Sunday, January 10, 2016

Water into Wine...Or Something More?

John 2:1-11

A few months back I stopped to call on a member of our congregation. It was intended to be just a short visit as I was dropping in on my way home for supper (and before an evening meeting). He was getting ready to leave early the next morning for surgery at a hospital a couple of hours away. Since my schedule would not allow me to see him before surgery the next day, I wanted to stop to pray with him and his wife then.

I was hardly in the door before John ushered me to the basement where he said he wanted to show me something. With a wave he pointed out the finishing work he had done on their rec-room. Woodworking is a skill he has developed and perfected since retirement. From there he took me into a back room to show me his wine making hobby. After explaining it to me step by step, with a huge smile he turned to me and said, "I would like to supply First Lutheran with our communion wine." Only he was also quick to point out that we would have to wait a year, for making wine takes time.

It is wisdom we know well, of course. Almost anything worth having takes time:
  • Human infants develop in the womb for nine months --- and they develop for generations, really, if you think about the wondrous combination of characteristics which sort out over time to make up one unique human being. And as for human character --- this takes a lifetime, sometimes, to be shaped and to grow.
  • Very few of us learn a new language or algebra or to play the piano or to play tennis in an instant. Rather, each takes months or years of discipline and practice to make it our own.
  • The taste of my sourdough or rye bread does not develop in a matter of hours. Rather it takes days for them to ferment enough to gain their full flavor. 
  • While some may claim to have experienced 'love at first sight,' relationships are grown and deepened and seasoned over time.
And yes, the truth of this came home to me again this week in matters of faith when I read a short piece about how 'the internet is killing religion.' In his writing for Huffington Post, Paul Wallace makes the unsurprising point that our constant use of internet is so shaping our minds that we are unable to pay attention to any one thing for the prolonged amount of time needed to appreciate it, or grow with it, or adapt to it or... and this takes a particular toll when it comes to our journeys of faith. 

This makes sense, of course. Indeed, I am working hard these days to reclaim the gifts of centering prayer which calls one to simply sit quietly for a set period of time, to breathe deeply, and to focus one's energy and attention on The Holy. So yes, at least in my own hard earned experience and observation, it is so that deepening faith also takes time.  

Almost anything worth having takes time.

Unless you are at the wedding which Jesus and his mother and his disciples attend in the wonderful account before us in today's Gospel. For there, as we know so well, the wine is not only made in an instant. The wine is also made in almost unimaginable abundance. And this wine is of the finest quality.

Now I have to say that I found myself both fascinated and a little disheartened as I scrolled down to read the comments which followed up that little article about the internet 'killing religion.' For while some were commiserating with the author, far more were gloating in their tone --- asking if it was such a bad thing that 'religion was being killed.'

And I wondered then at those who would respond to the writer's thoughts in this way. I wondered at what in their own journey had led them to offer such celebratory comments about the demise of something which is so precious to so many. And I wondered at how they must hear a story like the one that is ours to share this week. Of course, I hardly have to wonder, for I strongly suspect that they would take my deep love of this story as a sign of my ignorance. Or my unthinking faith.

For it is so that they are right if they insist that anything worth having takes time and that fine wine is simply not made in an instant.

And yet, I wonder now, if I were to engage in conversation with the skeptics, if I might get a little further by pointing out that perhaps the water turning into wine is not the main point of this story after all --- even if it appears to be the focal point of the miracle.

  • Indeed, I wonder if the main point is that this all came to be on 'the third day' --- and this sudden abundance of fine wine is simply pointing to the abundance of life which is promised us all in Christ's Resurrection, which also took place 'on the third day.'
  • Oh yes, I wonder if perhaps the main point might be that one of Jesus' first stops is at a wedding ---for wedding feasts are, over and over again, symbolic of the new age that God ushers in through Christ Jesus.
  • And I wonder if maybe the main point is that in Jesus there is always more than enough. Always. Even or especially when our own human planning and provisions fall short.
  • Oh I do wonder if the main point is that you and I are to enjoy and celebrate all the earthly gifts of God: for there is no mention of bottling up the wine to save it for later.
  • And I wonder if the main point is that the wine was made in 'old jars' is a sign for us all of how God continues to use the old to do new things --- that the old can continue to be a vessel for God's Good Work (old churches, old traditions, old practices...)
It is not that I believe the water turning to wine is only metaphor. Rather, I wonder if it is even something more than that --- if it points to something far more significant than what we might first think. For you see, I think this first miracle of Jesus is so much more than a gift to enhance a wedding feast (and to cover up the inevitable embarrassment of the host.) Even this every abundant wine would only have lasted a few days. But changed hearts and changed lives? These last forever. And if this water turned into wine points to that? Well, now, that is something!

Indeed, I have seen this to be so even in the example of the promised communion wine for the congregation I now serve. For yes, it is so that the wine from John's basement will not be ready for another year. But in this one person of faith, I witnessed joy in great abundance at his dawning realization that something he does for fun could possibly be a gift for all and that in its being shared in this way it promises be a part of something holy which offers sustenance and forgiveness and joy. 

Indeed, maybe the wine itself is not the main point after all.

Now, I don't know how this plays with the nay-sayers who celebrate the demise of religion as we know it. And yet, the conversation about what the 'main point' is, is surely worth having. Maybe especially with those who have left it all behind. For I can't help but believe that we all yearn for abundance and for old gifts made new and for the certainty that even our human shortfalls are forgiven. I wonder if they also might hear this story as life-giving if we remember together that it is really not about the wine, but rather about how the abundance of God's gifts live and grow and multiply in our lives. What do you think?
  • What do you think the 'main point' of this story is? Is it about the wine? Or is it about something more?
  • Do any of my offerings above make sense to you? Why or why not?
  • How does this story 'preach' in an age of skepticism? Is it helpful to hear it as a metaphor for something more or not?


  1. Dear Pastor Janet,
    The part that jumped out at me was when you said that "the wine was made in 'old jars' is a sign for us all of how God continues to use the old to do new things --- that the old can continue to be a vessel for God's Good Work." You went on to mention old churches, old traditions, old practices... Well, what came to my mind was those of us who are older members; that we can continue to be a vessel for God's good work! God continues to use us to spread God's love and to show kindness, to work for justice right where we live! God isn't done with me yet! Thanks be to God! Thank you, Pastor Janet for giving me words of hope on this cold Monday morning. :)

  2. Thanks for the thoughts Janet. Your comments help me remember how when Jesus is up to something so often there is the so much more that he is up to than we see on the surface. The deeper of what encounters with Jesus can and do mean should always be pondered.

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  4. I love your thoughts on this passage. It made me wonder about just as it takes a good wine time to age I also think that it takes time for the distain to grow in the hearts of people, perhaps an old wound from a time in church long ago. The massage you shared is about the abundance of grace to change the water into something more valuable.