Sermon 2d after Epiphany; January 20, 2019 Deacon Bruce Nickerson
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer.
What a gospel. It’s powerful enough to make an AA member weep!
What was it like being there I wonder? Did you ever put yourself into one of these gospel stories? I had that experience once. Let me recreate it for you:
“To the Messhiach, may he come tomorrow!”
Klezmer music blared loudly in the background.
There were men racing around the room in plain dark pants, white shirts, black kippahs or fedoras on their heads, tsit tsit flying around their waists, payot like long sideburns bobbing back and forth. They were pouring Smirnov or Grey Goose from gallon jugs under their arms into any shot glass held out, what seemed to be the official Hassidic drink- vodka- under the other arm, and shouting over and over again “To the Messhiach, may he come tomorrow.”
It seemed all the yeshiva boys had descended from “the city” (New York) to the celebration. They morphed into a large circle, arms around each other’s shoulders and began to dance. They hauled someone from the crowd, perched him on a chair and lifted him up while they continued to dance.
Men, all men. No women.
The hall was divided in the middle by a sheet and women’s loud voices could be heard on the other side.
The actual marriage ceremony of my wife’s niece Sarah had taken place earlier. She appeared under the chuppah with a heavy veil over her face; there was some walking around and back and forth; some words were said- I assume in Hebrew? A glass was thrown on the ground and the groom stamped on it while the crowd cheered, and now we were in this hall amid a mob of happily dancing, singing and vodka drinking men accompanied by klezmer music.
A typical Jewish Lubavitcher wedding. Drag this recent gathering back to Cana.
Jesus chose an insignificant peasant village for his first miracle. He didn’t throw a great big “Jesus of Nazareth Epiphany and First Miracle” extravaganza. I picture him clinking glasses with peasants – he was after all a poor peasant himself- Having a great time with people just like him. Holding up a glass of wine- the good stuff- and shouting “L’chaim!” Then joining with the other men dancing the Hora in a circle, singing the Hava Nagila! The Cana wedding probably lasted five to seven days, starting at the beginning of the week. There would have been singing, dancing and drinking, but the drink would have been wine, not vodka
Wine is associated in Jewish tradition with song and festivity. As such it is appropriate to joyous occasions like marriage. Weddings are not only to be observed, but need to be celebrated. At a wedding, wine is used to sanctify the marriage. There’s a Jewish saying “No wine, no happiness.”
But there were no drinks, no Smirnoff, no Grey Goose, no wine. The wine had run out. It wasn’t as if they could say “Well, the wine’s gone, let’s switch to scotch.” So Mary turned to her son and said, “They have no wine.”
And Jesus responded, essentially, “That’s not our concern, my time hasn’t come yet.” Scholars are divided on what this whole exchange means, but whatever the explanation for this seemingly rude interchange, it seems that Mary ignored Jesus’ response and assumes that “Jesus is going to be a good Jewish boy and listen to his mother.” She says to the servants “Do whatever he tells you.” You know the story. About 180 gallons of water are changed into wine. The wedding planner standing in the background was embarrassed by the feast running out of wine. He will lose future business. But when the servants bring him the water which is now wine he is astonished that it is the best wine he has ever tasted. After all, at functions like this, it was the custom to bring out the best wine first, and then when everybody is too drunk to notice, you bring out the poorest wine.
It was the custom in many peasant villages for guest to bring wine. Some of it may have been Mogen David.
Jesus takes the side of the poor groom and bride who ran out of wine in the middle of the fiesta by providing good wine for everyone. He may have clinked glasses of wine with folks who are exhausted by poverty, yelling salud, cheers, skol, l’chaim meaning salvation, liberation, humanization, healing.
The liberating news in this gospel is that when the wine runs out, God can replace it with something even better- maybe a good vintage of Chateau Neuf de Pap!
Recently I was talking with someone who is down-sizing and moving into a “continuing care community.” “I won’t be able to build my boats he whined.” He had built a number of small (7 foot to 15 foot sail, rowing and motor) boats over the years. “When’s the last time you got out on the water with one of those creations?”
“Maybe a few summers ago.”
“And this coming summer?”
“Maybe,” he shrugged doubtfully.
“Didn’t you used to like making model airplanes?”
“Yeah but …”
“How about modeling those boats you built in small scale?”
He grinned. “Yeah a fleet of them on the bookshelf. But then there was the sports car I used to race. But that was years ago,” he said wistfully.
“Hey, you know that mechanic you take your car to? Doesn’t he have a fleet of small model cars in the front office? Don’t you have a model of the 1957 Volkswagen you drove? And a model of a real Mini?”
“You mean collecting them and putting them on the shelf next to the boat models?”
He was getting excited. “And this place has dinner every night- I won’t have to cook. And a ‘cleaning lady’ once a week.”
He was looking backwards to the memory of good wine he had enjoyed and forward to it being replaced by things that could be better than he had imagined.
Many of us have lost good enjoyable jobs, have moved from houses, friends, and neighborhoods we loved, have run out of some good acceptable things. Are they the wine with which we live our lives?
For me, one lesson of today’s gospel is that those good things we might lose may be replaced by things much more enjoyable, through the grace of a peasant who changed good acceptable wine into Chateau Neuf de Pape, and that peasant wedding guest will grant me, when he comes in His kingdom, the healing to enjoy good wine again. For Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. With the best wine in his hand, as will happen soon at our altar here at All Saints’.
What acceptable wine are we drinking now, and what best wine will that peasant replace it with when he comes again?
In the name of God who creates, redeems and sustains us.