Sunday, January 17, 2010

Serving the Good Stuff Last

Augustana Lutheran Church, Fergus Falls

January 17, 2010
John 2:1-11

What was it like, I wonder, to be on the cleanup crew, after this famous wedding at Cana?

That question’s on my mind because our daughter got married this past August down in Sioux Falls. Months of planning and thousands of dollars brought us to a day that was splendid in every way. Our guests all celebrated into the wee hours of the morning…and then around midnight the real work began.

A small circle of close relatives and friends, became the post-wedding cleanup crew. We worked liked dogs because the contract called for the wedding hall to be “cleared out” by 2 a.m.

So, I wonder what it was like to clean up after the wedding in Cana. What did the servants find, as they swept up and washed down the banquet hall?

In all likelihood the cleanup crew in Cana came across several things that puzzled them.

First, they likely discovered that there was all sorts of wine left over….and that would be surprising because firstt century Jewish weddings were grand affairs that lasted for days on end and usually concluded only when the wine was gone. But this wedding, in Cana, was over…even though the wine had not all been consumed. How curious!

Second, this leftover wine wasn’t the usual rot-gut that wedding hosts serve toward the end of the festivities….when all the guests are so sloshed that they don’t care. No—this leftover wine was finer than fine--and that made no sense at all. How mystifying!

Third, this vast store of top-drawer wine was in the strangest of containers. Instead of fresh wineskins…this leftover wine was stashed away in stone water-jars…..old containers that normally held water for ritualistic washing, not wine for enthusiastic drinking. What was that all about—all that fine wine in such inappropriate containers?

As puzzled as the members of the clean-up crew after Cana’s wedding probably were, they weren’t the only ones. If we take this story at face value, very few guests had an inkling about what had happened at the wedding feast.

Picture this celebration for a bride and group, with the whole town turned out….along with some friends and relatives from neighboring villages. Over in a corner, Jesus, his mother, and his disciples are there in the crowd, too—eating, drinking, making merry….until the wine gave out.

Few people probably noticed at first. Jesus’ mother whispered in his ear—and they exchanged a couple of sentences. Then Jesus’ mother hustled over to the waiters and said something to them that was for their ears only.

Just a handful of the revelers had a clue that anything was happening….

And even after the miracle had taken place, it’s still hard to tell how many persons knew what had happened. In fact, the only indication that something amazing had happened is the brief exchange between the host of the feast and the bridegroom: “What gives here?” asked the host. “Everybody knows the rules for serving wine at weddings—uncork the good stuff first, when everyone is still sober—then bring out the cheap wine toward the end, when no one can tell the difference. But you have kept the good wine until now” (v. 10).

This whole scene reminds me of how those old Lone Ranger TV episodes ended: “Who was that masked man—I wanted to thank him?” Who averted disaster at this wedding feast? There was no bright, shining moment when the steward of the wedding feast grabbed a microphone, hushed the crowd and announced that ”Jesus of Nazareth has just performed his first miracle, folks—you can thank HIM for this abundant, delicious wine.”

Nothing like that! Nothing public, visible, or noticeable…..

…and yet some persons “got it,” as we see in the last verse of our text: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

Please notice that last line: the disciples didn’t just believe that Jesus had successfully pulled off a neat parlor trick. No! “His disciples believed in him”….which is to say: the disciples placed themselves in Jesus’ hands, trusted him with their very lives, aligned their futures with what Jesus was up to.

What happened here at the wedding in Cana was a sign—and a sign always points beyond itself.

What did this amazing sign point toward?

1. First, it pointed toward the sheer abundance of God. Living as they did in a “scarcity society,” in which most of the time Cana’s wedding guests wondered where the next scrap of bread, the next cup of water was coming from….the miracle of the wedding wine revealed instead how abundantly God gives his gifts.

All that wine, all that leftover “fruit of the vine”--it was an over-the-top wedding gift that Jesus quietly, unobtrusively bestowed in Cana. Those who kept walking with Jesus would witness similar displays of abundance—crowds fed (with baskets of leftovers to boot)….a miraculous, net-breaking draught of fish….countless healings….along with a wealth of parables and teachings that we’re still trying to unravel and understand.

All that leftover wine was a sign of the overflowing generosity of God that Jesus our Lord came among us to share with you and with me. God doesn’t know the meaning of the word “stingy.” God gives gifts with an open hand…always providing far more than we can ask or imagine.

God’s breath-taking abundance spurs our generosity—so critical especially at a time like this when our neighbors in Haiti are crying out for help, when human needs and God’s urgent mission calls forth our faithful response. We can and will be generous because our God gives gifts abundantly.

2. But the miracle of the wedding wine wasn’t just about quantity. There was, in the second place, an incredible quality here. For some strange reason, this wedding feast served up the best wine at the end….far exceeding the expectations of the guests.

Anyone halfway familiar with the Old Testament could hardly miss the connection. For what Jesus quietly, unobtrusively pulled off here at Cana had all the marks of Isaiah’s prophecy that

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. (Isaiah 25:6)

The richness of God’s gifts flies in the face of our reluctance to believe such goodness could ever come our way. Perhaps that’s why you and I pray such puny, paltry prayers—why we find it so hard to imagine that God might want to give us the very best.

But truly, that’s all God knows how to give. No thrift-store, second-class, hand-me-downs…..God chooses, God insists on bestowing the very best upon us, with no care for our inadequacies, no score-keeping of our sins, no grudging concern over our deficiencies. God gives the best, not because we’re deserving of it, but because God wants to do so—because that’s how God operates.

All that leftover wine at Cana was exquisite, because God only knows how to give the best….which is, after all, why God gave us Jesus--his life, his death, his resurrection---all of it, for us and our salvation.

3. And then there is a third thing this sign points toward, and that’s the fulfilling of the old ways in the advent of the new. Those six stone water-jars represented an ancient, passing-away age that focused on trying to wash away our sin, extract our impurity, remove our uncleanness—really a never-ending task, when you think about it.

But Jesus saw in those six stone water jars the raw materials for a new way, a fresh path. Jesus boldly determined, in one single act, to sweep aside the old and make way for the new.

For all we know, it might have been a bit scandalous for Jesus to commandeer these sacred vessels of the old age, in order to inaugurate his new age….as the six water containers were filled to overflowing with the soul-gladdening, face-brightening wine of God’s Kingdom, bursting into this old, dying age.

How can we miss, dear friends, the connection to the wine that we still share, cup of the new covenant that conveys to us, indeed allows us to receive into our dying bodies the life-giving blood of our Savior?

If they kept their eyes open and put two and two together…it may well have dawned on the cleanup crew after the wedding at Cana that something amazing had gone under their very noses.

There’s more than meets the eye here, just as God keeps dropping signs in our laps as well….

• signs of God’s amazing abundance,

• signs of God’s undeserved richness, and

• signs of God’s fierce determination to sweep away the old, and make a way for the new creation, in our lives as well.

In the name of Jesus.


No comments:

Post a Comment