Adapted from a sermon

Delivered January 14, 2001

Eagle River Presbyterian Church


John 2:1-11

I Corinthians 12:1-11

The Wedding at Cana

            Good morning. It is a pleasure to be with you. The Lectionary reading today tells us the familiar story of the Wedding at Cana. This event is traditionally presented as Jesus’ first miracle and the official beginning of his ministry.  After the birth narratives and the holidays, Cana kicks off the New Year with Jesus as an adult. All the problems and promise of infancy and childhood are now ready to culminate in adult choices and an adult ministry - although Jesus doesn't seem to immediately recognize this.

            The whole tale is told in eleven verses.  First we are told that there is a wedding in Cana, a town in Galilee. Now weddings were big deals in the ancient world and the celebration would involve the entire community. The event not only united two people, but two extended families.

            This celebration was even bigger than expected. We know this because they ran out of wine. We don't know if there were too many unexpected guests, or whether the guests themselves drank considerably more than anyone planned.

            No self-respecting wedding coordinator would allow such a thing to happen, but here it happened. No nearby liquor store. The caterer could expect no glowing reference or large gratuity now.

            One of the female guests noticed the dilemma. She had been invited from a neighboring town and must have been a respected individual with some influence because she took it upon herself to order the host's servants around. The woman's son and some of his friends were also in attendance.     

            When the woman saw that there was no wine, she simply turned to her son and stated, "They have no more wine."  Sensing that his mother seemed to think that there was something he could do about it, the son replied with a bite in his tone, "Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come."

            The woman ignored her son's comment, turned to the servants, and told them straightforward, "Do what he tells you."

            Let's stop here.

            That's all Scripture records Mary saying to her son Jesus.  But after 32 years or so of living together, we can imagine that Mary and Jesus have had previous conversations about what he should be doing with his life. We know that Mary has had trouble with this boy since he was about 12 years old - but she also knows that he possesses something of great importance. That he is some One of special nature, special purpose, special calling. But here he is, 30 years old, not married, not running his father's carpentry business, and not taking his rightful place in society - nor even sharing his special gifts and special insights with those around him.

            She, not Jesus, has realized that his time has come. And there was no more talking about it. She knew his potential. She knew what she has been "pondering in her heart" since his birth. She knew who he was and what he could do - and I believe she knew he wouldn't disappoint her.

            “Do whatever he tells you."

            And what does Jesus do? He's been put on the spot.  His time has come.

            He sees six stone water jars, each capable of holding twenty to thirty gallons of water. "One hundred eighty gallons ought to hold them," he says to himself. And he tells the servants to fill the jars with water.

            After the jars are filled, Jesus tells the servants to take some of the contents to their master. They draw off what just a few minutes ago they know darned well had been  water and take it to the man in charge of the party. Now remember, the wine-steward is probably feeling pretty glum. He was in charge of refreshments and the refreshments ran out. This new wine could be really awful. He tastes it, and lo and behold, the wine is great. His professional reputation is saved. The story ends by telling us that this was the first of Jesus' miracles.      

            What the story doesn't explicitly say, but is no doubt true – neither the people at the wedding party, nor the wine-steward, nor the bridegroom ever knew from where the wine came.  The only people who knew were Mary, Jesus, his disciples - and perhaps the dumbfounded servants.  Mary did not click on a glass and make a general announcement that her son was about to turn water into wine. Jesus did not gather everyone around the stone jars and wave a wand over the water. He just quietly did what he did and the miracle happened.

            And that's one of the points I would like to make. Miracles and ministry are not necessarily big, flamboyant events. They often emerge from the day to day “taking care of the small things. Doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done."

            Countless "miracles" occur everyday.  Sometimes we don’t know they are  happening, we are just the blessed recipients.

            Miiracles, by definition, are unexpected. Jesus did not attend this wedding planning to kick off his ministry.  Mary did not know that accepting an invitation to this party would have a life-changing impact on her son. The wine was one thing, the change in Jesus' understanding of his own mission was another. Jesus left the wedding a changed man. A few days later he found himself in Jerusalem - driving the moneychangers from the Temple.          

            While we reflect on the ministry of  Jesus, we might ask ourselves, do we have any special gifts which we are reluctant to step out and explore? Are we wondering if the time is right or if we really could make a difference?

            Remember Paul's message to the Corinthians:  "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people."  And we all have something to offer.

            Several years ago, I became involved for a short time with a number of women from this very congregation in a project focused on the problems of women in prison, most of whom had been involved in prostitution.  I learned something about "differing gifts.” Let me explain.

            The women of this church saw a prison in their town and they knew there were women inside who needed help. To make an impact on the lives of these women when they left prison, the churchwomen would have to address employment, affordable housing, residual effects of childhood sexual abuse, substance abuse, lack of education and job skills, even basic food and clothing.

            I volunteered to meet with several women for a weekly prison support group. I had worked with troubled women and young girls before, but these life stories were overwhelming. Two or three women were about to be released and needed a job, an apartment, some cash, and a suitable friend. The women of Eagle River Presbyterian tried to make it happen and experienced growing success, tiny miracle by tiny miracle.

            It didn't take long for me to realize that my counseling efforts inside the prison would never get anywhere unless the churchwomen outside the prison kept writing grants, writing policies, conducting fund-raisers and praying for insight and the continued commitment of us all.

            With time, I realized something else. My gifts were short term. I burned out. I filled a need for a short time with as much passion and commitment as I could muster. But my heart broke with each setback these women experienced. A person with differing gifts from mine would be needed for the long haul and my volunteer time ended with the Mary Magdalene project.  I felt something like Mary at the wedding. She didn't perform the miracle, but she knew miracles were possible. She didn't know how to make a miracle, but she knew who did.  In this case, it was the women of Eagle River Presbyterian.   

            Perhaps when we read the Wedding at Cana story we should take stock of our own place in the world of miracles. Do we believe that miracles are possible?  Do we recognize the small miracles around us?  Remember the guests at the Cana wedding. Here they were in the presence of the Son of God, they had just received the gift of incredible wine, but their palates were too satiated to appreciate it.

            My prayer for us all today is that we will taste the proffered wine and experience all of life’s miracles, especially when they bubble right under our nose.

Thank you and Amen.

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