God’s Kingdom — Rejoicing! Feasting! Abundance!


John 2:1-11     Second Sunday after Epiphany     January 20, 2019

 

“On the third day”: that’s how the gospel reading begins this morning.  (This is the third day after Jesus called Philip and Nathanael to follow him, but you and I know how important that phrase is, since the resurrection will happen on the third day!  The author of the gospel is already setting that as the context for all that Jesus will say and do.)  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.”  (Did she whine when she said, “They have no wine?”  It’s so much fun to picture Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a nagging Jewish mother!)

This is just such a great story.

We’re in the season of Epiphany, the weeks following the Epiphany of Our Lord. (That’s the day we celebrate the Wise Men arriving to visit the newborn Jesus, the Christ, God born into human flesh.)  Do you remember what an epiphany is?  An epiphany is a manifestation.  It is an instance of seeing; of something coming clear; of illumination; of insight; of understanding.  An epiphany is an instance of receiving revelation.  The season of Epiphany gives us time to catch our breaths, after the hoopla of Advent-Christmas, and before the extra worship and devotional practices of Lent.  The season of Epiphany gives us time for contemplation: What does it mean that our saving God has been born into our human flesh?  We read the stories closely.  We think about this: In his words, in his actions, how is Jesus revealing God?  Jesus gives us the best idea of what God is like.  We think about this: Since Jesus has brought the kingdom of God into our human lives, what is that kingdom like?  After all, it’s what are we praying for each week with the words, “your kingdom come.”

This morning’s story describes God’s kingdom – Rejoicing!  Feasting!  Abundance!

Think of this image: the Kingdom of God as a marriage feast!  This morning’s first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, is chosen for its image of a joyous marriage of God and God’s people.[1]  And, in the gospel reading, in the town of Cana, Jesus and his disciples are at a wedding which, in that culture, included seven days of feasting and celebration.

It’s a great story.  It’s a real glimpse into Jesus’ humanity.  Do you remember that, in the gospel of John, Jesus called his first disciples from among those who were following the John the Baptizer’s harsh and  judgmental movement?  Well, here, obviously, they have left that asceticism behind!  They and Jesus are enjoying the human pleasure of a grand party.  (Isn’t it intriguing to think of what the gospels don’t tell us much about: Jesus’ everyday interactions with those around him?  From the snippets that the gospel writers do include, we can tell that Jesus did enjoy fun with others; and that he enjoyed making people laugh!)

It’s also intriguing to think about Jesus’ humanity in that exchange with his mother!  [T]he 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.”  Was Jesus’ mother nagging him?  Was Jesus impatient and short with her?  Aren’t all mothers and sons like that with each other, at least from time to time?

“My hour has not yet come,” Jesus tells his mother and, of course, that again alerts us to what will happen at the end of the story: Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion and then his resurrection.[2]  But meanwhile, Jesus is bringing God’s kingdom.  And there is rejoicing!  Feasting!  Abundance!  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.”  It’s not only wine, it’s the best wine!  It’s not only an abundance of wine, it’s a superabundance – at least 120 gallons, and maybe even 180!

We read Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  One chapter earlier, in one of the first verses of the gospel of John, we read, And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…  This wedding feast, this rejoicing, this abundance, is the first public manifestation, the first public epiphany of the Word become flesh!

It is God’s kingdom in our human lives – Rejoicing!  Feasting!  Abundance!

How do we respond to the kingdom Jesus has brought into our lives?  We repent from an attitude of scarcity, first of all.  When we worry that there is scarcity, then we respond with fear.  We build walls.  But when we’re in God’s mindset of abundance, our response is gratitude!  Joy!

You know what?  I don’t think this has anything to do with material abundance.  In fact, our material possessions often get in the way of the rejoicing.

That’s something I learned from the handful of Tanzanians that I’ve had conversation with.  One said, “I never see any of you smiling.  You Americans are so worried all the time.”  He picked up on the fact that we make life so complicated by what we worry about – managing our investments, managing our to-do lists, applying the proper and effective techniques to use in managing situations, because we Americans actually believe the lie that we’re in control.

In most of Tanzania, there is no medical care.  It is not unusual for someone to feel fine one day, sick the next, and to die the next.  So, for most Tanzanians, each new day of life is a gift from God’s abundance!  What rejoicing, to simply wake up in the morning!

I remember the Sunday I spent with the people of the Mongai Parish in the Northern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania.  (You who are long time members will remember that we had a close relationship with that parish at one time.)  When we arrived and got out of the vehicle, we heard singing coming from the church!  The people had assembled way earlier than they needed to for the beginning of the service, and they had started worshiping on their own.  Many of them had walked for miles through the jungle to get to the clearing where the church was.  And they didn’t care when the formal worship service would begin.  They were rejoicing in their gathering together!

We Americans, on the other hand, were full of anxiety.  We were late.  We had been worrying about the time.  We had taken a wrong turn.  Then, on the dirt road towards the parish compound, several thousand feet up the slope of Mt. Kilimanjaro, at a particularly steep section of the road, a couple of us had to jump out to engage the front wheels of the four wheel drive vehicle because the back two wheels weren’t enough to keep us moving.  We arrived after the time we had been told that worship would begin.  We jumped out as soon as we stopped.  But then, we weren’t allowed to hurry!  Pastor Minja and the congregational leaders were very formal in their welcome of us.  (There is a lot of well-planned, formal ceremony in Tanzanian culture.)  First we all had to assemble for statements of welcome in the pastor’s office.  Then we had to tour the buildings where the welding shop was, and the maize mill (both made possible by the gifts from this congregation).  Then we walked over to another small building where they fed us a full meal!

All the while, from the church up the hill, we heard the singing!  They didn’t care what time it was!

What rejoicing – in God’s presence in the weekly day-long gathering for worship!  What feasting: there were tables of food that the members had grown and had cooked over the fire, along with a goat (which we had to share with great ceremony, from the oldest in our party to the youngest).  What an attitude of great abundance and gratitude that was animating this community of people, even though most of them have nearly nothing in terms of material possessions.

When I think of the kingdom of God, I think of that Sunday at the Mongai Parish.

Isn’t that how God would have us live?  With rejoicing!  Feasting!  Abundance!

What smothers that kingdom life within and among us?

What keeps you curved in on yourself?[3]

What fear do you need to let go of?

In the name of God who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Pastor Andy Ballentine

[1] Isaiah 62:1-5.  Isaiah 25:6-8 is, perhaps, the most striking description of the messianic feast!

[2] We read in John 2:4, “My hour has not yet come.”  We next encounter that expression in John 13:1: “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.”

[3] I remembered this definition of sin during this past Thursday’s study of By Heart: Conversations with Martin Luther’s Small Catechism (Augsburg Fortress, 2017).  On page 13, Timothy Wengert writes: “Luther uses the Commandments and his explanations to show how God moves in your life: how God reveals our sin at the deepest level (lack of fear and love of God) and how God unfolds us from our constant curving in on ourselves.”


About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine loves being a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!