Extra-Ordinary Grace

Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
January 14, 2018

John 2: 1-11 (CEB)
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and 2 Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. 3 When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.”

4Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.”

5His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons.

7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. 8Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did. 9The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

The headwaiter called the groom 10and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first. They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely. You kept the good wine until now.” 11This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

There’s this lady that calls in to the “Ellen” show on a pretty regular basis. Over the years, she’s become something of a staple character on the show. Her name is Gladys. Gladys got onto the “Ellen” show because she wrote a letter to Ellen complaining about where the plants were placed on the set. Apparently, this rather unusual complaint really piqued Ellen’s interest in just who this Gladys lady was and what she was up to. So, during one of her shows, Ellen called Gladys on the phone. And Ellen asked Gladys, “Have you ever been on TV before?” This was Gladys’ response. She said, “Well, no.” And then she said, “But I love Jesus, but I drink a little.” I have no idea why Gladys answered that way. All Ellen asked was if Gladys had been on TV before; not whether she went to church, or knew Jesus, or anything like that.
“I love Jesus,” Gladys said, “But I drink a little.” I was reminded of Gladys’ answer this week when I was talking with some of my friends, and one of them confessed that maybe he cusses a little too much. And he said, “I mean, I’m a good person, these words just come out sometimes.” So I thought to myself, “He’s essentially saying, ‘I love Jesus, but I cuss a little.’” As I thought about what my friend said, and what Gladys said, it occurred to me that there’s a lot of truth to this idea in the lives of many people, including my own. We all deal with this type of thing. “I love Jesus, but…”
How about you? For some it may be, “I love Jesus, but I use words that hurt people sometimes.” Or “I love Jesus, but I talk a little too much behind other people’s backs.” Maybe it’s, “I love Jesus, but my house is a little too big.” Or “I love Jesus, but I work at a job and make a little too much money—of which I don’t give back to the church.” We could go on and on. “I love Jesus, but I like to sleep in on Sunday mornings.” Or “I love Jesus, but I’m kinda lazy.” So often, there is this hesitancy in our faith; this feeling of inadequacy. And like Moses and Mary and so many others, there are these uncertainties that are always lingering just at the edge of our faith.
A few moments ago, we read the story of the wedding in Cana in Galilee. John’s gospel is the only one that contains this story, and it is the first of John’s “sign” stories. There are seven of these stories of Jesus miraculous acts or healings, each of which is a sign, revealing something about who Jesus was. Anyway, this story of the wedding of Cana follows right on the heels of Jesus calling his first disciples. Just before the story of the wedding, at the end of chapter 1, Jesus goes around to this kind of rag-tag group of guys and asks them to follow him. These are just ordinary people. And as they sign on to follow Jesus, all they really know is that they have chosen to follow this other (pretty ordinary looking) guy who has promised to show them a sign. But really, as they all head to the wedding together, their lives haven’t changed all that much, especially not on the inside. And I wonder if they didn’t sometimes say to themselves, “We want to really follow this guy, but we’ve got all this baggage in our lives.” So the question becomes, “What is Jesus going to do with this group of disciples. How is he going to mold them and shape them to become the people that he will send out to reach the world?
John’s gospel tells us that on the third day, meaning the third day after he called the disciples (though if some other third day were to come to mind, that wouldn’t disappoint John). Anyway, on the third day, Jesus performs this miraculous act that reveals God’s glory to those around him, and it’s at this wedding in Cana of Galilee.
The whole scenario is really quite fascinating. Jesus, and his mother, and disciples are at a wedding. And Middle Eastern weddings in the first century were huge affairs. They lasted a long time; sometimes a week or more wedding guests would be partying together with the bride and groom. At this wedding, it just so happens that the host runs out of wine, which would’ve been a great shame on the family. So Mary goes to Jesus and essentially says to Jesus, “They’re out of wine.” To which Jesus responds, basically, “They should’ve hired a better wedding planner.” He’s not the host of the wedding after all. But then he says something interesting. He says, “My time has not yet come.” We don’t know the precise meaning of Jesus’ words here, though the implication is that there will come a time in the future when Jesus will completely reveal his glory and his disciples will see it all, but that time has not come yet. But here’s the fantastic thing about this passage. Even though Jesus says, “It’s not my time,” he still does what his Mom asks him to do. So Mary turns to the servants and instructs them to do whatever Jesus tells them to do.
So Jesus goes to work. Jesus points to the big jugs that hold water, and he tells the servants to fill those jugs with water. But these weren’t jugs meant for drinking water, they were meant to hold water that would be used during Jewish purification ceremonies. In other words, they would have been used to kind of tell the Jewish person, “You have been cleansed from your sins, you are clean, you are one of us, you are a fellow Jew.” So Jesus tells the servants to fill these six huge jugs with water, which they do. And then, when they open the jugs back up, the water has been transformed into wine. Jesus takes these ancient symbols of cleansing and turns them into something new. Jesus transforms these ordinary water jugs into something extraordinary, vats of the finest wine. Jesus does this to reveal his glory, to show his disciples and those around him that God can take anything old, anything new, anything ordinary, anything mundane, and change it into something amazingly powerful and different. I am convinced that no matter how young or how old we are, no matter our hang-ups or let downs, God can take us just as we are and God can create in us something miraculous, something wonderful, something God can use miraculously for God’s kingdom. And God does this out of sheer grace—not because we’ve earned it, or deserved it, not because it is God’s responsibility, but because God loves us. And God’s grace is as abundant as those vats of wine—so much more than we could ever think or imagine!
C.S. Lewis talks about this miracle where Jesus turns water into wine. What C.S. Lewis essentially says is that Jesus doesn’t do anything in this miracle that nature doesn’t do itself. Water causes the vine to grow, as the vine grows grapes are produced. Those grapes are then taken, crushed into juice, and later fermented into wine. All Jesus did in this miracle was to cause all of those things to happen in an instant. It reminds of this great truth: God is the master of taking the ordinary, everyday thing and turning it into something extraordinary! God, in God’s infinite grace, can take all that baggage in our lives, all those hang-ups that we have, all the weaknesses, all the stumbling blocks, and God can create something amazing out of them!
But it’s not just that Jesus turned the water into wine. As John continues the story, we learn that this wine Jesus made is the best wine at the whole party! Normally, at such an event, the best wine would be served first. Then, once the guests were drunk and not caring so much about how the wine tasted any more, cheaper wine would be brought out. But not with Jesus, Jesus saves the best for last! Not only did Jesus save the wedding, he made it even more special!
I’m wondering what’s got us hung-up this morning. What’s got you feeling inadequate? What tragedies or circumstances are causing us grief and anxiety? As people who believe that Jesus can turn water into wine, we have the great hope that God will somehow, someway, do a beautiful thing in our lives as well. And God will make it happen through this abundant, extraordinary grace.
I think a key to this passage turns on that little line Mary says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” That is to say, the key to turning water into wine and sad stories into beautiful miracles is that, as people of faith, we are to listen for the word of God, the word made flesh. And when we hear it, we are to go to work in such a way that Jesus’ power flows through us and spills out onto others. In doing this, we just might find that our hang-ups, our uncertainties, our “I love Jesus, but…” is swallowed up by God’s transforming love and grace! For it is in following Jesus and serving others that we forget about ourselves and become the greater people God intends us to be.
I heard a story about a mother who wanted so badly for her son to become a great piano player. So she took him to a piano concert where the greatest player in the world was performing—hoping that this would inspire her little boy to fulfill her dreams for him. As they were sitting in their seats waiting for the concert to begin, the mother got distracted speaking to an old friend who was sitting close by her, and when she finally turned back in her seat, her son was no longer there. She was wondering, “Where in the world did he go?” The show was just about to begin and she looked up at the stage, and there on the stage was her little boy. He’d somehow gotten to the front and climbed up on the stage and was now walking, with determination toward the grand piano. The auditorium was packed. The mother watched in horror and disbelief as her young son walked up to the grand piano, sat down, and started to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” It wasn’t long before you could begin to hear a few giggles coming from the audience. But just then the great piano player suddenly walked out behind the little boy, reached his right hand around him and began to fill in the notes. Then he did the same with his left hand, even as the boy continued with the simple melody. The next thing you know, this beautiful sound filled the auditorium as folks rose to their feet in awe.
We don’t have to be some world-renowned piano player. We don’t have to have it all together. We don’t have to be perfect people. But we do have to listen to Jesus. We have to follow his instruction, his lead, and we have to allow ourselves to be filled with his extraordinary grace. If we can do that, then everything that has ever held us back will be washed away, and we will know the true transformation that is in Christ Jesus. And there is, indeed, no greater miracle in the world!

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