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Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 17, 2016

A friend of mine threw a birthday party for himself recently. He told me he thought it was the best night he had ever had. About 75 people came from all of the various areas of his life and the food and wine were free-flowing. He told me he barely had time to eat because he was on the dance floor so much. The party confirmed a difference in outlook he has begun to have about himself. He sometimes feels shy and lonely but people wanted to be with him. He sometimes feels as if he is a poor conversationalist, but people commented on his ability to interact. He suffers from low self-esteem, but the party had him flying high and thinking he was a pretty good guy to be around after all. My friend experienced the gift of abundance, the gift of God’s presence in his life helping him to lose some of his burden of inferiority and rejoice in who he was.

Where there is abundance, God is always present, and God in Jesus was present at the wedding in Cana. Jesus’ first sign (not miracles in John but signs), pointed as they always do to some characteristic of God and this was God’s character of abundance and God’s love for human beings and the joy they express at celebrations.

Weddings at that time lasted about a week. Instead of a honeymoon, the wedding attendees adjourned to the groom’s house for this long party, where food and wine were served continuously. Mary had been invited to this particular wedding, and Jesus and his disciples were invited as well. The celebration continued until the wine ran out. It was an awful thing for this to happen, an embarrassment for the host. And of course the guests had no wine to celebrate their joy.

Mary notices and tells Jesus. She clearly expects Jesus to do something about the problem, but he is strangely reluctant. He does not want to have anything to do with this situation, telling his mother that his hour (which he normally uses to refer to his death and resurrection) had not yet come. Mary seems to know a little more than that about her son, as she has raised him and probably seen some pretty marvelous things. Mary nudges him to reveal himself now, though he does not want to, but she is confident that he will do it. She even tells the servants to do whatever he tells them. Since Jesus does God’s signs on God’s time, perhaps God uses Mary to give him the push he needs. At any rate, he does not just perform a little miracle, he performs a great big one. He creates wine from six jars of water brim-full that each hold 20-30 gallons, making at least 120 gallons of wine, much more than the guests would need, and wine of the finest quality. With the quantity and quality of the wine, Jesus demonstrates that God is a God of abundance. With his presence at a wedding, a time where flesh and spirit are joined (Nibs Stroupe), Jesus shows God’s delight in people who are celebrating a wonderful time in their lives.

Not many people knew about the miracle. The steward didn’t know where the wine had come from, the servants saw where the wine came from, though they didn’t know it was now wine, and the disciples saw and believed in Jesus. That is the point of the signs – to point beyond Jesus to God, and God’s presence in Jesus as the Word made flesh. As signs go, this one did not attract a large audience, but Jesus’ disciples had their faith strengthened. Whether it reached a lot of people or not, the abundance covered the whole wedding celebration.

Abundant life is a gift we are promised by God. What is your abundance quotient right now? Where are you feeling God’s gracious provision for you and where are you frightened that there will not be enough? Where do you have a scarcity mentality? Have you gone to Jesus with your desires and concerns? Sometimes we can get so stuck in old routines, bad habits, excessive busyness, poor self-care and just simply not celebrating the life we have that we run out of wine and there is nothing left for us to be joyful about (Racquel St. Clair Lettsome). Sometimes we take so much pleasure in the things of this world – money, power, reputation, security, control – that we end up drunk on old wine. The more we drink of it, the less pleasure we take in it because we were not meant for such things. Only in God is there the abundance we need. Only Jesus can fill our emptiness, turn our burnout to life-giving joy, give us new wine for old that will make our hearts glad and our spirits rejoice. Sometimes, to have life abundant again takes longer than we want it to, because it comes in God’s time not ours. But we can always thank God, sure in the knowledge that if we have poured out our hearts, God will act on our behalf. If we don’t even recognize the problem, God will send someone to us to help us see where we are.

We may have another problem with a God that is supposed to be abundant in addition to our own difficulties. God often does not seem to be showing abundance in the world. It is as if Jesus keeps saying it is not my hour yet, even when we nudge God (Carol Lakey Hess) as Mary nudged her son to provide help for a broken and hurting world.

I found some stories in the Washington Post that offer different levels of abundance and scarcity in the world today. The first shipment of food for a starving Syrian town has arrive due to a U.N. backed agreement. About 50 trucks packed with food and medical supplies was delivered to the town of Madaya, which had been cut off by a Syrian blockade. People in Madaya had starved to death. Some children hadn’t had enough food or milk for months. Truly a gift of abundance for the people of the city, but I am sure they wondered what took it so long to get there.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, county executive Isaiah Leggett tried to reassure Latinos in the county that they could move about “free of fear”. “We are proud of the people who have come to Montgomery County from every corner of the globe. You have enriched our community and you will always be welcome here”. In neighboring Prince William County, on the other hand, Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart encourage undocumented aliens to “take advantage of Leggett’s welcoming stance He has a hard-line approach to illegal immigrants. He thinks they are committing crimes and should be caught and deported. Abundance from one place, scarcity from another.

And then there are the refugees. There are just too many of them flooding into Europe and countries are having a hard time dealing with them. One refugee, Manaf Hamaameen, was sent to Luxembourg with his two disabled physically and mentally disabled children. He was promised he could get treatment for his two sons, Certainly, he is out of Syria, but it has been two months and nothing has happened. Not much abundance there.

What do we make of all this? Clearly there are people who are blessed with abundance and people who are not. The joyful wedding sign reveals God as a God of plenty, pouring out the wine of blessing even to people who may be too drunk to tell it is better wine than before. Yet sometimes we feel like we are abundantly blessed and sometimes we wonder where God is with God’s gifts, because we and so many others are suffering. But Jesus promised us the abundant life – a life of joy and celebration for all. Maybe we all need to nudge Jesus. Maybe we all need to help create the abundance.

The abundance helped the disciples believe that Jesus was the Word made flesh and that he revealed the character of God. We will certainly receive that best wine when we share eternal life with God, but the mystery of God’s scarcity with abundance is in God’s hands, no matter how much we wish it were in ours. In our beliefs and our actions, may we show that we believe in God’s abundance, no matter the timing and live in thanksgiving for the abundance that has come or will come to us and to all.

AMEN

-        Rev. Ann Barker

Works Cited:
Nibs Stroupe, Feasting on the Gospels, John, vol. 1, Homiletical Perspective (Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), p. 49
Racquel St. Clair Lettsome, Feasting on the Gospels, John, vol. 1, Pastoral Perspective (Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), p. 44
Carol Lakey Hess, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Theological Perspective (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 262