“They Have No More Wine”

~ John 2:1-11; Psalm 36:5-10 ~

Even though I think it’s quite important, I’ve done enough weddings in my time to realize that my part is just a tiny bit of the whole thing called a wedding. As much as I might lament the reality of it all, I have come to realize that the ceremony itself is merely the prelude to the real event – the wedding reception. If you compare the amount of time, thought and effort that goes into a wedding, the ceremony itself is just a blip on the screen. Fortunately, as the minister, I don’t have to do any of the planning for the wedding reception; I just show up. But for those who do the work of planning the reception, namely the bride and groom (OK, maybe not the groom; he just shows up as well), and all the helpers, the wedding reception planning can be an all-consuming task for months leading up to the event. Endless detailed lists and schedules, many sleepless nights trying to figure out the final seating arrangements, thousands of dollars spent on the right place, the right entertainment, and, of course, the food and drink. It’s imperative that there be enough food and drink for all the guests. The amount of time and energy invested boggles the mind – my mind, anyway.

Well, somebody messed up! The reception was going quite well. Everybody was having a great time. Everyone seemed to survive the cheesy introductions by the DJ. Music and dancing filled the room. The guests are enjoying those little rolled up ham-filled things and the shrimp with cocktail sauce. But, still, somebody messed up big time! They ran out of wine. Horrors! How could you run out of wine? How embarrassing. Yet that’s what we have here in this story of the wedding at Cana in John’s gospel – an embarrassed bridegroom who ran out of wine to serve his guests.

Luckily, Mary brought along her son. He would take care of the problem. And he did, albeit, a bit reluctantly. So, an embarrassment was averted and the party went on with plenty of wine, indeed, an overwhelming amount of wine. Biblical scholars have determined that, according to the account here in John, Jesus made about 120-160 gallons of wine. And this wine wasn’t “Two Buck Chuck.” This was really good wine, the kind my wine-maker friend in Napa makes. This surprised everyone because everyone knows you serve the good stuff first and then the “Two Buck Chuck” after all the guests are drunk. I have to say my teetotaling Baptist forefathers had a tough time explaining this one away.

Now the gospel writer makes the purpose of this story very plain. At the conclusion of the story, John says, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” This feeds into the overall purpose of the gospel as expressed in chapter 20:31: “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” This story of the water turned into wine is one of seven “signs” John narrates toward that end. John’s gospel is the gospel of belief.

Yet allowing for that agenda, I am intrigued with the story itself. What is it about this story of a bridegroom who didn’t plan very well on how much wine would be consumed at his wedding reception and how Jesus took care of his problem? What does any of that have to do with us (except the lesson that if you are planning a wedding reception make sure you have plenty of wine)?

Well, I think this is a story about abundance – abundance as opposed to scarcity.  It’s a story of not enough wine – scarcity – and an overwhelming amount of wine – abundance. These two words – scarcity and abundance – can be the prism through which we look at the world, our worldview. Parker J. Palmer, the Quaker author and lecturer, is one of my favorite spiritual mentors. He writes that the quality of our lives “depends heavily on whether we assume a world of scarcity or a world of abundance.” Do we live in a world where the basic things of life – from food and shelter to a sense of competence or of being loved – are abundant in nature? Or do we live in a world where such good things are in short supply, available only to those who have the power to beat out everyone else? How we answer those questions has a lot to do with how we subsequently live and act. If we assume goods – be it food or love – are in short supply, only the people who are good at competing will be able to survive. If we assume goods are in great abundance we will be able to act out of generosity and community, rather than competition.

Despite the incredible abundance of our land and culture, especially compared to many other parts of the world, we often act out of the scarcity assumption. How else can we explain the practice of (forgive me, teachers) only grading on the curve as if A’s and B’s are scarce commodities and should only be distributed sparingly. How else can we explain the fact that competition (a way of allocating scarcity), rather than cooperation (a way of sharing abundance), is widely regarded as the only way of doing business. How else can we explain the fact that our country so fearfully clings to its habit of over consuming the world’s resources, as if letting other people share the world’s resources, would be national suicide. At every level, the assumption of scarcity plays a huge role in our culture.

I believe that the underlying message of this gospel story is that we don’t have to live with the assumption of scarcity. The message is that God is a God of abundance; Jesus is the one who brings the abundance of God to us. Living out of an assumption of abundance doesn’t mean that once scarce goods magically multiply to create an abundance of goods. Oh, wait; isn’t that what Jesus did – make the wine magically? Well, you’ve got me there. I’ll not pretend I know how Jesus did it. However, I believe the principle is that the amount of goods doesn’t change. The assumption of scarcity looks at the amount of goods and says, “Wow, there’s not very much there.  I’ll have to fight and compete to get my share.” The assumption of abundance looks at the same amount and says, “There is enough for everyone if we share it in community.” That is where it turns – if goods are shared in the life of the community, rather than competed for individually, there is plenty for all. Interestingly, when one studies the cultures of Indigenous Peoples a basic principle is that of sharing in community unlike that of Western European, dare I say, Christian cultures that seem to buy into the scarcity assumption. How did we get it so wrong?

When we really consider it, the very nature and desire of God is abundance. God is an abundant God. God wants us to experience abundance. Now, you might say, “well, of course, we know that.” Nevertheless, how often, in our more critical moments of self-reflection, do we think of God as stingy and tight? How often do we slip into the thinking that God does grade on the curve, and gives out very few A’s?  How often do we believe that God must be really angry with me, that I don’t desire God’s love? How often do we act as thought God’s grace and love were a myth and not reality.

If that’s where you find yourself then I encourage you to hear again these words from our Psalm for today, Psalm 36, this time as rendered by Stephen Mitchell in his book A Book of Psalms.

Your love is vaster than the sky, God, and reaches beyond the stars.

Your justice is firmer than the mountains, deeper than the ocean’s depths.

You care for all earth’s creatures; infinitely precious is your love.

All your children come to you and take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast upon your abundance; they drink from the river of your joy.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see pure light.

Let all people know your will, God; let the wicked walk on your path.

Then we will hear earth’s harmony, and your chorus will be complete.

God is an abundant God. What are we to do about that? How does God’s abundance transfer to me? Well, for one, you can go a long way by just accepting that truth – mindfully, spiritually, in the depths of your heart, remind yourself of that truth. I hope that for you coming to worship and being involved in the life of this church is a way that truth sinks down deep.

Second, dare to find ways to live out that truth. One way is to develop compassion in your life – intentionally and in action. Nothing helps build a life of abundance than to practice compassion. Compassion is something you can develop with practice. Compassion is the willingness to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to take the focus off yourself and to imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s predicament. We practice compassion intentionally by opening our hearts to others. We act on that feeling by doing something about it. They don’t have to be big things.  As Mother Teresa said: “We cannot do great things on this earth. We can only do small things with great love.” Compassion develops your sense of gratitude by taking your attention off all the things most of us have learned to take too seriously. It moves you towards the abundance of God. By sharing compassion with each other, we come to realize that there is much we have to offer one another. Love, indeed, is not scarce.

While on our sabbatical in New Zealand almost two years ago now, we met an artist couple, Peter and Joyce Majendie in Christchurch. Multi-talented, they specialize in interactive liturgical art. One of their art installations, in a Baptist church no less, was the perpetual communion wine exhibit. It was a communion table with a wine bottle laying on its side, wine pouring out all over the table. And the wine never stopped flowing! A wonderful depiction of God’s abundant love and grace poured out on us.

Now, granted, here at Noe Valley Ministry we might look around and say, “Things are pretty scarce.” The reality of the situation is that we don’t have many people. We can say, “What can we do with so few people?” I am certainly not pretending that we can do massive things. There are limits to our resources. Yes, we can look at who we are with the assumption of scarcity and decide there is nothing much we can do. We can see ourselves as just a few individuals with diminishing energy. Or we can look at these very same resources, at us, with the assumption of abundance and decide there is much we can do. We can see ourselves as a community that intentionally practices compassion and discover there is much more here than we ever thought. If we look after each other we might be surprised how much there is to go around. That is the miracle of God’s grace. May it be so.

Now, where did the bridegroom put all of that good wine?

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