Mary, Jesus and his disciples attend a wedding. In those days a wedding could last a week – more like a honeymoon with guests present. Alas – social blunder looms on the horizon – the wine’s running out. Jesus’ mom notices, tells him to fix it, and orders the servants, “Do as he says.” Six purification jars stand empty. Jesus tells them: “Fill the jars to the brim with water. Now, draw some out and take it to the chief steward.” The steward tastes what the servants take for water – only now it’s wine. As a youth, I was mesmerized. You may recall, I grew up a Baptist. Wine was one of numerous forbidden pleasures. Jesus’ mother might approve, but mine didn’t. In the past, I have said, “If I knew how he did this, I wouldn’t be standing here.” But today as we begin our 175th anniversary, I say, “If I knew how Jesus did this, we’d be St. Paul’s Church and Winery.”
It is a big deal when water becomes wine, but it’s not the main deal. It’s a sign. A sign points beyond itself to something ahead. Clouds thicken. We think snow. See a road sign with a snake on it – curve ahead. Six water jars hold about 2700 cups of water for hand washing, a symbol of purifying oneself as you come before God. One cup held water enough to purify 100 people. Put together, Jesus’ first sign points toward God pouring abundant grace, mercy, redemption and love for us. John says only his disciples see God’s glory revealed in Jesus. Servants, stewards, or guests have no clue. It’s just a great party – with a lot of mighty fine wine. How often do we miss God’s glory?
Where I grew up religion was a day and a place, and not exciting at that. It was implied – to be holy, look appropriately dour and solemn – no laughing or running. We went and when it ended, we left. What kept me awake during sermons was to hear the preacher finally say, “In closing.” Religion stayed in church; joy and celebration stayed outside. Somehow we missed this story. Jesus’ first sign reveals how God is on the side of pleasure and joy. When God comes close, we celebrate – well many do. Wherever Jesus went – some experienced God’s glory and rejoiced. Others didn’t and wanted to kill him for playing too loose with God. Everywhere he went Jesus proclaimed the abundance of God’s grace, mercy, peace, and joy for all. Blind and deaf are healed, disease and demons are cast out, sinners are welcomed, and those on the margins get let in. Guess who found God’s glory in Jesus?
We have a beautiful church, wonderful music, good fellowship, and mighty good cooks, and a great history. All this is abundant, but not the main deal. The main deal is God’s abundance of grace, mercy, and love, and our experience of God’s gifts. Certainly not all that happens in our lives is cause for celebration. We can’t lose the sign that just ahead God throws a feast – a party of grace and love for all. Do we ever limit God’s free-flowing grace? We do if church simply means showing up once a week or every so often, listening and leaving. We do, if our hearts get stuck shut. We do if church is more like a courtroom than a celebration. We do if God’s grace, mercy and love don’t go with us into the world – where we love and serve all others, especially those who believe God has no future for them.
In our daily living we glimpse God moments. God moments bring joy and celebration. They heal our vision and lift our hearts. We begin to notice the extraordinary in the ordinary. God’s grace, love, joy and mercy infect our lives, and then we have more grace, love, joy and mercy to give to others.
“In closing,” I say that to see who’s paying attention. This special weekend we honor the life and gifts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and we witness a presidential inauguration. Dr. King once said the world’s frustration stems from reliance on gods rather than God. “We have worshipped the god of pleasure only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short lived. We have bowed before the god of money only to learn that there are such things as love and friendship that money can’t buy, and that in a world of possible depressions, stock market crashes, and bad business investments, money is a rather uncertain deity. These transitory gods are not able to save or bring happiness to the human heart. Only God is able. It is faith in Him that we must rediscover.”
As we begin St. Paul’s 175th anniversary celebration, let’s keep before us, “Only God is able. It is faith in Him that we must rediscover.” Let us do so in God’s grace and abundance, so that our lives continue to be transformed, so we can share the new wine of God’s grace and love beyond these walls. Let us be serious and intentional, wrapped in joy and grace as we celebrate with holy hilarity, God’s abundant gifts, honor our past, recommit ourselves to be worthy stewards. If we can just do that, 25 years, 50, 75 years from now, the feast and abundant wine of God’s love and grace will continue to flow through St. Paul’s. That’s how we can honor God and our past, and is cause for us to celebrate, yes, at church – you bet! God is so good. Let the party begin!