The Good Wine – January 20, 2013 – John 2: 1 – 11

Weddings are a cause for celebration, a joyous occasion.   When you get a wedding invitation, you almost expect it.  You probably already know of the couple’s engagement and are looking forward to celebrating with them.

The wedding invitation typically includes the information about who the couple is; sometimes it includes the names of their parents.  It says the date and time of the wedding and where the ceremony will take place.  If the venues are different, there will be information about the church and the site of the reception.  If it is an especially fancy wedding, the invitation might tell you to wear a black tie, assuming men will wear a tuxedo and women will wear their best dress.

An invitation is more than just details.  The wedding invitation carries with it some expectations.  Wedding guests know typically what to expect at a wedding.  The groom’s family and friends sit on one side while the bride’s family and friends sit on the other.  Their immediate families sit in the first one or two rows then others behind them.

Beyond etiquette of the wedding, there are expectations of what the ceremony will entail.  There will be a procession of bride’s maids to meet at the base of the altar.  The groom’s men will already be in place up front.  Everyone will stand and turn to the back as the bride enters the sanctuary.  Some will cry as they see her in her beautiful dress.  The couple will exchange vows and rings.  The couple will light a unity candle.  There will be prayer and scriptures.  A friend or family member may sing a song.  There will be laughter.  There will most likely be tears and applause when the bride and groom kiss.

This ceremony is very different from a Sunday morning service.  At a wedding, there will be no communion.  No offering will be collected.  The congregation won’t be expected to sing.  There won’t be a sermon.  Guests won’t need to know the appropriate times to sit and stand.

I can understand why people at weddings sit up front but people on Sunday mornings sit in the back.  At a wedding, you don’t need to know what to do when and don’t have to have any special foreknowledge about the service.  At weddings, you can sit up front and not worry about being embarrassed about doing the wrong thing.  On Sunday mornings, many visitors want to sit in the back because they don’t want people to see them if they do the wrong thing at the wrong time.

On Sundays, there are certain expectations.  These expectations might be what keep visitors from coming on Sunday mornings.  For instance:
What are the words to the Lord’s Prayer?
Who can go up front for the children’s sermon?
Where do the kids go after that?
Who is with my kid during service?
Can I take communion?
How do I take the communion?
If a visitor is sitting in the back, they can watch the rows of people in front of them so they know what to do when it is his or her turn.
What are the words to the Gloria Patri?
What should I give for an offering?
How much should I give?
Where does my money go if I give something?
What are the words to the Doxology?
How do I find my kid after service?
You can see why it is can be dreadful for some to visit a church on a Sunday morning.

When we invite someone to visit our church on a Sunday morning, our invitation comes with some expectation.  We expect a visitor to come to us at our regularly scheduled time to worship the way we normally do.  We invite people on our own terms.  But, we’re not very clear on what we’re inviting them to.  If we’re inviting people to come sit and stand and sing and pray and listen to the best preacher in town, that may not sound very appealing.

Here’s the problem.  We extend invitations to people to come to service as if we are the bride and groom inviting people to our wedding.  We assume people are going to come celebrate with us and know everything they need to know about how to act.  We are not the bride and groom and this is not a wedding.

This miracle of turning water into wine is the first miracle or sign he does according the Gospel of John.  The story is a bit odd.  It is especially difficult for our reasonable scientific minds to believe that one thing has been physically transformed into another substance.  His healing miracles are much easier to believe than his miracles of turning water into wine or feeding the multitudes with a few loaves and a couple fish.  Still, this is the first sign Jesus made to reveal His power.

Jesus and the Disciples and his mother have gone to a wedding.  At the time, Jewish weddings were a seven-day long celebration with food and wine.  The bride and groom would serve the best wine on the first days of the party and the lesser wine as the days went on.

According to the story, the bride and groom have run out of wine on the third day of the party.  Jesus’ mother catches wind of the dilemma and tells Jesus about it.  His response seems rather rude, “What is this of concern to me?”  Seems He is sassin’ His mother.  However, Jesus may not have actually been rude.  His response may have been a pause for consideration of whether or not the situation was something He should or should not get involved in.   After all, he was on a mission, saving a wedding party may not have been on the agenda.

Still, Jesus’ mother tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says.  Jesus decides to intercede and save the party, perhaps not for the party’s sake, or to save the bride and groom from shame, but for the opportunity to reveal his miracle working power.  Here it is an epiphany, a revelation of His power.

Jesus orders the servants to fill the six empty stone jars with water.  These jars would have been used for the purification rituals of washing your hands prior to eating.  Stone jars were used because stone didn’t attract impurities.  The servants fill the jars which together held 120 gallons of water.  Miraculously, the water is turned into very good wine.

The wine steward is surprised at the quality of the wine the servants found.  The steward doesn’t know where it came from, but the servants do.  The servants were the first to witness this miracle, then the Disciples.  At seeing this miracle, the Disciples are said to come to believe in him; the story doesn’t tell us the response of the servants, but I’m pretty sure they were amazed, too.  Jesus turning water into wine showed his power to transform.  Once again, this miracle revealed that Jesus was special and that caused the Disciples to believe in him.

In this story, we are not the bride and groom.  We are not the guests, not even the wine steward and servants.  In this story, we are the stone jars.  Whatever is inside of us can be made pure – “non-believer becomes a believer, a sinner becomes a saint.”  We who are polluted by sin may become pure.  We are waiting on our Master to transform what is inside of us into good wine.

We don’t come on Sunday mornings because we know what to do and the right time to do it.  We come to worship God.  We worship God because we have, at times in our lives, experienced the transforming power of Christ.  We know that salvation is more than just baptism.  It is not a moment in time that requires nothing further from us.  Yes, our eternity is secure, but we know faith is a journey, not just a confession.

Too many people say they are spiritual but not religious or have been baptized and they think that’s all that matters.  They fail to see the relevancy of a continued faith journey and the importance of the church on that journey.  After our baptism, we have continued on a faith journey because we know that salvation is the process of being transformed.  What is inside of us is continually being transformed.  We can tell stories of the ways in which we have been transformed.  Those stories of faith are what keep us coming back each Sunday.  We want more of what is inside of us to be transformed until we are the finest pure wine.   The miracle of our transformation is a miracle that can’t easily be explained.

When I was home for Christmas, my mom asked me about my brother’s transformation.  He hasn’t been a believer long.  My mom has noticed some change, but she expected more.  I reminded her that spiritual transformation is gradual.  It requires a believer to submit himself more and more to Christ’s transforming grace.  The process is gradual and takes a lifetime, but we have all experienced the miracle.

The invitations we extend to people to come on Sunday mornings are the wrong invitation.  We are not the bride and groom and we are not inviting people to our wedding.  In the life of the church, it is understood that Jesus Christ is the groom and the Church is His bride.  We are being made into good wine.  We need to invite people to come to Jesus to be transformed from water into fine wine.

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