-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 1-20-2019 Pardeeville
(1Corinthians 12:1-11 and John 2:1-11)
Weddings are planned to be special days. Great steps are taken so that everything goes according to plan. I’m told that there are even people whose job it is to plan weddings for couples, to take care of every single detail so the day is perfect. From everyone’s arrival at the church all the way through the reception, one’s wedding day is expected to be flawless. Nothing is supposed to go wrong. Of course, that’s the goal but not always the result. You should know that, sometimes, when pastors get together, they share stories about church services that went contrary to plans. One such story I heard was about a wedding that took place in August…a hot Saturday afternoon in August. The church was packed. Everything was supposed to go well but you know I wouldn’t be talking about this unless something unfortunate happened. Everyone was assembled. People were fanning themselves with their programs—trying to do the best they could to keep some air moving. The church was not air conditioned and some genius had decided that the windows shouldn’t be opened because the breeze would disturb the soloist’s sheet music. You can probably guess what happened but let me put things in the correct order. Even before the ceremony began, one of the guests fainted. Just passed out. She was revived and spent a few minutes outside getting some air. The organist began to play. The wedding party marched in first, six bridesmaids and six groomsmen. The bride was escorted down the aisle by her father. About ten minutes or so into the service, one of the groomsmen got this funny look on his face. He then passed out and the service had to be stopped while he was being attended to. After things got going again, the bride and the groom were about to light the unity candle. One of the bride’s good friends was singing “From This Moment On”…a lovely and appropriate number by Shania Twain. It was at that instant that the bride fainted. They did manage to finish the ceremony. It turned out to be a special day and certainly a memorable one, just not the memories everyone was expecting! Yes, great steps are taken to make sure weddings are perfect but many is the time that something comes along to take one’s wedding day in a different direction.
As we hear the story of the wedding feast at Cana this morning, we quickly realize that something is wrong. The party is running out of wine. And that was a huge problem. Two thousand years ago, Jewish wedding celebrations were held at the groom’s house. The party lasted seven days. People would come and go with very few spending the whole time at the party. To us, running out of wine at a celebration that lasts a week doesn’t seem like a big deal, especially if you can send someone to the store to get some more whenever you need to. A couple of thousand years ago, it was nothing short of an insult to run out of wine. It was a major blunder in hospitality. And, had it happened that day at Cana, not only would it have disgraced the young couple that day, it would have been close to impossible for them to ever live it down. That’s how serious the situation was. Everywhere the bride and groom went, for the rest of their lives, they would be known as the people who ran out of wine, the people who insulted their guests. Their society would have never forgiven them.
Jesus is not the first one to notice the problem. His mother is the one who tells him the party is running out of wine. That’s when we get a bit of an insight into the plan Jesus had for beginning his ministry. No specific details, mind you, but we understand that Jesus had his own timetable set up. And, whatever that schedule was, it was not supposed to happen at the wedding. Jesus had not planned to perform a miracle there.
When Jesus learns the wine is running low, he knows this is a very important moment in the couples’ young married life. Jesus has to decide what to do. He can stick to his plan and wait for what he has calculated to be the right time. Or Jesus can adjust his schedule. He can act then and there and minister to the needs of someone else. And that’s what makes this a wonderful story. Jesus does act, the wedding feast goes on uninterrupted, and everything turns out okay. Jesus ultimately realizes how important it is to the couple and he changes whatever his original plans were. Jesus deems the situation worthy of a miracle.
So the first time that Jesus makes himself known, to his disciples or to anyone else, he does so not according to his own design, but in response to the needs of those around him. Jesus puts the needs of others above his own personal plans. Had Jesus held tightly to his original time frame, and we will never know exactly what that plan might have been, two lives in Cana would have been irreversibly damaged. By performing this miracle Jesus kept the wedding feast going and made sure that people there had a good time. He insured that those at the party would celebrate the bride and groom and that the happy couple would be able to celebrate each other too. Perhaps it was in going through this experience, in coming to his decision, that Jesus learned something about himself. He understood that his gifts were not for himself. Jesus’ gifts were always and only for others.
It seems the church in Corinth failed to learn the same lesson so Paul wrote them a letter. Some peculiar things were going on in that church. Selfishness was running rampant. Everyone wanted to be the best, the most important. They were quite possessive and very competitive about the gifts they had been given. They had a strong sense of “mine”. People were identifying their gifts, which is good. But people were not willing to share those gifts. Paul’s attempt here is to teach the people of Corinth about the gifts of the Spirit. He wants to help them realize that, whatever gifts they have been given, they are not to be saved or hoarded. Gifts are meant to be shared. They have been given these gifts in order to use them to help others, to use them to build up the body of Christ.
Paul’s message is simple. This is how Christians act. What you have is not for you to keep. What you have is to be used for the good of everyone. That’s what the Christians at Corinth came to discover. That’s the decision that Jesus made at the wedding feast in Cana. What he had been given was not for his own sake. What he had been given was for the good of others, in this case that young married couple. As soon as Jesus realized this, he used his gifts to help the wedding couple. And he continued to do so throughout his public ministry. Jesus willingly helped the people around him—healing, teaching, comforting.
There are lessons to be learned from the story of the wedding feast in Cana. One of those lessons is that it’s okay to accept advice from other people. Jesus’ mother simply came to him and told him the party was running out of wine. Jesus knew what that would mean to the bride and groom and that fact drew him into action. How comforting to know that we don’t have to have every idea ourselves.
Something else we learn would be “do your best”…do the best you can in whatever situation presents itself. I think we could say that, in adding over a hundred gallons of wine to the celebration, Jesus was generous to say the least. Another example is to offer help anonymously. Jesus did not make a big show of the miracle he worked at Cana. He asked some folks to fill up some jars and bring the product to the man in charge of the wedding party. Those folks knew, but the bride and groom didn’t know nor did any of the guests. It’s an extension of what Jesus taught his disciples about prayer. He told them not to make a big show of it…not to use a lot of words. Jesus asked his disciples to pray alone…that God would know what they were doing and that would be sufficient. In the same way, Jesus shows us that we don’t need to make a big deal about the things we do to help others. It is oh so tempting to let everyone know about the good things we do…but the example we have in Cana is quite the opposite.
And perhaps the best example we can take from this story is be flexible. Be willing to change or adjust your plans if a different situation presents itself. We don’t know exactly what plan Jesus had in mind to begin his public ministry. What we see happening though is his willingness to change his own plans in order to help out someone in need.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians rings true today. We are not created to live solely for ourselves, to be possessive and defensive about what we have been given. Those gifts are not for us to hold onto. We need to live beyond ourselves. We need to work for the good of others. That’s when something wonderful can happen. At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus chose to abandon his plans and his schedule. He chose instead to reach out and, in so doing, gave us the example we need. In order to act like the church, in order to act like the body of Christ, we need to look beyond ourselves to the work that God is calling us to do. We need to share the gifts we have in the service of others. That’s what the church is all about. That’s what makes being a disciple of Christ so much fun! Where will our next opportunity come from? We might like to think we already know. Then again, maybe God has other plans. Thanks be to God!