Every time I read this scripture, I think “I would have never gotten away with talking to my momma like that.” Just once I want to read like “the Parents translation of the Bible” and this scripture would read something like this instead: “When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Did anyone else hear him talk back to his momma? Son, I’m going to need you to come here so we can have a ‘come to Jesus discussion. Oh wait…..’”
I am going to ask you upfront to have a question floating around in your head to think about during the sermon. This does not give you permission to not pay attention! When was the last time you experienced grace? Think about that today.
Let’s have a bit of a history slash Bible lesson first. Weddings in the time of Jesus weren’t like they are now. Weddings now are usually a one day event, and even that, it’s not a whole day. Brides spend countless hours on Pinterest in the months leading up to the wedding and grooms spending countless hours doing whatever it is they do. There is fretting over finding a reception sight, a florist, a caterer, a dj, oh…and a pastor. The budget is usually a year’s salary (if you’ve seen “Say Yes to the Dress” on TLC you know how expensive wedding gowns can be). The guest list must be whittled down so that we can all fit into the aforementioned reception sight. Weddings in the time of Jesus were a celebration, of course. But, they were also a week long. The entire town was invited. And wine was served not for the purpose of getting drunk, but as a symbol of a great harvest, of God’s abundance and joy, and of course, hospitality.
And yes, the good wine was served at the beginning of the week long celebration when people still had their wits about them. And then they brought out the wine that was of a lower quality (like box wine). But to run out of wine was not only bad hospitality but what was the message about God’s abundance then if the wine was a symbol of that and it ran out? So, Mary, being the worrying motherly type, turns to Jesus and says “they have no wine.” Now surely Jesus knew this. He was a guest at this wedding too. Was Mary stating the obvious to Jesus? Or, did she already know what Jesus was capable of? Was she sort of encouraging him as if to say “it’s okay…go ahead…I believe in you. And soon, all these people here will too.?” It’s interesting because in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ mother only appears in two places: here (at the beginning of his ministry) and then at the crucifixion (the end of his ministry).
Now Jesus could have turned to his mother and said “fine, I’ll give them a few bottles, but when those run out these people are on their own!” Instead, he turns 6 large jars full of water into wine. We are told that each jar holds 20-30 gallons of water. This means that Jesus created 120-180 gallons of wine. It was way more than what the hosts needed, it was more than what the guests would ever drink, it was more than anything anyone could have ever imagined. Instead of talking about grace in John’s gospel, Jesus shows us what that looks like. A few verses after today’s reading we hear that “from his fullness we all have received, grace upon grace” (1.16). It’s one thing for me to stand up here week after week and talk about grace, it’s clearly another for you to experience it.
When I first started dating Chris, he invited me to attend church with him (on Christmas eve of all days). I only went because I wanted to make a good impression. I was in a season of my life where I didn’t want much to do with God or the church. And it was on that Christmas Eve that I heard about a God who loves me, no matter what. I heard about a God who forgives me, even in those moments when I can’t forgive myself. I heard about grace. Tears streamed down my face and I was thankful that it was a candlelight service. Afterwards, Chris asked me what I thought. I told him I was angry because I had never heard about grace that way. He was shocked. That’s why I feel it’s part of my call to tell whomever will listen about grace. But, experiencing it is something totally different.
The guests at the wedding experienced it. They got more than they ever thought possible. They received more than they needed. We hear every single day how we are living in a time of scarcity. There’s not enough food. There’s not enough water. There’s not enough jobs. There’s not enough security. We have a whole slew of candidates running to be President that are banking on you being scared that there’s never going to be enough….unless, that is, they are the ones elected. There’s the temptation to hoard whatever we have just for us. We don’t want to share and we certainly don’t want to share with those whom we think don’t deserve it! And that’s what makes grace so offensive.
When we experience God’s grace, it’s often 1) more than we deserve 2) unmerited 3) by total surprise. So, when was it that you last experienced God’s grace? When did God’s grace sneak up on you and surprise you so much that you might have caught your breath? When did you receive barrels and barrels of grace? Would you know it if you experienced it? Livea is about to experience it in baptismal waters. She may not realize it, but those of us gathered here do. We serve an offensive God who doesn’t care about our labels and boundaries that we either put on other people or ourselves. Because despite what we may think about who does and doesn’t deserve grace (ourselves included) we end up receiving more than we ever need. And just when we think we’ve run out, God shows up with more grace.
Grace isn’t the ultimate sin eraser, brothers and sisters. It’s a wound healer. Grace is food for the journey. Grace is a smile when you badly need one. Grace is forgiveness that’s been a long time coming. Grace is bread and wine becoming a feast. Grace is the pleasure of rocking a baby to sleep or holding the hand of a loved one as they slip from this world to the next. Grace is an empty tomb. Grace is every molecule of your body, every breath in your lungs, every hair on your head, and every step in your lifetime. It is what keeps us alive, even long after death.