"Glimpses of God"
Scripture - John 2:1-11
Sermon Preached by Randall T. Clayton
Sunday, January 18, 2015

This weekend we remember the life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. His work for justice, his commitment to nonviolence, and his dream for what could be, and should be, is something that I hope we never forget. King pushed for change, preached for change, protested for change. King was arrested for change and King was martyred for change. Change, which I believe, was God inspired. And so in his work, and his witness, we can get a glimpse of what God desires for all creation.

Dr. King not only worked to break down racial divides, but he also worked for economic justice and for an end to the Vietnam War. I suspect were he alive, he would still be calling us today to commit ourselves to addressing the deep seeded racial prejudices that so clearly still exists. I suspect he would challenge us to end the economic injustice which allows - and even encourages - those who have much to get more at the expense of those who have less. And, I also suspect Dr. King would have more than a few words to say about our propensity to solve disagreements with guns and bombs.

As we ponder King's life and legacy this weekend, perhaps compared to his soaring rhetoric, formidable political skills, and God-given dreams, Jesus' actions at a wedding in Cana may seem a little insignificant. I mean, in Cana Jesus didn't command a lame man to stand up and walk. In Cana he didn't resuscitate a dead Lazarus. In Cana he didn't confront those in power or feed 5000 people. Instead, in Cana he rescued a wedding reception. Don't get me wrong here, what Jesus did was amazing, this turning of water into wine. But in that reception tent no evils were ameliorated, and no injustice rectified.

On the surface, what he did in Cana may not seem to be on the same level as, say, Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus, or 4 African American college students sitting at a Woolworth's lunch counter in 1960, or King putting his life on the line for justice. But then again, perhaps there's more than meets the eye at a wedding reception in Cana. Perhaps Cana isn't so much a miracle of wine-from-water, as it is a signpost that points us to God's intentions and God's actions in the world.

In Jesus' day, wedding banquets were not the 2-to-4 hour affairs of most wedding receptions today...they might go on for a full 7 days, during which time food would be plentiful and wine even more so. Brides, Grooms and their parents would scrimp and save to make sure they had enough money for enough wine. Forget photographers and videographers capturing every moment of the wedding day. Forget floral displays that wowed everyone. Forget the limousine. Forget a showy ring, or an expensive honeymoon. It was all about the wedding banquet, and about the wine.

So when Jesus' mother and Jesus and his disciples all showed up at the feast to celebrate the wedding of a couple in Cana, they would have expected the food and wine to be flowing freely, even though the party had been going on for 3 days already. But sometime after arriving, Jesus' mother got wind of a potentially bad situation: the wine was running out. The bottles were nearly empty and there were no more cases in reserve behind the bar. Knowing how humiliating, how embarrassing, it would be for everyone if the wine stopped flowing, Jesus' mother slid up to her son, pulled him aside, and said, "Jesus, the wine's almost gone. There's no more in the back room. What's left on the tables is all there is."

Was she merely reporting to him that there was no wine, like we might report to our spouses upon arriving home from work that there was bad accident along Route 52 on the way home? Or was she reporting it to him because she expected him to do something? We don't really know. And, if she was expecting him to do something, what was she expecting him to do? Since he had not yet performed any miracles, presumably she didn't expect that he would snap his fingers and bottles would appear. Perhaps if she was expecting anything, she was merely expecting him to gather his disciples and for them to head down to the local liquor store to buy a few cases of wine.

While we don't know exactly what Jesus' mother expected of Jesus, we do know how Jesus responded. "Woman", he said, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?"

It might seem odd to our 21st century ears that Jesus didn't address his mother as "Mother" or "Mom" or even "Mary" but that he used the term "Woman," in speaking to her. Yet, in his day the title "Woman" was considered a very respectable and respectful form of address. So Mary would not have found it odd in the least that Jesus called her "Woman." And, while his response, "What concern is that to you and to me" may sound a bit harsh to us, Jesus was using very familiar saying of his day which wasn't considered flippant or uncaring.

Although his response to his mother wasn't a complete and total refusal to act, it did put some distance between his mother and himself, and between his mother's request and his action. And then he increased the distance by noting that it was not yet his "hour." It was not yet his "time" to act. His timetable was not the caterer's, not the bridegroom's, not the brides, or the bride's mother, or even his mother's timetable. Jesus' timetable was God's.

But despite the distance Jesus put between her request and his actions, Jesus' mother seemed to understand that when Jesus is near, even when it appears that we are running out, it's possible to discover that there's really an abundance. So she moved to the servants who were serving tables and refilling the buffet line and said to them, "Do whatever he tells you."

Now there were 6 stone jars sitting in that tent which were usually held water used to perform various religious rituals. These were large jars, each of which would hold about 30 gallons of water. Jesus looked at them and said to the servants, "Fill them up. Fill them all the way up. Fill them all the way up to the brim. Fill them until they are overflowing and water is running everywhere."

Once the servants had completed that task Jesus said, "Now, dip some out and take it to the caterer and let him taste it." When the caterer tasted what was in the dipper, he realized he was drinking the best wine he had ever consumed. This was no Boon's Farm; this was exquisite, something much better than any the top 10 wines listed in the current issue of Wine Spectator.

Presumably the caterer had been aware of the impending wine disaster so he was understandably surprised that there was suddenly more wine in the tent. He wondered, where did the groom get this wine? Where had it been stored? And furthermore, he wondered why the hosts would wait to pull this amazing vintage out until 3 days into the celebration when you could have easily served Boons Farm and no one would have known the difference.

But maybe the most amazing thing was the sheer quantity of wine now available. He could do the math. Let's see...6 stone jars each of which held 30 gallons of liquid, and they were each filled to the brim, overflowing in fact; that equaled 180 gallons...180 gallons of wine. That was an incredible abundance of wine to have at this point in the party. No more worries about running out before the party ended. There was enough, more than enough, for everyone.

The caterer saw this amazing amount of incredible wine and without eyes to see the sign, believed the only explanation that seemed rational to him - that the bridegroom had stashed it away without his knowledge. But the servants who had witnessed the miracle saw the real truth...they knew that those jars filled to the brim with water-turned-to-wine was a signpost pointing them to God's work in Jesus Christ, and a signpost that proclaimed that with Jesus in their midst, whenever it looked like things were running out, there might still be an abundance.

Although turning water into wine might not seem like a miracle on par with some of the rest of what Jesus did in his ministry, John says this miracle was a sign. A sign. As a sign along I-95 might point us to a rest stop or to a highway we need to get to our destination; this story points beyond a wedding tent in Cana to God, and to God's intention for creation. Just as a signpost along the road side isn't usually the destination we seek, but leads us to where we want and need to go, so too, what Jesus did that day in Cana is a sign, a sign pointing us to the abundance that flows from Jesus' love; a sign that says to those who have eyes to see that in Jesus we see God, and in his actions we get a glimpse of God at work.

Water into wine - it's amazing. It saved a bridegroom from being humiliated. But more than that, and more importantly than that, what Jesus did in Cana was a sign pointing to God in Jesus Christ, reminding us of the abundance that God has provided even when it seems as if we have run out; a sign telling us that it's possible we too just might get a glimpse of God right here, today.

When I was Executive Director down at Meeting Ground, we once had a very serious problem with the well at one of our transitional housing sites. 35 men, women, and children who were there at the time depended on water from that well for eating, drinking and bathing. But one day without warning, the well stopped working. We called the experts out and they pronounced the well "dead-on-arrival." A new well would need to be drilled before we had water again.

But we at Meeting Ground knew that new wells don't just miraculously appear overnight, that the residents at that site couldn't wait for weeks or months for water but would need it before the new well was operational, and that those who drill new wells have an expectation to be paid when the job was done. As we tried to figure out what to do about getting potable water while we waited for a new well, we realized that the only option seemed to be to bring in huge tanker trucks full of water for cooking, drinking, and bathing. But we also realized that the cost of such water was astronomical. Having always operated on a very small shoe-string budget, with little in reserve for emergencies, the idea that we would have to pay for tanker trucks of water for several weeks as a new well was being drilled was almost unimaginable. And yet, it seemed there was no alternative so I reluctantly ordered the first of what I assumed would be many tanker trucks of water.

Looking at the costs for the new well, the costs for the water until we had an operating well, and the difficulty of life without running water from the spigots, I found myself fretting, worrying, and praying. How would we get through it? How would we pay for it all? We simply didn't have enough. Not enough water. Not enough money. I was joined in my fretting, praying, and worrying by the Board of Directors, by the residents of that transitional housing program, and by many in the community who had heard our need and stood beside us. And as we fretted, worried and prayed, surprisingly (or perhaps really not), we started getting phone calls from people nearby who wanted to help. Calls came from some of you here at Westminster, in fact.

"I've got a case or 2 of water in my garage. I'm bringing it down, giving it to you."

"I'm stopping by the grocery store on my way home and I'm going to buy all the water they have and will deliver it to you."

"Feel free to stop by my house anytime, turn on my hose and fill as many bottles and buckets as you can, as often as you wish, for as long as you need." And as I spoke to the people who called us, I felt as if I were hearing God's voice on the other end of the telephone as I encountered signposts pointing me and all of those who needed water to God's love.

During the weeks we had no well, cars and pickup trucks seemed to pull up in the drive with some frequency - cars and pickups with bottles and jugs of water that they were donating to us. And I came to see that those cars weren't just Toyota Corollas and Ford Explorers, but that they were signs that God was in our midst.

And with each hand that handed us water, or helped us carry it, or gave us a donation to help pay for the new well, I got glimpse after glimpse of God; signs after signs of God's love; signposts pointing to God's abundance available to us as those around us shared their abundance.

This week your Church in the World Committee here at Westminster voted to send money for medicines and medical supplies to a clinic in Pokwo. They also voted to send money that will be used for water, food and fuel for Syrians in desperate need which will be distributed to persons through local churches. While these funds don't solve the systemic problems that have led to terrible conditions, these donations will provide necessities, and hopefully will also give those in dire need a glimpse of God. As we share our abundance, it is my prayer that peoples in Ethiopia and Syria and all over the globe will be able to experience God's abundance through us, and that as they do, will see signpost proclaiming, "God cares," "God saves," "God has not abandoned you."

In words we do well to remember, Dr. King once proclaimed in a sermon, "I have a dream." And he shared that dream with the world. He dreamed of a day when we would "live out the true meaning of our creed, that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women] are created equal." King dreamed of a day when we all could sit at the table together, (red, and yellow, black and white as the old song says). King dreamed of a day when places "sweltering in the heat of injustice and oppression might be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice." King dreamed of a day when "every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain made low, the rough places made plain, and crooked places made straight and the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together." {Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have A Dream", in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, James M. Washington, editor, HarperSanFrancisco, 1986}

King proclaimed, "I have a dream," but it wasn't just King's dream, it was God's dream for all creation. And, if we embrace this dream, and we pray for it, and we work for it, sharing our love and resources, abundantly, being signposts of God's love for God's beloved community, I have no doubt that others will see signs of God's presence as God's love and justice is reflected in our actions.

Let us dream that dream with King. Let us share that dream abundantly. And, let this weary world see signs of that dream lifted up in our voices, lifted up in our hands, and lifted up in our hearts so that God's beloved creation might get a glimpse of the saving love of God in Christ.

Let us dream the dream. Amen.