There is a hymn that I love called, “My Jesus I love Thee.”. Its found in the old “Song of the Gospel” hymn book. I heard for the first time in a little church in Aspen Cove. Every verse tells of something wonderful Jesus has done and the last line of every verse concludes with the words, “If ever I loved thee my Jesus tis now.” Being a follower of Jesus is both joy and challenge. There are times when it is hard to be a follower of Jesus, there are times when it is a joy and there are times when it see that the calling to love and serve others is something beyond my capabilities.
But then you come to the first of the miracles or “signs” in John’s gospel and doubts someone wash away. Water becomes wine. I admit that I love any story that turns water into wine. And we are not talking in this story about the cheap stuff – but good wine. This is a “sign” of blessing is a reminder that our starting place as followers of Jesus is God’s abiding abundance and grace. The wedding at Canna is the first of the “signs” or miracles in John’s gospel. It follows hot on the heals of baptism and Jesus calling the disciples with the invitation “come and see.” Next scene a wedding. Not quite like the weddings of today which are a day long affair. A wedding in Jesus’ day lasted a week and was a community celebration. Jesus was there with his whole family, disciples and community.
Over the course of the celebrations, the hosts ran out of wine. Now this may not sound like a big problem. Today we’d probably think nothing of it. If the wine runs out, we pop up to the store and buy another bottle. Not a big deal. But it was major social faux pas in Jesus’ day. Mostly it was a big deal because of what the wine represented. Wine was a sign of God’s abundance and to run out of wine was like saying that God’s love had dried up.
Upon hearing the news, Jesus’ mother turns to him, with an expectant look in her eyes. I think it’s the look only a mother can give and says, “They have run out of wine.” Can’t you just hear Jesus saying back to her as he rolls his eyes, “Oh Mother, why are you worried about that. Besides which, this not my time, it is not the hour.” But she pays no attention to him. Son of God or not, she knows best. Not only does she know him best, she knows its his time. She is the one whose watched him learn and grow. So Jesus mother takes matters into her own hands. She turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you to do.”
I’m guessing that Jesus reluctantly tells the servants to fill six huge containers – each holding 20 to 30 gallons of water and to take them to the wine steward. The wine steward tastes the wine and is amazed. He calls the bridegroom and compliments him for saving the best wine for the last days of the celebration. This is the first of what John calls the signs of Jesus and other gospels call miracle stories. These signs that point us to God and the nature of God’s grace.
Sometime it helps to put things in context. Today can be mass produced and shipped easily from one place to another. Not so in Jesus day. In today’s measurements “A standard bottle of wine is 750 milliliters (ml), meaning a case of 12 bottles contains 9 liters, or 2.378 gallons. At 150 gallons per ton, a ton of grapes becomes 150/2.378 gallons per case, or a little more than 63 cases of wine. With 12 bottles per case, we have 756 bottles in total.” (www.workingpreacher.org) For Jesus to change the ordinary gift of water into extraordinary wine was amazing. That is just like God’s abundant grace. It is unexpected. It is good wine when you are expecting the cheap stuff.
In the words of the psalmist, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Psalm 36: 7 – 9) Grace upon grace. It is like the words we heard last week form Isaiah I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. … Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:1 – 2, 4)
God’s infinite grace is hard to understand sometimes because all too often we operate in the scarcity mode. One of my theology professors said that the good news is so good that it is hard to believe. And it is so true. Living in faith, living with God’s grace daily doesn’t mean that life is perfect or that there is a magic that cures all our troubles. Barbra Brown Taylor in her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, writes, “I call it full solar spirituality since it focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith.” (Learning to Walk in the Dark page 15) Faith that only endures when life is good, doesn’t stand up when life tragedies come to our door step. And invited or not, we know to well that sorrows and tragedies come our way.
Here is the thing about God’s grace – it walks with us in times of faith and times of doubt. Grace is the comfort that comes after a night of pain. Grace is knowing that even the worst of mistakes are forgiven. Grace is being loved just as we are. Grace is the hope that rises from despair. It reminds me of the scene in the third book in the Anne of Green Gables books – Anne of the Island. Anne has just found out that her life long nemesis is dying. It is in that moment that she realizes that she loves him. She spends a long night hoping, praying for good news. In the morning she goes for a walk and finds out that Gilbert will make it. “The trills and trickles of song from the birds in the big tree above her seemed in perfect accord with her mood. A sentence from a very old, very true, very wonderful Book came to her lips, “Weeping may endure for the night but joy cometh in the morning.”” (Anne of the Island, page 651)
God’s grace never runs out or is in short supply. It is like 756 bottles of the best wine when you least expect it. It is the surprising hope that comes in spite of evidence that would have us give up. The wedding at Cana is an invitation into come and see God’s abundant grace. The last line of our reading from this morning says, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11) It is the same invitation we receive today. Come and see -- grace upon grace. God’s abundance. How can we not make our song each day an offering of praise? “I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death. And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath; If ever I loved thee, my Jesus it is now.” Amen.