Yesterday’s sermon, from John 2:1-11
One night after dinner last week, in the midst of our routine of watching the show Once Upon a Time while doing homework, I was struck with the sudden urge to conduct some internet research. And I research olive oil, wanting to make sure that the bottle purchased the day before had been a quality find.
Extensive research led me to some truly fascinating information, on the International Olive council, and global quality standards for olive oil. But mostly, I was taken back in my memory to the time I was given a prized gift: a gorgeous bottle of single origin olive oil from Chile.
Who knew the humble egg could taste so marvelous! It was like it had been scrambled in liquid gold. Delighted with this ticket into the club of people who have experience the joy of an excellent olive oil, I began to cook soups and risottos, just to have something on which to drizzle this prized elixir, inviting others to dine with me and relish together in the bright, fragrant and fruity delight of finery .To my preschool student and his Chilean family, this olive oil was a token of thanks for the year we had spent learning together. For me, an avid amateur home chef, it was extravagance contained in beautiful green glass.
Suddenly, something ordinary and necessary for life, like cooking and eating became wonderful and delightful. This gift brightened up the living of everyday life with joyful abundance. Even when the substance of the bottle ran out, the memory of its delight continues to thrill and entice, inviting joy and delight over and over again in the kitchen as new olive oils are discovered and explored; as new faces around the table share in hospitality and fellowship.
Have you ever had an experience where something routine or ordinary in your life was transformed into something joyful? Maybe an afternoon in the garden turned up a perfect bloom that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Perhaps a reading of a familiar passage in your daily bible study suddenly took on a new meaning. Maybe a moment of reflection on a quiet evening uncovered new purpose and meaning for a time of transition in your life. For those of you who have traveled to and had the opportunity to see and walk in the paths where Jesus walked, maybe the stories of Jesus, like this one became alive and vibrant before your eyes.
Life is peppered by major events that bring with them major emotions – sometimes grief and pain, like burying someone we love, or letting go of a home, a job, a dream; other times are cause for celebration like the birth of a child, or grandchild, a graduation, a wedding… These events are in our memories forever and we carry them with us. And in between and all around these major events, life continues to go on. Even in all its ordinariness, life goes on. Day in and day out, with little opportunities within each day to notice grace and joy, to slow down and to be filled, and to recognize the holy in the midst of the mundane.
Here, at the intersection of holy and ordinary – in another account of Mary’s lived experience of God with us, we find Jesus and his closest friends at a wedding bearing knowledge of a brewing crisis that could turn this village upside down and ruin the lives of a newlywed couple and their families.
The gathered crowd has been partying for the better part of a week. The entire village has come out to be with the family and to celebrate together the union of two people in marriage. Everything seems perfect and as the bride and groom revel in their bliss, greeting their guests, Jesus’ mother goes looking for him, to tell him of the troubled waters beneath the surface. You may be wondering why Mary is acting like this is the end of the world. Jesus seems to wonder that too, when he responds by asking “how is the wine issue my problem or yours? Mary knows what Jesus knows – that the wine issue is about to be everyone’s problem very soon. To run out of food or drink at a large scale celebration like this one is the equivalent of social leprosy – the family will be the talk of the town – and not in a good way. For years to come, people will know, and talk about the fact that this family ran out of wine at the wedding feast, and they will be shunned and shamed.
So, despite his initial reluctance to get involved, Jesus has compassion on this family and doesn’t want them to be shamed within the community, because community is central to the practice of the Jewish faith. Looking around, Jesus notices some jars, meant to hold up to 30 gallons of water, to be used for the rituals of purification – an everyday ordinary part of the lives of this family.
The servant bystanders do as Jesus asks of them, filling the jars to the brim with water. Then, dipping some out they take it to the chief steward who praises the wedding host for saving the best for last. In this act of miracle and compassion, Jesus uses something ordinary and routine, something mundane to create something delightful and elicit joy.
Extravagance contained in ordinary clay water jars, brightening up this celebration and promising to abundantly fill the lives of this family, and their community for years to come as they tell and retell the story. This first of Jesus‘s signs as he lived among humanity is a beautiful prelude to set up what the redeeming work of God among us really is and really looks like. It is revolutionary, it is transformative, and it topples everything that we know to be true, and stable and ordinary.
At a feast like this one, a celebratory beverage was served, yes, but the quality of the drink that you were given was directly related to your socioeconomic status. If you had lots of money and a high standing in society, you were given the best of the best. The lower you were on the rungs of society, the less choice your drink would be. And all the way down at the bottom, were the guests who celebrated this joyous occasion with a wine blend that was diluted with water and vinegar. This cheapest of drinks is what Jesus was offered on the cross when he said “I am thirsty.”
The guests partaking in this particular type of wine were likely doing so out of the obligation to celebrate together as a village because they were a community, and the accepted practice was that the entire community be invited. Jesus turned them all into a true community of equals sharing the same joy and partaking of the same choice wine. But Jesus didn’t just turn water into wine. Jesus transformed purity law into grace, and ordinariness into delight. Jesus transformed poor wedding hosts into revolutionary equalizers who leveled the playing field and made everyone equal to the other at the end of the feast, showing the village and us, what it means to be a community filled to the brim with the love and joy of Christ.
We, the people of Scott Boulevard are a community who consistently explores what it means to be filled to the brim with the love and joy of Christ – and to share that love and joy with others. We gather in the homes of dear loved ones who are unable to gather with us in worship here, and worship together with them, reminding each other of God’s love for us, regardless of our limitations.
Five months ago, this community showered two of their own with extravagant, abundant gifts of love: gifts of presence and celebration together on their special day, gifts that helped to provide cake and punch for wedding guests from near and far, and gifts that have helped to turn an apartment into a home; treasures that remind this very grateful couple of what it means to be part of a community that gives of itself over and over, from the abundance of love flowing out of their hearts. In this account of an abundance of good wine for all, lies an abundance of good news for each of us. In the everyday ordinariness of life: our own rituals and routines, our daily goings about our business, there is joy to be found, there is grace to be received over and over again, and there is delight to be shared amidst a community of believers who are filled to the brim with the joy of Christ’s love.
Our hearts, our own clay jars housing the memories of our pains, joys and the everyday living of life, are transformed over and over each time we delight in God’s abundance toward us. Each time we, like Mary, turn to the Lord to say, “we are running low on our reserves,” Jesus meets us there and fills us to the brim with extravagance and love to know we can make it through, strength and courage to “do whatever he tells us” and an openness of heart to make sure that all are invited to, and included in, the great feast. Thanks be to God, for abundant, extravagant love.