Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Best

(A sermon based on John 2:1-11 for the Second Sunday after Epiphany)

In the Harry Potter book and movie series, there are creatures called Dementors; they have the ability to suck the soul out of a wizard. In the stories, those who experience the work of the Dementors report that they felt like there was no more happiness in the world. According to one of the adult wizards, a man named Lupin, dementors drain “peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them” (The Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 10).

There are events that can seem to drain the life from us. There are events that can drain the life from us.

Not all events to which we give that kind of weight deserve it, though.

It is good and necessary that we learn the difference between a crisis and an inconvenience. The world if full of both; our lives contain both. What the family at the wedding feast at Cana was confronted with was not a crisis; it was an inconvenience—a very embarrassing one, but an inconvenience nonetheless. Jesus did not make it a regular practice, so far as we know, to protect people from party disasters or other inconveniences.

Still, we must reckon with the fact that John views this miracle as so important that he puts it right up front in his story of Jesus; he even goes out of his way to point out that it was Jesus’ first miracle. It is helpful to know that when the people of Jesus’ time and place thought about what would characterize the kingdom of God when it came, one way they pictured it was as a great banquet that included copious amounts of wine.

So Jesus’ first miracle indicated, for those with eyes to see, that the kingdom had arrived. As John points out, Jesus by this sign “revealed his glory.”

In the Bible, wine is a symbol of life, joy, and plenty. Jesus, by changing the water into wine, announced that he had come, then, to give us life and to give it abundantly. Jesus connects us with God, the true source of life. Always God has been about making that life available. Being who we are, people refuse that life or think they can find a better life without God. People are silly. And lost.

Jesus may or may not have been the life of the party but the party was about to run out of life until he acted.

Jesus was and is the life of God in the world and it is in him that we find the life that God means for us to have.

The story of Jesus turning water into wine is about Jesus giving gifts that are abundant and extravagant. Jesus turned water in six stone jars that each held up to thirty gallons into wine; that’s as much as 180 gallons of wine. Jesus did not meet the need just barely; he met the need extravagantly.

Jesus does not just give us life; he gives us life extravagantly.

Jesus was and is the giver of extravagant grace, of extravagant love, of extravagant hope, and of extravagant life.

Let’s not quash it and quench it.

The late Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard once remarked, “Christ turned water into wine, but the church has succeeded in doing something even more difficult: it has turned wine into water.” [Soren Kierkegaard, cited by Richard Bauckham, “Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C. Gospel Lesson: John 2:1-11,” in Roger E. Van Harn, ed., The Lectionary Commentary: The Third Readings (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001), p. 492]

How have we managed to remove joy from our experience of God? Oh, sometimes our critical nature, our narrow vision, and our lack of spiritual discipline might contribute to the problem. But might not the biggest cause be that we have tried to keep God’s extravagance for ourselves rather than understanding that real joy comes from giving it away?

I mean, what if the bridegroom had kept the wine for himself and not shared it with his guests? I guess he could have enjoyed 180 gallons of wine (hopefully over a very long period of time). But it was a party and at a party enjoying things together and making sure everyone has more than enough is the point.

What will we do with the extravagance? Will we go off by ourselves and sip the wine alone? Or will we live in such a way that everybody wants to come to the party?

Again, Jesus was and is the giver of extravagant grace, of extravagant love, of extravagant hope, and of extravagant life. Do we squash such extravagance by trying to hold onto it or do we embrace God’s extravagant grace and love by giving it away to the people all around us who are hurting so badly?

A couple of people with birthdays this past week teach us some important lessons.

Sandy West turned 100 years old on Thursday, January 17, 2013. She is the daughter of very wealthy parents and from them she inherited Ossabaw Island. Ossabaw, at 26,000 acres, is Georgia’s third largest barrier island. Needless to say, it would be worth a fortune to developers. But West did not sell it to developers. No, in 1978 she and her brother’s heirs sold it to the State of Georgia for $8 million, or one half of its appraised value; they gifted the other $8 million to the state. In return, West was able to have a say in what happened to it and she determined that it would be used only for educational, cultural, and research purposes. West was also allowed to live in her home on the island for as long as she lives; she is, apart from a ranger, the only resident.

Sandy West received great gifts and she did great things with her great gifts. She shared them with others in way that will make a difference from now on. She serves as a role model for us in the ways that we receive and distribute God’s extravagant grace and mercy in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been eighty-four years old on January 15. Dr. King once said, “Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”

Jesus gives us the best there is to give—real life, a life connected with the life of God—and Jesus gives it extravagantly and abundantly. How can we help but share the best with others?

When Jesus’ mother told him that the wedding hosts had run out of wine, Jesus initially said that his time had not come. He says that at other times in John’s Gospel. What was his time? When would it come? It was the time of his glory which would come at his crucifixion. Jesus finally gave us life by giving his own life.

How generous will we be with the extravagance with which Jesus has blessed us?

It’s a party. Jesus has made sure there is plenty to go around…

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