An Extravagant SignPosted: January 20, 2013
An Extravagant Sign
The Gospel of John makes no pretense to be a biography or a history. While loosely based on the life of Jesus, the Gospel of John is a metaphor, a story trying to communicate the author’s understanding of the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He doesn’t allow facts to get in the way of his story either. For instance, rather than giving us a birth narrative, John begins with a poem that is an extension of the liturgy of creation in the first chapter of Genesis: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The Gospel of John is poetry and metaphor not biography or documentary.
SLIDE 4: SYMBOL & MYSTERY
John was also not interested in chronology. For instance, Matthew, Mark and Luke all show Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers during Passion Week near the end of the story. John put’s the “cleansing of the Temple” in chapter two right after our story today about changing water into wine. We can’t read John too closely for the facts. Instead, we have to open ourselves up to poetry, symbol and mystery. If we allow ourselves to get bogged down in how the water became wine, or whether or not Jesus performed a magic trick, we destroy the ability of the metaphor to speak to us.
SLIDE 5: JESUS LIKED A GOOD PARTY
Unlike John the Baptist Jesus was not an ascetic or a teetotaler. Jesus did spend time in the wilderness getting his act together. Often the gospels refer to Jesus going off to pray by himself, but he didn’t stay in the wilderness. Rather than waiting for people to come to him like John, Jesus went through the villages and the towns of Galilee preaching, teaching and healing. He lived out his message of sharing by calling people together to share food, and on more than one occasion eye witnesses claimed that the food multiplied until everyone had more than they could eat. After feeding 5,000 people with a couple of fish and a few small loaves of bread, the disciples gathered up twelve baskets of broken pieces. They ended with more food than they started. The whole was equal to more than the sum of the parts.
SLIDE 6: GOD GIVES A PARTY TO WELCOME US HOME
Jesus would have gotten along well at United Church. He liked to eat, and he liked to drink. He especially liked sharing food and drink with other people. He could be the life of the party, so much so his enemies accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard. Think about it, as the leader of a spiritual movement, what did he leave us with as the central act of worship of the Jesus movement — a meal – a ritual meal. And the early church didn’t pass out little stale cubes of bread and little itty bitty sips of wine. The Lord’s Supper was a full meal, where everyone who showed up was fed – sort of like our Sharing Table. Jesus liked to eat and drink, and he loved a good party. In fact he taught that the Kingdom of God is like a great feast, and God’s gift of grace is that the party is in our honor. We are the Prodigal Children for whom the fatted calf has been offered up to celebrate our home coming not only with food and drink but music and dancing, jokes and laughter.
SLIDE 7: SELF-RIGHTEOUS REFUSE GOD’S GENEROSITY
And if you will remember the Parable, the father doesn’t have a problem with the ne’er do well kid who comes home, it’s the older child who has always conformed and done everything right, who ends up rejecting the father’s forgiveness and generosity. It’s the button down self-righteous kid who refuses to come to the table, because he doesn’t deem someone different from himself worthy of being affirmed of being welcomed and given a celebration. Jesus said, “God is giving a party and everyone is invited.” No matter who you are or where you are on your spiritual journey you are welcome at God’s table.
SLIDE 8: CANA NORTHEAST OF NAZARETH
In the story Jesus was invited to a wedding feast in the village of Cana. His mother was also there indicating she was kin to the bride or the groom, or perhaps to both. There was more than one Cana in Galilee so we do not know exactly where the wedding took place, although a small predominantly Arab town to the Northeast of Nazareth claims the distinction. Why not? Lots of tourists stop, buy souvenirs, and patronize the restaurants.
SLIDE 9: WEDDING FEAST BIG DEAL IN FIRST CENTURY
Wedding feasts were a big deal in first century Israel. The whole village would close down for several days with eating, drinking, music and dancing. As a relative Jesus had been invited and he brought along some of his followers. Maybe that is why the wine ran out.
SLIDE 10: HOSPITALITY IMPORTANT VIRTUE
In the ancient world hospitality was a very, very important virtue. To invite people to a feast and not have enough food or drink to serve was a major embarrassment. If the host ran out of food or wine, whenever there was a wedding in the future people would remember the time, when the ben David family ran out of wine at their wedding. It would be discussed endlessly. Embarrassed for her relatives Mary asked Jesus to do something. And Jesus’ initial reaction was, “what do you want me to do about it!”
SLIDE 11: GOD’S EXTRAVAGANT HOSPITALITY
Mary didn’t even argue with Jesus, she just told the servants to do whatever he said. Whether the story was factual or not something rings true about this exchange between Mary and Jesus. Like the father of the Bride who keeps opening his check book, Jesus was supposed to solve the dilemma. How it happened the story doesn’t tell us. Sort of like the feeding of the 5,000 suddenly there was enough wine and then some. And not only was there enough, but the wine was really good. The metaphor is God’s extravagant hospitality – like the extravagant welcome at United Church. The God of Jesus is a God of abundance. And since God’s creation is so abundant, we can share, trusting in God to provide enough. Life is not a zero sum game where we have to beat out other people in order to get a larger piece of the pie. We can share and work together so that everyone has enough. When we gather in love and we share there is always enough.
SLIDE 12: METAPHOR OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
The story of the wine at Cana is also a metaphor for the Lord’s Supper. Jesus shares himself with those who follow him in the bread and the wine of the communal meal of the faith community. Wine is also a symbol of the Spirit. The gifts of the spirit will be available in abundance for those who trust the generosity of God. The sharing of food and faith brings joy and renews our Spirits.
SLIDE 13: GATHER IN LOVE AND SHARE ALWAYS ENOUGH
So often in the life of the church we go through bruising discussions about budgets. We’re always afraid there won’t be enough, and so we control our expenditures, pinching pennys, hoping to somehow frugal our way to prosperity. We sock away little piles of money here there and everywhere that no one can spend. Most churches that close their doors actually go out of business with money in the bank. That’s sad. And at the same time people control the money, they try to control love, they try to limit the spirit. God will provide everything we need, if we will trust God and act out of God’s divine abundance. When we gather in love and we share there is always enough.
SLIDE 14: WIN-WIN SPIRIT OF JESUS
Allow me to ask a question of those who have attended the Sharing Table on Thursday evenings. Have you ever known us to run out of food on a Thursday evening? When people gather in the Spirit of Christ, in the win-win spirit of Jesus there is always enough. Love begets generous spirits.
SLIDE 15: GOD LOVES A CHEERFUL GIVER
Allow me to share with you from Martin Copenhaver’s Still Speaking Devotional this week. “God loves a cheerful giver,” says the Apostle Paul. But is there any other kind? In my experience givers are cheerful. I have never known any truly giving person who has not been a person of cheer. Joy is one of the indelible characteristics of the giving person.
I am not referring to the kind of reluctant, sharp-penciled, let-me-figure-out-what-my-share-is kind of giver. Rather, I am thinking of the open-handed, open-hearted givers.
We might wonder which comes first: Do these people know cheer and joy because they are givers, or are they givers because they are people of cheer and joy? The question seems strangely moot, however, for in the lives of such people the two are inextricably intertwined. Joy and giving flow from one another in a sure and blessed way. Think of it as the endless echo of grace.
Among the reasons why givers are cheerful is that, in giving to others, we are acting in accordance with God’s intentions for our lives. After all, we are created to be givers, meant to be givers. So when we close in on ourselves in self-concern, we are departing from what God intends for us, and there is no joy in that.
SLIDE 16: EXTRAVAGANT SIGN OF GOD’S LOVE
The generous supply of wine at the wedding in Cana was an extravagant sign, a metaphor for the great party God is giving to welcome all of us home. God says, “all is forgiven, love wins, come share, come to the Table you are welcome here.” May God grant that we all embrace the generosity of divine love.