John 2: 1-11 1-14-18 ACCUCC Rev. Tony Clark
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When 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 and 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.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Since moving to California, I have learned something about wine. Because it is ubiquitous, I tell people back east that it is our unofficial State drink. I also joke that in some places, our faucets are plumbed for wine; if you turn the left handle you get red, and if you turn the right handle you get white.
I’ve learned something of the agriculture of wine; how fragile the grape is to frost or fire, how many years it takes an immature grape plant to produce grapes—3 years, as I’ve heard after the devastating fires north of here.
I’ve also learned a bit about the economy of wine. Many of the workers in the fields are undocumented immigrants, people who have few rights in our society, including aid from FEMA after the recent fires. I imagine the difficulty of the work, even if though I don’t do it myself, because I see the workers when I travel through Napa and Sonoma Valleys.
On July 4, when Darrell’s family was in town we went to Napa. This was before the fires hit, there was a casual joy in the air, and the holiday meant that the wineries were pretty sparsely toured. We stopped at Stags Leap Winery, which is known for winning a French recognition for its cabernet in 1976. There weren’t many people there, and the wine steward was in a generous mood, and he gave us a free tasting of their Cask 23. It was beautiful, smooth, rich, and with a little kick in the end. They called it an “iron fist in a velvet glove.” Thinking of enjoying a bottle of that with friends, I immediately took out my wallet and said, “I know I can’t afford a case, but I would like to buy a bottle of that.” The steward said, “It’s $245 a bottle.” I gulped, and put my credit card back in my wallet and my wallet back in my pocket, and said, “Thank you for the taste. That was the most exquisite wine I’ve ever tasted, and the taste will have to last my life time.”
The wine that Jesus made was that good. A solid 94-96 points. An Iron fist in a velvet glove-- smooth, fruity, rich, deep, and luxuriant. The finest wine, served not at the beginning of the party, but 3 days in, when most people would serve the cheap stuff, the stuff that was nearly vinegar, the stuff from the bottom shelf. Jesus, a mere guest at this wedding, made water into the best wine ever.
And that is not the point of the story.
Each of the Gospels presents an answer, not just to the question, “Who was Jesus?”, but to the question, “How did Jesus reveal God to us?” The Gospel of John has a very clear answer to that question; Jesus revealed God because Jesus was the Word of God.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of the Word of God, I think of the Bible, the book of scriptures, typeset on thousands of pages, bound in paper or cardboard or leather. I’m pretty sure that Jesus didn’t become a book of pages and pages and a leather covering.
Jesus was the Word of God, not a book, but the God’s spoken Words made manifest. The Gospel of John opens with these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” The Word of God is the spoken truth at the center of the universe, at the beginning before the Big Bang. The whole of our scripture opens with the beautiful poetry that says, “In the beginning… God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
The Word of God is not merely a book, written, edited, canonized, and then closed for all eternity. The Word of God is spoken over and over again, and the Gospel of John says that not only is the Word of God what God speaks and becomes true, but the Word of God became manifest, incarnated in the person of Jesus.
That opening of the Gospel of John continues with these words, “What has come into being in him was life…”
The Word of God was present with God at the beginning of time, and the Word of God is life. Jesus, as the Word of God reveals to us what God keeps trying to tell us about life, and he does it by doing things. In the Book of John, Jesus does signs—what the other gospels call miracles, and these signs, and the words of interpretation around them point to what God wants to speak to us. Turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana is the first sign.
We look for meaning in the alchemy of turning water into wine, yet the meaning is not in the miracle, nor in the alchemy. The meaning is in what this act says about the actor, Jesus, and how Jesus reveals God.
Jesus turns water into wine on the request of his mother. She comes to him and asks him to not let the wedding host look embarrassed by running out of wine. Jesus’ answer, though, is that it is no concern of his, and it is not his time. His mother simply tells the steward to do what he says, and then walks away leaving it to Jesus to do something.
Jesus was not ready to reveal himself, yet there was something that Mary could see in her adult son. Always his mother, she had to encourage him to do something which would reveal him as the Word of God. So, like an alchemist turning lead into gold, Jesus turned water into wine. This first sign tells us about God, not in words, but in action.
We learn that Jesus was a miracle worker, an alchemist of some sort, yet that is not the entire meaning of this sign. The meaning is deeper, a reflection on what it means to be so completely alive in God. What has come into being in him was life. This alchemical miracle tell us about life: life is about celebrations, about being together for the important times like a wedding. Life is about hospitality, and good hospitality is bringing out the best when others would bring out the cheapest. Life is noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary. And life is about listening to your mother.
The Word of God doesn’t just proclaim, but makes manifest, that life in God is abundant. Jesus didn’t just make a few bottles of wine; he turned six jars of water, each containing approximately 20-30 gallons, into wine. That’s between 120 and 180 gallons of wine. If we assume the total was someplace around 150 gallons, something on the order of 750 modern bottles of wine, which would have taken about 1 ton of grapes had the wine been made from grapes. In terms of the $245/bottle wine that I got to sample, that would be more or less $184,000 worth of wine. Certainly, weddings these days are costly, but even that is beyond what the wealthiest would budget for the wine at a wedding.
That was an amazing amount of hospitality, an abundance, an overflowing of the extraordinary in what would otherwise have been a relatively ordinary wedding. And what is even more amazing is that Jesus was not the host. He was merely a guest, along with his mother and disciples. He did it so the host would not be embarrassed, he did it because his mother asked, he did it because she knew he could and encouraged him. And he kind of went over the top.
And that is the point. The point is not the magic, the alchemy of adding carbon out of thin air to the hydrogen and oxygen to change a relatively simple chemical—water—into a more complex chemical—alcohol.
The Word of God, the living Jesus Christ, preached to us, not merely with words, but by revealing God’s point of view on this thing we call life. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, celebrated this thing called life, and showed us that Life in God is abundant and there is extraordinary abundance in the midst of the ordinary.
God proclaimed, at the beginning of time, the words, let there be life, animals, plants, sea creatures of all kinds, an abundance of cockroaches and butterflies, whales and plankton, bacteria and people. Let there be abundance, and there was abundance. And the Word of God at a wedding in Cana proclaimed with an act celebrating life, that Life in God is abundant-- -- Life in God is abundant, abundant in joy, abundant in community, abundant in diversity, abundant in love.
Yes, Jesus was a magic man, a miracle man, full of signs and wonders. And more than that, he is the Word of God, teaching us what that means.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life…”
Let there be life. Let there be abundant life. May we gather here to celebrate life, and may the extraordinary signs amidst the ordinary day-to-day of life reveal the good news of God to each of us. Amen.
 Calculations retrieved from https://grapesandwine.cals.cornell.edu/newsletters/appellation-cornell/2011-newsletters/issue-8/conversion-factors-vineyard-bottle on 1-11-18