Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 17, 2016
[sermon begins after the Bible reading]
John 2:1-11 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to 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.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Take a walk down a grocery store aisle with me. Imagine it. Laminate tile floors. Bright fluorescent light. A slow, very relaxed shopper in front of us. A parent telling their child “no” as they walk by the soda. We’re making a quick stop at an unfamiliar store because it’s our job to show up with water. We’re checking aisle signs so we can get in and get out of the store quickly. Down at the end of the next aisle we can see the sign for water. Arriving at our destination under the water sign, there is row upon row upon row of wine bottles. Three shelves high, wine bottles in rows underneath the sign for water. And you turn to me and say dryly, “Jesus was here.” Not only do I have a little envy that you thought of it first but, more importantly, we laugh like crazy about one of my favorite Bible stories.
Which leads me to the point that this Bible story is difficult for me to preach. Not because it’s in the Gospel of John. Not because of any need to try and explain how or if the supernatural sign occurred. Not because of its links to Hebrew scripture and God’s covenant with God’s people that’s compared to marriage vows. And not because I’m left wondering why the wine steward doesn’t seem to have any of that bad wine to serve the drunk wedding guests. (Do those drunk people really need more wine?) It’s difficult for me to preach because it is dear to me. It’s dear to my experience of faith and my experience of life. A dear taste of grace in scripture when other verses can be so puzzling. When something is so dear and well-worn, it makes preaching trickier.
Regardless, we begin at a wedding. Joy and celebration abound. Jesus is there. His mother is there. It’s an epic party where the wine is flowing until it runs out. The celebration seems fitting. Jesus’ ministry is inaugurated by the events at this wedding. Parties are commonplace at inaugural events but how often do inaugural events happen at parties? During a party like this one, I can imagine someone saying, “I feel like I shouldn’t be having fun when there is so much suffering in the world.” Why can I imagine that question? Because people say that kind of thing to me fairly regularly.
It is in this tension between joy and suffering that the Wedding at Cana really shines. Jesus is at a wedding celebration. He is embodied grace smack in the middle of it. His presence and activity at the wedding does not obscure the very real problem of Roman oppression or the pain that is experienced in everyday living. He is an example of celebrating life in spite of Rome and in spite of day-to-day suffering. He is also more than an example.
Turning water into wine and other things happening at the Wedding at Cana points us somewhere. It’s a little bit like echolocation that bats and whales use. Those animals make a sound and they can figure out their position in relation to another location based on the echoes that return. If fact, when I preach from these verses at weddings and funerals, I often use the word “echoes” to describe what’s happening between the wedding celebration and Jesus’ death on the cross.
Some of the words in the story echo back from the cross. The story itself begins “On the third day” which echoes Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus references his “hour not yet come.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ hour refers to the time that he will hang on a cross. Even the tasty wedding wine itself echoes back from the sour wine given to quench Jesus’ thirst on the cross. Jesus’ mother is not named in the Gospel of John. She is called “the mother of Jesus.” She shows up in the gospel only twice – once at the Wedding at Cana and then again at the cross. Jesus’ mother is another echo. From his first sign of turning water into wine, the cross is already in play. Suffering is on the horizon. And curiously, Jesus is at a party.
The Wedding at Cana is how life works. There are moments of joy and there are moments of suffering. Neither joy nor suffering are completely absent while the other is present. Both are human. Both are faithful. I want to be clear here that I’m not talking about blind optimism in the face of suffering. As if everything is fine despite all evidence to the contrary. I’m talking about faithful joy in the gift of life while being honest about the truth of suffering and working to alleviate it as Jesus calls us to do.
Jesus is at a party where the wine steward knows how things usually work in the world. After Jesus turns the water into wine, the wine steward goes to the bridegroom and says, “Everyone serves the good wine after the guests have become drunk; but you have kept the good wine until now.” I read this as the place where sin shows up in the story. “Everyone” tries to hide what they’re doing and get away with substandard wine late in the wedding celebration. This shenanigan is the norm. But not this time. Not this wedding. Not this Jesus.
Jesus’ turning of water into wine toward the end of the wedding party throws the reverse switch on how things often work in the world. Jesus’ sign reverses what we expect as normal. Like the wine steward, expecting that people will protect their own interests at the expense of people who are unaware of the mischief at their expense.
Tomorrow this country celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and ministry. He stands among the saints as an example of throwing the reverse switch against the accepted cultural norms of racism and poverty in his day. He believed people could do better in the face of black people suffering at the hands of white people. He believed that racism makes everyone less than human – victims and perpetrators alike. He believed this from a place of faith that is unequivocal about God loving all people. All people. And God’s love for all people inspired a movement of human dignity that continues through today. People of all colors continuing to throw the reverse switch against the cultural norms of racism and poverty. He believed this from a place of faith that is unequivocal about God loving all people. All people.
There is a relevant aside about MLK Jr. to add to our conversation about living in joy while being honest about suffering and our own hand in it. He is attributed as saying, “It is cheerful to God when you rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart.” This from a man who saw and experienced raw suffering as racist cultural norms were viciously protected.
We sing songs and pray prayers of praise, joy, and thanksgiving in worship today as our bodies turn toward the processional cross as well as face the cross at the front during worship. Our worship mirrors the tension between joy and suffering at the Wedding at Cana. Our worship mirrors life. Life that Jesus gives as he shows up with us in both celebration and suffering.
Jesus gives life by way of his own life. Life that showed up in the skin of a baby. Life that laughs with joy at a wedding party. Life that knows suffering. Life that is given for all people. Life that is given for you despite your own efforts to live on your own terms. That’s the promise God makes to you. Let’s celebrate.
 Meme posted: http://dailypicksandflicks.com/2012/05/20/daily-picdump-464/jesus-was-here-wine-on-water-aisle/
 John 21:11-20
 John 16:32
 John 19:28-29
 John 19:25-27
 Martin Luther King Jr. http://martinlutherkingjrquotes.org/martin-luther-king-jr-quotes-bootstraps.html