Saturday, January 16, 2010

Today's Sermon John 2:1-11 “An Intimate Relationship”

In our relationships with each other we get a glimpse of our relationship with God. In our relationships, as imperfect and wonderful and transitory as they may be, we have precious moments that show us what our relationship with God can be, and how that relationship with God can help us perfect our relationships with each other.

So it makes sense that Jesus performs his first miracle, his first sign of who he is and what he is to do, at a family wedding.

Family weddings are all about relationships, after all, for good and for bad.

You know there is always going to be some drama at family weddings.

Whether it is the bride who accidently gets red lipstick on her dress ten minutes before the ceremony, the guest who shows up loud and late in – how shall I put it? – an altered state of consciousness, the bridesmaid who reveals a bit more than we cared to see when she does the limbo at the reception, the recognition that you haven’t seen one of the groomsmen since the night you bailed him out of jail six years before….all of these are true stories, and I’ll bet that each of you has stories at least as exciting as this list. Drama happens at family weddings, much as there is drama in all relationships.

Even the most perfect weddings strain the seams of the family in some way.

Think, for instance, about cost.

We talk about our weddings being extravagant – the average cost of a wedding in northern Virginia is between $40 and 60 K, and that doesn’t include the engagement ring or the honeymoon. You may have been to weddings that cost much, much more than that, what with the little mementos that are at the table, the drinks, the musicians, the flowers, the food…weddings are a big business today. It seems that at least three times a month, the advice columnists in the newspaper are addressing questions about who gets to control the costs of a wedding, who pays, what it all means – relationships are strained by these questions.

We tend to moan and say how awful it is that these weddings seem so excessive, but in Jesus’ day, they may have actually have cost more. In those days, weddings were a week-long celebration of eating and drinking, dancing and singing. We think in terms of a couple cases of champagne for one party of a few hours – the idea of six man-sized amphorae filled with wine for just one of the days of the celebration was not out of order back then, so the cost of such a wedding feast might well have come close to bankrupting a family. One of the most important things for a host at such a wedding feast was to have so much food and drink that no one went hungry. The corollary to that, of course, was that running out of food or drink was a source of terrible embarrassment. Even today, celebrations in the Middle East include such abundant food and beverages that there are usually large platters leftover…anything is better than running out, and having someone think you are either too cheap or too poor to provide for your guests.

When we hear in today’s Gospel that the story is about a family wedding, we know how the story is going to go. We know something is going to happen. Something uncomfortable. Something stressful. Something that reveals a truth about the family in the story.

Mary has brought Jesus along with her to a wedding. It was probably one of her relatives who issued the invitation. It does not take a lot of imagination to picture Jesus going somewhat grudgingly. After all, it is only a few days after the beginning of his active ministry. He clearly has things to do, and here he is, a good Jewish son, being dragged by his mother to a family wedding! The disciples had been invited as well, but we don’t know much about their participation except their reaction to what happens.

You know the story – the unthinkable happens – the host of the reception runs out of wine. Mary, ever the observant one, sees what is happening, and feels pity for the host, who might be her cousin. She goes to her son, that son whom she knows can do anything. But will he do something? Just because he can does not mean he will. She tells him the problem. His immediate reaction is not good. Perhaps he hadn’t anticipated that this first sign of his power would be fixing a family problem at a wedding. Perhaps he’s still annoyed at being interrupted in his work and he has other plans. Yet when she mentions the problem to him, not nagging, just observing, even though he thinks this departs from his plan of action, he responds, in a very quiet and not very visible way. His relationship with his mother, and her relationship to the host, trumps his original plan.

This is no grand miracle with angels singing, with the voice of God ringing through the room and doves coming down in front of a big crowd…it is nothing like last week’s baptism in the Jordan. It is an intimate act, witnessed only by the servants and the disciples. The chief steward has no idea what has happened, only that there is suddenly a supply of very good wine that wasn’t there at the beginning of the feast.

No, there is no extravagant miracle, just a sign, visible only to a few, the servants and the disciples. And this is appropriate, this intimate divine act. It is a wedding, after all. And isn’t a wedding really an intimate act of relationship?

Think about it: the sacrament of marriage is one where the bride and groom marry each other. The priest is there to preside and offer prayers, but he or she doesn’t marry the couple – they marry each other. An intimate act. Even though it may be performed in front of a couple of hundred people, it is an intimate act of relationship between two people before God.

There is a delicate balance between intimacy and community in a wedding…but that is true of all of our worship. We gather together, we sing, we pray, we line up and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, but at its heart, it is the intimacy of relationship between each one of us and our God even as we stand as part of a larger community that transforms us.

We need that intimate relationship with God, because without it, we have a hard time with all the other relationships we have in our lives.

In a few minutes, we will witness V and S as they renew their commitment to each other. I suspect that when V and S were married some 36 years ago, there was a moment, a sacred moment, when they sensed that God was with them, blessing their union. It might well have happened 18 years ago, the last time they renewed their vows…it might have happened many times in the course of their lives together. Intimate moments of relationship with God and with each other. A glimpse into the divine through the gift of relationship with each other. In the best moments of our relationships, we see God through our relationship with each other. In the times when we struggle, we try to take some of our relationship with God into the human one, to improve it, to make it and us more as God would wish us to be.

So, a family wedding. A gift, a response to relationship, that happened to serve as a sign for Jesus’ disciples. A sign that affirmed Jesus’ power and authority – his divinity. That brief glimpse of divinity – we find it in our relationships, and we are blessed by it.

It is not enough, though, to simply revel in that glimpse, in the pleasure of the relationship. Jesus may have started out with a small and intimate gesture, turning water into wine, but the breadth of his ministry expanded after that to encircle a larger and larger group of people who heard and believed. Our prayer today, for V and S and for all of us who are blessed with relationships that fill our lives with joy and challenge and meaning, is that the glimpse of God, first seen in the briefest shimmer of divine light with each other, can broaden to enlighten our relationships with our neighbors, whether they live on the same cul-de-sac or in Port-au-Prince or in Riyadh.

As we sing with joy to honor a particular relationship, let our song ring out to celebrate all our relationships in God’s good creation, and let that song invite others to celebrate the One who has given us to each other to love and to cherish, whether we know each others’ names or not.


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