This Is the Sign: Water into Wine

A message given Sunday, January 14, 2007
by Rev. Scott Summerville
Asbury UMC

John 2:1-11
2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2:2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 2:3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 2:4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 2:5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 2:6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 2:7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 2:8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 2:9 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 2:10 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.” 2:11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. Water into Wine 2:6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 2:7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 2:8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 2:9 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
2:10 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.”


______________________________

My grandmother was a wonderful character. A century or so ago you would have found her teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in western Pennsylvania. They say she used to kill rattlesnakes in the schoolyard. She was also a fierce teetotaler; in her mind every alcoholic beverage was the Devil’s brew; she had no use for card playing or dancing either for that matter. Fortunately she did not live to see her son, my father, become an expert in home brewing, beginning with root beer, but root beer led him in the fatal direction of brewing the real thing. I imagine that parts of the gospel story must it very difficult for my grandmother to accept, especially the Gospel of John, in chapter 2, where Jesus turned water into wine, and not just a little of it – six stone jars each containing 20 to 30 gallons, bringing the total of his wine production that day to 120 -180 gallons of the stuff. Why couldn’t he have made 150 gallons of coffee or tea or some other beverage suitable to a festive occasion? Sorry grandma; he made wine.

Wine plays a very important role in the gospel. There is that wine at that wedding in Cana in Galilee at the beginning of Jesus ministry – wine, lots and lots of it, flowing freely amidst the loud happy sounds of celebration. Wine by the gallon with music and dancing, laughter and love –– at that wedding party where the elders pinched the cheeks of the little ones,family members reconnected, people ate too much, and the love and youthfulness of the wedding couple lifted the spirits of their family and friends. There was wine, good wine, all you could drink, courtesy of Jesus.

At the end of the gospel story again there is wine.
At the end of the gospel it is the wine of Passover,
the cup of Passover wine that Jesus blessed and shared among his disciples signify his death.

At the beginning of his ministry he makes wedding wine, the wine of happiness;
at the end of his ministry he shares with the apostles the cup of his suffering.

Water into wine: in the gospel of John is a sign, a sign of the transforming power of Jesus, and it is given in such a happy place and time. The last cup of wine Jesus gave, the wine of the Last Supper, given in a moment of sorrow and fear, was given also as a sign of transforming love and power. The gospel always holds up to us the hope of transformation, the sign of water turned to wine, a sign of life even in the midst of death. Water into wine –– this a sign of the possibility of change in our lives, especially where things seem stuck and problems seen immovable. Right now we seem so stuck as a nation, stuck in war and all the dreadful unspeakable realities of war.

As a little boy I had a dream that troubled me. In the dream I was on a dirt road that wound around a high mountain. The road went upward along the side of the mountain,
going higher and higher, but the road never ended. I realized in the dream that I would be going on forever, higher and higher, around and around, but I would never come to the top of the mountain. The dream scared me; I can still recall the feeling of being trapped on a path that has no end.

That dream came back to me this week at the time of President Bush’s speech on the new strategy in Iraq and as I followed the commentary surrounding his speech. I had that same dreadful feeling that I had as a child in a dream, the feeling of being on a road that has no end. Do we have a right to ask young men and women to leave their country and their loved ones behind and be prepared to sacrifice their live, unless there is a clear and attainable and just objective for which they are being asked to sacrifice? This is a question that is churning in the soul of our nation.

As citizens we make judgments; we listen to the leaders, the experts, the commentators, and we try to make sense of things. We try to figure out what is right. In his new policy the President has chosen to go against the advice of his own chosen advisory committee and against the advice of key military leader and against the wishes of the majority of the citizens. It is a perilous road we are embarked on. We all know the issues that are here. Unless we’ve chosen to tune out, we know how fierce the debate is that now rages and will rage for the foreseeable future. I have no special political or military insight into the issues of war and peace that face us as a nation. In addition to those political and military issues there are moral and spiritual issues we are grappling with. There is the moral issues of balancing the lives and fates of millions of innocent Iraqi citizens who now depend upon our nation for protection and a concern for the lives of the tens of thousands of our women and men serving there in uniform. And there is the spiritual issue of how we cope in our souls with the constant barrage of violence that is before our eyes and when we see war stretching out into the indefinite future.

Today we are singing and hearing some of the spirituals. The spiritual are rooted in the experience of violence and injustice, they are rooted in the pain –– the unimaginable pain –– of American slavery. The spirituals derive their power from their sheer audacity. To be born into slavery or to be sold into slavery and to have only the remotest – the remotest – hope of ever getting out of your chains; that had to be one of the most soul-killing things a human being could ever endure. But the slaves had the audacity to sing songs of freedom and power even when they were powerless and trapped.

They took the words of the prophet Jeremiah, as he wept for the suffering of his people: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?”

They took those words of despair –– and the agonized question, Is there no balm in Gilead?, became an affirmation: There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole!

They were taught the master’s religion –– from the master’s point of view the religion of Christianity was supposed to make the slaves more docile and accepting of their condition,
but what the slaves found in the master’s religion was the very Son of God whipped and abused and crucified, standing up to unjust power with fierce courage. Christ on the Cross – the passion of the Lord – this they could relate to in the depths of their souls, so they sang of it often:

They crucified my Lord, and he never said a mumbalin’ word ––––
and
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble…

I don’t mean to suggest that the dilemmas we face are the same as those faced by the slaves and the descendants of slaves who composed the spirituals. We have the privilege to speak, to voice our opinions, to vote, to hold our leaders accountable, to argue for the truth as we see it. I mean only to say that even with all the privileges we have, it is possible to feel powerless and stuck, and that is a spiritual challenge.

No matter how stuck we are in our personal situations or how overwhelming are the great problems that grip humanity, we are people of the Christ who turns water into wine. We live by that sign, and when we do we never lose hope. Water into wine. Violence creates hopelessness.

Whenever we can find ways of breaking the cycles of violence that affect us,
we are injecting a little bit of hope into the world;
we are turning a little bit of water into wine.
Whenever we can transform even a little bit of anger into reconciliation –
we are injecting a little bit of hope into the world;
we are turning a little bit of water into wine.

The issues we are wrestling with – the great issues facing our nation – are grave and deep; there are no easy paths ahead. In these struggles we need to keep remembering the weddings sign: water into wine. We need courage and faith as a people that we can find a way out of the wilderness we are in, even if we can’t see the way right now. Living by faith means letting go of our need always to see where we are going and know where we are going. Living by faith –– it means going on with love and hope, even if we cannot see beyond the next turn in the road.

Ironically, this week as we are on the theme of wine and the possibility of change, I got a phone call from a friend who has after long struggle acknowledged an addiction, and is fully engaged in treatment for that addiction.
There was no shame in his voice.
There was no self-pity in his voice.
There was a simple and clear and honest resolve.
There is something very powerful in the moment when a person acknowledges such a thing.
There is something awesome about such a moment of self-disclosure.
We are used to life moving along, changing in gradual ways, shifting here and there,
and we hope to postpone some of those big changes
that we know will come upon us one day or another.
For the most part we avoid and fear change;
then someone says, “I need change in a big way,
and I have taken the leap,
and the moment is now,
and my life is on the line,
and I am choosing life.”

When individuals are willing to turn water into wine ––
or put another way ––
to let God transformed their lives,
it is a powerful witness to the possibility of change for us all.

Water into wine –– that is the sign –– the sign of the faith by which we live.
Grace and peace to you.

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