Filling Up and Spilling Over

close up photo of grape fruit
Photo by Henri Guérin on Pexels.com

A reflection on John 2:1-12

I recently learned that that all around the United States, from Oregon to Colorado to Virginia, there are wineries that have given themselves the name of…“Cana.” I had no idea. Anyone want to guess what business they specialize in? Wedding receptions! 

Which is kind of a brilliant idea. If you have your reception there, not only do you get to take your wedding photos among the beautiful vineyards, but you also never have to worry about running out of wine!  

Unfortunately, this is not what happened for the host of this morning’s gospel wedding banquet. What happened that day in the biblical Cana is that the wine ran out. Which was a big problem, and not just because late-arriving guests would be deprived of their beverage of choice. In first-century Palestine, wine is much more than just a beverage. For the Jewish people, Jesus’ people, wine is the tangible symbol of God’s goodness, God’s abundant blessings. If you have been blessed with fertile vineyards and plenty to eat and drink, then it’s your job, as the host of the wedding feast, to share these gifts freely with all your friends and neighbors. 

Which is why it’s a real crisis when the wine runs out in our gospel story this morning.  The host is in danger of bringing shame upon his household by  failing to share the extravagant welcome of God, the gifts of God,  that his guests have every right to expect from him. 

And so we read that Mary, aware of the impending crisis, informs Jesus that the wine has run out. 

And Jesus, amazingly, replies, “Woman. What concern is that to you and me?” 

I love this moment. I love this painful, uncomfortable, deeply honest moment in the gospel—and it’s not the only one—where Jesus gets it wrong. I am grateful for these moments where Jesus gets it wrong. And I am grateful to the gospel writers for including them. After all , it would have easy enough to edit out these awkward moments in order to make Jesus appear perfect, the way we expect him to. But I am so glad  that somebody left Jesus’ awkward moments in the story. Because our job as followers of Jesus is to allow ourselves to be formed in the image of the Christ. Follow me, Jesus says. Be as I am.

Which is a pretty tall order if the guy we’re supposed to be following is perfect all the time. On the other hand, if the one we are following is a teachable savior, a human being like us who sometimes fails to do what God calls him to do, and who is willing to learn as he goes along—well, that’s another story. That, friends, is a story that can change our life. 

This morning, we see that Jesus is mistaken in exactly the way that we, too, are sometimes mistaken when we believe that our job, here in the presence of God, here at the table where we share the feast of God’s grace, is simply to let ourselves be filled. Now that’s important, for sure. But it is not the end of the story. What Mary knows is that we are filled here at this table, here in this beloved community, for a reason. We are filled so that we can become–in our very bodies, in our very lives–the living vessels of God’s extravagant love, pouring out and sharing the grace of God that we have already received. 

This morning, Jesus makes the same very human mistake that we ourselves make. Jesus forgets that whether we’re in ancient Palestine or modern-day Salem, there is no ministry more important than extending God’s extravagant hospitality, the unconditional welcome of God that we ourselves have already received. Just for a moment, Jesus seems to forget this. Woman. What concern is that to you and me?

But Mary knows better. Mary knows that it is everybody’s job—even if you’re the Messiah—to make sure that everyone is personally welcomed to the table of God. 

What Mary knows is that it’s more than just wine that is being poured from those jugs, just as we know that it is far more than coffee being poured out at coffee hour and bulletins being handed out at the door. We know this because once upon a time, we ourselves were visitors in a new church. Once upon a time, we too were welcomed with open arms and open hearts just as we are — no matter who we are or whom we love or whether we’ve ever set foot in a church before.  And because we ourselves were once welcomed by God exactly as we are, so now we are called by God—every one of us—to extend that same unconditional welcome to everyone in this village who needs us. 

“Do whatever he tells you,” Mary says to the servants. Which, I think, might be a remarkable display of self-control on Mary’s part. I bet there are parents in this room who can think of a few other things Mary might have said to her son at that moment. But Mary seems to know her son better than he knows himself. Or perhaps it’s that she knows his better self. Mary knows that what saves us, every time, is not our perfection, but our willingness to learn, so that we might become willing vessels  of God’s extravagant grace.

And so right here, at the very beginning of the Gospel of John, before Jesus does any other miracles or teaches any parables, he learns this first crucial lesson: the kingdom of God is like a wedding feast, and our job is to invite everyone in the village  to come to this table, to this feast, and drink their fill of God’s overflowing, unconditional love. 

The kingdom of God is like a church that hangs a rainbow flag outside its building, to signal that every body, no matter who you are or whom you love, is welcome here at the table of God. The kingdom of God is like a church that shows up at Capitol Pride to show the whole village that this is what it means to follow Jesus: to welcome every body–lesbian, gay, trans, non-binary, female, male–to share in God’s abundant gifts. The kingdom of God is like a congregation that finds the courage to invite our friends and family, our coworkers and neighbors, to be filled at the feast we prepare every Sunday, right here.

Those of us who have been around this kind of church for a while can sometimes, just like Jesus, forget how important this ministry of extravagant welcome is. This ministry of going out into the community and inviting the whole village to know what kind of Christians we are. It can be tempting for us old-timers–those of us who  are already connected with friends in the church, those of us who have already been welcomed and filled with God’s grace just as we are–it can be easy for us to forget that just like Jesus, we are called to leave this place and walk out into the community, extending God’s invitation to those who have yet to experience it.

Friends, it is not enough to show up here every Sunday and say, All are welcome. It is never enough to say, Sure — anyone who happens to wander through our doors is welcome! We know, just as Jesus knows, that out there is a whole village of people who need us; people who will never find us on their own. There are young people and old people, gay people and straight people, who have no idea that there is a church that will welcome them exactly as they are, let alone how to find it. There are people in our community who have never felt welcome in a church before because their beliefs don’t fall into line with traditional church doctrine, or because their families are all different shapes and sizes, or because their partners belong to another faith altogether or because they have been so deeply wounded by a church that has used this very table to shame and to exclude.  Friends, these are the friends and neighbors who need the healing welcome of a church like this. But they are not going to come looking for us; they have no idea that this kind of church exists in the world. Because, let’s face it: an open and affirming, earth-loving, peacemaking church is not the kind of church you tend to hear about on the evening news. 

What Jesus learns this morning is that once he has tasted the wine of God’s sweet, extravagant welcome, it’s his job to share it. It’s his job to take what he has received and to walk through every village and town, pouring himself out like a river of God’s own abundance and joy. Follow me, Jesus says. Be as I am.

And I’m praying this morning that we will have the courage to do the same. For the neighbors and friends, the coworkers and strangers on the bus who need us. For the children and youth who are thirsting for a church they don’t even know exists — a church that celebrates all our different kinds of families; all the gloriously different colors of our skin; all our different walks of life; all our wildly different beliefs about God; all our gloriously different ways of loving each other and loving the world. A church that has welcomed each of us, just as we are, to the table of God’s abundant grace, and who calls us to do the same for every body — every beautiful body —  we meet.  May we learn to pour ourselves out with joy…for this beautiful, broken world world that God so loves. Amen.  

 

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