Second Sunday after Epiphany C
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
In honor and memory of the death of actor Alan Rickman, Debbie and I yesterday sat down to start watching a Harry Potter movie marathon. Alan Rickman played Professor Severus Snape in all eight of the Harry Potter movies.
In an early scene of the first movie, Harry’s mean Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, Harry’s guardians, are celebrating their son Dudley’s birthday. In the morning, Dudley comes racing down the stairs and into the kitchen, where he is doted on and made to feel like a prince. Then, Dudley’s mother Petunia covers his eyes and leads him into the living room, where his father Vernon sits in the room full of presents.
Dudley opens his eyes and looks around the room, and his face turns to disappointment, and then anger. He turns to his father and demands, “How many are there?” His father replies cheerfully, “36!” Dudley is enraged. “36?! Last year there were 37!” “Well, some of them are quite a bit bigger than last year…” his father argues. “I don’t care!” yells Dudley as he starts to throw a tantrum. Petunia comes to the rescue, “Oh, dont’ worry! We’re, uh… we’re gonna take you out today and buy you two NEW presents, yes we are!” This seems to placate the boy, who now will be receiving 38 presents instead of 36, which was clearly not enough.
We have this obsession with having enough. I mean, I guess that’s not a bad thing. There are plenty of things we need enough of to live. If we don’t get enough air, we die in minutes. If we don’t have enough water, we die in a few days. If we don’t have enough food, we die in a few weeks. If we don’t have enough shelter, we die from exposure to the elements. We’re hard-wired to make sure that we always have enough for our survival, and it’s a constant search for enough.
Unfortunately, in addition to the search for enough being hardwired into our lives, something else is hardwired: the fear that no matter how much we have, we will never have enough. That someday, it will all run out.
We can run out of all sorts of things, things we don’t have enough of. In our Gospel story this morning, that happened to be… wine. In my family, running out of alcohol at a party would be tantamount to scandal, and it sounds like the same is true of a wedding banquet in Jesus’s day, where the party lasted days and days and days.
We know the story pretty well: Jesus and his mother are at the wedding party, and the wine runs out. Jesus’s mother tells him about the problem, and Jesus responds by saying, “Not my problem.” And Jesus’s mother says, “Shut up and do what you’re told this instant young man,” and instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them.
So he has them bring in 6 stone jars that each hold about 20 or 30 gallons each and fill them all to the very brim with water—120-180 gallons of water. And when he had them dip into the water and serve it to the steward, they discover that, lo and behold, the water has miraculously turned to wine, and not just any wine, but the best wine, more than enough for everyone. And so the moral of the story must be, “God will always provide more than enough stuff for everyone and everyone will be happy!”
I admit, if this is what this story is supposed to tell us about God and Jesus Christ and the Spirit working in the world—that God will always give each and every one of us enough stuff—then I have serious problems with this story.
I have a problem with it because it doesn’t answer one very serious question: what about those who don’t have enough? The wedding in Cana could not have been the only wedding that happened in Judea while Jesus was alive, yet the Biblical narrative doesn’t record any other wedding at which Jesus provided 120 gallons of great wine for the guests. Were they not important?
You see, this is where much of our simplistic ways of interpreting scripture fail us, when we try to equate one for one the simple surface reading of the the text instead of digging deeper; when we take the easy way out. This text, this story, could very easily support the flawed Prosperity Gospel that says if you do good and are faithful to God, God will shower you with all sorts of riches and earthly blessings; and consequently, if you aren’t good and don’t be faithful to God, God won’t provide you with anything. So be good! Be faithful! Give $100 to a ministry and you will receive God’s wondrous blessings!
And therein lies the problem with the way we read these stories. We put ourselves at the center. But this story, this wedding at Cana, isn’t at all about us and how much we have or don’t have. Rather it, like all stories in the Bible, is about God and what God does.
What Jesus does here is extraordinary not because of what he does, but because of what it reveals about God’s character: that God is a God of abundance.
Now wait a minute, you just said this story wasn’t about how many things God gives us. And you’re right. It’s not.
It’s a story about a God who is blissfully unaware of terms like workplace efficiency and bottom line. It’s a story about a God who doesn’t calculate the bare minimum required to be just enough and go with that. It’s a story about a God who gives far more than is necessary just because God can. It’s a story about grace, “grace upon grace” as we heard last week. It’s not about us, it’s about God.
Indeed, in the story of the wedding at Cana, we don’t just see an act of graciousness that saves a wedding. We get a glimpse into the mind of God, who never goes half-way or even all the way, but gives abundantly and freely contrary to our every impulse. We are hardwired to believe that there is not enough of anything in the world, that scarcity is the normal condition of the world, and so we live in fear that one day everything will simply dry up. But God, using the same analogy, perhaps, is hardwired to believe in a world of abundance, where giving extraordinarily is the norm, where enough is a goal not to be reached but to surpassed, left behind in the dust. This is what grace is and what grace looks like; joyful, abundant giving. It’s God’s nature. God’s grace doesn’t just look at where we’ve fallen short. It surpasses and exceeds are wildest expectations of what we could imagine; and is far more gracious than anything we deserve.
It was not enough for God to simply make the world right. God came in the person of Jesus Christ to this earth to be with and among the children of God in a way that had never been done before, to be present and intimate with us in a way we could never dream, to take on the power of sin and death and banish its authority over all of creation. It was not enough to come and be done with it. God remains in the world in the Holy Spirit that lives and breathes and moves among us, and remains still in the waters of baptism and the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the eucharist. Everything God does, God does abundantly—even through us.
The partygoers at Cana missed the point of Jesus’s work. They assumed it was all about the wine. It wasn’t. How often do we assume that what God is doing in the church is all about the “things”–the buildings, the programs, the staff, the publications, the music, the membership list. It isn’t. If that’s what the church was about, it wouldn’t last—there will never be enough “things” in the church that keep it alive and going. There will always be a scarcity in the things we can do in the church.
But there will always be an abundance of grace—and that is what the church offers. God’s grace flowing freely through this place, through us, and out into the world. There is more Good News and blessing than we sometimes know what to do with because we are so focused on the things we don’t have. We see 36 presents when what we really really want is 37, and that one we don’t have is the only one we care about.
We live under, serve, and worship a God that takes the mindset of scarcity and turns it on its head, short-circuiting our hardwiring with the waters of grace. Instead of seeing everything we don’t have, we are able to see everything and everyone we do have, hidden treasures of grace ready to be poured out on others who also may be struggling with scarcity. And out of our own considerably meager selves, we give and give and give, just as God gave, and find that indeed, we not only have enough, we have more than enough grace to go around.
And once we realize that, well.. the possibilities are endless.