Sunday, January 20, 2013

Jesus Could Party (John 2:1-11)

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.  When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.”
Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me?  My time hasn’t come yet.”
His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim.  Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did.  The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine.  He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.
The headwaiter called the groom 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.”  This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee.  He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.  A first impression tends to be a lasting impression.  But, what if your first impression is a false or incomplete impression?  It happens a lot, and I’ve noticed the impressions people have in their minds about Jesus, in particular, are sometimes very incomplete or just plain inaccurate.
Today we begin a new series of messages called “Surprising Things They Never Told You About Jesus.”  The Jesus that is often shared in churches is sort of weak, sterile, benign, and well . . . boring!  Then we wonder why more people aren’t excited to get to know him better!
In this series, we’re going to look at a few episodes in Jesus’ life that paint a much more robust, interesting, dynamic, and fascinating picture.  Jesus was anything but boring!  Sometimes, the more you get to know someone, you realize you didn’t know them as well as you thought you did.  That’s what I hope will happen for you in these messages.  Whether you’ve known Jesus for a long time, are just getting to know him, or aren’t even sure that you want to get to know him, I promise you’ll walk away from this series with a different picture of him in your head than you’ve ever had before.
Today we start the series with this surprising thing they never told you about Jesus: Jesus could party.
“Party” is not the first descriptor that comes to mind for Christians
Jesus could party.  What makes this surprising is that, so many Christians are just so serious all the time.  I mean c’mon, Christians are the ones who brought us the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials - we’ve got a reputation for not exactly being the most fun-loving people on the planet!  I have a friend who says, “A Christian is someone who lives their life in fear that somewhere in the world, someone is having fun.”
Or, perhaps you’d prefer this quote from John Wesley, founder of Methodism, who said, “Sour godliness is the devil’s religion.”
Ashley and I once stayed at a bed-and-breakfast and came into the dining room as some of the other guests were just finishing up.  Without any prompting on our part, the first thing they told us was that they were Christians and which church they belonged to, and then engaged us in a conversation that let us know that they were very hateful, angry, racist, homophobic, sour people.  We listened uncomfortably and when they left, I just looked at Ashley and said, “Wow.  They hate EVERYBODY!  Good thing they told us they were Christians, ‘cause I’d have never figured it out on my own!”
The Jesus they know probably isn’t very much fun, and he certainly doesn’t like to party.  Friends, if you’re a Christian, and you’re walking around with a permanent scowl on your face, it might be time to get re-acquainted with Jesus!  (“I’m a Christian - Peace be with you!”  “I’m full of the love of God and neighbor; can’t you tell?”)  As we’ve heard already in today’s Scripture reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus loves to party.
In John chapter 2, Jesus, his mother, and his disciples are among the invited guests at a wedding feast.  Unlike our weddings that are typically an afternoon and evening, Jewish weddings at the time of Jesus were a total blow-out - think My Big Fat Greek Wedding and make the party last for a week.  It was three days into the party when the unthinkable happened: they ran out of wine.
They don’t have any wine
When we host a party at our house, we always say it’s better to have too much and have some left over than to run out, right?  Rest assured, if you come to a party at our house, there will be plenty of food, plenty of music, plenty of room, plenty to drink.  It has happened that we’ve run low on ice or napkins or something, which is a little embarrassing, but it’s not the end of the world.
That’s us, but in the time and place of Jesus, running out of wine isn’t just a social faux pas, it’s a disaster, because wine is a sign of God’s abundance, joy, gladness, and hospitality.  In the Old Testament, wine symbolizes the presence of God (Joel 3:17-18, Isaiah 25:6).  And so, when they run short on wine, they run short on God’s presence and blessing, abundance and joy.  The wine has run out before the wedding is over, and it’s a catastrophe.
Jesus’ mother is the one to bring Jesus into the situation.  These are the first words she speaks in John’s Gospel, “They don’t have any wine” (v. 3), she says, alerting Jesus to a problem and implying that he can do something to fix it.  She knew that running out of wine signaled a deep problem, pointing to a scarcity of the presence and blessing of God, which meant this was a job for Jesus.
Mary cannot stand by and allow their marriage celebration to have a lasting shame as its memory.  “They don’t have any wine - their wedding will be remembered because the wine ran out, everyone will be talking that the blessing of God ran out, and what should be this great feast and celebration will be remembered as the day when God’s presence was scarce, and there wasn’t enough joy and gladness to go around.  They don’t have any wine, Jesus.  There’s a problem.  Something is wrong.  Do something about it, Jesus!”
What does that have to do with me?
Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me?” (v. 4)  That sounds kinda rude, but Jesus is probably really just calling her “Ma’am” and the cultural translation sounds harsher to our ears than it really was.  If he really was being rude, the next verse would say, “And then Jesus woke up in the hospital.” - you don’t get away with sassing your Mom, even if you’re Jesus!  Yet the story is still rich with humor. When Mary says they don’t have any wine, you can almost see Jesus swirl the last of the wine in his glass and say, “How is that my problem?  They should have hired a better wedding planner!”
Mary pretends she doesn’t hear him as she calls together a staff meeting of the entire catering company and says “You all do whatever my boy Jesus tells you to (v. 5).  Depending on how Jesus responds, this party is either over, or it’s just getting started.
If Jesus were boring, when the wine ran out, boring Jesus would have said, “Great!  Now that the wine is gone, turn out the lights because this party is over!  And it’s about time!  So now, the party’s over, and good riddance!  Now we can all go home and get down to serious business.”
Jesus kept the party going
That might have been the response from boring Jesus.  Yet, the evidence clearly shows, if you believe the Bible, anyway, that Jesus was more interested in keeping the party going than in killing everyone’s buzz.  “Nearby, there were six stone jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons” (v. 6).  Jesus had them fill the jars up to the brim, and then draw some out and take it to the headwaiter.  The water in the jars had turned into wine, good wine, in fact.
Most people put out the good stuff first, and then once everybody is feeling good and can’t tell the difference, switch to the cheap stuff.  At this point in the party, you would have expected Jesus to make some Boone’s Farm or Two-Buck Chuck.  But, no, Jesus turned the water into some top-shelf hooch and gave it away.  He saved the hosts from embarrassment and provided abundantly for all.
How abundantly?  Well, run the numbers.  I spent a summer in college making wine, and we sold it in 6-gallon batches.  One batch would make, on average, 27 standard bottles of wine, accounting for some settling of sediment within each 6-gallon batch.  And so, if there were six stone jars full of 30 gallons of water that Jesus turned into wine, that’s the equivalent of 810 bottles of wine.  However you add it up, that’s a lot of wine - a lot of blessing, a lot of God’s presence, a lot of joy, a lot of gladness.
Let’s see, 810 bottles of good wine at say, $30 apiece, in our day, would easily have been worth almost $25,000.

That’s a pretty nice wedding gift from Jesus.  Can you hear how that would have gone over with his disciples?  Peter says, “I bought them a toaster.”  John says, “I got them a panini press.  I know they didn’t register for one, but I have one and I just love it and thought they could use one, too!  Hey, Jesus, what did you get them?  What?  C’mon, Jesus!  I thought we agreed on a $50 limit!”

The thing is, though, there are no limits when it comes to God’s goodness.  God’s blessings are abundant as new wine, and life in God’s presence is as joyful as the wedding guests who found their provisions re-stocked and kept the party going.
A sign of the kingdom
In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ miracles are called signs, meaning they point to a reality beyond themselves.  And so, we don’t pay primary attention to the miracles themselves, as cool as they are, but we look for the greater meaning and message they represent.
This is Jesus’ first miracle; don’t miss the significance of that!  It wasn’t a healing, or an exorcism.  He didn’t preach a sermon or teach a Bible study.  Jesus’ first miracle didn’t take place in a Sunday School class or a leadership session, and it certainly didn’t happen in a meeting of the trustees or finance committee.  No, the first miracle from Jesus was at a party, and the thing he did kept the wine flowing and the party going.
This first sign of Jesus, of turning water into wine and kicking a good party into high gear to make it a better party, tells us something about the kingdom of God.  When Jesus turns water into wine, he is saying, “This is what the kingdom of God is like - a place of abundance and blessing, of generosity and gratitude, of gladness and joy and an overall good time, where there is never a last-call and the party never stops.”
I want to be clear here, too - this isn’t a party that cheapens the experience of life.  God’s party isn’t about getting drunk, it’s not like a frat party or a free-for-all or underage drinking binge or other place where people are drinking for the sake of getting drunk and that’s it.  God’s party is one in which we experience life and experience it abundantly.  So inebriation or deadening of the senses or otherwise cheapening life, whether our own or someone else’s, isn’t the point.  Jesus isn't looking for any "Whooooo-girls."  Rather, when we celebrate and party with Jesus, it’s about enjoying the many splendid and wonderful gifts of God in the company of friends.
It’s an image that pre-dates Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t the first one to liken God’s kingdom to a party.  The prophet Isaiah said, “On this mountain, the Lord of heavenly forces will prepare for all peoples a rich feast, a feast of choice wines, of select foods rich in flavor, of choice wines well refined” (Isaiah 25:6).
A feast.  Rich food.  Well-aged choice wines.  Sounds pretty good, right?
Jesus will pick up this theme in other places, comparing heaven to a wedding feast and a great banquet, where there is an abundance of good food and fine drink.
In the Bible’s final book, Revelation, this theme of a party is picked up again.  “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).  Jesus, the Lamb of God, after evil and death are finally defeated once and for all, throws a never-ending feast, and invites and blesses everyone.
Really, with all the evidence, are we all that surprised to discover that Jesus could party?  His first miracle was at a party, and it kept the party going - this is what the kingdom of God is like.
Sounds great, unless you’re one of those sour Christians who, unfortunately, aren’t going to enjoy heaven very much.  The kingdom of God sounds like heaven if you want to party with God; it sounds like hell if you prefer sour grapes.  Heaven and hell might very well be the same place - and it’s up to each of us as to whether God’s party will be the source of our greatest joy or our greatest torment.
A good party is a sign of the kingdom of God--a good party is a foretaste of heaven.  We are invited to a party where we can taste and see the goodness of the Lord.  It’s a party where grace tastes like fine wine when you’re expecting the cheap stuff, it tastes like plenty to go around when you thought everything had run out.  It’s a party where scarcity is turned into abundance, where even sour grapes are turned into fine wine.

You are invited - we are all invited - to the party.  The kingdom of God is near.  Party on!
Gracious God,
We confess that words like “party” and “celebration” are not the words that come first to our minds when we think of the life of faith.  Perhaps we would prefer a faith that is more rigid – more concerned with rules than relationships, more concerned with religion for its own sake than righteousness for your sake.  Forgive us for our lack of imagination.
We have often squashed your joy.  We have been quick to turn out the lights on the party rather than to allow your life-giving Spirit to flow into us and through us.  Free us from the burden of taking ourselves so seriously all the time.  Instill in us the gladness that rightly comes from knowing you.
For those whose faith has soured, whose spirits have become bitter, we ask for a freshness and a lightness to enter their lives again.  Turn their sour grapes into fine wine.
We thank you that there are no limits to your goodness.  Save us from being people who try to contain your presence within boundaries and borders where you have placed none.  Keep us from blocking your joy and presence from others, and when they look at our lives, may we give them an accurate and honest picture of your wonderful, matchless, limitless grace and love. 
We thank you for Jesus, who knew how to party, and invites us to a never-ending joyful celebration.  We accept his invitation gladly, and welcome the abundance of blessing that we share in his presence.  It is in his name that we pray.  Amen.

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