The Unnecessary Miracle – Rev. Amanda E. Wagner
January 13, 2019 (Second Sunday after Epiphany)
Isaiah 62:1-5, John 2:1-11
Last week marked ten years that I’ve been a pastor. In January of 2009, I began serving as the student pastor of a tiny church in northern Maine. In that “elder rich” congregation, I quickly learned a whole lot about end of life care, but it wasn’t until I came to West Church that I was able to walk with folks through the more joyful life experiences of baptisms and weddings.
What I’ve found in the last six years of officiating weddings, is that something always goes wrong. I’ve worked with couples who have taken months and planned out every little detail, couples who have pulled everything together with just a few weeks’ notice, and everything in between. And the one thing that remains constant across all types of weddings is that something always goes wrong.
The ring bearer doesn’t want to carry that little pillow down the aisle. The groom forgets to turn off his cell phone. The flower girl decides it will be fun to roll down the hill in her white dress just before the ceremony starts. Or the pastor misreads her notes and asks “all who are gathered” to affirm their willingness to be married today, when that question was supposed to be asked of the couple.
Maybe everything goes just fine until the reception when the Best Man blanks in the middle of his speech. Or it’s discovered that the cake didn’t make the journey from the bakery to the reception hall in one piece. Or perhaps the wine runs out before the party has ended.
At the time, for someone who has spent months planning and preparing for that special day, the smallest things can feel like the end of the world. But, as I always assure the couples I work with, no matter what else happens or doesn’t happen, it’s only the “I do’s” and the blessing that really matter.
Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were all guests at a wedding in Cana, when something went wrong – the wine ran out. As guests, they were just there to bear witness to the marriage and enjoy the party. It wasn’t their responsibility to make sure things ran smoothly.
But as soon as she became aware of the situation, Mary filled her son in on the problem. Jesus, they’ve run out of wine. And I just love his response: So, what’s that got to do with me? How is that my concern?
It’s funny. Mary doesn’t even answer him. I can just imagine her staring Jesus down. Finally, he adds: Besides, it’s not time for me to begin my ministry. Again, Mary doesn’t bother responding to Jesus. She just turns to the workers and tells them: Ok, now just follow his instructions.
In the grand scheme of things, running out of wine at a wedding seems like such a small problem. Yet how many times do we look at real tragedies, the real disasters in life and wonder why it seems like God is still giving the same answer?
For people affected by droughts, hurricanes, oil pipelines, fracking, and lead pipes, their first concern is just to have safe drinking water. There are a lot of folks right now who genuinely think that God took one look at what happened in Puerto Rico, Flint Michigan, and the Standing Rock Reservation and said, How is that my concern?
Worse yet, there are those who call earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts a just punishment for the people of this world. Now, aside from the absurdity of the claim that God would destroy whole groups of people to punish a few, the fact of the matter is that God is not in the business of punishing people.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: Hurricane Katrina was not God’s punishment of the city of New Orleans. 9/11 was not God’s punishment of the American people. Cancer and tornados and AIDS and tsunamis and the swine flu are not God’s punishment.
They are simply the result of living in an imperfect world and not taking care of what we have been given. We have polluted our world, causing poisoned water and changes in our weather. We put up mobile homes in tornado alleys. We run oil pipelines through water sources. We inject water into the ground to access natural gas, making the ground unstable and causing homes to crumble when the resulting earthquakes hit.
The host of a wedding in Cana failed to purchase enough wine to last through the party. We allow corporations to bottle water in the middle of droughts and then wonder why wildfires spread.
Running out of wine was a trivial matter. The death and destruction that occurs as a result of our choices and our greed is not.
Jesus didn’t have to intercede to save the wedding reception. The groom could have sent the steward out to buy more wine. But Mary saw the situation, knew that Jesus could help, and did something about it.
Jesus, they’re out of wine, she told him. And even after he brushed her off, Mary still turned to the servants and told them to do whatever Jesus instructed them to do.
Jesus could have let the steward and the bridegroom figure out a solution on their own, but he heard Mary’s plea, and he did something to alleviate the problem. John states that this was the first of Jesus’ miracles, turning water into wine.
Jesus didn’t heal anyone. He didn’t feed 5,000 hungry people. He didn’t calm a storm or bring someone back from the dead. He simply heard Mary’s plea and provided wine for a party.
Even if it was the least necessary of Jesus’ many miracles, in a way this was the most telling of all his miraculous acts. Jesus wasn’t even ready to begin his ministry. It’s not my time yet. My hour hasn’t yet come, he told his mother. But when she tugged on his sleeve and told him about a need, he began his ministry right then and there, at a wedding in Cana.
That is what we hold onto today. Jesus didn’t cause the wine to run out, yet when Mary tugged on Jesus’ sleeve and asked for more, he provided. God did not cause the drought in California, the hurricane in Puerto Rico, or the water crisis in Flint and Standing Rock. But God has been and is still at work in each of those places, bringing comfort and healing along with relief efforts from around the world.
Some might question why God doesn’t stop the tsunamis and earthquakes and hurricanes, and that’s a completely valid question. Why didn’t God stop the wildfires and hurricanes? Better yet, why doesn’t God get rid of all pain and sickness and suffering on the earth?
I can’t offer an answer to those questions. Nobody can. But in the face of a horrific tragedy, we can learn from our mistakes. We can own up to our part in the disasters of the world and work to ensure that the next one won’t bring about the level of devastation that the last one did.
We have a responsibility as stewards of God’s creation to live in a way that is life-giving and loving toward all of God’s children, both here in our country and around the world.
We can make sure that all people have adequate housing and drinking water and buildings that stand up to the weather and other forces of nature. And when we see a need, we should be the ones tugging on God’s sleeve through prayer and petition, asking for God’s mercy and healing.
When Jesus turned the water into wine, the steward declared this new wine to be even better than what they had been serving. It was customary to serve the best wine first, but the steward realized that what he had originally thought was the best was actually inferior.
Sometimes we think that life is as good as it can be, because it’s all we’ve ever known. If we don’t realize that something can be better, there’s no reason to expect anything more. Before Jesus came, life probably seemed about as good as it could be. But when Jesus came, he offered something the world had never seen before: a God who was willing to give up power to experience life and death, joy and tragedy.
We know that life is not always good or easy or happy. Jesus knows that too. Jesus knows love, joy, and sorrow because he lived it. When Jesus came to earth, he offered us something better than we had ever imagined: unconditional love. Jesus also gave us a chance to live for something more than ourselves. We have been given the opportunity to share that love with others.
Let us share God’s love with the people of Flint and California, Standing Rock and Puerto Rico, through prayer and sending aid in whatever ways we are able to give. Let us also ensure that our neighbors in this country and around the world have access to the basic necessities of life, like adequate housing and clean drinking water – things we all too often take for granted.
Natural disasters are terrible tragedies, but they are not brought about by the hand of God. Our God is a life-giving and life-affirming God who loves all people unconditionally. Let us honor that love through supporting those in need, instead of adding to the problem or pronouncing judgement upon them. Amen.