Isaiah 62: 1-5 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
John 2: 1-11 January 17, 2016
“But you have kept the good wine until now.”
Prayer: Holy God, may we drink your wine that changes us and transforms us, that we may have life in you and your life in us. Amen.
Many of us, I know, enjoy a good glass of wine. Sometimes the wine doesn’t even need to be expensive and fancy; it’s the company that you’re with that makes it enjoyable, right?
I grew up on wine. My dad was a pastor/wine connoisseur/wine aficionado/wine-maker/ . He enjoyed purchasing zinfandel grapes, shipping them to our home in Illinois in the fall, and then we would have ‘grape-stomping’ parties. Yep, we took off our shoes, rolled up our pant legs, and climbed into the vat in our basement, and crushed the grapes, squeezing out the juices with our bare feet. My dad also took us to many wineries around the country whenever we traveled on our vacations with our motor home. I’ve been to Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, several in New York. He even wrote a booklet on wine-tasting called How to Appreciate Wine.
In biblical days, wine was the primary drink. My dad knew, as many of us do, that wine was mixed with water, mostly because clean water systems had not yet fully developed. Water was too dangerous to drink by itself, and wine was mixed in as a purifying agent, usually 3 parts water, 1 part wine. If clean water was to be found, it usually was made by people boiling it, and then stored away in stone jars (http://www.swartzentrover.com/cotor/Bible/Doctrines/Holiness/Drugs%20&%20Alcohol/Wine-Drinking%20in%20New%20Testament%20Times.htm, retrieved January 15, 2016). This clean water by itself was usually set aside for the rites of purification practiced in Judaism.
So, when the wine ran out, the basic drink at the wedding celebration was no longer available. It was like, “OK, the party’s over—time to go home. Wine’s gone.” Even though you might be with good friends, it’s difficult to stay at a party when there’s literally nothing left to drink, right? The life of the wedding celebration is in jeopardy for that day.
When Mary finds out that they have no wine left, she tells Jesus, “They have no wine,” but her implication to him is, “You can fix this.” And Jesus seems to grumble about it: “Woman. What concern is that to you, and to me?” Not sure why he’s like that… maybe he’s tired and wants to put aside ministry for a few hours, and just be who he is with his disciples, maybe he wants just have a good time… whatever. Jesus is human.
Now, in John’s gospel, the author’s writing is often filled with symbolism and allusion to greater truths. So, Jesus’ next words are John’s effort to help us, the reader, see the deeper truth of who Jesus is when Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come.”
So you see, John has Mary’s focus on a surface truth—the primary drink of wine has run out, and without it, the sustenance of the body and the life of the party stops. It’s a problem in that present moment.
John’s focus for Jesus speaks a much deeper truth—that soon Jesus himself is to become the primary wine for people to drink for spiritual sustenance. Soon the Messiahship of Jesus will be brought forth, and Christ, himself, the good wine will be made available for all people for all time.. Drinking of the good wine, is experiencing God’s saving grace, drinking in God’s forgiveness, letting God’s love and presence quench our deep spiritual thirst.
And, just to make the point that God provides for both surface needs and needs down deep, John extends the metaphor even further and has Jesus changing the water into wine anyway. The water that was supposed to be used for purification purposes, thought to aid in the removal of sin in the Jewish rites, now is gone…it’s turned into wine! So, there will be no washing away of sins through rites and rituals after this moment for those folks... and none will be needed. Because the water has turned into very good wine, revealing our God who removes the consequences of sin through Christ.
So, Jesus physically provides theprimary drink for the life of the body and the life of the party, but symbolically, he reveals that he himself is the primary source for spirituality for everyone in the party of life.
It’s easy for us, however, not to drink in the good wine of Christ. Often we seek meaning in life elsewhere, and this deeper meaning frequently elude us. Parched for meaning then, we try to find it inthe world’s finite things —the muscle tone of our bodies, success in work or fame, loads of money (like winning the $1.6 Billion Powerball—I admit it—I bought five Powerball tickets! Didn’t win, obviously.)
When the wine of the world’s finite things runs out, and it will run out—like the woman in California whose son allegedly played a prank on her, convincing her that she won the Powerball last week… she didn’t… only to find out it was all a joke. Cruel, I say—when the wine of the world runs out, I encourage us to turn our hearts once again to the One whose vast resources never fail us.
Even though it may at times feel like we have nothing left when our choices for meaning leave us high and dry, perhaps the real miracle is that when we hear, “there is no more, the wine has run out,” God’s response is “Nope. There’s more than enough here with me.” When the world tells us we’re not good enough, perhaps the real miracle is that God says, “I’ve kept the very best for you.”
That is a marvelous message for us today. God’s miraculous, saving, life-transforming grace that each of us receives by accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Savior in our hearts is God’s gift of the highest quality to us! It is reflective of God’s extravagant nature! God’s saving grace is offered to us today—it is the best wine saved for last...saved until now.
Each of us can live a transformed life when we drink of this ‘best wine.” Our lives can change from being metaphorically ‘just water’ to the highest quality of wine. And miracles occur.
This is the miracle of transformation: As one wife put it after her alcoholic husband encountered the transforming power of the resurrected Christ, “Jesus changed beer into furniture.” That is, the money that had been spent on beer was now being spent on the family, on the furniture for the house. For them life was being transformed into a higher quality of life.
Considering alcoholics, ironically, drinking of Jesus as the best wine saved until now can lead to the opposite miracle—Jesus changing wine into water. I know of recovering alcoholics who, because of their trust in their Higher Power, often named Christ Jesus, have never touched a drop of wine since, or any other form of alcohol, because their lives are transformed.
It’s a remarkable change; Miracles occur when the wine runs out. Isaiah says that Godmetaphorically changes who we are and even our names. No longer shall we be dull and lifeless; instead we see our lives shinning like the sun, alive with God’s saving grace impacting everything about our lives. No longer shall we understand ourselves as being “forsaken” or “desolate” in our spiritual lives. As transformed people, we now understand ourselves as people who are re-named by God, a name that says “My Delight is in You.” A name that says we have a new relationship with God, kind of like a newly married couple. As the bride and groom rejoice in each other, so God rejoices in us! We are transformed! It’s a miracle!
So, thank God that the wine ran out, because God has saved the best wine until now. It’s for you. It’s for me. It’s ours. In It’s Christ Jesus! Amen.