“Be Open to Grace”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “Keys” to a Better ‘22
Coral Isles Church
January 16, 2022
John 2:1-11 NRSV
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 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 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.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
What is it about weddings? After 38 years of doing weddings I can’t hardly think of one that didn’t have something go wrong. The wrong color tuxes get delivered. Aunt Betty can’t come at the last minute. The caterer gets lost. The Maid-of-Honor plans to fly “stand-by” and doesn’t get a flight. Yeah, that last one actually happened to us. Who flies “stand-by” to a wedding? And that was just one of, oh, I’d say at least a half dozen things that didn’t go “as planned.” Now none of those were a disaster in our case, but I have heard and seen some “doozies.” Ah, the stories I could tell.
That’s why this story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana is so relatable. All the planning that goes into a wedding – in some cases years, as if it were the invasion of Normandy – and something always goes wrong. If anything, weddings in Jesus’ time were even more elaborately planned. Including, by the way, who was marrying whom. Most weddings were what we call “arranged.” That is, the parents chose the bride for the son. None of this “romantic love” stuff. It was basically a business deal. And beyond the dowry given to the groom for financially taking the daughter off the father’s expenses, it often had to do with seeking prestige, or power even in the case of royal weddings.
So here we are in Cana, don’t know who the bride and groom were, but evidently friends of Jesus’ family. Jesus’ mother Mary is there and Jesus and the disciples were invited too. And if you think your reception was expensive, in that time and culture there was basically a week or more of partying. The bride’s father would basically, among poor families especially, spend himself into lifelong debt to pay for what was expected as the basic festivities.
At the wedding in Cana, on the third day of festivities, which means there were probably four more to go before the party was over, the wine ran out. This would have been a major social crime. Shame and dishonor to the father of the bride. Jesus’ mother, Mary, concerned for the host’s reputation comes to Jesus and says, “they’ve run out!” Jesus’ response sounds a little like, “Geesh, Mom, what do you want me to do run to the ABC store and whip out my MasterCard?” “What has that to do with you and me?” he asks. And then adds cryptically, “my time is not yet.” Most scholars suggest this means Jesus wasn’t ready to be “outed.” He wasn’t ready to begin to publicly reveal his identity as “Son of God,” or “Savior,” or “Messiah,” or any of the other titles people used for him.
I like to imagine the scene: Jesus and his mom are standing there, the servants are right there nearby. When Jesus tries to brush off what he knows his mom is urging him to do, she simply, in good Jewish Mother fashion, ups the pressure. She turns to the servants standing there and says, “Do whatever he tells you to do.” I like to think of this as her saying, in essence: “Be open to grace.”
You see “grace” is one of those multi-faceted words. It means literally, love. It also means “a gift,” because love, actual love, is always a gift given freely. Of course, the source of all grace is God, for God is the source of love. In giving life to all of creation, all creatures, all people, including you and me, our faith teaches us that God acted out of love. This was a different concept at the time. Gods were generally seen as hateful, demanding, and often were believed to be as unpredictable and vengeful as humans. This God that came to Moses and who called a bunch of ragamuffin slaves in Egypt as God’s own did so out of love. This God did not come to enslave them to cruel wishes or demanding sacrifices. This God came to set them free, to call them to live by a law of love and justice for all people. This love God gave them was a free gift. It was what defined this God from all the other gods of the other nations.
So whatever else you take from this story, remember that the Bible doesn’t call it a miracle. It calls it a “sign.” This was the first sign, according to John, although the other gospels don’t even mention this event. This is how John says the disciples began to believe in Jesus. It was a sign of extravagant, incredible grace. Think about this: John tells us there were six stone water jugs holding 20-30 gallons. The fact that John points out this detail is too unusual to ignore. What it points to is whatever Jesus said, or did, where there was once no wine, there was now somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of wine! That’s a lot of wine! I don’t care how big you thought your wedding was, 180 gallons of wine was probably WAY more than enough if you had ordered that for your guests. I don’t know for sure… just guessing.
John says this was a “sign.” A sign points to something beyond itself. The sign isn’t the point. The wine isn’t the point. The fact that it was an amazing, over-the-top [ or at least to the brim ] blessing. It was a gift. And this wasn’t Mogen David or some cheap Boone’s Farm wine. This was vintage. This was Lafite Rothschild, Dom Perignon, and all those other wines I can’t pronounce. One hundred and twenty gallons of wine. That’s grace. That is a gift beyond imagination. That is what kind of sign that is. That is a sign of God’s love. It is not a cupful, it is gallons of grace. It isn’t cheap and tasteless, it is high-cost and high-class. God loves in extravagant, crazy, unbelievable quantity and quality.
Wait, you say. What about all the bad things that happen. Some people always shrug and say, “Well, that’s just God’s will.” Or they say, “Everything happens for a reason,” and they usually mean, “this is God’s fault, and I can’t explain it, so in order to deal with it I’ll just say there was some unexplainable cause for it. I don’t really believe in a God who causes tragedy, deals out disaster, produces pain – for what? To make us love “Him?” That’s a pretty crazy definition of love.
But let’s be real. A lot of bad stuff happens. A friend of mine recently shared a history lesson. The writer [ Jonathan Blaze Harker – FB 6/28/2020 ] said, “For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900. When you were 14, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday with 22 million people killed. Later that year a Spanish flu epidemic hist the planet and runs until you are 20. Fifty million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million.
“When you are 29, just ten years later, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hist 25%, global GDP drops 27%. That runs five years – until you are 33. [And its effects continue for years]. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy. When you are 39, World War II starts. You aren’t even ‘over the hill yet.’ When you are 41 the United States is fully pulled into WWII. Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war and the Holocaust kills more than 6 million. When you are 52, the Korean War starts and 5 million people perish. At 64 the Vietnam War begins and doesn’t end for many years. Four million people die in that conflict. Approaching your 62nd birthday the Cuban Missile Crisis almost ends life on our planet as we know it. Great leaders prevented that from happening. As you turned 75 the Vietnam war finally ended.” Watergate and political scandal after political scandal followed.
Shall I preach that all this was “God’s will?” Shall I say these things happened for a reason? As incredible as that list was it left out a lot of other bad, evil, destructive things. Most of these things were caused by, or conceived of and carried out by men, by people. Many were done in the name of “fighting evil.” Most were a result of human greed and lust for power. Shall I preach and proclaim that God intends evil to justify the evil that people do? Beyond that history lesson, what about now? We are living in the information age, or more accurately now, the disinformation age. We know about bad stuff quicker and more constantly now than ever. It is easy to believe that there is no good, there is no hope, there is no future. We can fall into despair quite easily.
But John says, “here’s a sign.” It is a sign of grace. It is a sign that God intends blessing. Not just a cheap bottle of blessing. God sends gallons of grace all the time. My task is to stay open to grace. My challenge is to remember that Gods’ will is love. My hope is in a God who never spares the blessing of unlimited, overwhelming, tidal waves of love disguised as blessings beyond measure. The challenge is seeing these everywhere. I fight every day to stop focusing on the storms, the lightning, the terrible. I struggle to turn my eyes from the signs that human beings can be wicked beyond measure, and petty beyond purpose. But I believe in a God who pours out gallons of grace and I want to invite you to join me.
Help me remember -tell me about that act of kindness someone did for you. Tell me about that act of sacrificial love you did for your neighbor. Share with someone all the good things God has given you – in spite of whatever bad things people have done, or you have done, or nature has dished out. Let go of this false belief that God controls everything, and hold on to the true and powerful and blessed fact that God is love. Love doesn’t control. Love lets go and pours out everything it can to bless. That is what my God does. My God lets us go and then pours out gallons of grace, like 180 gallons of the finest wine ever tasted at a wedding, God pours, and pours and pours, and never runs out. Never runs out. Paul said, “Love never ends!” Be open to the signs of God’s perfect, powerful, and purposeful love – for that is what God’s purpose is – to love - and you will overcome the things that humans do. Be open to love and you will not dwell in the fear and anxiety of this age. Be open to God’s grace and you will not be defeated by events, catastrophes, or the ways of people that don’t know this love.
It's kind of like a wedding: by making a commitment to love you discover how to love more. That’s grace. It unlocks your heart by love to love. So the wedding at Cana becomes a sign of God’s commitment to be married to loving us – and pouring out gallons of grace to celebrate. So the reality is love always unlocks our chains.
One of the “keys” to a better 2022 that I want to share with you this morning is the key to unlock the chains that keep you from being free to the love of God that is all around you. Even, maybe especially when others aren’t loving, be open to that love. Let it flow through you. God has already “claimed you in marriage.” God has unlocked the chains so that you can be free to love others as God loves you. Your chains are gone. Amazing grace. You’ve been set free. AMEN.