Wedding Sermon, John 4: Apocalypse, Weddings & Wine

This Wedding Homily is based in large part upon the work of Nadia Bolz Webber who preached upon this Lectionary text in the week of the Haiti earthquake…

I must admit that over the course of the last week the prospect of saying some words about the wedding at Cana has seemed challenging.  Jesus at a big party making sure the wine flows freely.  How do you talk about that given the news of the week? Does anybody want to hear a quirky miracle story about a generous God when many lives and livelihoods lie in ruin?  When our week has involved worry at to whether loved ones will not just make the wedding but be safe at all?

Yesterday I was hearing post- Cyclone Yasi threats to drinking water supplies.  How do you celebrate a story about an abundance of wine when people  are thirsty; for water, for help and for hope?  Not just in Queensland, but with events in the Middle East, and with the unusually strange and severe weather events impacting upon us, even as we gather here today.  It can feel as though we are ‘clouded in’ by apocalyptic events.  What can celebrating a wedding mean at this time?

Well funnily enough Jesus has a bit of a thing about weddings and apocalypse, they are often connected in his thinking.  (eg. Matt 25) It would seem that Dave also has a bit of a thing for weddings and apocalypse having chosen to propose to Andreana last March during the hail event of the century.

This is the story that Dave and Andreana chose for today and part of their wedding preparation involved a process of Bible study with their community in the city.  As you can see from today this is a truly diverse collection of people. Together they work-shopped lots of ideas as a way of connecting with this story, expressing and owning their hopes and support for Dave and Andreana.  It is a simple example of the way in which Dave and Andreana have committed themselves and their relationship to quenching thirst in a thirsty world.

Dave through literally working on water based projects overseas with TEAR Australia and others and Andreana through processes like Credo Writing Group where songs like Amazing Grace are re-worked in meaningful ways as we have just sung.

Of course these processes are not without their awkward and challenging moments. Weddings can be full of awkward and challenging moments, often with family. Perhaps the one in this story involving Mary, the great bearer of suffering in the church tradition could be a key for us being able to celebrate today.

Whilst at the wedding Mary looks to her son and says the wine has run out.  “Woman”  Jesus says to his mother, seemingly dismissive and perhaps even disrespectfully, “my hour has not yet come”  As has often been my experience of strong mothers at a wedding, Mary doesn’t just let it go easily.  I can almost see her staring Jesus down as she remarks to the nearby servant “do whatever he tells you”

You see in John’s story, Mary is no humble virgin, pondering sweet things in her heart, surrounded by angels, She is never even mentioned by name.  She is simply “the MOTHER of Jesus” and she shows up only twice in the entire book as a prophet who tugs at the shirt of God and says

I will not keep silent. I will obey you and I will tell others to obey you but I will not keep silent. We have run out of wine and people are thirsty!

And Jesus hears her, and he does this crazy thing: Instead of filling up the wine jugs or glasses, he takes 6 ceremonial purification jars and has THOSE filled with water to turn into wine. Ritual wash Jars used in his own religion, the religion of his culture and family that are presented as being EMPTY.

Jesus transforms this water into the wine of a new creation. It’s a story big enough to critique the emptiness of his own religion, challenge that of the local, pagan party religion of Dionysus and practically save face for a family amidst the burdensome obligations of a traditional culture.. It creates new iife, faith, family and hope in the face of emptiness. There are many in our nation who need to know some of that this week.

They are thirsty says his mother.  And Jesus responds. But his response is almost embarrassingly excessive.  Hundreds of litres of wine!!??. Surely that’s too much.  But that’s how Jesus is. Litres of the finest wine, which is not called a ‘miracle’ but a sign.   It’s a sign of what God is doing in Jesus, and that the very abundance of this gift means that maybe it’s not meant only for you and me.  You can’t keep hundreds of litres of wine for yourself.  It’ll be “vinegar” unless it’s shared.   One of the great joys of knowing Dave is his generosity in sharing wine.   He has a way of often showing up for a yarn with a bottle of red at times that really matter for others.  Perhaps this is one reason they like and chose this story.

In Jesus God is reconciling all creation to God’s self, not just his own religion and his own people.  It’s something today we might call “having really bad boundaries”

I love bad boundaries at weddings.  I’ve often said to a couple struggling with awkward family dynamics.  ‘Relax It’s just your wedding.  It’s got very little to do with you.’  You see when you make covenants at a wedding, taking the story of Jesus seriously, you are participating in an idea of love that extends far beyond yourselves, the romantic compatibility or emotional joy of two people.

I think this is why Mary is called “woman”. Jesus doe not abide by society or religion’s definitions of good and bad, pure and impure, family and stranger, who is in and who is out.  His own mother is another woman, Like every other woman, every suffering mother.

Mary only shows up twice in John’s Gospel and both times her son calls her “woman. “ Once is here at the wedding when she refuses to be silent because people are thirsty.  The other is when she stands at the foot of the cross, watching as her son hangs with the weight of the world’s suffering tearing his flesh.

In times that are difficult in life and in marriage we need to remember that this is our God.  Not distant to our pain or some monster causing calamity, but a God who suffers for us and with us. God does not cause or initiate suffering…God bears and transforms it.

It is suffering transformed which we see on the cross when again Christ calls his mother “woman” and initiates an adoption between her and the beloved disciple. This is the new kinship we all share.

The passage in John reads:

standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said, “I am thirsty.

I am thirsty he says.  I am not watching this from a distant heaven. Jesus says I too am thirsty.  As we hear the cry of our brothers and sisters let us discern the other voice we hear with them…that of Christ saying I am thirsty.

Dave and Andreana, In your vows and in our support we take up the responsibility of household and kinship in our culture. Of a mother caring for her son, a son for his mother.  Moments of suffering in our world have meaning to the extent that we act like Jesus and love and care for those suffering as if they are our own beloved family.

As you covenant to this story of abundance, to this quality of relationship with other and with a thirsty Christ, we again become the human family of God’s new creation forming a kinship in which our identity is not based on country, blood, or religion but on our belovedness as God’s children.

So what BETTER story could we have today. Dave and Andreana in making these promises  we, with Mary, are tugging on the shirt  of God to say

‘…we have run out Lord. We need wine.  Good wine.  Enough for all,  flowing over.’

We too will not keep silent.  We will join with the family of God in the celebrating abundant love in the midst of scarcity and follow Jesus’ command and fill some jars with water for the thirsty.

May your life together be blessed with this abundance.

Amen

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