Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Planning a wedding can be a wonderful, exciting experience. However, as nearly every bride or groom will tell you, planning your own wedding with your future spouse, can also drive a couple to an early separation. As I warned my nephew’s wife at their wedding., “Marrying a man is like buying something you’ve been admiring for a long time in a shop window. You may love it when you get it home, but it doesn’t always go with everything else in the house.”
Whether couples like to hear it or not, even the best intended wedding moments do not always happen as planned. I have experienced just about miscue and misstep here at Lake of the Isles. There was the young ring bearer who refused to walk down the aisle with the wedding rings, or the flower girl, who poured out all the flower petals at the first pew. I am not sure what was more painful, that, or the flower girl who methodically, and painstakingly, placed 120 flowers petals along each side of the aisle, using up the bride’s entire processional music. Then there were the two mothers of bride and groom and who had a fight just before the service leaving the bride in tears. Yes, things happen at weddings, and as a pastor, all I can promise is that at the end of the day a couple will be married. Although, I did have one bride who was concerned that that was not done properly either. She fainted in front of the altar just before I pronounced the couple, as husband and wife. No wedding planner could have anticipated that moment.
Wedding planners and coordinators, however, are not new. 2000 years ago in ancient Israel, the chief steward was the man responsible for overseeing the wedding arrangements. And, as opposed to modern tradition today, it was the groom’s family who had had the responsibility of throwing a lavish wedding reception. The celebration didn’t end after the first day when the bride and groom arrived at their new home. For the next week, while they were still dressed in their bridal clothes and with crowns on their heads, the bride and groom would hold an open house. Here they would be treated like a king and queen and for that one glorious week and their word was law. In a land where there was poverty and constant hard work to scrape a living from the soil, this was a week to remember for the rest of their lives. It also was a sign of the future joy and happiness. A successful wedding was a sign of a successful marriage.
By contrast, a shortage of good food and refreshment in the ancient world was socially devastating. To fail to provide enough wine for your guests during a wedding was a mark of humiliation on the entire family. It also dishonored their invited guests. This shameful breach would forever color the bride and groom’s memory of their wedding celebration, and serve as a fateful omen of their future bliss.
Few weddings I have performed, ever teetered on such matters of life and death, like the Wedding in Cana. But often to the people involved, the flaws and miscues felt that way. That’s why this morning’s gospel, the story of Jesus turning water into wine is such good news of hope for couples of all ages getting married, and even for the most scripted, prepared and unsuspecting wedding planner. The gospel’s message is this: God alone can provide what others cannot see.
It’s an odd thing to observe, but at the beginning of wedding, just about everybody feels they are in charge. The mother of the bride, the wedding planner, the bride and groom, the photographer, the pastor, the videographer- even the 4 year old ring bearer. At the Wedding in Cana, however, the groom was ultimately responsible. And of course, the point is he didn’t succeed. That’s the way it is with all earthly brides and grooms, mother’s- and father’s in law, videographer and photographers. Somewhere in life, we all fail to do what we ought to do and what we have promised to do.
Mind you, no one attending a wedding expects that things will go awry. Frankly, the same is true of marriage. Husbands and wives plan and trust that life will be fair, and that it will unfold as intended. But disasters come just the same, demanding more than our own strength. It was true at the wedding in Cana. St. John writes, “Suddenly, there was no wine.” Isn’t that exactly how disappointment often enters our lives as well. Suddenly, unexpectedly.
We don’t know why or how Mary noticed the rising disaster coming. Perhaps the servants had begun to pour the pitchers of wine more slowly. Or perhaps Mary was a part of the groom’s extended family, and heard the servants. Whatever reason, she felt personally responsible, and so she turned to Jesus. She knew instinctively into whose hands she could place the burden. She wasn’t too clear about what the outcome would be, but she was confident that whatever Jesus would do it would be the right thing. And so she told the servants to do whatever Jesus said.
There were six stone vessels set aside for the rites of purification. Now, if each of those vessels held between 20 and 30 gallons of water, then Jesus gave the party 180 gallons of wine. That may not have been what Mary was thinking. She might have imagined Jesus running down to Haskells and picking up a couple bottles, but what St. John illustrates here is that when the grace of God comes to those in need, there is not just an adequate supply but an abundance. You see, there is no human or physical need that can exhaust the amazing and joyful grace of God.
Yes, quietly and with measured omnipotence, Jesus plays the role of the perfect, all-providing bridegroom. Out of water comes wine—better than any husband, wife, in-law or wedding planner could provide. That’s why the chief steward having tasted the water that had become wine, and not knowing where it had come from, called the bridegroom and commended him. “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.
Many people may have seen the large stone jars being filled with water. But it was the servants alone, who had poured every gallon, were witnesses to the miracle. They heard the lord and obeyed him, “Fill the jars to the brim,” and then, “Draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” And they did it. Their unhesitating obedience is a model for all of us, including brides and grooms, mothers and fathers in law, for all of us in our daily God-given tasks. Like them, we recognize that whenever God uses our meager efforts to help others, miracles can happen.
So my friends, what should we see in this miracle at the wedding in Cana? Is it merely the story of Jesus coming to save the day? Or is it something more? Let me offer three convictions drawn from this story.
First, it reminds us that when Jesus entire our lives, even as a guest, he can provide all we need. Please note that God doesn’t promise to provide you with all that you ask for- especially if he knows it can destroy you. But God can and will provide miraculously for needs he knows must be met to empower you to follow him and his purposes.
Second, even though it a miracle of turning water into wine, we shouldn’t focus on the “wine” alone. When Mary asked Jesus to do something about the lack of wine, Jesus responded saying “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me. My time has not yet come. Jesus’ answer seems almost rhetorical. Why? Because the miracle has everything to do with God. It may be one of the sad aspects of Jesus’ first miracle. We often focus too much time and energy on the wine, that we never get to know the wine maker.
Third, remember to believe in the messenger, and not just the message. The purpose of turning water into wine is summarized in the closing verse, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” The goal, you see, was to make people believe in Jesus first and foremost before anything else. When God causes miracles to happen, he doesn’t want us to just believe in miracles, signs, and wonders and pray for them. He wants us to believe and trust in him.
That is the real lesson of the story. Whenever Jesus enters into a person’s life he can turn the imperfect perfect. It is a deep, spiritual truth as one enters into love and marriage. Jesus has the ability to transform ordinary things into extra ordinary things. If he can change water into wine, he can change lives that are incomplete into lives that are whole. Yes, in Jesus’ transforming hands he can take broken, sinful lives and strained marriages into healthy, life giving relationships again.
My friends, God is performing miracles every day, but don’t be surprised if you can’t see God’s mysterious hand. The bride and groom were unaware of the miracle Jesus performed, even the wedding planner was unaware- for only the servants knew. God is bringing a message of hope and love to desperate and broken lives. That is his promise for love, life and marriage. And with Jesus, the best is always yet to come. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.