To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. - 1 Corinthians 12
When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (hough the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first... But you have kept the good wine until now." - John 2
Okay, so there's this story, near the beginning of John's Gospel; even if we don't know it well, we know the reference of "turning water into wine."
Jesus goes to a wedding withhis disciples and his mother, whom John doesn't deign to name. A good time is being had by all, at least until the wine runs out. We may think we've been to an extravagant wedding or two in our lives, but in Jesus' day, a marriage was celebrated to the absolute limits of the family's ability to throw a party.
There is so much that is strange about this story. The "mother of Jesus", still unnamed, whispers to Jesus that there is no more wine for the guests to drink. We might think that this would be the host's problem; Mary - let's go ahead and name her here - thinks otherwise. Jesus replies not with a, "Yes, mother; thank you for telling me. I'll take care of it right away." That's just the kind of guy Jesus is, right?
But no; he kind of snaps at her. "Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come." Now, if I had ever called my mother, "Woman", I would still be grounded. But Mary is undaunted; she instructs the servants to "Do whatever he tells you." This conversation and course of action are strange enough.
But then, Jesus turns what our best guess, given translation problems, tells us amounts to 180 gallons of water into wine. And it's not the cheap kind.. The image of servants carrying six thirty-gallon jars of nice, fresh water to the wedding feast is... well... "Bartholomew, where the heck is that fork lift when we need it?"
Where and how do we find God working in this story? It appears to be a tale of, first, reluctance. Our savior appears unwilling to make the effort, or at least, to show his hand. And second, it's a story of vast excess. The wine supply amounts to something like 500 bottles as we know them - and this is after the planned rations have run out. Is this an example of Jesus using his "manifestation of the Spirit for the common good", as in the phrase Paul uses to coax his friends in his letter to the church at Corinth? Puns about "the Spirit" aside, is this a good use of the Lord's gifts to perform his first miracle, or sign, as John names such acts?
Hard enough to find the Good News in this story for a gathering of grownups in a comfortable sanctuary, where many have heard this story countless times. It's yet a greater challenge to introduce this story to a gathering of young people, most of whom are likely hearing the story for the first time. We can probably all agree that a story about a drunken wedding isn't the kind of lesson we want to teach our children.
But here is a story of bounty; a story of a rich kind of communal joy; a story of celebration; and a story of how God offers the best to us when we least expect it. It's a story about our part, as a human community, in showing the world the strange but redeeming blessings of God's Kindom.
The daring - or foolish - pastor will attempt a small miracle in worship tomorrow, as a way of introducing this story to our youngest members. With God's help and some good fortune, we'll know something new about the odd, beautiful way that God tells us the story of how Creation is meant to be. I don't do wine from water, but I know a thing or two about what makes water taste really, surprisingly delicious.
And do I know that God wants us to have life and have it abundantly - to experience, and offer, reckless generosity. Not just a weddings, but in all of our life together. "A together" we've just begun to imagine.
Join us at 10 AM. Together, we might just quench a deep thirst.