(I rarely post my sermons on the blog. Usually I refer people to the sermon podcasts on our church website because sermons are a spoken form of communication, and because I never preach exactly what’s on the manuscript. But this week the recording didn’t happen, so I’m posting this sermon, preached January 12, here. It’s about the miracle at Cana where Jesus changes water into wine. I apologize for any grammatical problems – I think I’ve cleaned it up from its original rough form but may have missed some things.)
Sometimes when I officiate at a wedding I’m invited to go to the reception afterwards. Depending on what else is going on and whether Karen can go, too, I might accept. But if I do I usually don’t stay around much longer than after the cake gets cut.
Now, that’s not just because I’m an introvert and not someone who hangs around at parties all night. It’s also because I’m a pastor, and I know that some folks think that pastors and parties don’t mix.
That’s the truth, but not something most people would say to a pastor.
But young people have a way of saying out loud truths that adults keep to themselves. Once after I’d married some folks I went to the reception and I was in line to pick up the little favor that had the table number on it. Each of the favors had a guest’s name on it, and they were in little groups according to what table you were assigned. (How are wedding receptions like elementary school – you have assigned seats.) You could tell who else was at your table if they hadn’t picked up their favors yet.
In front of me in line were a young man about 8 or 9 years old and his mother. Well, this young man got kind of excited when he saw his name and his mother’s – “Hey, we’re at table 7” or whatever.
But there was a noticeable change in his tone when he saw who else was at table seven. “We’re at the pastor’s table.
Not being able to contain myself (remember I was right behind him) I spoke up and said, “Yes you are!”
I didn’t take it personally. I knew it wasn’t me, it was the collar. After all, he didn’t know me except from the wedding service where I was sparkling and funny and wise. And that was just my homily!
Seriously, the pastor’s table is not where most wedding guests want to sit. Not if they are there to have “a good time.”
Everyone always seems a little relieved when I leave early.
Again, I know it’s not me. I’m a fun guy . . . right?
People just have this idea about pastors being holy and everything. So you’ve got to watch your P’s and Q’s or the pastor will tell God on you. I guess some people see pastors as God’s spies . . . or God’s drones. The bottom line, I think, is that people don’t want to be judged, especially at a wedding.
I’ve found it’s mainly the people who are furthest away from the church who worry most about what The Pastor might think of them or how The Pastor might not want to have any fun.
And I don’t think that stops with just The Pastor. Folks who aren’t in church often don’t want to be around Christians because they don’t want to be judged. They want to be around others who know how to have fun, and that’s not Christians.
I know that’s how I felt when I wasn’t a Christian. If I was going out to have a good time the last people I wanted to go with were people I knew were Christians. (And the last place I’d want to go was church!)
Now, I know some of you are thinking, “But I’m a fun person. That’s really not fair for people to think that about me because I go to church and believe that Jesus is my savior.”
But it’s our fault we’ve let the world get the idea that Christians are a bunch of sticks in the mud. That we’re like H. L. Mencken’s definition of puritanism: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.”
We’ve let the spoil-sports and the party poopers get control of the message! In their book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity … And Why It Matters, Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons say that we Christians “Have become more famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.”
And that’s not just on a big scale – that Christians are well known for anti-this and anti-that. It happens in homes and workplaces as well – I’ve worked in places where the person most vocal about being a Christian spent lots of time telling other people why they shouldn’t swear (especially around him!) and do other things that offended his sensibilities.
Here’s the quote from that book, unChristian, that really rang true to me, especially from my experience as an unChristian for 15 or so years – “Many of those outside Christianity reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.”
We – not you and me individually but Christians in general – have given the world a distorted picture of the church and of Christians, and, most sadly, of Jesus.
And that’s why that young man didn’t want to sit at my table.
He obviously didn’t know the story of the Wedding at Cana. He didn’t know the Jesus that is revealed there.
And neither, sadly, do many unChristians – nor, even more sadly, do many Christians.
Don’t you think it is significant that when John wrote his Gospel he put this story – about Jesus and his disciples at a wedding – at a PARTY – as the very first miracle Jesus performs?
Of all the stuff Jesus said and did in his three years of ministry, this is first. Jesus at a party, turning water into wine. ( and not communion size wine but party size wine)
When I was first getting back into the church, I had a lot of re-learning to do about who Jesus was and is. Someone gave me a book called When God Whispers Your Name by Max Lucado and I’ll never forget the experience of reading his take on this story. It opened me up to a whole new perspective about Jesus – and about being a Christian. Listen . . .
Why would Jesus, on his first journey, take his followers to a party?
Didn’t they have work to do? Didn’t he have principles to teach? Wasn’t his time limited? How could a wedding fit with his purpose on earth? Why did Jesus go to the wedding?
The answer? It’s found in the second verse of John 2. “Jesus and his followers were also invited to the wedding.”
Why did they invite him? I suppose they liked him.
Big deal? I think so. I think it’s significant that common folk in a little town enjoyed being with Jesus. I think it’s noteworthy that the Almighty didn’t act high and mighty. The Holy One wasn’t holier-than-thou. You just don’t get the impression that his neighbors grew sick of his haughtiness and asked, “Well, who do you think made you God?” His faith made him likable, not detestable. Would that ours would do the same!
May I state an opinion that may raise an eyebrow? May I tell you why I think Jesus went to the wedding? I think he went to the wedding to-now hold on, hear me out, let me say it before you heat the tar and pluck the feathers-I think Jesus went to the wedding to have fun.
Maybe these thoughts catch you by surprise. They do me. It’s been awhile since I pegged Jesus as a party-lover. But he was. His foes accused him of eating too much, drinking too much, and hanging out with the wrong people! (See Matt. 11:19.) I must confess: It’s been awhile since I’ve been accused of having too much fun. (VERY TRUE) How about you? …
Jesus took time for a party. . .shouldn’t we?
God created us to worship – to CELEBRATE God’s goodness. Every Sunday we gather to celebrate together. It’s a party!
Stuff may not have gone well for us out there – this week I’ve had a flat tire, broken my printer at home and gotten shocked while trying to get some jammed paper out with a metal letter opener (you should always unplug stuff before you do something like that), and broken my cell phone. Those are little things, petty annoyances, but when we’re in them they can distract us from the goodness of God. But one of the themes of this story about the wedding at Cana is that Jesus gets involved in the little things, like a wedding that has run out of wine.
And Jesus gets involved in a BIG WAY – those six jars of wine would fill 6 HUNDRED to 9 HUNDRED bottles. That’s a lot of wine, even for a wedding party that would, in Jesus’ time, last a week.
We can celebrate because we have a Savior who is involved in the real stuff of our lives. As John wrote in the first chapter of his Gospel, we have a Savior who lived among us, who took up residence in the neighborhood.
And every Sunday we celebrate and proclaim that Jesus died and rose again and dwells not just among us but within in through the Holy Spirit.
And every Sunday we celebrate Communion together – the fancy church word for what I do in Communion is CELEBRANT – the leader of the party.
And occasionally, we get to celebrate baptisms together. My favorite Party! Today is the day we remember our baptisms – each one a miracle. Just as surely as it was a miracle for Jesus to turn water into wine, it is a miracle that God uses ordinary water – right out of the tap, not Holy Water or River Jordan Water, joined to the promises of God’s word to change not the water but US. When we were baptized, we became children of God, temples of the Holy Spirit. We died to sin and rose to new life. And we became brothers and sisters in Christ.
Each week is a family party!
And there is NO REASON that our celebration should end when we walk out the doors of the church. We CAN communicate the joy of following Jesus – even the FUN of being God’s people – in what we say and what we do and especially with our attitudes toward other people. We CAN show unChristians that they don’t have to become serious and heaven forbid, boring, to follow Jesus Christ.
And maybe, someday, people will even want to sit at the pastor’s table at wedding receptions.