“When the Wine Gave Out”
40 years ago, I found myself at an elegant restaurant in Elmira Heights;
“Pierce’s 1894” was its name.
I was more interested in my prom date than she was in me.
She was preoccupied with her ex-boyfriend
Who had just dumped her for someone else.
I wasn’t even her second choice; someone else had turned her down.
It was awkward.
I had been thinking long and hard how I might come to impress her.
Ah! I knew.
I could demonstrate to her my sophistication and knowledge of wine.
Problem was, I didn’t know anything about wine.
My best friend, Garry, coached me prior to the prom:
“Just order a red,” he suggested.
“Carlo Rossi, if you have to make a choice. That’s what mom and dad drink.”
Great. I was ready.
Or so I thought.
The assistant waiter and waitress
Were filling water glasses, bringing rolls, and overall, trying to impress
(which they were), when she asked
“Would you like something to drink?”
“I would like a glass of red wine,” I said rather smugly.
“What kind of red would you like?”
And then, my mind went blank.
I couldn’t remember the brand I had been coached to request.
Awkward silence was followed by “the look” and an eye roll.
“No worries,” the waitress said, “I’ll send over the wine steward to help you make your selection.”
Thinking the wine list was printed on one side of a laminated paper,
I thought I was saved!
I’d certainly be able to find the brand I couldn’t remember.
“Thank you. That would be nice,” I replied.
The wine steward appeared
And he had a book.
Not a list on a half sheet of plastic coated paper.
He had a book, listing thousands of wines from the cellar.
Terror swept across my face and sweat began to run.
Pressure was building and there was no relief valve.
“I’ll have a Tom Collins,” I blurted out,
Fully exposed as a fraud.
I was so embarrassed.
Was this the most embarrassing moment of my life?
I don’t know, but my prom encounter with a wine steward
Certainly makes for one of my top ten!
What was your most embarrassing moment?
I’d like to think that Jesus threw me a life line,
Because I never had another date with the girl I took to the prom.
I dodged a bullet.
More accurately, Jesus and I dodged a bullet.
As I look back in reflection,
It seems to me that Jesus is in the habit of throwing out life lines,
Saving us from ourselves, and sometimes,
Saving us from each other.
Often, I’m unaware of his saving grace when it’s taking place.
Often, I’m ignorant that the life line he uses is composed of
The spiritual fabric we commonly refer to as “the Body of Christ.”
That hand reaching out to us?
Perhaps that is the hand of Jesus,
Offered by another fellow disciple,
Who is faithfully acting to fulfill God’s will.
Perhaps that hand reaching out to us
Is not only the substance
But also a sign of God’s amazing grace.
Don’t be afraid or ashamed to take the hand.
Are you able to think back
And recognize circumstances when
Jesus threw you a life line?
Jesus certainly threw the bridegroom in the Gospel a lifeline.
The fact that Jesus miraculously turned water into wine
Was only known to the servants and the chief steward,
Creates a social cover for the bridegroom;
Protecting his pride,
Preserving his reputation.
Could you imagine if he had to go through life
Known as the guy who failed at his own wedding reception?
Our Gospel of Jesus turning water into wine
Should vector us back
To a deeper understanding of God’s presence, grace, and salvation
In our lives.
This semi-mysterious nature of Jesus’ first miracle
Accentuates the unique purpose and meaning of John’s gospel,
Unlike that of the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
John is frying other fish.
Consider the contrasts:
Jesus’ mother is not named in John.
There is no narrative of Jesus being baptized in John;
Neither is there a 40 day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
There is no Passover meal in John;
In its place, Jesus washes the disciple’s feet.
John’s contrasting motives and message
Is like bringing Technicolor to black and white,
Computer generated imagery to cartoon flip boards.
In the absence of a Passover meal
We are compelled to explore more deeply
Our Eucharistic roots;
As only the Gospel of John can reveal.
Following John’s masterful theological prelude,
The testimony of John the Baptist, and
Jesus calling his first disciples
(Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, and Nathanael)
It is the mother of Jesus
Who launches him into his mission and ministry.
In his opening salvo
Jesus replaces nothing with abundance.
He substitutes empty wine skins with 120 to 180 gallons of high quality wine in stone jars.
Abundance, John paints on his Gospel canvas,
Is a recognizable signature of Christ’s glory and his ministry.
Abundance draws followers to Jesus.
Abundance reveals the manifestation of God.
Epiphany is on a roll!
The miracle of Jesus turning water into abundant, high quality wine
Is only the first half of our Eucharist roots in the Gospel of John.
We don’t have to seek after bread,
In-so-much, as bread comes and finds us.
In the sixth chapter
Jesus feeds five thousand
With five loaves and two fish.
Again, Jesus replaces nothing with abundance.
He substitutes empty stomachs with a crowd of happy and full future followers,
Complete with 12 baskets of surplus barley bread! (6:13-14)
Here in the presence of bread and wine,
Is the sign of God’s glory, ministry, and presence.
Is provided before we are aware of our deeper hunger.
Satisfies our every need.
Ensures our future, eternal life in the presence of God.
The abundance of God’s grace,
As revealed to us in the signs and symbols of bread and wine
In the Gospel of John
Are named by our own John Wesley
In the theology of our Methodist roots:
Justifying grace, and
The entire Gospel of John becomes our Lord’s Eucharistic meal
Meant to convey
The overwhelming, eternal abundance of God’s grace.
Let that sink in for a moment.
God must really love us and
Care for us.
God is willing to do anything to save us;
Even dying on a cross.
The last observation I’d like to make about
John’s opening miracle narrative of
Jesus turning water into wine
Is the fact that God shows up at an unexpected time,
Pouring forth abundant, exceptional quality wine
From the wrong vessel – a 20 or 30 gallon stone jar.
Jesus isn’t pouring premium wine from a Baccarat decanter
Or even a fancy French bottle.
He’s using a stone jar meant for catching water runoff.
There is something beneath box wine!
This reveals a subtle, but consistent theological thread
In the Gospel of John:
God shows up when least expected
And in the midst of the most unexpected circumstances.
This is my experience.
Is it yours?
As you think back over the course of your life,
This miracle should serve to pry open memories of
When God showed up,
Becoming manifest in your life,
When you least expected
In the midst of the most unexpected circumstances.
Think about it.
Epiphany is pretty awesome! Eh?
Yes, God is.
On this day
And in this passage
May the Gospel direct
Us to the life line Jesus is throwing to us.
May the Gospel vector
Us to the amazing, abundant, overwhelming grace and love of God,
Revealed in the gifts of bread and wine.
May the act of turning water into wine
Remind us that God shows up;
God shows up,
Perhaps when we least expect it,
But when we need him most.