Life of the Party


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For his very first public demonstration, Jesus blessed a wedding party by providing unexpected wine. Why can’t someone crash our parties with miraculous blessings? Do you think, maybe, that Jesus is already here…the life of the party?

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

John 2:1-11

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.

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A New Sermon Series

Today we begin a multi-week sermon series called “What Love Is—What Love Isn’t” which is inspired by what the apostle Paul writes in the 13th chapter of First Corinthians: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. [Love] does not insist on its own way; [love] is not irritable or resentful; [love] does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. [Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[1] The word of the Lord, thanks be to God.

Missing Bits: Tradition, Reformation

There is so much missing in our tradition! The Wise Men arrived at the manger on Friday, the traditional holiday called Epiphany, and today, thanks to a biblical text that chooses to ignore almost all of his formative years, the next time we encounter Jesus, he’s a full-grown man of thirty or so, freshly baptized by crazy ole Cousin John. John reformed the Jewish tradition, and began baptizing people into the faith.

Although we’re going to study a lesson from John’s gospel today, I felt obliged to ask Louise to read the customary Matthew text[2] for this feast-day to honor the tradition. Traditions are odd things. We have to justify them somehow, if they’re to be authentic. Truth be told, I just didn’t feel like arguing about not observing this liturgical feast-day called The Baptism of the Lord. At worst, that’s how traditions become corrupt. We just do them because they’re traditions, and, well, that’s the way we’ve always done it. What could be more anathema to the life and ministry of Jesus? So, to the liturgical traditionalists in the room: you’re welcome! But to the Reformers in the room, let’s get this party started.

Gaps in the tradition, things that just don’t add up—that’s where my interest goes. Here’s a song by John Bell is called “The Family.”[3]  Please join me on the final verse. Now, this song doesn’t go off on flights of fancy; it states only what we can find in the Bible, but these details are usually omitted by our tradition.

He had no wife, no family, he had no children of his own;
he once had been a refugee, despised but never left alone.
To all the widowed and the fatherless he showed the love that none had shown.

He liked to watch as children played and knew the lyrics of their song;
he cared for those that lived at risk, the ones whose rights had all gone wrong.
The plight of helpless and homeless folk would always in his heart belong.

He had no job to pay the rent, but women gave him house and food;
they saw in him no hidden threat, his singleness was safe and good.
And those whom no one ever listened to discovered that he understood.

Those whom he calls his family are this through love and not reward:
sisters and brothers we can be, if we but take him at his word.
And so we join to celebrate the life of Jesus Christ, our friend and Lord.

 

May we take Jesus at his word, and may the words of my mouth and the meditations of every heart be acceptable to God, our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.

Wedding Curiosities

Moving toward today’s primary lesson, let me share a few wedding stories from my life of church work. You decide if it’s tradition or reformation, but keep this in mind: There is no accounting for taste!

Have you heard the story about the groom who was also a singer and turned to his bride, mid-ceremony, to sing that Billy Graham Crusade hit, “I’d Rather Have Jesus”?[4]

Where I’m from, northwest Georgia, a place of deeply-held traditions, there was held a now infamous “Waffle House Wedding”[5] where the bride and groom, both employees Waffle House, got married out in the parking lot, between shifts — their rings cooked right into a waffle!

In one suburban Atlanta Methodist church, my friend Melissa was hired to sing Mozart’s “Alleluia”[6] as the wedding party marched out of the sanctuary. Melissa says that the minister pronounced the couple married and, as her music began, he pulled the cord that was to release two doves into the sanctuary signifying the enduring beauty of the couple’s love, but the poor things had succumb to the summer heatwave and that famous humidity, and so the doves fell quite ignominiously from their ceiling cage — plop, plop — onto the altar.

I’m happy to report that the weddings I’ve officiated, all of them here in the Bay Area, have melted my heart. I’ve felt that they were all traditional enough and reformed enough and plenty tasteful, but you may disagree, like the marriage of José and Graham who met while José was traveling in England, both of them around forty.

Graham and José got married at San Francisco City Hall before a large crowd of Brits and Mexicans and people from all over. It was lovely: a cellist played, the grooms were coordinated tuxedos, they had a very tasteful minister from Calvary Presbyterian Church — oh wait, that was me. Much to my surprise, the grooms asked their fathers to sign to marriage license. Both fathers were rather older gentlemen, one from Michoacán, Mexico, the other from Manchester, England. I could tell that they were uncomfortable; their sons were marrying one another, but they signed with old-man handwriting, their wives supervising every stroke, both families beaming, thankful to God that their sons had found someone to love. And oh, the party that ensued!

Is that what it’s all about? The party, the love, “abundant life”[7] — and tradition be damned? Or is all about Reformation, a kind of reformation that loves and honors the people, who we as Presbyterians claim are all living examples of why Jesus bothered with this world at all, each one of us created in the God’s image, each one of us a sinner, each one of us forgiven, each one of us compelled to live the full life that Jesus came to offer?

Wedding Horror Story: The Wine Runs Out!

In John’s gospel, Mary is never named, she is only referred to as the mother of Jesus.

Listen to the mother-son dynamics of John 2:1-11:

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.

Hold that thought. Doesn’t it seem like something is missing, like the arm-twisting part where Mary insists that Jesus save the party? Some scholars argue that Mary was serving as a sort of ancient Palestinian wedding director, or perhaps she was related directly to the bride or groom, and that’s why she dragged her unmarried son to this wedding with his weirdo disciples. All unmarried individuals of thirty years or more in this room (and their parents!) could easily write some biblical fan-fiction about the colorful relationship dynamics between Jesus and Mother-of-Jesus. Carrie Fisher, speaking of the deep love she had for Debbie Reynolds, put it this way: “Mothers are great. They outlast everything. But when they’re bad, they’re the worst thing that can happen.”[8]

Mary felt the need to “save face” when the wine ran out, but her grown-up son did not necessarily agree. He uses language we wouldn’t today: “Woman, what concern is that to you?” Jesus puts Mary off by asserting his cultural dominance as a man, but at the wedding in Cana, as in most of life, mother knows best. Back in today’s reading:

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.

 The Word of the Lord, thanks be to God for sending Jesus, the life of the party.

Sign and Symbol Break With Tradition

He uses six jars, reminiscent of the six days of creation, to “do God’s new thing”[9] and he disregards the tradition of hand-washing. In the words of commentator Allen Callahan: “Jesus saves the wedding party from social disaster in a feat of miraculous sacrilege by turning consecrated vessels into an open bar.”[10]

Christianity, since the beginning, is always about the ongoing reformation[11] that loves the world that participates in it. The prophet Isaiah told us it would be this way: “Behold I AM doing a new thing!” Baruch and Enoch foretold it: wine symbolizes the arrival[12] of the messiah, the one who brings peace and plenty.[13] The prophet Amos promised a great party for the powerless and dispossessed:

The time is surely coming, says the Lord,
when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
and the treader of grapes [overtakes] the one who sows the seed;
(God’s preferential option for the poor!)
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.[14]

That’s the good news today, the time isn’t still “surely coming”—it’s here. The wait is over. Get this party started! The Word is flesh and, at this wedding, is coming out as the energy behind the ongoing Reformation, the very Son of God who comes to make God’s creation whole and meaningful, the healer of nations, the one who gives us purpose and meaning. Jesus doesn’t care about our taste level. He just wants us to be authentic, honest in our worship, bringing our whole selves “just as we are, without one plea…”[15] Come to Jesus just as you are, as you were created to be.

The Brave Choice: Love & Blessing

Notice that Jesus doesn’t bother with the wedding ceremony. He doesn’t even bless the happy couple. Instead, he chooses, after motherly coercion, to bless everybody he can. Do you think there were Pagans there? Of course. Bad people? They come to every wedding. Do you think there were wedding crashers there? Jesus didn’t ask. He blessed them all, regardless of how we might call them worthy.

In the third grade we played a game where the stronger, more athletic children would hold hands and beckon to the punier among us to run and try to break in. “You’re out! You’re out! You can’t come in! You’re out! You’re out! You can’t come in!”  The weaker children never “got in.” Until one day, a little girl named Rachel gave me a look, and I just knew she was going to loosen her grip. She did, and I got in! Then, she let the next child runner break through, and the next. Chucky, the class bully, was furious: “Rachel, if you keep this up, everybody will get in!”

She replied, “Yes, I know.”

Tim Gunn Saves!

It’s easy to get cynical about everybody being equal and worthy, especially today. Remember how Oprah gave away cars? “You get a car! And you get a car!”[16] People mock her now for it.  If you haven’t figured out that preachers are mainly preaching at themselves, then this is your news flash! Did you know that the American Dialect Society chose “dumpster fire” as the word to commemorate 2016. Dumpster fire. How can I face 2017 with the intention of blessing everyone I might encounter when the “dumpster fire”[17] of my cynicism burns on, world without end? Anyone here battling cynicism, too, worried about waking up old and bitter one day?

A more important question: who here watches Project Runway? The best part is the “Tim Gunn Save.”[18] Every once in awhile a contestant is eliminated who just messes up and doesn’t really deserve to get removed from the game, and that’s when their mentor, Tim Gunn, walks into the green room and addresses the sniveling designer who thinks they’re about to be sent home, saying “You’re not going anywhere. I’m going to use my Tim Gunn save, and you’re staying in this competition because we need to hear more of your voice.”  Lou[19] cries at every Tim Gunn Save. Me, too. Yes, I just compared Oprah and Tim Gunn to Jesus.

Choose Love & Blessing

But I compare you to Jesus, too. When’s the last time you gave someone a second chance, offered a blessing to someone who didn’t earn it? That’s breaking the cultural norms, you know. At first, you feel like you’re not as powerful as you could have been, holding their mistakes over them, but, friends, choosing to bless when the culture of punitive cynicism is telling you otherwise, that’s everything Jesus is about. The only thing Jesus seems to be intolerant of are the people who worship the things instead of God, especially when the fear of financial instability says “the time just isn’t right yet.”  That’s nonsense, a smokescreen. The Madeleine L’Engle poem on you bulletin says it beautifully; God does not wait until we’re ready.[20]  Dr. King said, “The time is always right to do the right thing.”[21] Yes, love is patient and endures all things, but love is never apathetic. Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, makes it plain: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”[22]

People of God, let no one be indifferent when it comes to serving the God whose name is Love. First John says “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”[23]

The words of the medieval Islamic spiritualist, Rumi:

Through Love all that is bitter will be sweet,
Through Love all that is copper will be gold,
Through Love all dregs will become wine,
Through Love all pain will turn to medicine.[24]

Amen.

[1] New Revised Standard Version (Calvary’s pew Bible), 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

[2] Matthew 3:13-17

[3] “The Family” by John L. Bell, Songs of Love and Anger, GIA Publications, 2002.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Beverly_Shea (January 6, 2017)

[5] “Waffle House Wedding” slide show available online at <http://www.slideshare.net/luomat/waffle-house-wedding-presentation> (January 4, 2017)

[6] The story is best told with musical accompaniment, accessed online at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LQRyRRE2NI> (January 8, 2017)

[7] John 10:10 is, in my humble opinion, Jesus’ personal mission statement: “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.”

[8] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/carriefish466613.html

[9] See Isiah 43:19 “Behold, I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it?” God is forevermore doing a new thing.

[10] Allen Dwight Callahan, Love Supreme: A History of the Johannine Tradition, quoted online by Rev. Mark Longhurst at <http://www.ordinarymystic.net/single-post/2016/09/26/Inebriated-by-Subversive-Joy> (January 5, 2017)

[11] “Reformata et semper reformanda” explained at <http://www.reformationtheology.com/2011/08/semper_reformanda.php> (January 6, 2017)

[12] See Enoch 10:18-19 “And then shall the whole earth be tilled in righteousness, and shall all be planted with trees and 19 be full of blessing. And all desirable trees shall be planted on it, and they shall plant vines on it: and the vine which they plant thereon shall yield wine in abundance, and as for all the seed which is sown thereon each measure (of it) shall bear a thousand, and each measure of olives shall yield” and Baruch 29:5 “The earth also shall yield its fruit ten-thousandfold and on each (?) vine there shall be a thousand branches, and each branch shall produce a thousand clusters, and each cluster produce a thousand grapes, and each grape produce a cor of wine.”

[13] Accessed online at <https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/rumi597891.html> (January 3, 2017)

[14] Amos 9:13

[15] Referencing the old altar-call hymn, accessible online at <https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/1048> (January 8, 2017)

[16] <http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/oprahs-entire-audience-are-surprised-with-new-cars-video>

[17] Mark Abadi, Business Insider, SF Gate, January 6, 2017, accessed online at <http://www.sfgate.com/technology/businessinsider/article/It-s-official-the-2016-Word-of-the-Year-is-10841324.php> (January 6, 2017)

[18] The First Tim Gunn Save <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNZc2PcARyI>

[19] My partner/husband, Lou Grosso

[20] First Coming by Madeleine L’Engle, accessed online at <http://www.davidlose.net/2012/12/first-coming/> (January 1, 2017)

[21] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.<https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html>

[22] Accessed online at <http://www.architectsofpeace.org/architects-of-peace/elie-wiesel> (January 3, 2017)

[23] 1 John 3:18

[24] Dave Fanham, Snippets of Love, eBook, 2014.

 

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