Second Sunday After Epiphany
Year B, RCL
January 20, 2019
North Fork Ministries – Holy Trinity Only
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Jesus told the servants to fill the stone jars with water. These were big jars, barrel-sized jars, holding 20 or 30 gallons each, and there were six of them. That’s 150 gallons of potential wine. Now I’ve been to a few large wedding banquets in my time. And I’ve seen some where I know that the liquor bill was pretty high. But I’ve never been to one where the guests were provided with 150 gallons of wine. It’s pretty clear that John is making an important point about abundance. About how much God can provide, about how rich our lives can actually be. The miracle of Cana has something to say to us about living life fully.
We are meant to live lives of abundance, filled with all of the stuff that life is made of – the joys and the sorrows, the pleasure and the pain. But to truly live a life of abundance, none of these events can consume us. We are called to fully participate in them, but not become them.
And if we wait on the good wine, wait until we get the house paid for, wait until we feel better, wait until we move, wait until we retire, wait until the kids are out of diapers or out of college…we will wait forever to live. Now is all we have. If we wait until the relationship with mother or father or our son or daughter is healed before we allow ourselves to fully engage life again, we are remaining satisfied with the inferior wine. If we wait until we have gotten over our grief or let go of our anger, we might spend our entire lives waiting.
Even Jesus thought that the time to change water into wine wasn’t right yet. When Mary told Jesus that they were out of wine, he responded, ” Woman what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother knew better. Maybe there is some lesson here about listening to our mothers, but certainly Mary is much more important in this story than is often thought; after all, she raised Jesus to practice "compassionate justice”, revealing a sensitivity to the needs of others that men often fail to express, particularly men in positions of power. At the very least, Mary knew that the time to change water into wine was now.
Of course, timing is everything, but the time to begin experiencing life abundantly, life without fear, life without regret, is clearly now.
I know that for some of you, the notion of a life abundant seems a far fetched one. Not only has the water not been transformed into wine, the stone jars remain empty and dry as bones. It may be that your reserves are as depleted as the supply of wine that “gave out” at the wedding of Cana. How can Jesus change the water into wine, when we can’t seem to provide the water for him to work with?
The business of drawing water is a simple task. It is the task of the ordinary. It is the kind of thing we spend the average day doing. We are called to do those tasks well – the cooking, the cleaning, the managing, the teaching, the listening, the healing, the number crunching.
We are called on to take the empty stone jars of our lives and fill them to the brim with the water of prayer, awareness and conscious living. We don’t encounter Christ only in mountain-top experiences, we encounter the living Christ, the Christ who changes water into wine, when we consciously engage the simple activities we do day after day.
Notice how the wine steward got it wrong. After tasting the good wine, and possibly making some comment on its oaky character, and its slight undertones of blackberries and vanilla, he said to the bridegroom, “"Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." The steward hadn’t been with the servants and hadn’t seen the water transformed into wine. His response was to praise the bridegroom for his unconventional approach to hospitality, saving the good wine until last. He didn’t understand that it was the presence of Christ that had brought a miracle to the forefront, and that water, that most ordinary of liquids, had been transformed into a drink with the qualities of the finest wine, wine with depth and complexity, rich with memory, lingering on the palate, reminiscent of the flavors of nature, the garden, the orchard, and the spice rack. Conjuring images of that which has been and that which is to come.
Jesus had taken the commonplace and changed it into something that is most extraordinary. We are asked to do no less. We are asked to take what is most mundane in our lives and recognize within it that which is sacred and holy and good.
And here at Holy Trinity all of us are looking forward to the day when the pews are filled and we are surrounded by the vitality of youth. But we really can’t put anything on hold. We can’t just sit around and reminiscence about the way things used to be. Our task is to fill the stone jars with water, go about the business of doing God’s work in the world, and do that now… with all of our being. Our work will be transformed into new wine.
Awhile back I watched a film called Bottle Shock. It’s based on the true story of a British wine merchant who convinced an elite group of French wine tasters to engage in a blind taste-testing, pitting California wines against French wines. We’ve now grown accustomed to thinking of California wines as among the best in the world, but in 1976 the world considered California wines to be inferior. The story is really about the hard work and struggle of the people who labored for years in the vineyards and wineries of Napa Valley.
One of the things I learned in watching this story is that it is the thirsty, struggling vines that produce the best wine. The well-fertilized, well-watered vines may produce plump, juicy grapes, but there is something in the struggle of the vines for survival that produces full-bodied wines of substance and character. And so it was with the people who worked the vineyards of Chateau Montelena. Their love for their work, their passion for their craft, their hard-earned knowledge of the land and the grape produced, not only a wine that was unexcelled, but resulted in lives excellently lived as well.
As you may recall, or guess, the French wine tasters ultimately judged the chardonney produced by Chateau Montelena to be superior to the best the French had to offer. I like the idea that such a pronouncement concerning fine wine could only be made in a blind taste-testing. It is as if an old way of viewing the world, gets in the way of our ability to see that which is good. Perhaps we have to close our eyes, move away from an old way of being, before we can realize what fine wine we already have in front of us, before we can savor the miracle that has already happened.
Learning to savor the fine wine of existence is now often referred to as mindfulness. In Christianity the practice has its roots in Benedictine spirituality. The spiritual practice taught by St. Benedict to generations of monastics, is a spirituality of the commonplace. Benedictine spirituality doesn’t call for heroic feats of asceticism, excessive fasting, endless engagement with silence, or strict vows of poverty. The Rule of Benedict calls for balance in our lives. It beckons us to create time in each day for work, prayer, study, physical exercise, and recreation. The practice simply asks that every day contain activities that sustain our shared existence and also nurture our individual well-being. To these ordinary activities St. Benedict asks that we bring a recognition of the presence of Christ. And through the transformative power of Jesus, through the lens of Christ consciousness, we too become good wine.