A Sermon about a Boatload of Wine, God’s Vision of Abundant Life, and Living in Relationship

Unity Lutheran Church + Christ the King Campus
20 January 2019 + Second Sunday after Epiphany (Lectionary 2C)
John 2.1-11
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching

How did I not join Costco sooner?! Packages of toilet paper as big as your bathtub — I’ve still got a handful of rolls from one I bought in June — and food in bulk, enough to feed probably a literal army. So, maybe I — a single guy with no kids — am not exactly Costco’s target consumer base, but come on, even the gas is cheaper! So it all evens out, right?

Recently, social media land was abuzz with news of one of Costco’s newest products: a 27-pound bucket(!) of macaroni and cheese, with 180 servings and a shelf life of up to 20 years. All yours for only $89.99.

It all seems a bit excessive, even comically so… but you’ve gotta admit, Costco is a vision of abundance… on par with our miracle of abundance in today’s gospel. With six stone water jars, each holding up to thirty gallons each, research tells me that’s about one thousand standard bottles of wine. That’s a lot of wine, even for Costco.

And yet: Abundance here is more than just a lot of wine. Notice how the story begins: “The mother of Jesus was there…” (Jesus and his disciples had also been invited…) Almost like a parenthetical aside… and then, back to his mother. It seems like a minor detail, but the inclusion of “the mother of Jesus” — John never calls her Mary — in the wider context of the whole gospel is significant. In fact, she’s only mentioned twice — once here and once several chapters later during the crucifixion. There’s something about Mary…

We don’t get the traditional nativity story in John — but instead this seemingly convoluted, poem-like prologue, about the Word and becoming flesh and light shining in darkness. And then this line: “God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart…” The Greek word is closer to something like “bosom” or “breast.” This more literal translation — Jesus close to the Father’s breast— conveys the intimacy of a parental relationship, the utter dependence of a newborn child on their parents.

That’s chapter one. Then, only a handful of verses later, we finally meet the mother of Jesus. I don’t think John forgot her name, but I do think John is trying to make the link explicit: Jesus is dependent on both his parents, his heavenly Father and his earthly mother.

From the beginning of the story about the wedding at Cana, it’s clear that this is a story about the relationship between a mother and her son. John wants us to see the dependence of Jesus on his mother. And his mother’s clever insistence: She’s the one who notices there’s no wine left, and she’s the one who approaches Jesus to do something about it. It sort of makes you wonder: What does she know that everyone else doesn’t know yet?

We don’t quite know what happens in Jesus’s mind, but clearly this relationship has influenced him in some way. More than just turning water into wine, this miracle begins with a relationship — and it also ends with relationship.

It’s also important to note that for John, miracles aren’t actually miracles, but signs. They point us to something else, something bigger. There are seven signs in John’s gospel, and this is the first. In most cases, there’s a pattern: the sign itself, then those who saw it trying to make sense of it, and finally Jesus having to explain it. But here, that happens in reverse. First, the explanation: Jesus is in relationship with his Father and mother and dependent on them. Then, the sign of abundance.

These things — relationship, dependence, abundance — all intersect. This is only sign number one, but looking ahead to the signs to come, one thing is clear: An act of abundance always leads to relationship.This is perhaps most profound in Jesus’s final sign: the raising of Lazarus — where the man who was dead, dead, dead is suddenly restored to life and soon after reclining at the dinner table with his family and with Jesus.

But this first sign, too, tells us something about Jesus. He acts out of love, out of his relationship with his mother and his Father, to bring abundance — a physical abundance of wine to a festive, social celebration. That abundance, too, fosters community, and it becomes more profound with each sign… Jesus is continually restoring people to abundant life, to relationship, to community. This sign gives us a foretaste to tell us something about Jesus, and it tells us something about ourselves: We are made for relationship! We are made to be in relationship with each other and to depend on one another.

This week, we commemorate the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who knew that the struggle for civil rights had to be rooted in relationship. As he writes in his letter from Birmingham city jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” King’s vision of racial equality and justice — part of God’s vision of abundant life for all people — begins and ends with relationship — working together in pursuit of the kind of abundance that brings about renewal and life.

It makes me think of what we’re doing here at Unity: This merger of two congregations into one collaborative ministry has brought renewal and new life and energy and abundance to both our campuses and revitalized our common sense of mission: Celebrate. Share. Renew.

That’s not to say there aren’t times where it gets frustrating or feels stale or even like it’s not working out… times when it feels like we’re out of wine, running low on the good stuff, as it were… But take another look at the mother of Jesus. “They’re out of wine,” she says. “How is that our problem?!” Jesus asks, sharply. Yet Mary is insistent and won’t take no for an answer. Where Jesus is hesitant, his mother is persistent. She’s the real catalyst behind what happens next. Did she change his mind? Does this text suggest that we can somehow influence bringing about God’s vision of abundant life? Martin Luther King, Jr., surely thought so. He was adamant about our role as co-workers with God, actively participating in God’s mission in the world.

This partnership in ministry is a work in progress, but if there’s one thing this text can remind us of, it’s this: Abundant life is rooted first in relationship, pulling us outside of ourselves and leading us into ever wider, more expansive, more welcoming community.

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