Monday, January 28, 2019

Old Wedding, New Wine


John 2: 1-11
Epiphany 2 
January 27, 2019

I do not mean to brag, but my wedding was fun.
Soupy Sales was there (if you don’t know who he is, look him up,
he had a children’s show in the 50’s and 60’s)
We had raffles and prizes and a talent show,
we were encased in a giant bubble, and my father in law yodeled.
People still talk about it 17 years later.
If we had any problem, it was that we
overestimated the amount of beer people would drink
and we had to return an almost full keg of it.
But our wedding only lasted a few hours.

I bet that never happened at a wedding in Jesus time.
The weddings in Jesus time were supposed to last days.
And apparently there was a lot of drinking,
you were expected to drink at a wedding.
That’s what held the guests there, not yodeling.
They would put out the good wine at the beginning,
like the vintage California wine, then
when people got good and drunk they would
bring out the boxed wine.

Wedding at Cana,    George Fenech
But at this wedding in Cana
that Jesus, his mother, and his disciples
have been invited to, 
they have run out of wine all together.
Apparently, this would be a social 
disaster for the couple and it would have started their marriage in shame.
But don’t worry, because Jesus is there.
Or more specifically Jesus’s mother is there.

Jesus is not too keen on 
helping out in this situation.
He says it’s not his time yet. 
But apparently,
his mother thinks it is his time 
and he’s gonna
start flexing that divine muscle right now.
  
After Jesus’ mother coaxes her son to start doing something –
I’m guessing with the kind of icy stare that mothers use --
he asks the waiters to fill the giant jars that were there with water.
The jars weren’t drinking jars, they were jars that were used
for water for the purity ritual – John specifically tells us this.

So Jesus has the servants fill those jars up with water.
And from that water, he makes this fine wine.
Wine so good that the chief wine steward was amazed with it.
And wondered why the host had held it back
and didn’t serve it at the beginning of the wedding.

So  in John’s gospel, this is Jesus first miracle of his ministry.
Helping keep a wedding going is not necessarily
high on the list of what people asking the savior to do,
but for John, the only place that this story appears, everything is a sign.
Not just the miracle but a sign of who Jesus was
and what he came here to do.

Jesus hasn’t just saved the reputation of a newly married couple,
and allowed a wedding to go on.
This miracle was a sign of his ministry and purpose.

So more about those jars.
John tells us specifically that these jars are for the purity ritual.
He doesn’t tell them to use the wineskins, or bowls, or buckets,
but specifically these jars for ritual purity.
Meaning, they were meant to be filled so that if
anyone was in a state of uncleanliness,
they could wash themselves so that they could be clean again
and approach God for meals or worship.

Now you would find yourself in a state of uncleanliness
when you engaged in a certain activities or you touched
a person who was seen as unclean.
Unclean people included sick people, like lepers,
women who were menstruating, people who had died,
people who had bad jobs like tax collectors and prostitutes,
and non-Jewish people.

If you came into contact with any of these people
or situations, you needed to be made clean again.

Society didn’t just see that germs or viruses were a cause
of disease, and they didn’t understand that people
could find themselves in situations they didn’t deserve or want.
The people who had these issues were unclean in themselves.
and therefore bad or separated from God
and this separation was contagious.

It may have started out as a protection against illness,
but it turned into a casting of people into categories
and levels of holiness and unholiness.

And the cleansing ritual also put people
into different categories too.

The wedding that Jesus was at had six 20 gallon jars for this ritual.
And you can imagine that a person that
had those sized jars and a house to keep them in
and servants to handle them and fill them up,
would have to be pretty well off.

People without these resources would
have to pay someone to have a ritual bath,
and very poor people would often never
be able to get ritually clean.

So only the richest people can be the very cleanest and the closest to God.
Those who are poor or just eeking by would not have the resources
or the time to do the ritual, and if you were one of those
sick people, or a woman, or a funeral worker,
or a tax collector or sinner or prostitute,
there was no way you could be seen as clean ever.
  
So this ritual was divisive.
It blatantly created a division of people.
And many cultures and religions have had ritual cleaning practices,
lest anyone think that this was just a repudiation of Judaism.
We could say it’s a human tendency that we wrap up in religion:
Clean and unclean, holy and unholy,
Worthy of God and unworthy of God.
them and us.

So this is what Jesus does for his first sign.
He takes that religious divider,
and turns it into the finest wine, more wine than anyone can drink.
Jesus participates in a celebration of God’s abundance.
He turns religion into an endless party for everyone.

Now as modern day Christians, we might not be
practice with ritual cleansing or jars.
Be we are familiar with the division that religion can cause.

We’ve been told that if we didn’t believe in the right way
that we can’t share communion or prayer with some people.

People who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender
have been told that they are an abomination and worse
for no other reason than their sexuality
And have been told that they could not possibly
be faithful people worthy of God’s love.

I’ve even been told by some Christians that I
– and all of you, by the way, --
 are doomed because I’m a female pastor.

And even outside of religious contexts,
we still like our humanity divided into camps.
We still like to blame the poor and idolize the rich.
Sometimes it’s the other way around.
We draw lines between people because of race, culture,
economics, demographics, neighborhoods, habits and
  
More than ever, we define people by
the labels of Republican, Democrat, liberal and conservative,
We want absolute purity in every belief and action,
and crossing those lines is a betrayal.
Them and us.

Even after Jesus, we still like to do our religion and our society,
by counting beans and rating sins and
dividing people into groups.
It was a major problem in Jesus time,
and I think it’s still our main problem now.

This week we celebrated the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
who would have been 90 years old last week.
At a commencement speech at Oberlin College in 1965,
he said this. And I think after more than 50 years,
it still very relevant today:

“What we are facing today is the fact that through our scientific
and technological genius we’ve made this world a neighborhood.
But now through our moral and ethical commitment,
we must make it a brotherhood.
We must all learn to live together as brothers –
or we will all perish together as fools.
This is the great issue facing us today.
No individual can live alone;
no nation can live alone. We are tied together.”

It’s still a huge lesson that we need to learn.
And Martin Luther King was only echoing
what he learned from Jesus,
what Jesus was doing with his whole ministry:

We are tied together to one another.
Every life is tied to our own,
The more we try to separate ourselves from one another,
the more mess we’re in.

It may seems like a good solution
to weed those “bad” people out in whatever way we want,
to stay with our own, to avoid certain neighborhoods,
only send our kids to the right schools,
to lock our doors, put on our alarms,
put more people in jail, to build more walls.

But that has never kept anyone safe for long.
Jesus wants to teach us to learn how to live together
as brothers and sisters. No them and us. only Us.
We are all invited to this party together.
And there is more than enough for everyone.

And this is hard news, because it’s not always easy to see
 ourselves linked with some people in this world.
But it is good news because this is, and always has been,
the way out of so many of our messes.
We’ve tried war, dominance, segregation, tough love,
genocide, apathy, and disinterest.
Why not try Jesus way?
Jesus way is The Way.
The great wedding feast will save us.

In John’s gospel, the word grace shows up four times
and only in the prologue, the introduction.
Some say that John took a hymn text and put
it at the beginning of the gospel.
But some say that this is because it’s the point of the story.
The Word becomes flesh and the rest of the gospel is there
to show you what grace looks like and acts like.

Grace is when God takes the divisive rules of human
institutions and transforms them into the finest wine of love.
Grace is when God takes “Them and Us”
and turns it into a party for everyone.
Grace is how we will learn to live together as one.

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