Water into wine

Good morning, Friends! I hope you all are doing well today.

This morning our Scripture talks a lot about wine. I know that a lot of people here don’t drink alcohol. I don’t myself – I never have, ever since I was a kid I couldn’t stand the taste of anything with alcohol in it. It’s just a personal thing for me. It doesn’t bother me that other people enjoy it. My family and friends have teased me about it for years. It’s just the way I am. I don’t drink, ever.

I’ve told some of you that I spent a year living in Italy when I was a boy. One of our family’s best friends in Italy is a man named Vittorio – it means “Victor.” Vittorio was a colleague of my father’s, he’s known me since I was a boy, and he loves to tease me.

The last time we went to visit, Vittorio took us out for dinner at his favorite restaurant. The food was really good. At the beginning of the meal he invited me to try some of his favorite wine.

People who know about wine say that this stuff is really, really good – here in the U.S. it’s a wine that sells for $70 a bottle. We were right next door to the vineyard where they actually made this wine, and it was aged and just perfect.

Vittorio said to me, “Joshua, how can you preach a sermon and not drink wine? Everybody knows it makes you relax and feel better! You try this – every week, for six months, have some wine before you give a sermon. Then come back and tell me how much better you do!”

We all laughed, and I turned him down. It was probably about the 30th time he’s tried with me. The meal was great, and we had a wonderful, happy time together.

I just want you to know that I’m not on some kind of a campaign here this morning. This is how I am, this is how other people are. I know some people are very strict about this issue, and I don’t want anyone to be upset. That’s not the point of today’s gospel.

Let’s just listen to the story together.

A wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Lady, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

– John 2:1-11

You can go a lot of different places with this story.

One way is what I’m going to call the “Gosh! Golly! Wow!” direction. Let’s all be impressed by what Jesus did. Wasn’t that amazing?

Another way is what I’m going to call the skeptical direction. “Didn’t happen. If it did, all the package stores would be out of business. Just fill up a barrel, wave your hand, and you’re all set for a big weekend. Maybe I wish it did, but it just doesn’t work that way.”

So, you’ve got the “Gosh! Golly! Wow!” direction, and you’ve got the skeptical direction. Those two opinions are never going to meet in the middle. Let’s see if we can take this story somewhere else.

I think that this story is about blessing. It’s really about blessing. It’s about fellowship. It’s about giving. And it’s about transformation.

A wedding is always a time for celebration. Whether the couple are rich or poor, whether it’s a big, huge event or a private ceremony, a wedding is a time for joy.

I’ve been to big weddings where there were five hundred guests. I’ve been to weddings where it was just the couple getting married, and a witness or two.

Last week we had Bible study over next door at the parsonage, and one of our members told us that she and her husband had been married right there in the parsonage living room in front of the fire place, 67 years ago. It was a real gift to hear her tell the story, and we all got quiet for a minute. Eva and Fletcher had a wonderful marriage, and it lasted for a long time.

So, the size of the wedding doesn’t really matter too much. But at the time of this morning’s story, a wedding was a big deal. Everybody in the whole extended family came. Neighbors came. Half the town came. Honored guests came from near and far.

And it wasn’t just one day or one evening. A wedding lasted for days! The bride and the groom didn’t go away on a honeymoon. They stayed there as the center of attention for the whole time. They were treated like royalty. The feasting, the toasts, the dancing and celebration went on for three or four days.

It didn’t matter if the couple were rich or poor. The wedding was the greatest moment of their entire lives. Who knows? Maybe they would be the start of a great family. Maybe the groom would be a priest or a king, or a prophet. Maybe the bride would be the mother of a famous branch of Israel. Who knows? Let’s celebrate!

Jesus and his friends were among the guests. They were there, they celebrated, they joined in all the festivity.

And then, midway through the party, the wine ran out. I have been a pastor for a long time, and I have never known a wedding where something didn’t go wrong. The perfect wedding just doesn’t exist.

Maybe there were more guests than they expected. Maybe some of the guests drank a little too much. Maybe the bride and groom didn’t plan very well. Maybe their families didn’t all contribute what they said they would.

It doesn’t matter. What mattered was that the party was about to come to a grinding halt. The celebration was turning into a wedding planner’s nightmare.

The person who noticed something wrong was Mary. Mothers always notice when something’s wrong. It’s like a sixth sense. They just know.

Mary calls to Jesus and tells him, “There’s no more wine.” She didn’t have to say any more. They both knew what that meant.

Jesus said, “What do you want me to do?”

It’s a guy thing. Your mom or your wife or your girl friend or your sister hits you with something obvious, and you say, “What do you want me to do?” Guys do this all the time, in every country, all the way down since the first guy, Adam.

Mary didn’t answer Jesus. Sometimes a dumb question doesn’t deserve an answer. Mary turned to the wait staff and she said, “Do whatever he tells you.”

They’ve got these big, enormous stone jars standing by the door. Each jar holds as much as your bathtub at home would, and there are six of them. The jars are so people can clean their feet when they come in, because the streets are dirty.

Jesus smiles and he says to the wait staff, “Go fill them up.” So they do. Then Jesus says, “Dip some out, and take it to the headwaiter.”

You know, the wait staff are the real heroes of faith in the story. They didn’t say Jesus was crazy. They didn’t ask questions. They just did what they were told. “Yes sir, no sir, fill ‘em right up, sir!”

You all know the rest of the story. Somehow, in the jar or in the dipper or on the way, the water turned into wine. Not just any old wine. The best wine. The $500 a bottle stuff. The kind people talk about for years afterward. Six bathtubs worth of it. Overflowing!

Like I said, you can take the “Gosh! Golly! Wow!” route with this story. Or you can take the skeptical, “Didn’t happen” route.

Or you can ask, “What is the writer of the gospel trying to tell us about Jesus here? What are they trying to say?”

When you ask that, a lot of different possibilities open up. When I hear this story, it’s like a light goes on in my head, and I remember a lot of other stories in the Bible, where God provides abundantly. It’s like the story of the manna in the desert in the Old Testament. It’s like the story of water springing from the rock.

It’s like the story, which is told in all four gospels, of Jesus feeding a huge crowd of people, with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. It’s like the time when Jesus told his friend Peter to throw the net over on the other side of the boat, and the net came up so full it started to break.

(I know you all are from North Carolina, but please don’t ask me what kind of fish they were, or what Jesus was using for bait.)

The point of the story is the blessing. God wants to bless us, not just with a taste, not just with a tiny portion, but with plenty, and with the best.

Some people think God is in the punishment business, or the rule-making business. Jesus shows us that God is in the blessing business. God wants our lives to be blessed and full. Jesus said that he came to give life, and to give it abundantly. That’s the basic message here.

People often read today’s Scripture at weddings, because part of the message is also that Jesus loves to bless weddings. For a couple of thousand years, there’s been a section of Christian thinking that says that you’re better off if you don’t marry, that people who are celibate are spiritually stronger than the rest of us.

Today’s story doesn’t provide any basis for that. Jesus came to a wedding. He celebrated with everyone else. He had a good time. He contributed something special to the celebration. He blessed it with his presence, he blessed it with his friendship, he blessed it by quietly helping out in a special way.

I said earlier that this story is also about transformation. Jesus turned something ordinary – the water used for washing off the daily dirt – into something wonderful, the very best of wine.

I said before that I don’t drink – that’s my own personal choice and taste and testimony – but I can appreciate the power of transformation in this story.

For some people in the Christian family, this story is an echo of communion. They see a parallel between turning water into wine, and turning wine into the saving blood of Jesus in communion. It’s not something I’m into, but for almost half the Christian family, that’s an important interpretation of this story.

Earlier this week, I was studying how to bring this morning’s Scripture alive for us today. I found a YouTube video of an old concert that Johnny Cash gave. It was way back in the 1960’s. Johnny Cash had that rough, gravelly singing voice that he was famous for. He had the Carter sisters and Mother Maybelle backing him up. It was wonderful! [Click here to see the video]

The concert was in prison, at San Quentin, which has the largest population on Death Row of any prison in the country. Maybe some of you have heard the recording. What I saw this week was the movie version. And the camera kept cutting back and forth between Johnny Cash, and the faces of the prisoners who were listening.

The song says, “He turned the water into wine. . .He turned the water into wine. . .”

And on the prisoners’ faces, as they listened, you could see their hardened disbelief change to hope. Just the thought of water into wine, the thought of transformation, brought hope to these hardened men.

Maybe that’s what the story’s all about. Not wine, but wonder. Not outward change, but inward transformation. Maybe God doesn’t need new vessels to make a miracle. Maybe God fills the old vessels with new wine.
I think you can take this story a lot of ways.

It says that miracles happen, when we obey God, even when we think he’s command sounds crazy. Fill up the jars. Sure. Fill ‘em up with water. Right. Doesn’t God know what we need? Doesn’t God know what we want?

But God takes the water, and changes it. Jesus turns our everyday water into the best of wine. The ordinary becomes extraordinary, when Jesus blesses it.

This story also says that miracles happen, when we don’t hold back. “Fill the jars up to the brim!”

Jesus could have proved his point with just a cup of water. People would still have been impressed! But in today’s story, he wants us to fill up every container we’ve got, all the way, full to the brim.

Don’t hold back. Don’t believe half-way. God’s going to do miracles, but God can’t do everything he wants with half-way believers. That’s what the story says.

  • Fill your ministry up to the brim. Fill your heart to the brim. Fill your witness all the way.
  • Fill your faith all the way. We’re not supposed to be half-way Christians.
  • Be full of faith, and God can transform you. That’s the bottom line.
  • Trust God, and you will be blessed more than you ever expected.
  • And – last thing! – do what your mother tells you. Even Jesus knew that.

Copyright © 2017 by Joshua Brown

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