“Drinking In God’s Delight”: Sermon by Laura, Epiphany 3C,1.20.13

 

Texts: John 2:1-11, Isaiah 62:1-4, Psalm 36: 5-10

 

Today we are invited to a wedding with Jesus. The archetypical wedding of my imagination has a bride in a white, flowing dress, her groom anticipating her walk down the aisle. But let me tell you, the attire they are wearing would never do in the weather we’ve been having this January! In my mind, weddings are warm events, meant for the season when the earth’s creative possibilities come into growth, movement, and flow.   And so, trying to get myself to the wedding of Cana in the coldest cold snap I’ve experienced lately has been a stretch. This story seems to clash with the season of winter, when all life seems to be covered over with a snowy shroud.

 

But winter freezes can take hold inside of us whatever the weather outside. There have been times when my walk of faith has felt like a cold, hard, and icy path, my steps paralyzed by the fear and anxiety of falling. Have you ever felt that way?

 

Communities can get stuck in winter woes as well. Now, forgive me for bringing up that tired quip that we Presbyterians are God’s “frozen chosen.” But it has been my experience that those who are drawn to our worship and polity might be just a teeny-tiny bit more interested in orderly conduct and self-control than, say, our charismatic brothers and sisters. We tend to be capable people of careful judgment, but we can get pretty caught up in trying to properly manage what we perceive to be the “the right thing.” Sometimes we lose our awareness of the joyous delight of the presence of that uncontrollable Spirit of God, as we knuckle down to carry the serious and burdensome duties of proper faith.

 

So maybe a little summer in winter is just what we all need. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to the word “delight” in today’s readings. We heard it first in Isaiah. Picking up on the biblical tradition which imagines the covenant relationship between God and God’s people as a marriage, Isaiah encourages a weary community, returning to the land of promise after years of captivity and exile in Babylon. Promising restoration, God says, “You shall no more be named Forsaken, and your land shall no more be named Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.” Isaiah’s words are like a renewal of wedding vows, for a new chapter in the covenant relationship.

 

The lectionary sets Isaiah next to Psalm 36, where beautiful imagery helps us envision such a “married life.” God’s steadfast love gives the people refuge; and even more, extravagant hospitality, in which the people feast on abundance and drink from the river of God’s delights. “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light,” says the Psalmist.

 

“I love the word ‘delight,’ with light embedded in it,” writes MaryAnn McKibben Dana, in Sabbath in the Suburbs. “Deeeee-light. Your mouth may decide to rebel and say “Deeeee-licious,’ and that would be all right, too. Or you can morph it into an adjective and say…‘delightful.’ Delight-full. Full, saturated, plump with goodness and joy.”[1]Adding to this wordplay, I’d note the lightness of delight. Delight is light, like a summer’s breeze, an effervescent gift lifting heavy spirits.

 

Now, the word “delight” does not appear in the Cana wedding story. But guests who have drunk up all the wine must surely feel delightful! Even Jesus seems reluctant to leave the festivities when his mother comes to him with the problem that threatens to disrupt the joyous occasion. Though he initially protests, Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” and Jesus gives instructions. Seeing some large water jars, Jesus says, “Fill the jars with water.” The servants fill them to the brim. Following further direction, they bring a taste of the jars’ contents to the chief steward, and is it discovered that the water has miraculously become wine.

 

Some of you, people of excellent, scientific minds, struggle with this story because you can’t quite buy the miracle of water turning into wine. I hope you can set that aside for just a minute and hear the story in a deeper way. Beyond “fact,” the details of this story are symbols, pointing beyond themselves to spiritual truth.

 

Those stone jars were not just any old containers for water—they were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification. That water they held would have been used for the ritual hand-washing before eating that faithful Jews practiced. Maybe the party-ers had already used up the water, but their emptiness is also symbolic.

 

But wine soon fills those pots. In the biblical tradition, wine is a symbol of prosperity, abundance, and good times. In the Old Testament, the flowing of new wine is a sign of the ‘joyous arrival of God’s new age.’[2] So when John says that the wine is the first sign revealing Jesus’ glory, he is telling us that Jesus is much more than a miracle worker doing liquid alchemy. Jesus is the Messiah who ushers in God’s new age. One scholar writes, “…the old religion lacks hospitality and vigor. The six ritual pots of water signify the old order. Jesus, however, provides overflowing vats of wine that never run dry.”[3]

 

Now, this is where I want us to stop and take inventory: if the Cana wedding wine symbolizes all the “good stuff” we can experience in covenant relationship with God—vitality, vigor, the abundantly and extravagantly deee-licious and deeee-lightful new life in Christ—what do your wine cellars look like? Are they full or empty? Is there enough to sample regularly, even more than enough so that you feel free to share? Or maybe it seems that the wine has all run out, and the party is almost over. Maybe you’re trying to carefully steward the few drops left to avoid a party disaster.

 

We don’t hear much about him until later, but the chief steward at that wedding must have been panicked perceiving the lack of good stuff to go around. All the delights of the wedding faded for him in his responsibility for keeping the party going in a world of lack. He must have felt frozen, unable to imagine a way to avert a disaster.

 

Then, out of nowhere, the servants show up with new wine, better than any that’s been previously served. The irony is that the steward has no idea where it has come from. In his fear of lack, he all-but-misses the sign which reveals the extravagant abundance of God in Jesus Christ.

 

As a congregation, it seems to me that we can identify with the steward in this story. Over the years, we have been blessed with a great measure of good stuff, for the saints of this church have given generously. You have worked hard to steward well the buildings, budgets, and programs entrusted to you. It is right to want to use those gifts well.

 

But now we face a world of rapid changes and monstrous needs. It is a time when scarcity seems to press anxiously upon us. The good stuff, whether it be money, time, talent, or simply the energy to take a measure of responsibility for our part in the work of Christ’s in-breaking kingdom, sometimes seem to be used up to the last drops.  It is so difficult to figure out how to do the “right thing” that we can freeze up while we discern the best uses of God’s joyous gifts. Bound up in our concerns, have we forgotten that the extravagant abundance of new life God give is constantly overflowing in Jesus Christ?

 

Now, if you were read along with me in John 2, you might have noticed a curious little parenthetical note. “When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, mand did not know where it came from, (though the servants who had drawn the water knew)…”I wonder if there’s a cue here for us to follow in enjoying the delights of life in Jesus Christ.

 

What the steward could not imagine, the servants witnessed first-hand. What they do is pretty simple. They hear and carry out Jesus’ instructions: “Fill the jars with water.” At the same it was probably hard work. 20 to 30 gallon stone jars would be heavy when they are empty! To carry and fill them required teamwork. And it seems to me the servants were enthusiastic, maybe anticipating what Jesus might do: they didn’t fill the jars halfway—we’re told they filled those jars to the brim! The text doesn’t say it, but that curious note might hint that those servants found delight in knowing they had participated with Jesus in a miracle.

 

Friends, Jesus wants to give you just such delight. There is certainly a place for careful stewarding; but maybe this story is inviting us to the joy of servants close to the source who know first-hand where the good stuff comes from, as we listen and follow the direction of our Lord. Servants who are a little closer to ground level, aware of the deep needs of the people in our neighborhoods, who present those needs to Jesus and do just what he tells us.

 

Fill the jars with water. It might the water of our sweat, and even sometimes, our tears. In the mystery of the Spirit, in the miracle of grace, Jesus makes it become wine, overflowing, which cannot be hoarded but only shared to a world, so desperately longing for the good stuff, so deeply desiring to drink in the delights only God offers. We get to participate and delight in that miracle of transformation. Amen.


[1] MaryAnn McKibben Dana, Sabbath in the Suburbs.St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2012, 31.

[2] Gail O’Day, quoted in Ernest Hess, Homiletical Perspective, Feasting on the Word, 265.

[3] Linda McKinnish Bridges, Exegetical Perspective on John 2:1-11, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol.1, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, 263.

 

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