Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, January 20 2019
I was watching a guitarist playing, brilliant guy, could get sounds out of guitars that you never thought they had in them. I was trying to pick up some tips to improve my own technique. This guy knew his scales, the fingers of his left hand zipped up and down the strings like greased lightning.
But it was a little trick he did with the pick he held in his right hand that I’ve never seen anybody else do, before or since. Usually he held the pick between his thumb and forefinger, but occasionally, if he wanted to play a harmonic or a bass note (Or even both at the same time) he would flick the pick to between his middle fingers, play the bass string with his thumb, a chord in the middle and a note on the top string with his little finger. He would do this just for a quick phrase, then go back to normal. Now that may not seem like much to some of you, but if you are some one who tries to play the guitar, then that is very impressive.
First time I noticed him do it, I said to my friend who was with me, “Did you see that?” “See who?” he said, thinking some pretty girl had just walked in. ‘See what he did with his pick!” “Oh” he said and laughed. “No.” You have to watch out or you can miss out!
I was watching a basketball game and one of the opposing side not only knocked one of the other players to the floor, but grabbed hold of his foot and tried to trip him when he got up. I said to my friend, “Did you see that?” The referee didn’t. Despite my ignorance of the technicalities of American sports, I suspect this was not a legal procedure. And the man about two rows down from me on the balcony certainly gave his verbal expression as to what he thought about it. You have to watch out or you can miss out!
A man goes to a party. One of the family friends has just married. It’s late in the day and the steward brings round the drinks. He thinks twice about having a glass of wine, because at these functions, as time went on, and people’s taste buds became a little desensitized, they tended to start serving the cheap and nasty stuff.
But he has a sip and then goes over to greet the bride’s Father. “Sir,” he says, “I want to shake you by the hand. Most people serve the best wine at the beginning of the day, but you have saved the best till last!” The Father smiles in appreciation, but also looks a little confused. He’d just had a message that the wine was all gone and he was anticipating complaints, not compliments.
He rushed off to find his wife, “Did you hear that?” he said, “We’ve got jars full of wine, how did that happen?” “I really don’t know” she replies, “I think it’s got something to do with Mary’s Son, y’know the carpenter who’s started going round preaching a bit. It’s amazing!”
It was amazing. It was the first miracle, the first sign that John’s gospel records, where Jesus starts to reveal His glory to the disciples, by turning water into wine. Yet most people at the wedding party saw no miracle. They just thought that the family had saved the best wine till the end and they knew nothing of great big jars being filled with water that when poured out became the richest, reddest, most sparkling wine, in town. Where Jesus is involved, you have to watch out or you can miss it!
I guess the servants who filled the jars didn’t miss out. They’d be going around for quite a while saying, “Did you see that?” Same with the disciples. They were starting to see that there was more to this Jesus than they thought possible. It was a sign to them of His glory.
His mother, Mary? Well, she’d known Jesus was something special ever since the angels had started calling. John suggests that it’s Mary who prods Jesus into performing the miracle. Maybe she’s been chatting with the bride’s mother, we don’t know how she knew, but she comes to Jesus and tells him, “Son, the wine’s running out.”
At first Jesus seems reluctant. He seems to say, “Mother, What’s that got to do with me?” He knows that she, of all people knows who He really is, has a faith that recognizes His unique connection to God, but it’s as though He says, “This isn’t the time and the place to let everybody else in on the secret.” (What He actually says is, “My hour has not yet come.”)
It’s one of those times though that mom knows best. Call it a woman’s intuition if you like. She doesn’t argue with Him or try to persuade Him. Just turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever He tells you.”
There are these huge, enormous water jars there. These aren’t little wine bottles, but six, whopping, big, stone jars that hold about twenty or thirty gallons of water. They were usually used for ceremonial washings that were a significant part of the ritual life of every Jewish person.
A lot of talk took place between the rabbis and the scribes about when to wash, what to wash, and even what kind of pot could hold the water to be used in the washing. Jesus chooses to use these “holy vessels” for an act completely outside their intended purpose. It’s kind of ironic that some of the religious folk at the wedding probably would have taken issue with Jesus for putting wine in their holy stone jars!
We are never told how it happened, but after the servants have filled the jars to the brim, Jesus tells them to draw some of the water off, they take it to the steward; he tastes it, and recognizes it as the finest wine he’s tasted all day. He’s got no idea where it’s come from, but is surely pleased that the servants have managed to obtain it. The servants on the other hand, know that a miracle has taken place.
This passage of Scripture is rich in meaning. For the Jewish people, wine, like bread had a particular significance as being a symbol of God's presence and blessing. That symbolism carried over and was given new significance within the Christian Church, something we remind ourselves of at every communion service.
Yet the thing I'd like to focus on, is the ever-present possibility, of missing out on what God is doing in our midst. At times the worries of life obscure the ways of God. At other times, living as we do in such a materialistic culture, our constant craving for things of this world makes us so insensitive to the things of God's Kingdom. God acts and we just don't see it.
I've had people say to me as a pastor, "I would believe if only God gave me some definite sign." I sometimes feel like shaking them, (rather like some folk feel when a referee makes a bad call at a ball game) and saying, "Wake up, Open your mind. Your life from the moment you get out of bed is surrounded and peopled with evidences of God's blessings."
"Do you have a home? Do you have family who care about you? Is there a church you can be a part of? Do you own a bible? Do you get to eat every day? Then friend you are more blessed than many people in this world who do not enjoy a tenth of the luxuries you have, yet still every day, open their lives and receive the goodness of God's love. How much more does God have to bless you till you count it as a sign?”
There are miracles surrounding our lives every day. Miracles taking place in our schools. In our places of work. In our offices. In our hospitals. In our lives. God isn’t holding back. God is showering down blessing upon blessing upon blessing. Do you see that?
If we hadn’t been snowed out last Sunday, I would have encouraged you to make 2019 a prayerful year. That’s one sure way to see that you don’t miss out on all the good stuff that God is doing around your life. Tune in to what God is saying and tune your life into what God wants for your life, and you are less likely to miss out on what God is doing.
Now, I know that what I’m describing as miracles some would say are just everyday happenings or even coincidences or things with totally rational explanations. That’s what the Steward said. “There’s new wine in my glass, so it follows that the logical conclusion is that it must have been there all the time. No miracle here that I can see.”
But if you asked the servants who had put the water in the jars or the disciples for whom it became a sign of God’s glory; “Has a miracle taken place?” they would put you right! It’s that sort of story. It invites you either to say, “I can explain that some other way” or to say, “Wow!”
I’m impressed by the extravagance of this miracle. Six thirty-gallon stone jars full of the richest wine is more than enough for anybody throwing a party! I’m reminded that Jesus has more than enough love and grace and peace and joy to offer than we will ever need. He can turn the stagnant, insipid water of everyday experience into sparkling encounters with His love.
Now it’s time for a random fact. Did you know that the African Impala is an animal that can leap almost ten feet high and a distance of fifteen to twenty feet? Did you also know that if you keep one in a zoo that you only have to put a three foot high wall around its enclosure to keep it fenced in? Why? Because an Impala will not jump unless it can see where its feet are going to land.
The faith that Jesus calls us to is one that doesn’t give us the luxury of knowing where it will lead us. Faith in Christ does not come with a prescribed landing spot. Allow the new wine of God’s Holy Spirit to become your driving force and I cannot tell you where it will lead you.
But I do caution you that, unless you commit your life to following Jesus Christ, then every day of your life that you walk without Him, you will miss out on things that the love and grace of God are doing all around you.
It would be tragic if on the last day our judgment came in the form of an angel saying, “Did you see that?” and our only reply was, “No, I was too centered on myself to realize miracles were taking place all around me.”
The message is plain. Center your life on Jesus and the new wine of the Holy Spirit will be there, in all His richness and abundance, to surround your life. Sometimes it will come as the wine of healing. Sometimes it will be a boost in a time of joy or a pick me up in a time of sadness.
Open your heart to Jesus Christ and Christ will come. Open your eyes to the everyday miracles around you and you will see that God is there for you. Focus on the darkness and you’ll always have your back to the light. Walk in the light and even the darkness will disappear.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.