that is sustaining our lives. As members of the Body of Christ we are invited to live constantly into new categories or to challenge the categories of this world with the radical categories of Jesus. It is his concern and he will freely and lovingly fill us in ways expected and unexpected, known and unknown, for it is his very nature to lavish us with grace. And as his people it is our nature to lavish others from that same grace. May it be that we serve the good wine to this world. Amen.