A lot happens in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. We have the prologue telling us that Jesus is the Word of God who is God. John the Baptist testifies that Jesus is the Chosen One and some of John’s followers begin to follow Jesus. Then, Jesus calls 2 Disciples. Jesus is already gathering a following and people are beginning to recognize that He is the Messiah. If you read carefully, you will notice that this all takes place over the course of a couple days.
Now, on the 3rd day, Jesus, His mother and His Disciples are at a wedding in Cana. The couple had no more wine to serve their guests. Mary decides this is something Jesus should get involved in. He says, “Woman, why do you want to involve me in this?” He doesn’t think it is yet time to reveal Himself as the Son of God. But, His mother thinks it is time. She tells the servants to do whatever He tells them to do.
Jesus sees 6 stone jars sitting nearby. These stone jars were used for Jewish ceremonial washings. These stone jars would hold at least 20 – 30 gallons of water. It is hard to be sure what ceremonial washings these jars had been used for. They likely were used for guests to do the ceremonial hand washing before the feast. So, these jars were about as clean as your sink at the end of the day. Not necessarily something I’d want to drink out of.
Jesus tells the servants to fill these jars with water then draw some out to take to the banquet’s master. The master of the banquet found the water had been turned into wine, not just any wine, but very good wine. The master of the banquet went to the groom to ask about the wine. A couple usually served the better wine first; then after their guests were a little tipsy and undiscerning, the cheap wine was served. The master of the banquet was stunned that the better wine had been saved ‘til now.
John tells us that this was Jesus’ first sign through which He revealed His glory. In the Gospel of John, the miracles, such as Jesus turning water into wine, are called signs while the other Gospels call them miracles. For the Gospel writer John, he wants the readers to know that these signs were signs that reveal Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.
There is something worth considering that happens between verses 4 and 5 of this text. Jesus says to His mother, “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.” Then, in the next verse, Jesus seems to concede to His mother and Mary tells the servants to do whatever He tells them to do.
All of us have needed some encouraging in our lives. There are things big and small that we’ve faced and someone, for example our parents, who has encouraged us to recognize our gifts. That’s what happened between verses 4 and 5. Mary encouraged Jesus into ministry and pushed Him into His first sign.
Perhaps it was the tough love of a parent saying it’s time to get out there and try. No more excuses. No more messing around. No more waiting for the right time. Now is the time for you to start living up to your incarnation.
For the first time, we see that Mary was required to participate in Jesus’ parenting. It is no wonder that many Christians revere Mary as the mother of God. She needed Divine grace to be the parent of the Son of God. When God decided to become a human, He knew a human required a mother.
In the prologue of the Gospel of John, the very first verse of the Gospel tells us that the Word of God is God and the Word of God became flesh as the Son who will reveal grace and truth. Jesus is at once God and man. In this moment, perhaps Mary said to God, “You made this decision to become flesh start acting like you’re the God-man.”
Don’t we all need a Mary. Don’t we all need the encouragement of our mother to believe in ourselves. Don’t we all need someone to tell us that we are special and help us recognize our giftedness and unique createdness. I think our parents are our first, great encouragers. And, we hopefully continue to find encouragers throughout our lives to help us live up to our potential.
The first time I taught this text was in a young adult group. At my home church, before seminary, I decided to start a young adult group. I thought it would be fun to take the group, all over 21, to a winery to study this text. Of all our events, this one had the greatest attendance. It was Bible study and table fellowship with old and new friends. I was so excited that the group was really starting to grow.
The next Sunday, the senior pastor called me into his office after service. He said there were some people who were not happy that a group from the church had gone drinking. My heart sank. The senior pastor just wanted to let me know about the concern. He didn’t want this to discourage me, but wanted me to be aware of the differing opinions in the church which was an important lesson for me as I was preparing for ministry. In our conversation, he encouraged me to keep trying to build the group.
The pastoral staff of my home church were very encouraging of my gifts as I started teaching Bible study and leading the young adult group. They encouraged me and met with me often to help guide me in leadership. They were very supportive of me going to seminary and continue to be supportive of my gifts. We all need encouragers like that.
Often encouragement challenges us. Challenging in that we have to move beyond what we think we are capable of and accept that we are capable of even more. Jesus said He came to give us life abundantly. Abundant living requires us to think beyond complacency and dream that there is more God is calling us to. Abundant living finds its fulfillment when we exercise our spiritual gifts.
Our spiritual gifts do not change over our lifetime, but our calling to use those gifts may change over our lifetime. I once worked with a Christian Education chairperson who was having trouble with the change in her calling. She had been the chairperson of Christian Education since her daughters were in elementary school – they were now in their 30s. She was tired and wanted to pass the mantle, but she didn’t know who could fill her shoes.
The problem was that she was looking for someone to fill her shoes, to continue to do the things she had done the same way she had done them. She was afraid of what she had built going by the wayside. The trouble was she wasn’t seeing the potential of other people and their gifts. When she was ready to relinquish her power, someone would step into that role of leadership. The new person may not do all the things she did the same way she had done them for years. She was unable to see that families needed something different than they needed 25 years ago.
Her calling was changing. She was still to be a Christian educator, but how she did that needed to change. She needed to become an encourager. She needed to allow someone to take the role of leadership and encourage that person to do new things in their own way to meet the needs of the families in today’s church climate.
I tried to challenge her to take on a new role and encourage and help someone new, but she wasn’t ready to release her hold on the reins. Not everyone is ready to accept their calling when it challenges us to change. She is a good woman with a good heart concerned about the faith formation of the children of the church, but wasn’t ready to step into a new role of leadership. She didn’t accept the encouragement because she wasn’t ready for the challenge.
I’ve challenged our Elders and they’ve accepted the challenge. They’re ready to take on some new responsibilities. We budgeted extra money for pulpit supply for this year in anticipation of the need for pulpit supply during the Sabbatical. We could have invited preachers to preach in my stead, but I wanted to challenge our Elders and encourage them to use their gifts of spiritual leadership to preach and lead worship next month.
Next month, John, Nancy, Vicki, Alex, and Janet are going to take on new roles in worship. Others are going to offer prayer. I see this as a time of Sabbatical for you as I leave for Sabbatical. Our leaders will grow in their faith and renew their commitment to spiritual leadership as they accept new opportunities to witness to their faith for this congregation. All of you will grow as you hear new voices expressing faith from different perspectives.
I believe in your gifts or I would not have encouraged you into these roles. I believe you have faithful words to share with the congregation. Many have been preparing for weeks for this time of Sabbatical. In your preparation, you are growing and, as you lead worship, you will exercise your spiritual gifts in new ways.
Sabbatical is both a time of rest and renewal. For the leaders of this congregation who will preach, pray and lead worship, you will be renewed in your faith. This time of renewal won’t be a time of rest for you, but you will be renewed. I invite all of you to pray for the church, pray for our leaders, and pray for me as we enter into this time of Sabbatical. Next week, I’m going to lead us in a time of entering into Sabbath. I’ll symbolically pass the mantle to our Elders and lead us in a litany of prayer that prepares us for the time of renewal.
Lord, you have placed people in our lives who have encouraged us. They are more than cheerleaders. They call out our gifts and challenge us to use them. May we be like stone jars. Fill us with your Spirit and transform us into vessels of extraordinary grace. Amen.