ST.STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JANUARY 17, 2016
THE TIME HAS COME
1 Corinthians 12: 1- 11; John 2: 1 – 11
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Time is a funny thing. When we’re running late, 1 minute seems to take an hour but if we enjoy running for exercise 1 hour goes by in a minute. Or so I’m told. Time can be demanding or wasted. We can be squeezed by time or it can be long and leisurely. In your lifetime you will spend an average of 6 months sitting at stoplights; 8 months opening junk mail; 2 years unsuccessfully returning phone calls; 4 years doing housework; 5 years waiting in line; 6 years eating and 1 year looking for misplaced objects – unless you’re me, then bump that up to 2. That’s over 20 years! I spent about the same amount of time getting educated. Altogether that’s 40 years of my life! If I’d lived 300 years ago when the average life span was 40 years, that’s all I’d have done. In our lives we spend a lot of time preparing, for things that ironically don’t take much time – weddings take a year or two to prepare and a day to do; living is even worse – 90 years of life get summed up in a 30 minute service (20 if people didn’t like you much). When my Dad was about 45 he expressed regret that he had not gone to school to study theology. I suggested that it wasn’t too late. His response was, “Well there’s a time to prepare and a time to do.” “What time is it?” is a simple question when we want to know the hour and minutes on the clock but a crucial question when we are figuring out what to do. It is even more critical if we are discerning what God wants us to do. One’s sense of timing is a tricky thing too. The right thing at the wrong time usually ends up being the wrong thing. A poor sense of timing can really destroy a surprise party, it can cost you an arm on an assembly line and babies with bad timing end up being born in taxi cabs. It can ruin a good wedding too; just ask the bride and groom in the town of Cana in Galilee.
Weddings in ancient Israel were community affairs. Not only did they join a man and woman in marriage but they brought two families and sometimes two villages together. Everyone was invited. Since Nazareth was 9 kms from Cana many people from that town, including Mary and Jesus were invited. Celebrations went on for a week with an over-abundance of food and wine flowing like it was coming from an endless underground spring. In Ecclesiastes 10:19 we read, “Feasts are made for laughter; wine gladdens life”. Wine was a sign of blessing – it showed the goodness of God in the harvest and God’s abundant giving. It was a sign of joy and hospitality. When I was a kid my father’s family were hard core drinkers – they drank to get drunk; my mother’s family, who were Italian, drank for joy. Family dinners were times of special feasts; my grandfather’s wine, made from the grapes he’d grown, was brought out in bottles, set on the table and drank from kitchen tumblers. The atmosphere was light, there was lots of laughter and love – they were earthy, sparkling celebrations of life. I imagine this was the tone at weddings in ancient Israel too. The guests would mingle, dance, laugh, and share a glass (or more) of wine while toasting “L’chai-im!” – To Life!
At this particular wedding the timing was way off. We don’t know if people were partying extra hard or if the family had tried to save a little money but by day 3 the wine ran out. Now today we’d just send a couple strong lads to the LCBO to pick up a few cases, but back in the day there was no mass production or distribution. Wine was made at home which took weeks and if you wanted good wine, you’d have to wait months or years for it. This was a wedding catastrophe. And worse, word was getting around. Mary had heard the rumour. She went to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.”(John 2: 3). Perhaps it was no more than a moment of gossip, but Jesus heard in the comment that she expected something from him and he felt her timing was off. He replied, “How’s that our problem? Don’t push me. This isn’t’ my time.” (vs. 4) In Greek there are 5 words for “time”: ora – hour; epoch – era; fora – repeated time; chronos – chronological; kairos – critical time, the right time; the time of opportunity. Karios is God’s timing – predicitable, linear time ends and a divine moment takes place; it is an interval of sheer possibility as God breaches the gaps of time and space, deity and humanity. Mary, whose timing may be more accurate than we think, said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (vs. 5) Her son is on the scene and the Spirit is stirring. In an instant of clarity both Jesus and his mother know this is it. There are 6 huge jars on hand to provide holy water for ritual cleaning of the guest’s hands. These too are empty. Jesus tells the servants to get fresh water and fill the jugs to the brims. They do. Jesus then instructs them to draw some out and take it to the chief steward a cross between a sommelier and a wedding planner today. When the steward drinks the liquid, he discovers its wine – and not only wine but the best wine he’s ever tasted. He dashes off to commend the groom and the party flourishes once more.
This seems to us a very strange introductory miracle. Was the Messiah’s role to salvage badly planned parties? Did Jesus come to encourage the drinking of alcohol? Is this really his big moment? What is significant here is that Jesus takes something that is not just ordinary, but dried up and turns it into something that is joyful and life giving. His action tells us that God has come to make life richer – to “gladden the heart” and give us laughter. Whomever said, “Wine is a sign that God loves us and wants us to enjoy life” was absolutely right. This action of Jesus was a sign of God’s transforming power and his desire to bless humanity and that is the Messiah’s purpose – to transform us and to bring joy and hope to us. Jesus came to salvage the party called life. This miracle at this wedding is a sign of things to come – of the water and blood that poured from Jesus’ side as he died on the cross to transform us, of the new life we experience through the water of Baptism and the wine of Holy Communion and of the great wedding feast of Christ and his bride, the Church, that we anticipate in heaven in a future time when time is no more. The turning of water into wine by Christ is a sign that the right time has come and God is breaking through the barriers that separated us from him to give us life. It is a sign of God’s hospitality – of God’s welcome and a sign of God’s abundant blessings and grace.
It is interesting though that at the Kairos of God and the beginning of Jesus ministry he didn’t call a prayer meeting and he didn’t hold a Bible study. Instead he empowers a party. Israel was so stuck in their rote religious practices, ritual observances and losing endeavor for purity that it had dried up. It needed fresh water before a transformation could take place. Has the Church today also dried up? Have we become like empty wine vessels? Have we worked so hard at ensuring everyone’s purity that we’ve lost are ability to celebrate? In so many ways the Church has endeavoured to restrain the Spirit. We have become inflexible and fearful. We have controlled the wild freedom of abundant life with careful logistics and stagnant liturgies. As one woman in Bible Study this week remarked we’ve been doing “Church” more or less the same way for 500 years. The words of our liturgy droned without thought or enthusiasm are a portrait of where we’re at: The Lord be with you! “and also with you.” Lift up your hearts! “We lift them up to the Lord”. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God: “It is right to give him our thanks and praise.” I am sure the guests at the wedding feast in Cana never had to be told, “Lift up your hearts”.
Transformation begins with the question, “What time is it?” This is a critical time in the life of the Church – that means it is also a time of opportunity. Christ is with us which means anything can happen. In Jesus, God has broken through all the barriers to bring us new and abundant life – the fullness of life even more gladdening than the best full bodied wine. We may think the time has not yet come yet here we are in a time and place where the wine has run out. Through Christ’s transforming power our congregation and each one of us can be a sign of God’s hospitality and bring God’s blessings and joy. We can empower the party of life.
What time is it in your life? Sometimes we find it hard to tell. We think that Monday morning at 9 is time to start working through the email at the office; 7 pm Tuesday it’s time to get the kids to their practice; 10 am Wednesday we meet friends at McDonald’s for coffee; 4 pm Thursday, time to pick up groceries; 6 on Friday is pizza time; 7:30 Saturday is Hockey Night in Canada; Sunday morning read the paper and get to church. It seems a dry, mundane ritual unless we remember that any of those times may be God’s time to break through and show his glory. They are moments when old vessels can hold fresh water, when a hug can convey acceptance, when a smile brings warmth to a lost soul, a donation can turn sacristy into abundance, a prayer can turn despair to hope, a word of forgiveness can be a means of grace and when wine gladdens life, lifting us into the presence of God.