It seems like a sort of strange place to set the first miracle - - especially in light of the scenes we have seen on the news and in the papers this week. Jesus, his mother, and even his new disciples are at a wedding of all places – not the neediest spot on the globe. That the wine has run out may seem like a tragedy to some or in the moment, but compared to some of his other miracles? Really? A wedding? The drinks have gone dry and now it’s time for a miracle?
Weddings of some sort have been around since the beginning of time, so it’s not really much of a dramatic of a backdrop for a miracle. He isn’t asking a man to take up his mat and walk, surrounded by crowds so thick friends have lowered the man who is paralyzed through the roof. Mystical power hasn’t flowed out of him unknowingly and produced skins of wine the way it does when a woman is healed of her bleeding by simply touching his cloak. He isn’t standing at the door of the tomb of a friend four days dead, calling in to him, bringing the dead back to life.
No, this miracle, Jesus’ first miracle, happens in a pretty common setting. In fact, the most uncommon piece seems to be that this, of all places, is the place where Jesus’ power, where his glory is first revealed to his disciples and to others. Even, he seems to think it’s a strange place to enter the next phase of his life. However, when the wine has run out too early, DEFINITELY a social faux pas, but not an international crisis, Jesus’ mother comes straight to him to let him know.
Jesus seems to know she isn’t just letting him know the bad news, news that is worse in a culture that is based on upon hospitality. Running out of wine doesn’t just mean guests will go home a little earlier than planned; it means shame upon those who couldn’t provide enough for the enjoyment of their friends. Jesus knows his mother is asking him to do something, but even he thinks the timing is at least a little off, I can’t help but assume, because he thinks a little higher of his ministry and future than to start it by playing bartender at a wedding. “What concern is that to you and me?” he asks.
His hour, he believes, has not yet come. The stage isn’t quite set. To me it seems a little drab. A little ordinary. To me the stage seems like it is missing something - - like people who are paying attention, people who will witness the greatness Mary is asking Jesus to perform. Anyone hearing what she asked and assumed may think she was just ordering him to make a run down to the corner wine merchant and take care of this little embarrassment for a friend.
But she wasn’t, and he didn’t. She was asking for something more. She was asking for something she knew he could do, but he wasn’t sure he should. She was asking for a miracle, right then and there. There in the middle of a pretty common, even if special and celebratory, event. There probably in the middle of a courtyard, with a food table in one corner, a fire for cooking in another, musicians from town in yet another. Right there with common people, friends, family, guests, servants milling around, not paying him any special attention. There where evidence of the families’ routine religious life was lined up against the house wall, with water for cleaning and cooking stored for easy accessibility. Right there his mother called on him for this strange little miracle. And it turns out everything he needed to do something extraordinary in the middle of the very ordinary, was there, right in front of them all.
When I was in high school, right across the street from the school was an Italian fast food chain called Fazoli’s. I haven’t seen one around here, but I guess to make a comparison it was kind of like Culver’s – as step or two up from the usual burger joints, but not really a sit down restaurant or anything. It was a common and easy place to stop for dinner before or after a game or concert or some other activity at the school that didn’t make it worth driving all the way home. My mom and I made ourselves regulars there the busier and busier I got in high school.
Our first visit will always stick in my mind, though. We went to the counter as normal and ordered our plates of spaghetti or fettuccini or whatever we ate, then gathered our order number and cups for the soft drinks we had ordered. As we began to turn around, looking for our next stop to grab napkins, plastic utensils and fill our empty cups, the cashier cheerfully announced, “Everything you need is just around the corner.” Without missing a beat, my mom spun back around with a thrilled and questioning look on her face, “Really? Everything I need?”
It turns out that was a regular line for the cashiers at our Fazoli’s, “Everything you need is just around the corner,” and it never failed to bring a smirk to our faces when we were there. The idea of it just seemed to magical and so wonderfully simple. Everything we needed, our drinks, lemon for the tea, straws and forks, sure, but what about a, a few extra bucks to get the car fixed when unexpected repairs were needed, more hours in a day, a hopeful story in a week filled with tragedy, was that going to be just around the corner, too? We liked to pretend it was. We liked to pretend that when we turned that corner, our ordinary cares and concerns, our ordinary daily ups and downs would be magically, miraculously transformed by whatever it was we found. Just around the corner.
Everything he needed was just around the corner. Everything Jesus needed to keep the party going, to save the hosts from embarrassment, to fulfill his mother’s desire and get her to stop asking questions, to reveal his glory to the few who might see it, everything Jesus needed transform the ordinary problem into an extraordinary event was right there in front of him. Jesus turned to the servants his mother assembled before him, ordinary men and women ready to do whatever he asked. He ordered them to bring stone water jars that were right there near where they stood ready for their routine use in the family’s daily life. Next he asked that the jars be filled with water. Just water. Nothing else special, just the common, everyday, cool and refreshing, clear water from the well.
He asked these ordinary people to gather ordinary materials, yet with them something extraordinary happened. When the caterer dipped his cup into the jars, not knowing what had happened or from where they had come, he found the tastiest, richest wine he had tasted yet at the wedding feast. With them a miracle took place.
A lot of people in a lot of places are praying for miracles today. It’s been that kind of week in the life of the world. Haiti has gotten a lot of much needed attention, obviously, since the earthquake. Locally, a shooting in a market in the cities has been in the news for some time now. Temperatures well below normal around our country have ruined crops upon which farmers and businesses and industries and migrant workers depend for their living. Getting less attention in our news because of the tragedies closer to home are horrifying legislature against gays and lesbians in Uganda and the persecution of Christians in Malaysia, churches that are being firebombed because of the use of a word for God common across several religions. Prayers for miracles are ascending all around and among us as the wineskins are getting emptier and emptier, as our hope for something extraordinary grows fuller and fuller.
And prayers are good. Prodding God into action is good. It’s exactly what his mother did. She saw the need in front of her. She saw embarrassment and shame and worry on the horizon, and she knew no matter how humble the setting that her son could take care of it. So she prodded him when it didn’t look like he would act. She nudged him in the direction he could go even if it seemed he was resisting. She called on him to make a difference, and whether he planned to do it ahead of time or not he did.
Our prayers are good. Our prodding is made holy and necessary and productive by Mary’s action before us. But just as good, just as holy and necessary and productive is our availability, our willingness to be prodded into action. Just as important as the prodding are the ordinary things that are put to extraordinary use. Just as important are the jars and the servants and the water that are just around the corner from Jesus, standing ready, if ignorantly, to be used in his miraculous work. Just as important as our prayers are the gifts for service that have been activated in all of us.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth about the spiritual gifts they have been given for ministry. The church is in some sort of turmoil over what it takes to be a Christian, over what gifts are the really important ones for church and spiritual life. Paul writes back to tell them that all their gifts are important. All their gifts have been given by God. All their gifts are a sign of the Spirit’s working in their lives and their communities. All their gifts are for the service of the same Lord. And maybe most importantly, ALL of them have been given gifts to use.
No one is more special than another because she can speak in tongues. No one is more holy than the rest because he has more faith. No one is more useful in the community because he can heal or she can prophesy or they can work miracles or interpret tongues or utter great wisdom. All of them, the members of Christ’s church in Corinth are, on the one hand, ordinary, but on the other hand are gifted equally for an extraordinary purpose, Christ’s purpose, Christ’s service, Christ’s miraculous ministry in the world.
And so are we. So are we ordinary men, women, and children gifted for Christ’s extraordinary service in the world around us. So are we God’s ordinary children, set in this ordinary place, called to be a part of Jesus’ extraordinary work in our community and in the world. Everything Jesus needs is right around the corner. Everything he needs to bring abundant, overflowing, rich, and delightful life to the world is right here in front of him, right here among us.
I have no doubt that this last week our prayers prodding God into action have been ascending this week. I have no doubt that we have begged and pleaded for mercy to shower down on the desperate people of Haiti. I have no doubt that we have nudged and urged and even nagged Jesus to stay involved in their lives and perform for them a miracle.
But I also have no doubt that we are gifted to be a part of that miracle. I have no doubt that everything Jesus needs to perform that miracle is here on this earth, and some of it here in this room, in this community. We have gifts to share in the checks that I’m sure have been written, and still can be written. We have gifts to share in the kits we can put together for the hospitals, orphanages, schools, and homes that have been destroyed. We have gifts to share that haven’t even been discovered yet. We have gifts to share that will be needed in this tragedy and others even years down the road. We are ordinary people equipped, and placed, and called to extraordinary purposes, and I have no doubt that we will answer that call, that we will follow Mary’s order, “Do whatever he tells you. Let his will and his work be done with us.