A sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark., on January 20, 2013.
Isaiah 62:1-5; John 2:1-11
I’m not sure which football coach said it, but he wasn’t enamored of the passing game. He was the old-fashioned kind who wanted to pound the other team with a bruising running game built on sturdy backs and a strong offensive line… the classic “three yards and a cloud of dust” approach to football. He felt that way because, he said, when you throw the ball, three things can happen, and two of them aren’t good. The pass can be incomplete, which means you make no yards at all, or it can be intercepted, which, of course, gives the ball back to the other team.
To be honest, I kind of feel the same way when it comes to weddings. There are a lot of different things that can happen at weddings, and a number of them aren’t good. Weddings can be, and should be, joyous occasions. But talk to any seasoned minister, and he or she can give you plenty of horror stories. If you don’t mind, I’ll share a couple of mine, neither of which occurred here. So don’t worry, the identities of the people involved shall forever remain a secret.
The first wedding that comes to mind was a large one. Oh, and that’s another thing: the larger the wedding the higher the expectations (not to mention the more money that is spent), and the greater the pressure. Larger, more pressure-packed, expensive weddings with high expectations lead to more mistakes. Oh, and one more thing: they were nominal church members. I have found over the years, that under these kinds of circumstances, those who have the least to do with the church are the most demanding. In this case, there were elaborate decorations and flowers, replete with candelabra and a unity candle… the whole nine yards.
It had all the makings of a beautiful ceremony. However, when the wedding party was fully assembled at the chancel, and we were prepared to begin, I realized no one had remembered to light the candles. I whispered to the bride and groom that because the candles had not been lighted we would have to forego the unity candle. Suddenly, large crocodile tears came flowing from the eyes of the bride, and I knew we had to go to Plan B.
I admit that sometimes I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but in situations like that you’ve got to be able to think on your feet. So I turned to the best man and said quietly, “I don’t care how you do it, but get me something to light a candle with.” The message was repeated all the way down the line of the groomsmen until it was told to the father of the groom, who, in a matter of moments, produced a disposable lighter. The lighter was passed up the row of groomsmen and placed in my hand. When it came time for the unity candle, I accompanied the bride and groom, lighted the two outside candles, and we proceeded with the ceremony as if nothing had ever gone wrong.
One of the worst weddings I ever officiated, however, went off like clock-work… sort of. The bride, a beautiful, beautiful young woman, was a member of my church. When I tell you that she was beautiful, for those of you who understand what I mean, don’t worry: I’m not going to go all Brent Musberger on you. I do have a point. You see, despite her great beauty, she was terribly insecure.
In meeting with her and her fiancé, I found him to be quite talkative, and after a couple of meetings with them I began to see the warning signs. He was not only glib (she could hardly get a word in edgewise), he was controlling, and, in my mind, was taking advantage of her insecurity. I sensed he didn’t want her as much as he wanted her beauty… a trophy wife, so to speak.
I did as much as I could with them, in terms of pre-marital counseling, but still wasn’t satisfied that this was a good relationship. I encouraged them to go to a professional counselor and made a referral, even offered to pay for it. And they did. The counselor, who I never used after this incident, pronounced them good to go, which bothered me even more. I continued to be troubled by what I was seeing.
About thirty minutes before the ceremony was to begin, I was called into the bride’s room. She was in tears. Didn’t want to go through with it, she said; said she was being pressured to marry and wasn’t at all sure that this was what she should do or wanted to do. I asked everyone to leave the room and then counseled her to take a breath, to tell me why she was having these feelings. Sure enough, a lot of it had to do with her own personal insecurity, but then there was also her controlling fiancé. I felt she was fearful of the relationship somehow, and I understood why.
After listening to her explanation, I told her that I was more than willing to announce to the gathered congregation that the wedding had been called off and they could proceed to the fellowship hall where they could partake of the food and refreshments that had been prepared for them. I suggested that she take a moment to think about this, that rarely did a wedding actually begin right on time anyway, and that everyone would wait. This was too big a decision for her not to think about it as much as possible, I assured her that I would stay with her until she gained her composure and made the decision that was right for her, and that she had my support no matter what she decided to do.
Just then, her step-father came in and talked her into going through with the wedding, said she didn’t want to disappoint all their friends and guests, now did she? “Just do what’s in your heart,” he said, which I took as a euphemism to mean, “Think of your mother and me and all the trouble and expense we’ve gone to.” While I sat there grinding my teeth, I felt I had said all I could say, and it was now out of my hands. But it gave me a pretty clear window into her insecurity. She was surrounded on all sides by people who controlled her. No wonder she had such low self-esteem. She agreed to the wedding, and, as I said, it went off like clock-work. The marriage lasted eight months.
It reminds me of a cartoon I have in my office. Two young women are talking over coffee, and one says to the other, “I don’t understand what happened to our marriage. The wedding was so perfect.”
Weddings were big deals in Jesus’ day too, even more so than in ours. For anything to go wrong, such as running out of wine, it would represent a social catastrophe that would damage the family’s reputation for years. Talk about pressure.
First-century weddings lasted several days, sometimes as often as a week. Taking place, usually in the groom’s home, they were public events made open to guests and just about anyone else who chose to attend. In order to fulfill the social responsibilities of that culture, the family often drew not only on their own financial resources but also the help of others in their social circle, so it was truly a community event. A successful wedding insured the family’s continuing social status and honor in the community. For something to go wrong, well, the only word to describe the consequences was humiliation, not unlike what the poor Crawley family went through last week an Downton Abbey!
When the party goes bad – especially a wedding party – several things can happen, and none of them are good. And wouldn’t you know it would happen on Jesus’ watch. And wouldn’t you know that his mother more or less pushed him into doing something about it.
I wonder if this is the way Jesus thought his public ministry would begin? Do you think he might have wanted to start on a bigger scale, really get everybody’s attention by doing something truly spectacular? Instead, he finds his mama sidling up next to him, whispering in his ear that they’ve run out of wine. Well, it’s not his fault they didn’t plan for something like this. What can he do about it? A better question might be, why would he want to do anything about it? He hadn’t come, after all, to rescue people from their social problems. He came to embody the presence of the kingdom of God.
He’s got bigger fish to fry. There’s a world out there in need of his abilities to heal the sick and reclaim the dead. God hadn’t brought him here to save people from social embarrassment. Why does it have to begin with this?
In trying to answer that question, we get the sense that this story really isn’t about the wedding. Not really. In fact, it’s not even about the water being turned into wine. It points to something else, something much bigger and more eternal in scope. It may just be about timing and patience, especially as they are defined in the kingdom.
And it speaks of reversal… how the natural order of things on earth are done so differently in the kingdom. Jesus came to bring the kingdom to his world. In doing so, Jesus did in a matter of moments what it usually took months, even years, to accomplish. From the planting of the seed to the growth of the plant and the ripening of the fruit, to the harvesting of the grapes, the pressing in the vat, and the waiting period of fermentation… it took time – lots and lots of time – to make good wine.
For you old-timers… do you remember the TV commercial (it was in the 70’s, I think) where Orson Welles was the pitchman for a wine company? “We will sell no wine before its time,” he said in his deep, professionally-trained, theatrical voice. Yet, Jesus did it in a matter of minutes. The question is, why… and for what purpose?
“They have no wine,” Mary said to her son. And quickly, Jesus reminds her, “My hour has not yet come.” Yet, he immediately does what she asks of him, even though she didn’t really have to ask. He knew what she was getting at. “They have no wine” meant, “Son, do something about it.”
From his response we get the idea that Jesus didn’t seem to be in the practice of taking orders from his mama. He listened to a higher authority. Yet, he did it because the timing was right. His hour had come, his hour when he would commence to doing in a moment what ordinarily would take months and maybe even years, if at all. From giving sight to the blind and the ability to walk for those who were crippled, Jesus came and re-ordered things, reversed them in a way no other could. Jesus came and disrupted people and lives everywhere he went.
The flu has been running rampant in our country this winter. Even if you had your flu shot, even if you went to the doctor as soon as you began experiencing the symptoms, even if you followed your physician’s orders right down the line, it takes time to get over it. I know a pastor in Maryland who got sick before Christmas and is still struggling with the effects of it.
Yet, Jesus healed people instantaneously, just as he turned the water into wine. What’s that all about?
Every miracle is a disruption of what is supposed to be normal. Strange things happen when Jesus shows up; strange to us, that is. John is big on signs, remember. So this really isn’t about weddings and water and wine. It is about disruption, and that disruption is Jesus, who has come to embody on earth how things are done in the kingdom. And when the kingdom is revealed on earth, disruptions occur.
We don’t handle disruptions well, do we? We have our schedules after all. Life is segmented and orchestrated and planned to the point that we don’t have time, nor the inclination, to deal with things that come to us out of the ordinary. You take your health for granted, until illness comes, and the healing process becomes a full-time vocation. You take relationships for granted, until one explodes on you. And then, once again, you find yourself giving every bit of your attention and emotion to whatever it takes to heal the situation. When the party goes bad, everything else in life is put aside to taking care of what needs to be done.
Jesus was no exception to that. However, he himself is a disrupter because he invades our hearts and changes everything… everything.
Your life right now might be humming along just fine. All gears are engaged and the cylinders are pumping smoothly… until the party goes bad and you realize you need help. Who do you turn to? What do you do?
Turning the water into wine proved to be the turning point in Jesus’ life and ministry, and the world was disrupted in a way it had never been before or has been since. The question is, have you allowed him to disrupt your life? If not, there will come that day when the party goes bad. Of that, you can be assured. When that happens, to whom will you turn? Wouldn’t it be better to let him disrupt you now, and if need be, change your faith perspective? It might just prepare you for that inevitable time when the party goes bad. And when it does, you will have a Companion to guide you along the way, and to show you the presence of the kingdom.
Lord, disrupt us, invade our hearts, and walk with us, is our prayer… through Christ our Lord, Amen.