Do Whatever He Tells You to Do
A sermon on John 2:1-11. Today I want to talk about the fear of running out. It’s something that can make us kind of miserly and adds pressure on us that seeps out in ways that don’t help us to live up to our best intentions. The story of Jesus’ first miracle is about people who had run out only to find that Jesus supplies their needs better than they ever could have imagined.
The story is located near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It was likely a family wedding since he traveled with his mother to the small town of Cana (population around 300). He also brought along his new disciples.
The catalyst for the story is that they ran out of wine at the wedding. Sounds like no big deal. There’s always some detail that goes wrong in a wedding. I tell couples I marry to expect something to go wrong. That way when it happens, they can just say, “There it is. Now let’s go on with enjoying our day.” Running out of wine doesn’t seem like a major catastrophe, you might think it was a sign that it was time to wrap up the party. But it was a different culture. Weddings were elaborate community events that lasted several days.
Why did they run out? Perhaps they didn’t plan well enough. Maybe lots of people brought last-minute-uninvited friends as Jesus did. More likely, scholars suggest, the couple was poor they just didn’t have enough money to supply everyone. Unfortunately, to run out of wine was considered a sign of disrespect, of not trusting that you’d be taken care of. You could be ostracized from the community. I read you could even be sued. Imagine starting marriage embarrassed, broke, and facing a lawsuit.
Mary Pushes Jesus into his first sign
Mary observes, “They’ve run out of wine.”
Jesus sounds annoyed, harsh, “Woman, what is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.”
He calls her “Woman” not mom or mother. Woman. Wow. Most moms might have walloped him alongside the head. But Mary ignores it and pushes him into action.
She bypasses Jesus while he’s standing right there and tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to do.”
She pushed him into his first miracle. Can’t you just see him rolling his eyes? Think about it: even the Lord Almighty had his mother telling him what to do when he was 30 years old.
I love this human moment that reminds us that Jesus identifies fully with us right down to a pushy mom. Also, like Jesus, there are going to be things that God wants you to do for which you don’t feel inclined to get involved or prepared to make a difference. From time to time, you are going to need a little push to get going in the direction you need to go.
Sometimes we need a nudge
Have you ever had a Mary, someone who nudged you? Maybe it was someone who is blunt. “We’re going to church; I’ll pick you up at 9:10.” Or she says, “Open your checkbook and give $100 dollars to homeless relief.” But you were hoping to get away with five, ten at the most.
I don’t think I would have accomplished much if there hadn’t been people who challenged me to move forward. We all need Marys – someone who will encourage us, someone who will even see where we need to be and get a little pushy with us. Do you have a Mary? Maybe this is the time today to listen to her instead of shutting her out.
Maybe you are supposed to be a Mary for someone else. Maybe there is someone who you sense their call to be faithful to God in some area of their lives. Go ahead, get a little more assertive, not belligerent, but encouraging. They may roll their eyes and sigh, but they may also start down a path that leads to blessing.
It occurs to me the pastor’s job is to be a Mary, to give you the push you need. Sometimes it begins with a call that begins “I’ve got an opportunity for you.” Or a sermon that says, “You’ve been thinking about this a long time. Now is your moment to act.”
Jesus told the stewards to fill the six stone jars of 20–30 gallons each with water. The text says these jars are for rites of purification. Before entering the wedding guests ritually washed themselves signifying a cleansing for God. One level of the story is that Jesus brings something internal (you drink the wine) that hand washing purification rituals by themselves can’t.
Jesus told the stewards to fill these jars—not empty wine flasks. The next time we see Jesus with wine it’s at the last supper where he took the cup and said drink from this all of you. Communion is a reminder of the cleansing, healing, forgiving power of Jesus.
Wine is a sign of blessing/benediction
The detail of wine is important to the story. Not because of the alcohol content, but because it was a symbol of blessing. The God who provides the abundance of the world, the abundance of the grapes that produce the wine is looking out over us. Wine glasses were raised, just like we still do today of blessing a new marriage. Dozens of times in the Old Testament, the prophets used the metaphor of a wedding to describe the relationship between God and the people. To say that they had run out of wine was a symbol that they believed the relationship had run out of benediction, of blessing.
People felt that God had given up on them. The wine had gone dry. It is in that feeling of despair Jesus provides not just wine, but a blessing. God is still acting and involved in your lives. Turning water into wine wasn’t a parlor trick displaying Jesus’ miraculous ability. It was an object lesson telling people that God isn’t done with them, there are still blessings in store. It was the best wine saved for last. Whatever season you are in right now it can be better than the other seasons because you have a better perspective, enough cycles around the sun that it’s not all about you and you can have an appreciation for what others are going through.
God still transforming
Our UCC tradition has embraced the Still Speaking campaign to remind us that God is still speaking and active and involved with our lives.
Have you run out of wine? In a relationship that is important to you? Have you run out of wine in your dreams–feeling like you are just going through the motions, feeling like you are the one who is poor, embarrassed? Maybe you should follow Mary’s advice. Do what Jesus tells you to do. Go back to the basics– the gospel of sharing, the gospel of forgiving, the gospel of serving others, the gospel of trusting that God is with you.
Buckets not eyedroppers
It’s natural to wonder if God is stingy with blessings. We get into deficit thinking. That you only get a little from God and God might take it away if we mess up. We think maybe I can’t go to God now, I’ve used up all the grace God’s going to give me or I don’t want to ask for a blessing now because I might really need it later. I’ll just wait and cash in my chips with the Almighty when I’m really in trouble.
Sometimes we don’t ask God for what is on our hearts because we think it’s so trivial, not a major crisis. That’s why the water into wine story is so great. It wasn’t like anyone was dying or anything. Preachers like to say the story reminds us that God cares about all of our lives. If it matters to you, it matters to Jesus.
The water into wine sign is a sign of how God acts. God is the God of abundance and will give you what you need. The divine is not stingy with eyedropper droplets of blessings–it’s poured out by the bucketful.
Do the math. 6 purification jars filled to the brim (my cup overflows) 20-30 gallons each. He turned as much as 180 gallons of water into wine. Not just a little eyedropper full, but an overflowing amount. This first miracle of Jesus is just a foretaste of everything that follows. Jesus is the one who gives us blessings and has an abundance of love and grace for us to get us through no matter what.
Do you believe God can do a new thing in your life? Jesus turns the water into wine.
He can turn our weeping into laughter; our sorrow into joy, our fears, and failures into a witness of transforming power; our swords into pruning hooks, our cries of anguish into shouts of praise.
Revival preacher Billy Sunday used to say that he hasn’t seen a lot of water turning into wine—but he’s seen whiskey turn into furniture. The alcoholic decides to rely on his higher power, get clean and suddenly the money he’d waste on booze turns into something productive. Have you seen it? Cigarettes into baby food; fast food into ministry to support a place of hope and grace where people can get their lives turned around; mocha Frappuccinos into youth ministries and Bible studies.
O Jesus brings the good stuff. He’s no fuddy-duddy. He made 180 gallons of wine for a party that had already gone through a bunch. And what he brings is the good stuff. At the wedding the guests were astounded, the best stuff is being served now!
Now is the moment. Jesus knows how to celebrate the joy of life. Because what he is really after is to bring the good stuff to life. As Rev Harriet Cross says he brings:
The Merlot of mindfulness
The Cabernet of kindness
The Rose of righteousness.
The Jesus Juice of Justice.
I’d add, the Champagne of quit feeling sorry for yourself worrying about what you don’t have and get up and do what he told you to do and watch what God can do when you do your part. The best is yet to come!