Saturday, January 16, 2016

Divine abundance

Isaiah 62: 1-5; John 2: 1-11

In the gospel reading, Jesus and the disciples are just beginning to know each other. The disciples do not yet know what they have gotten themselves into, except that they like what they hear Jesus say.
Jesus and the disciples are invited to a wedding. We do not know anything about the couple; the marriage itself is not related. Instead, we jump into the story in the middle of the celebration.
In that culture, weddings were week-long events. Managing a wedding took some doing, as the wedding planner had to calculate how many guests there would be, and how much food and wine would be needed for that number of guests. We can suggest the whole town was invited, so maybe 400 guests to start, plus other family and friends.
Somehow, there has been a major miscalculation. We don’t know just how many days the party has been going on, but during the week, the wine runs out. Wine is essential to the party, because it was what everyone drank. They didn’t drink water, cola, or juice. They drank wine.
The longer the party lasted, the cheaper the wine became, because they were too drunk to taste it. So, in the beginning, the host might serve Chateau Margaux, in the middle of the week, a nice Gallo, but by the end of the week, they might offer Ripple or Thunderbird.
Jesus’ mother learns that they have run out of wine. Notice that his mother is not called Mary, just Jesus’ mother. And note that she appears in John’s gospel only here at the beginning of his ministry, and at the and, at the cross.
Jesus’ mother says to him, “They have run out of wine.” Jesus replies, “So? Woman. What does that have to do with me? Don’t push me into something I’m not ready for.” Mary speaks to the servants, and instructs them to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. So, she puts the responsibility back on Jesus, but it is clear that in her opinion he should do something about the lack of wine.
I find it interesting that only the servants know the full story. Jesus tells them to put water into the jars that are normally used for purification rituals. These jars are huge – each holding 20 or 30 gallons – think curb-side trash cans. And think six of them.
At Jesus’ instruction, one of the servants then takes some of the liquid – it’s not clear at just what moment the water turns into wine – to the chief steward – the manager of the household. On Downton Abbey, this would be Carson. He proclaims to the groom, “This wine is excellent! Unlike most people, you have saved the best wine for last!”

The story-teller here is John, so the stories are different from the other gospels. The healings and other events that Matthew, Mark, and Luke call miracles are called signs by John. Signs point the way, and in John, the signs of Jesus point to God’s presence in Jesus, and they point to God’s glory, present in the event.
Today, I want to focus on two signs. I’m going to borrow a sign from Isaiah about marriage; and use the sign of divine abundance from John.
One of my favorite moments of performing weddings is seeing the look on the groom’s face when the bride appears at the back of the sanctuary. The love and awe shine from his eyes as he waits for her to arrive by his side. And the anxiety in the bride’s eyes disappears as soon as she finds the groom waiting for her. Suddenly, love for each other is all they know, and all is well.
The image of God as our groom and we as God’s bride appears frequently in scripture. In the passage from Isaiah, we read that just as a bridegroom rejoices over a bride, so God rejoices over us, God’s people. It is as if God is standing at the head if the aisle, watching for us to arrive. When God sees us, the love and awe shine from the divine eyes. And when we discover God is waiting for us, all our anxiety disappears, and we know all is well.
When we love someone, we want to give them good things, lots of good things. When I shop, I often see things I know Mike would like. It may not cost much, or it may be kind of pricey, but I get it because I love Mike and I want to give him things he will enjoy.
In the same way, God gives us things we will enjoy. God never skimps on gifts, either. So, there is not just one jar of fine wine, but six jars of it. With God, there is an abundance.
Where else can we find an abundance?
In Scripture: with the manna and the quails and water from a rock; in the feeding of 5,000 people; in the healings by Jesus and the disciples. God is known for providing an abundance.
In our food: we have an abundance of options. We have more brands of food, more flavors of ice cream, more fresh fruit and vegetables year around, more cuts of meat, and so forth than just about anywhere else in the world.
In nature: water, grass, trees, sand, sun, and little lizards are abundant in Florida.
In relationships: with family and friends we have an abundance of opportunities to offer love and grace to one another.
In ministry: we have an abundance of opportunities to serve God by serving God’s people.  We have plenty of chances to share Jesus with those who don’t know him as we do.
In life: we need an abundance of forgiveness, which we hope to get from one another. We know we get it from God. 
In finances: most of us have an abundance of money, and happily share it with those who have less.
This abundance we enjoy is not the result of our own doing, our own hard work, even our own prayers, but gifts from God, given with love. They are the expression of love from our Divine Bridegroom to us, the beloved bride.
 In John’s gospel, Jesus says, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” He means that we have an abundant life whenever we have a loving, trusting relationship with God. This kind of abundance is not about money, or possessions, or choices, or even the nature that surrounds us. This kind of abundance is about knowing we are loved and forgiven, and in loving God and accepting God’s grace in return.

Please pray with me: Loving God, we give you thanks for the abundance you pour out onto us. Lead us to remember that you are the source of all we have. Help us to seek you out as a bride seeks her groom, as a groom looks for his bride. Amen