Gospel: John 2:1-11
1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When 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 10and 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.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It was 1990, and I’d been called to serve three congregations in rural Minnesota.  Two of the three served grape juice instead of wine for Holy Communion, and I wondered why, so I asked at the two different council meetings.  One said, “Oh, we can use wine instead,” and that’s what they did.

The other brought up the work of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and said what a good relationship the congregation had with that group, and stated that they would continue to serve only grape juice for Holy Communion.  I accepted that and we moved on to other business.

When the meeting was over I was ready to walk home to the parsonage which was about half a mile away.  One of the council members offered me a ride, and I politely refused, because I wanted to walk—I liked to walk, but he insisted, and I finally accepted.

He must have driven quite slowly, and the entire way he lectured me on the evils of alcohol, promising me that his wife, who happened to be the state president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and also the main organist at that congregation, would also let me have it.

It made me sad.  It still makes me sad, even though his wife was actually always gracious and never chided me for the fault her husband attributed to me.

In today’s Gospel story, Jesus creates the very thing that made that man so angry with me, and that man could never see the good in it.

It’s hard to see the good in the sign of the making of the wine when what you do see are those who become violent and dangerous when under the influence of alcohol—or something else with similar effects.  It’s difficult when someone drives under the influence and ends up killing someone.  When children go hungry because their parents spend everything they have on other pleasures… where’s the good in that?

There is no good in any of those things.  The pleasure or the freedom experienced in the moment cannot balance the tragedy of the abuses we’ve allowed to follow those pleasures.

I know that there are some pastors who refuse to consume any alcohol in fear that doing so will be misinterpreted as tacit approval of its abuse.  I know other pastors who cannot consume it in any way other than for communion, because, as one of them says (and this is a quote), “With me, there is no moderation, when I start I go all the way to schnockered…”  There are some who must (and some who choose to) avoid the substance even for communion, because it sends them off into a place beyond control, beyond responsibility, beyond wisdom.

So what does one do at a party?  I know that there are people who believe if you don’t consume alcohol at a party, then you’re actually judging everyone who does.  I grew up in that culture.  Actually, I experienced that when gathered with extended family, when Mom always had half a glass of beer sitting in front of her, even though she didn’t like it.  She may have pretended to sip it occasionally.  At home that never happened.

God gives us so much that is good.  The wine Jesus provided was good, and no one drove a car after drinking it! J 

There are other gifts, though, that are even better, gifts that we can hardly define.  Paul lists many gifts in the 12th chapter of that letter to the Corinthians from which we read this morning.

The first, of course, is the ability to recognize Jesus as God, the faith to see.  But then, did you notice the purpose behind all the gifts?  Did you notice that each gift of the Spirit is given for the common good?  We do not receive God’s gifts for the purpose of self-advancement.  We are not called to make ourselves rulers over others, to raise ourselves above, so that we might look down our noses at those we place beneath ourselves.  We are not supposed to sneer at those who don’t like beer!  —or make them pretend that they do by placing half a glass in front of themselves as they sit at the table.

I asked a few minutes ago what one does at a party.  I didn’t really answer that, because it does depend on the party.  Is it a time to play games, or to converse with others?  Is it a gathering to watch a game, as many will do with the Super Bowl two weeks from now?  Do we consider our annual meeting next week a party?  Will we be gathering there with joy?  I hope so!

Sometimes we think of parties as times to share gifts.  Birthday parties focus on one or a group.  Christmas gatherings often include an exchange.  I hope, though, that we can open our understanding of gifts as we gather together no matter what the occasion.  I hope we’ll share the gifts that don’t get wrapped with fancy paper and pretty bows.  I hope we can share these gifts not only with family and friends, but with the community at large.  These gifts that I hope we can share are compassion, hope, and insight.  Of course, these are just other ways of saying the same things Paul raised up, including miraculous powers.

When Dr. Schimke cut into my body last summer to remove the cancer that had appeared there, was not what she did akin to practicing miraculous powers?  How about those who oversaw the anesthesia, or who closed the wounds with stitches?  The oncologist who shared his wisdom in helping to determine what kind of future to expect… was that not also hopefully for the common good?

Sure, there are some who work primarily for self-advancement, for the power and the paycheck.  We are called toward something greater.  We are called toward community, to share what we have been given for the betterment of all.  We are called toward the joy of the party that celebrates a family of diverse people in a changing world, where all is abundantly provided and we share in ways that defy common practices, giving the best of ourselves for the good of others.

That’s what the gifts and the parties of God inspire, the lifting up of anyone who needs lifting up!

On that day long ago in Cana, apparently what they could afford was not the best stuff, and even what they had ran out.  Rather than watching them suffer embarrassment, Jesus provided.

Today, Jesus continues to provide—for you, and his gifts are much better even than 180 gallons of wine.

Celebrate God’s gifts in Jesus’ name.  Amen