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John 2: 1-11
January 16, 2022
2nd Sunday after Epiphany
It was a joyous occasion! All the details had been carefully planned: the menu set, guests invited, accommodations secured. The bride was radiant in her wedding attire, the groom excited but nervous. And when the ceremony was complete, the festivities began! The venue was filled with people celebrating the happy couple: Guests and family, young and old, friends from near and far, feasting and toasting and laughing. And then it happened. The wine ran out.
Despite all the best plans, reality intervenes. That was as true in Biblical times as it is today. Nearly everyone has a family wedding story where things did not go as planned. Almost 27 years ago, Joseph and I were to be married, in Virginia, in February. The day of the wedding, a winter storm descended. Roads were nearly impassable. And when we finally arrived at the B & B where we were to stay, we found the building shuttered! Things do not always go as planned.
That certainly has been true during the pandemic. Couples who had been planning for months suddenly had to cancel everything. Weddings were postponed, rescheduled and then disrupted again, with many couples ultimately opting for a small, private ceremony, hoping for a larger celebration to follow.
There are times when life does not turn out as we planned. Despite all our best efforts, we simply don’t have enough. We run out......of time, of money, of patience, of energy. Where do we go when we are depleted? Where do we go when our vessels are empty, when our lives are dry and barren?
This account of the wedding at Cana gives us the answer. This is the first of the signs in John’s gospel that points to who Jesus is and the life-giving power he has. In Jesus, there is SO MUCH MORE than we ever could ask for or imagine! When we need to be replenished, he is our source. And yet, often we let our wine run out without seeking the life Jesus has for us. How can we allow him to refill our vessels?
This is the third sermon in our series on what it means to be a Vital Congregation. Our denomination, the PCUSA, has done research on churches that are vital---alive and vibrant---and found that these churches share seven characteristics:
What a good way to start the new year: by looking at these characteristics, which tie in beautifully with the lectionary passages, to see how our church can continue growing in vitality.
Today we are considering the third point, “Lifelong Discipleship Formation.”
The PCUSA has found that vital churches include Lifelong Discipleship Formation as part of their identity. In vital churches, the life of the church is structured around Lifelong Discipleship Formation, and individual members of the church are committed to this practice. Researchers found that Lifelong Discipleship Formation is in contrast to complacent Christian piety, simply teaching good morals or offering the latest programs.
Lifelong Discipleship Formation is what fills us up, what replenishes our vessels, what keeps us from running dry. Disciples, after all, are followers of Jesus. We can’t be disciples without Jesus. We cannot grow as disciples without Jesus. He is the source that gives us life
That’s what this sign in John’s gospel intends to show. When we read about Jesus performing this miracle at the wedding at Cana, the thing we have to remember is – It’s not about the wine. Jesus was not simply doing a favor for his mother or for the happy couple. No, John makes clear in verse 11, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, to reveal his glory, and his disciples believed in him.
This passage has a word for us about Lifelong Discipleship Formation. Throughout the Bible, in both Old Testament and New, wine is a symbol for life. In the Old Testament, wine is a sign of fullness, of God’s presence and bounty and blessing, and of course, the New Testament builds on that meaning by offering wine as a symbol for salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The life that we receive in Christ is not a one-time gift. It is available to us again and again, new every morning. In theological terms, we talk about the difference between salvation and sanctification. Salvation is the one-time act, the moment we are saved. Sanctification is the lifelong process of becoming like Jesus. We never stop growing as disciples, being filled with Christ’s light and shining forth his light as we grow more and more in his image.
If we think of sanctification as a graph, it is not a line going straight up. No, there are dips and bumps, lows and highs. At different points in our lives, we may struggle. Busyness, work, worry, can distract us, and our spiritual wells run low.
It is all too easy for the wine to give out.
That is why it is important to be committed to lifelong discipleship formation. Lifelong discipleship formation means that we continue to do those things that refill us: participating in worship. Setting aside time each day for prayer and scripture reading. Studying the Bible with other Christians.
Yet too often, we get caught up in the circumstances of life, and just keep going on and on without realizing how empty we are getting.
If you have ever spent much time outside in the heat, you know the importance of hydration. Did you know that by the time we feel thirsty, we have already started to become dehydrated?1 That’s why doctors encourage us to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, so that we develop the habit of staying hydrated. We can’t trust the way we feel, because the physical sensation of thirst lags behind what our body needs.
The same is true with our spiritual lives. We may feel fine, on top of the world, and we think we don’t need to spend time praying, or to spend time in Bible study, or to develop spiritual practices to deepen our relationship with God. And then all of the sudden, the tank is empty, and we come to a halt.
It is easy for the wine to run out. We have to stop and be replenished.
Jesus is the source who will refill our vessels, just as he did in this passage. When the wine ran out, Mary turned to her son. Jesus’ response may sound strange to our ears, but scholars agree that the Greek phrase translated, “Woman, what is that to you and me?” was respectful rather than rude. Clearly, his mother was not offended by his words, but took them as an invitation to act.2 She said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
One of my favorite New Testament scholars, F.D. Bruner said that Mary’s words in verse 3 are meant for us today. Trust Jesus, and do whatever he says.3 The directions Jesus gives are not complicated, Bruner notes: “’Fill….draw….take’ ordinary water from ordinary jars and then bring what you have” to Jesus. When we trustingly obey, we receive Jesus’ life-giving gifts.4
Christ’s gifts of abundant life are always accessible to us. When you need to be refilled, trust Jesus and do whatever he tells you.
I read an interesting account about a cartoonist who, according to the article, “divided the entire human race into two types with one telling illustration. The cartoon pictured two women at a well. Each [had] a bucket with which to draw water. One woman, looking sad and bitter, [remarked], ‘Life is terrible. Every time I fill this bucket up, it is empty within minutes.’ The other woman, who [appeared] at peace with herself, said, ‘Life is wonderful. Every time this bucket is empty, I can simply fill it up again.’”5
When our bucket is empty, when our wine runs out, which woman are we like? Do we understand the abundant resources God gives us? Or do we see only what we lack?
Scarcity and lack are all around us these days, aren’t they? The news is filled with images of empty grocery shelves, long lines of people waiting in stores. We have heard all the explanations: supply chain issues, worker shortages, winter storms.
If all we take in is what is in the news, the dire predictions of gloom and doom, we can become overwhelmed. Instead, we need to look at the abundance Christ offers us.
Lifelong discipleship formation gives us other images: Water turned into gallons of the very best wine! Five loaves and two fish multiplied to feed thousands! The worker who received a greater paycheck than he had earned. The prodigal son who was showered with gifts he didn’t deserve. The people feasting at a great banquet when they weren’t even invited. God’s abundance overflows.
At the wedding at Cana, when Jesus acted, the results were profuse. The stone water jars each held twenty to thirty gallons of water, meaning the wedding hosts now had between 120 and 180 GALLONS of wine! A copious amount of wine! And not only that, it was the very best quality!
This sign, the first of Jesus’ signs in this gospel, makes clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus has life-giving power to give us not just what we need, but so much more! Imagine what Jesus will do in us!
So in this new year, I urge you to recommit to Lifelong Discipleship Formation. We are fortunate that MPC has, for many years, made Lifelong Discipleship Formation a priority. We have a wonderful Director of Christian Formation in Dr. Patricia McKee. We have Christian formation opportunities for all ages! So commit to participating in weekly worship. Practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, scripture reading, and Sabbath. Engage in Bible study. Come to the Intergenerational Sunday School class that Patricia leads at 9:45 every Sunday in the Fellowship Hall. Join the Basic Bible Questions Study that I am leading via Zoom, and I’ll be leading a different study when this one is over. Take part in the Saturday morning online Bible study led by Douglas Roy. Join one of the Presbyterian Women’s Circles for Bible Study. Support our ministries with youth and children. Together, we can continue to be a Vital Congregation through Lifelong Discipleship Formation.
There was a church where people were coming forward for communion, and it was the tradition of that church for people to kneel at the front of the sanctuary, and the minister would take a piece of bread and give it to each person. A little three-year old girl knelt there with her mother, and as he gave her the bread, the pastor said, “This bread means that Jesus loves you very much.” She swallowed the bread, but then instead of getting up, she held out her little hands, looked up at the pastor with hopeful eyes, and said, “More?”6
With Christ, there is always more. More love, more grace, more providence, more than we can ever imagine. When the wine runs out, remember the abundant resources of God. When your vessel seems empty, allow Jesus to refill you! For just as in Cana, he is the source of abundant life that never ends! All we need, our Lord provides. Great is God’s faithfulness! Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Dawn Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church