“A Miraculous Sign” Colchester Federated Church, January 16, 2022, (John 2:1-11) Second Sunday after Epiphany

In our Gospel text, Jesus and Mary are attending a wedding in the small town of Cana.  But then there’s a problem—the wine runs out.  Mary turns to Jesus and says, “They don’t have any wine.”  Jesus responds, “Woman, what does that have to do with me?  My time hasn’t come yet.”  He probably just wanted to enjoy the party.  Though Mary looks right past her son to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.”[1]  Mary knows that Jesus can do something and forces his hand.  Before we know it, Jesus has turned water into wine in his first of seven signs in the Gospel according to John.  It’s been calculated that Jesus turned around 150 gallons of water into 1,000 bottles of wine. 

That in and of itself is impressive.  The sheer volume of the sign.  Though what are the deeper lessons or insights about Jesus that John’s trying to convey?  One is that Jesus’ life and teachings are about abundance in the form of grace, compassion, and love.  The Wedding at Cana is also a story about hospitality and Jesus helping people in need.

Let’s talk about hospitality first—hospitality and honor were incredibly important in Jesus’ day.  Preaching Professor Karoline Lewis reminds us that weddings lasted for around a week in ancient Palestine and an abundance of wine was expected until the end of the celebration.  When this family ran out of wine, it reflected poorly on them.  Their resources were on display for all to see and clearly their resources didn’t go far enough to be good hosts.  Wine was a staple of the Middle Eastern diet so running out of wine at a wedding was incredibly embarrassing.  This family would have felt like terrible hosts which led to shame in their cultural context.[2]

Now it was a common trick that folks would put the good wine out in the beginning of a wedding.  When people were a few days into the festivities, they would switch to the cheaper stuff.  Yet this family ran out of wine completely.  It helps to know this historical background because in this miraculous sign (found only in the Gospel of John), Jesus creates the best of the best wine, overflowing amounts of the best of the best wine, and the overflowing amounts of the best of the best wine is given once the celebration has been underway.  Maybe on day 4 or 5 of the wedding celebration. 

Folks would have been thrilled by this sign Jesus performed.  None more so than the newlyweds and their family.  They had no reason to be ashamed.  In fact, this wedding may have gone down as one of the best around since they would have been viewed as amazing hosts who took care of their guests in a way that made everyone feel honored.  Now this is the fourth time I’ve preached on this story, though it’s the only time I’ve preached about the Wedding at Cana while planning my own wedding.  Neill and I are getting married in Hartford on May 27th, and weddings are interesting in our culture as well.  People have lots of opinions about weddings, and it’s not easy for a couple to navigate some of those dynamics let alone plan a wedding in the midst of a global pandemic.  Reading this story again as I plan my own wedding just makes me love Jesus all the more for helping this couple and their family have a meaningful celebration of their love.

Because it’s interesting that in this Gospel story of abundance we hear that Jesus’ disciples believed in him after seeing this first sign of turning a whole lot of water into a whole lot of wine at a wedding.  Perhaps a better translation is that they trusted in him.  Because with Mary’s prodding, Jesus showed empathy for this family’s situation of dishonor by providing a superabundance of good wine.  That’s what makes this a miracle on multiple levels—it’s a story about Jesus’ compassion.

The second insight we can glean from this story is that John is presenting a theology of abundance.  Remember that later on in this Gospel Jesus will say, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”[3]  We sometimes operate out of a place of scarcity in our lives and in our society.  That there’s never enough.  We may hoard our resources out of fear.  Though what if we, too, lived lives of abundance?  What if we gave to others as freely as God has given to us?  What if we focused on what is enough?  Not on keeping up with other people and always having the latest and greatest of everything.  But what is truly enough?  What if we realized that when we share, there can reach a point where sharing by all means scarcity for none.

UCC Old Testament Scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote about abundance versus scarcity in the Bible.  Brueggemann reflected, “The Bible starts out with a liturgy of abundance. Genesis I is a song of praise for God’s generosity. It tells how well the world is ordered. It keeps saying, ‘It is good, it is good, it is good, it is very good.’ It declares that God blesses — that is, endows with vitality — the plants and the animals and the fish and the birds and humankind. And it pictures the creator as saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ In an orgy of fruitfulness, everything in its kind is to multiply the overflowing goodness that pours from God’s creator spirit. And as you know, the creation ends in Sabbath. God is so overrun with fruitfulness that God says, ‘I’ve got to take a break from all this. I’ve got to get out of the office.’”[4]  It’s important to remember that our sacred story begins with God’s generosity, God declaring creation good, God’s blessing, and God’s abundance.

This theology of abundance is not the “Prosperity Gospel” where everyone who God blesses is supposedly rich in material possessions.  That’s just not true.  It’s about how we began in the magnificent love of God who created this world and loved us into being.  It’s about how if we share, there is enough for all. 

Considering that tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day it’s important to remember that Dr. King didn’t just advocate for racial equality, one of his areas of advocacy was for economic justice.  In 1967 Dr. King announced at a staff retreat of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that they must begin the Poor People’s Campaign.  The concept was suggested by Marion Wright, the Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in Jackson, Mississippi.  Dr. King believed that desegregation and the right to vote were essential in the Civil Rights movement.  But his next focus was turning towards economic justice.  He saw the Poor People’s Campaign as “the beginning of a new co-operation, understanding, and a determination by poor people of all colors and backgrounds to assert and win their right to a decent life and respect for their culture and dignity.”[5]  This campaign was to bring together Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, and poor white communities who were beginning to get organized before Dr. King was assassinated.  The work continues with Rev. Dr. William Barber who is the Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.  Rev. Dr. Barber was an inspired and inspiring presenter at our United Church of Christ General Synod a few years ago, and he is continuing on Dr. King’s legacy of asking for a moral budget that looks out for the interests of poor people.

In the end, let it not be lost on us when we read the Gospel story of this miraculous sign that Jesus performed at a wedding that he helped newlyweds and a family adhere to their cultural expectations of hospitality.  Jesus displayed the beauty of a theology of abundance.  Where we freely share our resources with one another, acknowledging that all gifts we receive come from God.  Because life itself is a gift from God.  And Jesus came that we might have life, and have life abundantly.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] John 2:1-5, CEB.
[2] Karoline Lewis, John: Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries, 36.[3] John 10:10, NRSV.
[4] Walter Brueggemann, “The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity,” Religion Online. https://www.religion-online.org/article/the-liturgy-of-abundance-the-myth-of-scarcity/
[5] “Poor People’s Campaign,” The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/poor-peoples-campaign

Photo by Terry Vlisidis on Unsplash