January 16, 2022
Some time in the fifth century, the Church made it official that one of Mary’s titles would be “Mother of God.” And I think nowhere in scripture does that title become more apparent than in this telling of the wedding at Cana. She and Jesus, along with his disciples, were all attending a wedding, having a good time. But at some point in the night, Mary notices a disaster brewing. The wine is about to give out. This poor couple, on such a happy day, were about to experience the embarrassment of having not planned for enough guests. But it’s how Mary handles this information that really seals her title.
“They have no more wine,” she says very matter-of-factly to Jesus. There’s so much in that phrase. We can all hear our own mothers saying it, right? And we all know what she means. She’s not just commenting on it, like, “oh, isn’t that interesting?” When Jesus tries to play dumb with his whole “what’s that got to do with us?” bit, she straight-up ignores him and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. Mary, I can confidently say, is the only person in scripture who could possibly get away with that kind of power move.
But she’s also not just saying it to boss Jesus around. Mary knows something deeper about Jesus than the guests, or his disciples, or the servants. Mary knows what he’s capable of. She’s so confident in his abilities that she knows all she has to do is give him a little push, and miracles would follow. She knows, so she tells the servants to do what he says and watch what happens.
And they do. They fill up the purification jars, just like Jesus told them to. Bucket after bucket, back and forth to the well, until each of them were filled to the brim. And when Jesus told one of them to draw some out and take it to the chief steward, they did it. I’ve got to wonder if they noticed immediately when they drew out the wine or if they just noticed it halfway on their walk to the chief steward. In any case, there’s something wonderfully underhanded about the way the servants—the people on the bottom of the totem pole—know what’s going on, while the chief steward, with all his importance, doesn’t even know Jesus was involved.
But Jesus was very much involved, we know. He didn’t just provide a little extra for the wedding just to save them from embarrassment. He suddenly added what would amount to 900 bottles of wine to this wedding party! And not the cheap stuff, either! Jesus showed that his ministry, his work of bringing in the kingdom of God, is about showing the world how abundantly God will provide. It’s absolutely astounding, ridiculously lavish. Jesus turning water into wine is the reminder that Jesus will do amazing things with whatever we happen to have. Jesus will bless the community of Christ with all that we need to share the reality of the kingdom with others. Jesus takes our water—our plain, ordinary, everyday stuff—and turns it into a celebration of abundance that is 900 bottles of wine.
But there is a quote out there, from Irish playwright Oscar Wilde, who once commented that “the church is very good at turning wine into water.” I think we could apply that to more than just the church, though. We’re taught over and over again that there isn’t enough. There isn’t enough money for that ministry that would make a real difference. There aren’t enough volunteers to make this program happen. We don’t have the voice, or the resources, or the connections, to make the difference we want to see. So we scale back. We feel satisfied when our lofty hopes get pulled back down to earth, to more “realistic” places. We reject the copious wine and take the water instead.
But not always. Not always.
That first summer of the pandemic, when the fair was shut down, it would have been easy to accept that plain water. We could have accepted that part of the resources we could raise for our outreach ministries just weren’t going to happen that year. But we didn’t. An amazing group of y’all got together and started baking pies, and took them to the Farmer’s Market, and between that and the takeout Lutefisk supper, we still managed to raise a solid half of what we usually raise to help support worthy causes all around us. We let Jesus turn that water into wine for us.
And this year, even when we’ve been watching the trend of smaller Sunday school classes and fewer volunteers for teachers, we held a really spectacular Christmas program. We made the music happen and rigged up microphones that would work, got the congregation involved in singing and laughed at the great jokes and learned the story of Christmas in another, beautifully insightful way. We let Jesus turn that water into wine for us.
And every year, twice a year, we put together a God’s Work Our Hands Sunday. Each year I wonder if twice a year is too much, and each year y’all come out in droves to sew dresses, tie quilts, clean up the cemetery, visit the homebound, write letters, and serve the community, among other things. God inspires this congregation to serve, even when our lives are so busy and adding one more thing to our plate feels overwhelming. We let Jesus turn that water into wine for us.
So how about we approach all of our ministry as a congregation like that? How about we look at everything God calls us to do like that? When the servants were told to listen to him, they did what Jesus said. They had no idea how filling purification jars was going to solve the problem of not enough wine—until Jesus made it happen through them. What is Jesus calling you to do? What wildly irresponsible extravagance of a ministry could Jesus be building in this congregation right now? We’ve been shown time and again how Jesus will take whatever water we happen to have and turn it into the finest wine. We made it through the worst of the pandemic and still have so much goodness we can share with our community. Jesus is providing for us. And not just providing for us—Jesus is being extravagant with us.
So be optimistic. Be over-the-top with what you hope God will do. The ministry of the church should always feel like we’re reaching too far, because 900 bottles of wine is honestly too far. Trust that God is going to provide what is needed—and if it doesn’t happen, trust that it’s just not time for it right now, and try something else. Throw your energy and your hope behind the crazy and extravagant ways that God is showing us how to be at work in our community. Because the fact of the matter is that the witness of the church and the story of the Bible is of a God who consistently does the impossible. Wine from water is impossible. Healing and forgiveness are impossible. Changing the world is impossible. Rising from the dead is impossible. So let’s let God do the impossible with us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.