Sermon:  “God’s Party”

17 January 2010

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Second Sunday After Epiphany
January 17, 2010

“God’s Party”

John 2:1-11

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our minds and hearts here together be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

As the mother of a now almost-grown teenage son, I have to admit this water-into-wine story from John’s Gospel sounds a little different to me than it used to.  That tone Jesus uses with his mother –  “Woman, how is it that MY plans any of YOUR business?”

It’s not hard to imagine:  Mother and son had walked together to a wedding at Cana – a town in Galilee somewhere between 3 and 8 miles north of Nazareth, depending on which of 3 towns whose claim to fame you want to believe.  At any rate, it’s most likely a wedding feast for some cousins of Jesus who lived nearby.  Remember how, back in chapter 1, Jesus had just called his disciples?  So we could imagine he was eager to begin his ministry, to march south to confront the religious authorities Jerusalem – something he does almost immediately after the wedding ends.  So we might wonder what led Jesus and his 12 followers to go off on this detour NORTH to Cana.

Can’t we just hear Jesus’s mother when he comes home and announces he’s going off on a mission with his new disciples? “ Oh no you don’t!  You and those boys are not going anywhere before your cousin Sally’s wedding!”  And so Jesus drags his disciples along with him to the party.  Maybe they were even glad to go – I mean, a party’s a party, right?  Might be some good-looking single girls in Jesus’s family – at least there’d be plenty of food and wine, music and dancing.  What could it hurt to delay the trip for just one day?  When you think about it that way, it shines an even more intense light on that (somewhat abrupt) exchange of words there between mother and son. 

John 2 says, “3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’  4And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’”  Ooooh.  You know, out of all those pretty paintings of Mary you see in museums, I don’t think any of them comes close to capturing the look in her eyes right then.  Can’t you just imagine the stony silence?  Can’t you just feel her biting her tongue?  How long was that cold pause, you think, before anyone heard Mary’s reply in verse 5 – NOT to Jesus, by the way, but to the servants – “‘Do whatever he tells you.’”

Now when I see something new in a story – like that mother-son tension – I always wonder if it’s just me or if it’s really there.  So this week, when I went to check on other sources, the big surprise for me in my research was that Martin Luther (of all people, not Martin Luther KING, but Martin LUTHER!) in 1525 preached a sermon on this text, and he saw the same thing.[1]  He understood Mary’s feelings at that moment, caught up by the defiance of a young man.  It makes sense.  Martin Luther was much older than Jesus ever was by then – he was 41.  He had worked for a dozen years as a theology professor already.  Teaching young men just beginning their ministries, I’m sure he was familiar with how, like Jesus in his 20s, they might be full of themselves and headstrong.  I was so glad he saw the same thing I saw in Jesus, as a stubborn and passionate young adult defying his mother’s command – an image for God!

Martin Luther saw in this story a metaphor for our relationship with God.  Mary’s reaction to Jesus reminded him of our dismay sometimes at God’s failure to act when WE think God should help us.  And we all know what that feels like, after the week we have had – when a so-called “act of God” has leveled the city of Port-au-Prince, burying thousands of innocent Haitians under the rubble.  When awful things like that happen, people of faith often feel angry at the Almighty – God of the earthquake, God of the storm.  With all creatures who suffer, we cry “Woe!” and we cry “Why?” and we cry “Unfair!”

Do your prayers feel like that sometimes – like you nag and nag God to “do the right thing” and somehow God fails to listen, or at least procrastinates, like a teenager?  “How long, O Lord?” is the prayer of Psalm 13, but it’s a prayer most of us will pray at one time or another in our lives.  It’s very hard to be patient and have faith that someday, somehow, it’ll all be done – but not in OUR time, in God’s own time.  As Martin Luther pointed out, this story reminds us of how important it is for us to let go of all our human expectations and all our opinions about “what’s right” and simply trust God to act how and when and where God wills it to be done.  These quiet and resigned words of Mary are for us, as servants of God, “Do what the Lord tells you.”  We are called to let go and simply trust in God’s goodness.  And of course, in the story from John 2, when the servants do follow the Lord’s instructions, the miracle happens – water is turned into wine.  In God’s time, through the power of God’s grace, dread and worry turn to joy and celebration. 

This is what is slowly happening there on the ground in Haiti, as rescue workers with food and water begin to arrive.  People of faith can see the miraculous work of the Risen Christ in Haiti as Church World Service and other Christian and secular aid organizations provide people and equipment to begin digging all those victims out.  The images of Haiti we’ve been seeing have been horrific – all those collapsed buildings, bodies piled on the streets, crying children white-faced with concrete dust.  But we have to ask ourselves, like the servants at the wedding banquet, “What have we felt the Lord telling us to do?”  Many of you were calling or e-mailing last week to ask, “What is the church doing?” And we have dedicated a page in the bulletin to explain how you can help through the church.  It’s almost as if we are being called to turn wine into water, because we could take money we might have spent on a bottle of wine or a dinner out, and send it to Haiti to buy fresh drinking water and food rations for the homeless.  Why don’t we?

Well, for one thing, like those servants who had to fill heavy jars with wash water, we don’t expect it will feel good to follow God’s commandments.  We don’t expect a miracle of transformation when we do heavy lifting for God.  But the truth of the wedding banquet is that doing what God commands is the source of real joy.  Like the “good wine” Jesus provides, loving others as he calls us to do is surprisingly delicious.  Jesus calls us to “fullness of life” in the service of humanity, not the empty practice of religious traditions – symbolized in this story by the water jugs of the Jewish purification ritual.  The empty pleasures money can buy are like the “cheap wine” a host might provide drunken party guests.  When Jesus calls us to God’s party, he invites us to serve the world “the best wine” as his disciples – and that is deeply satisfying – intoxicating even!  It is much better than chugging the cheap wine of worldly pleasure or sipping the plain wash-water of religious duty.  God’s spirit is wonderful, and plentiful to those who trust in God to provide it.  We are invited to set a feast of grace in the midst of a world of emptiness, burden, and sorrow.  And when we are willing to do that, we discover it gives great joy.  It’s addicting even.  It’s why so many of us love to go on Mission Trips, like the one right now in Rhode Island.

I want to close with a story about one of the first mission trips I helped to lead – up to Medford, Oregon, where a group of Senior High Youth were helping to repair group homes for mentally disabled adults.  We were staying in a little Baptist church out on the edge of town, next door to a farmhouse with a barn that the family had evidently turned into a kind of clubhouse for their teenagers.  When we got there the first night, after supper the kids were blowing off steam out in the church parking lot, throwing a Frisbee around, running and laughing.  There was loud rock music playing over at the barn, and out of the big hayloft window we kept seeing these teenage boys with what looked like beer cans in their hands looking over at our group.  They were calling, “Hey! Hey!  You guys want to come over to our place?  Want to party with us?  We have beer!”  Our kids were shouting “No thanks,” so the two guys finally came over to see what was wrong. 

I saw a couple of our girls go over to meet them, so I moved a little closer to hear what they would say.  “We can’t come over,” one of the girls said.  “We’re here on a work camp.  We’re doing service projects here in town.”  “Oh!  Sorry, man,” one of the guys said, but he sounded impressed.  “What did you do to get in trouble?”  And that cracked us all up, because they had assumed we were doing service hours in exchange for jail time.  When the girls said they were with a church youth group and that they WANTED to be there – in fact they had done fund-raising and PAID to be there – those guys went home pretty quick.  They just couldn’t understand what it meant to be invited to God’s party – loving and serving others is something Christians WANT to, not something we HAVE to do.  We are grateful, always, for the spirit of grace that fills us with the joy and enthusiasm to do it – to give love to the world as generously as God’s love was given to us in Jesus.

Thanks be to God for this Good News.  Amen. 



John 2:1-11

2On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him,
“They have no wine.”                4And Jesus said to her,
“Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.
7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.”
And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them,
“Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.
9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.


[1] This sermon on John 2 by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil of 1525, was published in volume II:55-69 of The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, published in 1906 by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI).  It is available on-line at




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