Justice & Joy


(Sermon from Nov. 19, 2017, King of Kings Lutheran Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan)

The headwaiter called the groom 10 and 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.” –John 2, The Wedding at Cana, Common English Bible

New Things. New Beginnings. A New way to express who we are, as we work together through changes that have come upon us as if in a wind-tunnel. The news in our lives as a community, as a country and individually have come on so hard and fast in the last year that at times, it takes our breath away. Every day it seems we have to accommodate something new. We even have a name for this phenomenon: the New Normal.

We have new people with us today. We did not have long to anticipate their arrival, and yet their presence gives us an opportunity to demonstrate hospitality.

New wine. That’s what Jesus produced, out of ritual water that was likely used to ritually wash one another’s feet. A distinct sign of servanthood. THAT’s the water, he transformed into something like an Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon 1941 – $24,675. Talk about a new ministry!

I wrote this sermon using a new method of research, new to me anyway. Old to most biblical scholars, that is I dove headfirst into the original Greek, and came back up having secured the sparkly toy at the bottom of the pool.

Because what I found in the Greek included some treasures that speak to this new thing we are about to do here today, witness the marriage of two men, during our regular Sunday morning worship.

The Gospel today begins: On the third day, a wedding took place in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.

This is the ONLY time that John uses “on the third day.” Up until now, John was all about the hours, or the next day.

And since there is no Christmas story in John’s gospel, this is also the moment we meet Jesus’ family. That’s who he traveled with, to Cana, for a wedding—family, friends, disciples. We can imagine that.

If you translate the original Greek word for word, it reads like this:

And the wine having run out the mother of Jesus says to him, “They have no wine.” One way to interpret this odd phrase, “the wine having run out,” is that the wine was lacking; inferior; insufficient. But another interpretation is something like this: the wine, was not–to have or to hold.

It was Jesus’ mother who said it directly: “They have no wine. Note, she did not say, “They have no wine – fix it!” Unless of course, her tone might have conveyed…We could imagine.

And then we hit this: Jesus says to her, “What to me and to you, woman?  My hour does not arrive yet.” In our culture today, we might think that Jesus’ calling his mother, Woman, was disrespectful. But that’s not necessarily true. More likely, his words here were something like: “C’mon m’lady, this has nothing to do with us. We need not get involved. No one expects us to provide the wine.”

It wasn’t that someone else’s wine fail was not their business, the issue was more like: Jesus is not ready to address matters like this yet. There’s too much happening all at once. This serious miracle will be the very first the disciples witness according to John. In changing water into wine, Jesus essentially came out in a way that might have made him feel somewhat vulnerable. I mean, if you could do miracles, and you know that the political climate of the day was anxious, and quick to anger. If you knew that laws that offered the most vulnerable protection were being rolled back, wouldn’t you too be nervous about drawing attention to yourself with something as noteworthy as changing water into wine?

His mother says to the servers, “That which he might say to you, do.” 

Which means, honestly, Mary has no idea what Jesus might or might not tell them. Yet she trusts that whatever he says or doesn’t say, will be divine.

Yet six stone water jars were there being situated according to the purification of the Jews, each yielding two or three measures.   

There being situated … is about leaving space, space which is held for another thing, or another person. It’s about making room for something that is not yet there.

And these stone jars? These are large vessels, not small pitchers. They were intended as a source for ritual washing–not for drinking.

 “Fill the water jars with water,” and they filled them all up. And says to them, “Now, draw out and carry to the head of the table.” Then they carried.

Yes, this means to carry water. And it means: to carry a burden, physically, or, to carry a spiritual burden, possibly of another person. We do that for one another. We help carry grief. We help carry anger. We carry one another’s tears.

Then when the head of the table tasted the water that had become wine, and is not having known from where, but the servers who had drawn the water having known, the head of the table addresses the bridegroom…in the mix of all these words, one of the translations for the Greek was this:

Taste, and see …what you think of it.

Taste and see.

The means by which the water transformed into the finest wine is not really the point. We know: that it happened: yes. How it happened: no. What it means? absolutely. What it means is that a new ministry is being revealed. God is doing something new. And doing it in a way that cannot be missed.

And he says to him, “Every person serves the good wine first, and when they are drunk, the inferior; You have retained the good wine until last. 

Retained. to set out, to put in place. And also, to lay down. To lay one’s burden down.

In the end, this story that begins, On the third day, is a story of resurrection. Whether a foreshadowing of the resurrection of Jesus, or a story about the resurrected life in general, it is about new life. What if resurrection is to life as we know it, as fine wine is to inferior wine?

Jesus and his family traveled to Cana, because of the tension Jesus was experiencing between public and private ministry. Cana would have been a safer place to do ministry until the hour was right…to be in Jerusalem, or Galilee, or his hometown of Nazareth.

But what happened was anything but private. The miracle at Cana brought out into the open something that had been hidden: Jesus’ capacity to work miracles. To transform the shame of the wedding hosts’ running out of wine, by turning water for washing into new wine.

And THAT, brings us to today. To this new thing that we are about to do. A wedding. In worship. Of two men, for whom this is not their hometown. Therefore, we do not really, know them, nor do they know us. And for those who might not yet have heard the story, this is how it came to be that Michael and Mark and their family (friends) travelled here, to be married today.

Mark sent me an email. It began “this may be the strangest email you’ve ever received.” And it was from a guy I’d never met. Which ordinarily would have caused me to hit, Delete.

Except I didn’t. I read his request in which he explained that he and Michael had been together 4 years; engaged for several months. But James, Michael’s brother was dying of cancer. And he had just died. Now, wrote Mark, they wanted to get married. To share a new beginning; to have a new commitment to the future, based on where they had been – bearing one another’s grief.

They wanted to get married on the 19th, because it was Mark’s beloved Grandpa’s birthday. Grandpa Narker, known for his love of all people, and his understanding that love is love no matter who it is that loves.

And then they realized that the 19th was a Sunday. And because their home congregation is not yet a Reconciled in Christ congregation, they didn’t want to ask their home pastor to bless what that congregation was not yet ready to bless. Yet they had hoped to be married in the church, surrounded by the body of Christ who would bless them with presence, and prayer; affirmation and hope.

I called him.

Then I ran to our worship committee, excited by the possibility that we might be exactly what they needed. Then I took the idea to Mutual Ministry. Both groups blessed our planning this wedding to be right here, right now.

Michael and Mark traveled here, the day after they commended Michael’s brother into the arms of our Savior.

We began pre-marital counseling, which will extend for a year as is my custom.

And soon, it was now. This very moment. Thanksgiving for our community begins in about 5 hours, and with it, the sense of many things we “have to do” which is why it is good especially today, to reframe our “have tos” into “get tos”and see how different the picture is. We get to do these things.

We were found. We, all of us together, were found first by God, and then, we found one another through our faith. And what God joins together, let no one put asunder.

So, imagine with me … this new way of thinking about this experience we are sharing:

  • We get to show radical hospitality in a new way. A noticeable way. A way that these men needed to find, when they found King of Kings.
  • We get to step into the role of the servants, who followed Jesus’ commands, and filled the heavy, stone jars, and carried them, that Jesus’ might, in transforming the wine, carry the burden of the wedding couple whose wine had run out.
  • We get to share the good wine, the wine that is lifegiving, and to live into our Reconciled in Christ identity that welcomes and includes all people, no matter their race, or how they are differently-abled; or their gender; or their age; or their economic position; or their sexual orientation. As followers of Jesus Christ, this is who we are.
  • We get to witness a new beginning, to testify to the grace of God, by helping to transform the story of these two men, who have not always experienced hospitality or welcome; into a story in which a faithful community made room for them, trusting the Spirit’s presence in our midst.

And while I know this change in our worship today caught some of you unawares, the moment in which I knew the Spirit was telling me to lead into this new moment, was while I was listening to the Hamilton Soundtrack: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? And I imagined the story Mark and Michael might tell someday about the day they were wed. Like the story of the wedding at Cana, it could have ended two dramatically different ways.

They might say … we wanted to get married on the 19th to honor grandpa, but we ended up waiting until the 22nd, and going to the courthouse, because we couldn’t find a church that could help.

Or they might say … it was so unexpected that it HAD to be the Spirit guiding us all, and we ended up finding this chick pastor, and driving to Ann Arbor to King of Kings Lutheran, where for just a few hours, we experienced together what it was like to fall into the arms of mercy and be part of the beloved community.

And right there, off Packard Road and Eisenhower, it was as if Jesus once again made himself known. And in his presence, through the Spirit gathering us into one, we, all of us, created and witnessed Justice.

Justice and Joy.

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