Sunday, January 14, 2018

Encountering the Messiah: Abundance

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. John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Lord. Amen.

Directly north of San Antonio, Texas, is a geographic region located in the Edwards Plateau. This area, which is called the Texas Hill Country, is located at the crossroads of West Texas, Central Texas, and South Texas. It’s also often considered the entry to the American Southwest or the American Southeast, depending on which direction one is traveling.

According to Wikipedia, it’s an area that is known for its karst topography, formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. The terrain has a thin layer of topsoil and a large number of exposed rocks and boulders, which makes it very dry and very prone to flash flooding. It’s a scrub landscape with native vegetation that includes the yucca plant, prickly pear cactus, the ashe juniper, the Texas live oak, and wildflowers--oh, the wildflowers! In the spring, the wildflowers--particularly, the Texas bluebonnet--are everywhere.

It was settled by German immigrants in the mid-1800’s, most of whom were farmers. Today, though, this area is known mostly for tourism. And more recently, it has emerged as the center of the Texas wine industry.

I moved to Texas in the summer of 2010. That fall, as the heat of summer began to fade, my brother and sister-in-law and I decided to head to the Hill Country to taste some of that Texas wine. We decided to try out a couple of wineries in an area that was just beginning to develop--northwest of Austin, near Lake Buchanan. As we were at our last stop, our host suggested and highly recommended that we check out a brand new winery that had just opened, a few miles away off a hilly, winding, back-country road. So, we went to visit Perisso’s Vineyard and Winery.

The winery consisted of one building. On the first floor was a big open room that contained huge metal wine vats, dozens of barrels, and a few picnic tables set up for tasting. It was a pretty bare-bones operation. We soon learned that the second floor was occupied by the owners of this boutique winery--Seth and Laura Martin, and their five children. And two dogs--one a Lab and the other a huge, furry Newfoundland, named Bear. We settled at one of the picnic tables. And then we began to taste. To taste--as one of their hosts called it--to taste this “life-changing” wine.  

Over time, Perisso’s became our favorite winery. We’d stop in several times a year. We got to know Seth and Laura and their family well. In fact, we became good friends. We’d get up early in the hot August heat and help them harvest. We’d drop in on Sunday afternoons and sit under one of the huge oak trees, tasting their newest varietal and finding out which child it was named after. And each time we visited, we’d get caught up on what was happening in their family, Bear would come and hang out with us, and, yes, we’d taste wine. Some of the best wine, in fact, that I’ve ever tasted.

Over time the winery grew. They added two more buildings, an event center and another for processing and storage. Their wine club list grew from under a hundred into the thousands. And several of their wines began to win awards. First in Texas. Then, across the U.S., including at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, one of the most prestigious in the world.  They truly lived into their name, Perisso’s, which in Greek means “abundance.” 

Like the story of Perisso’s Vineyard, wine and extraordinary abundance are at the center of our story today. 

But it didn’t begin so extraordinarily. In fact, it began with something pretty ordinary--a wedding. Yet, in the opening verse of our text, we already get a signal that this story may not be so ordinary. “On the third day,” we read. Does that bring something to mind? “On the third day.” When we hear these words, we know that something new is about to happen. They signal resurrection, a new and abundant life. The extraordinary. But it all begins in the ordinary. With a wedding.

Weddings in ancient Palestine lasted approximately a week, with an abundance of wine expected throughout the celebration. Jesus is a guest at the wedding in our story, along with his mother and his disciples. This is the first time in John that we are introduced to Jesus’ mother, who is never called by name in this fourth Gospel. She is simply called the “mother of Jesus.” We will see her only twice in this Gospel. Here, in this story, and at the foot of the cross with the beloved disciple. She is here at the start of Jesus’ public ministry. She will be at the end of his life. She is witness to the first revelation of Jesus’ glory and his last. In John, there is an implied shared parenthood between the earthly mother of Jesus and the heavenly Father. There is no separation or compartmentalization of Jesus’ humanity and divinity. There is no either/or. There is simply a both/and. 

Jesus’ mother comes to him to report that the wine has run out. Such an occurrence would be a major hospitality blunder. So, she approaches Jesus and says, “They ran out of wine.” Why? What does she see in that moment? What has she seen in her life with him this far that would cause her to believe that there was something he might be able to do about it? 

And how does Jesus respond? We can’t miss some of the humor here. “Well, mom, it’s really not my problem. Perhaps they should have hired a better wedding planner.” So, Jesus’ mother walks away. But, as she leaves, she stops to speak to one of the servants. “Do whatever he tells you.” She knows what will happen if he does what Jesus tells him to do. She believes in Jesus.

Something does happen. The miracle, the sign. The first sign pointing to who Jesus is and to the meaning of the phrase “grace upon grace” happens.  And it happens in an over-the-top way. Six jars. Twenty to thirty gallons per jar, filled to the brim. In today’s production standards, that would be a thousand bottles of wine. Not the cheapest, but the best wine. And at the end of the celebration. Extraordinary.

What I have figured out in these years since my family and I first visited Perisso’s Vineyard is that, while we first came for the wine, we have continued to come for the relationships. It is in the ordinariness of our friendship, our relationship with Seth and Laura and my family, that we have experienced deep abundance--the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. 

It’s the same for us here. We might come seeking the extraordinary. We might come seeking the miracles. Yet, we find it in the ordinary. In the grace of our day-to-day lives. In the grace of our day-to-day relationship with Jesus and one another. In the grace of Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension and the promise of ours. Grace upon grace upon grace. Abundantly. In an over-the-top way.


Come and see. 

Experience the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. The divine in the midst of the human. The grace upon grace upon grace. Abundantly. For you and for me and for everyone. In Jesus.


Preached January 14, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany
Readings: Psalm 104:14-16; John 2:1-11

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