Passage

Reader: Margaret Lunam. audio begins with the scripture passage; sermon begins at 1:55.
Jan. 20, 2019

Text: John 2: 1-11

It’s a few years ago now that Bev and I spent the last couple of days of our time in France at the Abbey of Citeaux, a Cistercian monastery just south of Dijon. Located out in the country, in one of France’s great wine regions, we were generously welcomed -- given comfortable rooms to stay in, beautiful meals, the grounds were open to us for walking and sitting. We were also welcomed to share in as much or as little of the daily round of worship in the chapel. 6 or 7 times a day between 4 in the morning and 8 at night the monks gather to sing and to pray.

I think it was on the day when we first came by for a visit -- before we ever knew it was possible to come and stay for a personal retreat -- we walked the grounds that were open to the public, and noticed something imprinted on the outside wall of the chapel.  Looking a little closer we could see this very large circular image carved into the stone or plaster. You have a picture of it there on the front of the bulletin. It wasn’t at all obvious at first. But then we started to make out some figures … there was a woman in the center, and beside her a man. And we could see what looked like an earthen vessel. Is this the woman at the well? we wondered. There was another figure too that appeared, who we assumed was Jesus.

Then we began reading the words inscribed around the bottom curve. “Faites tout ce qu’il vous dir a.” It took us a bit, but between us recalling our high school French, we got it! … do whatever he tells you.  Do whatever he tells you … Oh! … this is the wedding at Cana!

So then the figures became that much clearer. That’s Jesus’ mother in the middle … and that’s her hand on the shoulder of one of the servants … he, with his head turned toward her, is listening to her as she’s speaking to him. He’s holding a large earthen vessel. And then on Mary’s other side, there is Jesus, his head bowed, not part of the conversation, except that with Mary’s other hand, she’s gesturing toward him.

In that moment, it was kind of neat … the two of us non-French speakers deciphering the meaning of the words and then getting a hold of what we were looking at … at least, on the surface of it!

But then, in the days that followed it occurred to me, imagine living in a place with those words … and that story … so immediately before you in your daily round. Do whatever he tells you!

Are you doing what he’s telling you? Am I doing what he’s telling me? Are we doing what he’s telling us?

I’m appreciating the way this image carved on the wall brings into focus that moment in the story. It’s such a potent moment. In a sense that’s what the image does … it takes you there, away from the action, away from the lime-light of the wedding party, to this behind-the-scenes place, where a whole other thing is going on … where a crisis has come to light -- the wine’s run out.

Who knows if it’s a special connection Mary has with the wedding couple or the hosting family or just what, but for whatever reason, she’s determined the party won’t end in disaster. So she turns to her son who she knows … well, what exactly she sees in him we’re not sure, except that she perceives this capacity to help somehow. She doesn’t outright tell him what to do … but she does give him a nudge: “they have no wine.”

Jesus responds with firm reluctance … a reluctance to being drawn into it. Why? It’s not the right time … “my hour has not yet come” we hear him say in the language of John’s Gospel -- something he says plenty more times as the Gospel unfolds. “The hour” referring to his death and resurrection. For whatever reason Mary doesn’t leave it there. Is it fear she senses in her son? Perhaps. Perhaps the fear of beginning, of stepping out, of claiming the fullness of his potential; fear of the foreseeable cost? … perhaps. But if not now, when? If not here, where?

So she makes this quite beautiful move. She speaks to one of the servants in a way that makes room for Jesus himself to choose if now is the time. “Do whatever he tells you,” she says.

I wonder if you recognize those people in your own life? The ones who along the way have appreciated something about your capacity, what you have to offer …and have helped you -- given you the nudge you’ve needed to step over that threshold, to let go somehow of holding back … so that you went for it, and, in a sense, came into more of who, by God, you are given to be. I wonder who those people have been along the way for you? … people who see you, see your potential, who have confidence in you.

While Mary’s words seem intended for Jesus’ overhearing, she’s speaking directly to the servants: do whatever he tells you. I suppose as servants, they’re used to people telling them what do, and doing it … like they have no authority of their own. But I wonder if there’s a sense here of a different dynamic. What if this isn’t Mary playing the heavy?
What if this is Mary drawing the servants into the action, calling on their agency to be part of something potentially wondrous?
What if this is Mary recalling that day when her agency was called upon to be part of something wondrous?

So she urges them to listen to Jesus who they don‘t know from Adam … as if to say “it’s ok -- take him at his word … you can trust him.” Which they do. As crazy as it seems … how is filing these great jars with water, intended for ritual washing --what’s this got to do with the wine crisis? As strange and foolish as it seems they press on. Not only that, they fill those jars to the brim! It seems something is happening to them … like they’re no longer servants as such, but friends, caught up with Jesus in some wild venture whose outcome is not up to them … and yet it needs them.

So now what we have --unbeknown to everyone at the wedding feast, unbeknown even to the chief steward --what we have is wine enough to keep this party going for weeks! And not just any old wine but the finest even the chief steward has ever tasted. Wine that will be drawn from vessels that, until now, had never been used for wine.

It’s a mark of Jesus’ freedom to imagine that these vessels, which have had their long established purpose, could be used for new possibilities, new purposes.

So what about the vessels that we are … the vessel that you are, that I am … that this congregation is. Do you know what it is to have experienced a kind of re-purposing of your life … being called into something new, something deeper, something altogether different?

It brings us back to that question, doesn’t it … are we doing whatever he’s telling us? And the further question, are we listening? Who are we listening to? And if it was Jesus we wished to hear, how would we do that? It’s one of the reasons we gather like we do … gathering around these stories that show us his way, tell of his moves, capture his voice. When we’ve heard his voice there, we can recognize it elsewhere.

One last thing about that image on the monastery wall where Jesus, Mary and the servant are carved within this circle. If you look closely you see Jesus’ right foot extending beyond the circle … outside the circle toward us. As if to say “not just here in Cana with these people, but I am where you are, NOW. I am with YOU … and this too is the time for miracles of transformation. Think of life as feast of faithful love. Amen I say to you,” Jesus says to us. “Life is a feast of faithful love where the power of God’s love is filling up and spilling over … endlessly, abundantly. Surely you don’t want to miss it! Go ahead, listen to me … do what I tell you … knowing it will be enough… that you will be enough -- more than enough! Step out with me into this flow. Taste and see that God is good!”