Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Best Man has the most difficult task at the wedding dinner. After all, he has the challenge of making the groom seem warm and charming and likeable to the bride’s skeptical family members. Prior to the wedding day, the groom has heard just about every critical word spoken about the male species and married life. For example, “Marriage isn’t for everybody – men for instance!” Or, “They married for better or for worse – He couldn’t have done better, and she couldn’t have done worse.” Or there’s the overly personal, “The groom was not a pretty baby – his mother got morning sickness after he was born.” For others, it is the colorful description, “The bride looks absolutely stunning, the groom looks absolutely stunned!” And of course, they have heard the word of warning from one married man to another. “I walked up the aisle and said ‘I do’. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”
To help the Best Man with the difficult task, there are books and websites dedicated to writing an effective speech for the wedding dinner. There are the obvious pointers, Prepare, Stay Sober, Express Gratitude, Tell a Story to Make a Connection, Refrain from Controversial Topics, Avoid Inside Jokes, and finally End With a Quote. This is the most important step. So an easy way to end is to use a quote that wraps the speech up nicely, and you can’t go wrong with familiar and tested, “Marriage is not about finding a person you can live with, it’s about finding the person you can’t live without.” After that you can simply say, “My friend has found that person.” Then raise your glass, and propose the toast to happiness and love. It must have been at that moment at the Wedding at Cana, that Mary discovered that there was no more wine.
I still haven’t discovered a book or a website for pastors writing an effective wedding sermon, so the poor couples here at Lake of the Isles will have accept the best I can offer. My challenge is simple. Unlike the role of the Best Man at the wedding dinner who is to make the Groom look warm, charming and likeable, I have the task of making God’s love for the Bride and Groom known to everyone- and to proclaim the assurance that he will be with this couple in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as they both shall live.
It’s a difficult task since everyone at the wedding seems a bit distracted. The bride and groom for whom the message is intended are often unaware that anything is being said to them. They are simply trying to look stunning for their wedding photos. The parents of the bride are wondering whether they really do have to pay for the no-shows at the dinner. As for the groom’s parents, they are counting their blessings and their dollars that they are not the parents of the bride. Weddings are filled with expectations, hopes and dreams. And why shouldn’t they be? After all, every wedding day is happy. It’s the living afterwards that causes all the problems.
We don’t know whether Jesus offered a toast at the wedding in Cana, or whether he even signed the guest book, but we do know what Jesus did. And it is that story which offers every bride and groom a wonderful promise of what can happen when Jesus is invited to the beginning of their new life together.
The Evangelist St. John writes that Jesus’ first sign took place in the village of Cana about six miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. It was a miracle unlike all others. Generally, when we think about the miracles Jesus performed, they are about a great physical or spiritual need. There is the healing of a broken body, or the curing of leprosy or some disease, or restoring life from death. Even in the miracles of multiplying fish and bread and feeding thousands, there is and physical need. But the miracle at the Wedding of Cana is different- it is about joy.
It was a simple village wedding. No doubt it was an arranged marriage. The bride and groom may have met each other, but they certainly wouldn’t have proposed to one another. In time they would grow to know and love each other, for that moment they needed to accept the care and support of their families, and enjoy their wedding. In a land where there was poverty and constant hard work to scrape a living from the soil, the wedding celebration was a time they would come to remember for the rest of their lives. The dinner was also was a sign of the future joy and happiness. And wine was an essential part of the celebration. As the ancient Jewish rabbis said, “Without wine there is no joy!” The slightest incident or error, however, or the lack of wine, could easily be interpreted by the community as a bad omen for the marriage.
That is exactly how disappointment enters our lives. It is comes unexpectedly, and there is no provision that will hinder its coming. We 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. Suddenly, there was no wine. And so St. John writes that, Mary turned to Jesus. She knew instinctively who to turn to, and into whose hands she should place that burden. She wasn’t too clear about what the outcome would be, but she was confident enough that whatever Jesus would do it would be the right thing. And so she told the servants to do whatever Jesus said- even after his rebuke.
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 wedding 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 boxes, 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. And just as importantly, we are told that the wine Jesus offers is the very best.
So what does this story say about the God’s love? Let me close with three convictions for those who welcome Jesus as a guest into the marriage.
First of all, the story teaches us that God loves and continuously blesses marriage, families and the home. That is at the heart of the wedding at Cana. God longs to bless brides and grooms in their new lives as husbands and wives. Yet without God’s presence in their home, many newly married couples discover instead, that there is a progression of rings: the engagement ring, the wedding ring and then, the suffering. When God is there as the unseen guest in marriage prepared and able to do what needs to be done. He knows that there will be unfulfilled dreams. And there will be moments when couples will disappoint each other. But let me assure you, God will not disappoint you. Sadly, people complain that God seems absent when disappointment and disaster do enter in. My friends, consider your invitation list. Jesus cannot change your life if you do not let him in. This is my simple counsel for couples preparing for their life together, and it is true for you as well, from the very beginning of your marriage, welcome Christ as a guest into your home.
The story also reminds us of a second truth, that love, especially in marriage, is work. Young couples preparing for marriage often live with idealized notions of love and life. They seldom think that marriage will demand any change of them. Before her wedding, a young bride was getting more and more nervous about the wedding ceremony so she went to see the minister. He reassured her by pointing out that the ceremony was quite simple. ‘You enter the church and walk up the AISLE. The groom will be waiting for you at the ALTAR. Everyone will then sing a HYMN to start the ceremony said the minister. Just remember the order and everything will be fine. On their wedding day, the bride remembered the order and arrived alongside the groom muttering to herself, AISLE, ALTAR, HYMN, AISLE ALTAR, HYMN – or as the groom thought he heard “I’ll alter him!” The truth is God will alter both the bride and groom. The love that God pours into their lives will change both of them. L.A. Peterson writes, “Most people live life and get married believing a myth – that marriage is a beautiful box full of all the things that they have longed for – companionship, sexual fulfillment, intimacy, friendship. The truth is that marriage like life, at the start is an empty box. You must put something in before you can take anything out.” Before that joy occurs, it is important to remember that you must be like the servants and the Wedding in Cana now. You can begin by filling the empty jars to the brim.
And that leads us to the final truth, with Christ as the unseen guest in love and marriage, and with hard work, the best is yet to come. Without the presence of Jesus in our lives they are often stale, flat and uninteresting. But with Jesus, life becomes colorful, sparkling and exciting. Jesus can transform an ordinary love into something wonderful and divine. You see, no life event, no rite of passage, is so unimportant that God does not want to bless you so that may find joy and pleasure. God wants to be with you in love and marriage. Yes, even as the Best Man offers the final wedding toast. The words may not be yours, but enjoy them just the same. “I enjoy a glass of wine each night for its health benefits. The other glasses are for my witty comebacks and my flawless dance moves. So here’s to the happy couples.” Yes, if Jesus can turn empty earthen jars and ordinary water into the finest wine, and the Best Man’s speech into a thing of beauty, what can he do with your life, your love and your marriage, which is even more precious in his sight?
My friends, as the pastor at a wedding that is the God I want you to know and experience. He is warm, charming and likeable to be sure. Yet, there is more. God is also performing miracles every day. But don’t be surprised if you can’t see God’s mysterious hand. The bride and groom at the wedding in Cana themselves were unaware of the miracle Jesus, the unseen guest had performed for them. Even now, 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.