Trinity Lutheran Church, Long Island City on January 20, 2013 on the occasion of Oliver’s baptism. Text is primarily based on John 2:1-11 – the Wedding at Cana. Interruptions that caused me to make jokes during the sermon are noted within the text.
So, there’s this wedding and Jesus, his mother, and disciples were all invited. Now, this wedding wasn’t like weddings we have today. There was nothing about a “big day.” It was more like a “big week,” with a proper wedding lasting seven party filled nights and days. And now, halfway through this wedding, disaster struck: they ran out of wine. And, Jesus’ mother, seeing the problem, goes over to her Son and tells him about it.
Now, for the writer of John ‚Äì Jesus’ mother is…well ‚Äì it’s complicated. I mean, we as a church, just went through Christmas. We know about the angels, the virgin birth, the census, the shepherds, the magi, Joseph ‚Äì we even know Jesus’ mother’s name: Mary. But, John never names her. She only shows up twice in the entire gospel. And her first appearance is right here ‚Äì attending this wedding ‚Äì and telling Jesus that there is no wine.
And then Jesus goes ahead and insults her.
Jesus looks straight at his mom and calls her “WOMAN.” It’s harsh. In the original Greek, Jesus is using a common word to identify a woman that he doesn’t know. But…this is his mom. She gave birth to him, fed him, changed his diapers ‚Äì raised him. And the first words out of Jesus’ mouth is to call his mom a stranger.
I imagine that all parents have experienced this ‚Äì maybe when your child is a teenager ‚Äì and I’m sure I did this a hundred times ‚Äì there’s a fight and the kid, in a voice full of angst, goes “MOOOOM! You just don’t understand!”
[Interruption from Pastor Paul]
Pastor Paul talking to my mom: Now, did Marc ever say that?
My mom (sarcastically): Only once.
Me (from the pulpit): But there are two of us ‚Äì so she got to hear it in stereo.
[End Interruption from Pastor Paul]
Jesus sounds like that here. He sounds like a teenager telling his mom to leave him alone ‚Äì that she can’t know who he is, what he’s made of, who he is called to be. He insults her. He calls into question her love ‚Äì her identity as a parent ‚Äì her identity as a person capable of knowing, deeply knowing, the child that she raised for all those years ‚Äì and Jesus says, like some punk kid, you just don’t get me.
And Mary ‚Äì God bless her ‚Äì does what parents are sometimes known to do ‚Äì she totally ignores what he says ‚Äì and she affirms, that not only does she know her son ‚Äì she has faith in him. She turns to the servants and says “listen and follow” because Jesus is worth listening and following. And the wild thing is that the servants ‚Äì these servants who just heard Jesus insult his mother ‚Äì they do listen; they do follow. They do what Jesus asks ‚Äì and the party is saved ‚Äì the gusts are fed ‚Äì they are nourished ‚Äì until the wedding’s comes to its proper end.
Mary knew her Son. The servants knew to listen. They all had faith.
This story, I think, grounds that word “faith” a little bit. Mary looks like the perfect example of true, deep, and honest faith. She models the aspect of faith that is knowledge ‚Äì a deep knowing ‚Äì a deep understanding ‚Äì a knowledge that isn’t just the right answer, or knowing the right doctrine or dogma ‚Äì but something that fills every crevice of our bodies, ever molecule in our bones, every part of our soul ‚Äì an unwavering relationship with Jesus.
And this is our dream, as Christians, to be that kind of person ‚Äì to be Mary. We want to be so filled with Spirit, grace, love, and faith ‚Äì so we become good Christians – solid Christians ‚Äì capital C Christians. So that the love of God and the love of neighbor ‚Äì they aren’t just some fancy slogans ‚Äì but they are buried deep within us ‚Äì so deep that the many crosses of our lives ‚Äì death of a loved one, a broken relationship, a lost job, a failure that destroys our sense of direction and identity ‚Äì that through all of this, our faith will be unwavering. This is our vision and dream of the ultimate in discipleship ‚Äì and its a dream that, well, sermons, bible studies, Campus Crusades, street revivals, books, articles, even facebook posts and tweets on twitter ‚Äì all try to provide the answers on how to get us to be like this ‚Äì how to become capital C Christians ‚Äì to be…to be like Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr. To be people of solid faith; to be Mary.
But… the trouble is ‚Äì our faith ‚Äì doesn’t work like that.
It sometimes seems that our days are filled being little c christians. christians who, well, when we see a person on subway begging, we don’t know if we should give. christians who know how to help those in need during Thanksgiving and Christmas but not during Memorial Day or Labor Day. christians who struggle to remember to pray. christians who enjoy their brunch, run their errands, maybe visit a museum ‚Äì and just forget that God is even there. or christians who think that God just doesn’t seem to care anymore about me, or any of us.
The strange thing about faith ‚Äì about deep, true, honest faith, I think, ‚Äì is that it doesn’t stop the doubts, the questions, the forgetting, or the struggle. Deep honest faith doesn’t stop feeling as if God is snubbing us or ignoring us; deep faith isn’t immune to any of this. We hope and pray that our faith will be so strong that we will never feel far from God ‚Äì but it sometimes seems, that Jesus is looking right at us and calling us a stranger ‚Äì saying that he does not know us. Deep faith doesn’t stop this from happening. Deep faith sees that even the mother of Jesus experienced this; that even the mother of Jesus, who nursed her Son, who knew him ‚Äì even she felt that fear ‚Äì she heard those words ‚Äì and yet she still turned to those servants around her ‚Äì and said “listen and follow.”
And they did.
In a few moments, all of us, right now, are going to do something faithful. In a moment, my brother and sister-in-law will come on up, and Kate and I will join them, and we’ll bring little Oliver to the font. And we’ll pray that the water isn’t too cold, that Oliver behaves, and that he doesn’t squirm too much. And the entire congregation will follow along in our bulletins, hear the words of promise, and make our own promises. We’ll promise to be faithful to Oliver ‚Äì to give him access to the tools of faith ‚Äì and to walk with him in his journey with God. And I’ll be right there with all of you ‚Äì repeating the same words ‚Äì making the same promises ‚Äì and praying ‚Äì praying ‚Äì that I will be like Mary to him. Praying that, when his older years come, when he stands in front of me and tells me that I do not understand him ‚Äì that God doesn’t understand him ‚Äì that the promises I made here had all failed ‚Äì when he looks at me and accuses me of being a stranger ‚Äì that I will be a Mary to him. That I will be faithful to the promise that I make here, to him, and to God.
Because, the truth is, I have no idea where his faith journey will go. I have no idea if he’ll ever confess Christ crucified and risen. I have no idea if he’ll even pray. Maybe my faith isn’t as strong as Mary’s ‚Äì but that doesn’t stop us from bringing him to the font; from being like the servants ‚Äì bringing him to this place where water and God’s word will be joined ‚Äì and where Oliver will share in the baptism we all share ‚Äì where we were claimed by the kiss of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit ‚Äì where the distance between God and us breaks down ‚Äì and not because we are perfect, or that this is an assembly full of people like Mary who are able to confess Christ all day, every day, and without ceasing ‚Äì but this is where God breaks through ‚Äì and seals us with the promise that God will be faithful to us. That God will love us, give us the gift of faith, give us the gift of grace ‚Äì gifts that cannot be taken away ‚Äì gifts that do not rely on how much like Mary we are, or how much we pray, or how perfect we are ‚Äì but gifts that are promised to transform us ‚Äì whether we notice that or not ‚Äì whether we even feel God’s presence of not.
Our baptism rests in God’s promise ‚Äì and ‚Äì in a way ‚Äì this story of the wedding in Cana ‚Äì this is John’s gospel proclaiming to use that we should not limit ourselves to only trying to be Mary ‚Äì to thinking our only hope is to be the deep, faithful, capital C Christian ‚Äì because there’s more to this story than just a mother and her son. There are those unnamed servants ‚Äì that group of servants who listened and followed; who filled the jars with water, who dipped their hands and cups into those giants jars and discovered the wine of Jesus’ Last Supper, his suffering, and his passion. When we can’t be Mary ‚Äì let this story be our Mary ‚Äì let the gospel stories that teach us that the promises of God and new life, of grace and forgiveness, of reconciliation and being made right with God ‚Äì it begins in baptism. And let us see here, at the Wedding of Cana, that the wine that is found ‚Äì that the wine that is given out ‚Äì it is not reserved for the Marys of the world, or the disciples, or just the servants. But that this wine is shared ‚Äì shared with everyone who gathered at that wedding ‚Äì with everyone who partied for seven long days ‚Äì and that it is this wine that let the wedding come to its proper end; that the guests were nourished by it; fed by it; that it allowed them to take their journey ‚Äì and they didn’t even know that this miracle had happened. That’s the promise of baptism ‚Äì that we are never left to our own skills, never left to our own ideas of faith, never left to our own understanding of what it means to be a capital C Christian. We are loved and sealed with the kiss of Christ forever ‚Äì sealed with the promise of faith ‚Äì the promise of grace ‚Äì the promise of Hope ‚Äì the promise to be nourished at the Eucharist and through God’s gifts of faith and grace. We are promised to be a people who see that Calvary hill, who walk through the shadow of the valley of death, who see the failures, the broken relationships, the distances that we build between ourselves and God ‚Äì and to return to our baptisms ‚Äì to that nourishing stream of water ‚Äì water that splashes us three times but never actually goes dry ‚Äì that water is like that wine at Cana ‚Äì allowing us to say “listen and follow” because brokenness, doubts, questions, worries, and the absence of hope ‚Äì all of that has lost its sting ‚Äì because we know the Cross and we know that Easter follows.