January 16, 2022
Epiphany 2, Year C
To watch today’s worship service click here. Sermon begins at the 9 minute mark.
“Did you find everything you needed?,” asked the cashier at Trader Joes.
“Mmm, not really,” I said, as I looked over my list.
I wasn’t put out about it or anything, because I’ve honestly got bigger things to worry about right now. But I’ve been noticing the gaps in the supply chain more and more as I’ve been going to the grocery store these days as I’m sure you have too.
There was no plain whole milk yogurt. They were out of the chicken soup dumplings I like to make for lunch. I couldn’t find chives, grilled chicken, farro, or the chocolate milk that my kids love. But that’s just how it is these days. Stores are running out of everything.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the fear of running out of things sent people into a panic that actually caused shortages. But now? Now we’re just running out and learning to live with the disappointment.
At the beginning of the pandemic we all stayed home, if we could, to flatten the curve and keep our hospitals from being overrun with patients. Then someone left the door open and omicron raced out like the barn was on fire.
Now we’re not only running out of ICU beds, but the people qualified to care. And still, only 62% of the country is fully vaccinated. That number drops to 36.7% if you think “fully vaccinated” now counts as being boosted -which it does – but “whatever” seems to be the response of most of America.
I need to check my phone and my email every morning to see if my kids have school. I need to check their temperature every day to see if they can go.
There will be no shutdown from above, but there is the very real possibility of a soft shutdown everyday if a critical mass of bus drivers, teachers, and staff contract covid. To say nothing of the fact that I or someone in my household could get covid at any moment.
In the early days, that sort of uncertainty would have sent me into a state of panic. Nowadays “state of panic” is pretty much the baseline for all parents. The only thing we know for certain is that we have no idea what tomorrow will bring and there’s still no end in sight.
So like I said, coming up empty at the grocery store is the least of my concerns. It’s running out of everything else that worries me.
At this point, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve run out…already: run out of energy, run out of patience, run out of the will it takes to keep going through all this as a parent, as a pastor, as a person. And I probably don’t need to, because I know so many of you have been there too.
And if you haven’t. If you are one of the people for whom this time has actually, on balance, been better than ever before, you still know people who are struggling: your kids, your grandkids, the couple who just postponed their wedding for the third time, your friends who teach or perform or practice medicine, the restaurant you love, the theater you used to enjoy…
So whether we are the ones hitting the wall, or the ones deeply worried about someone else at their breaking point, I think we can all relate to the care and concern, the love and the fear at the heart of the Bible story before us today.
“They have no more wine, Jesus.”
They’ve plum run out.
There’s not enough, Jesus.
This will never work, Jesus,
we can’t go on this way,
the party is over
and there is nothing we can do about it, Jesus.
It doesn’t just sound familiar because we’ve all heard this story before. It sounds familiar because we’re living with the fear of running out each and every day. And yet this is the gospel. There’s good news in here for us somewhere. So let’s take a closer look.
As you just heard, Jesus, his mother, and his disciples are all at a family wedding in the small town of Cana just north of Nazareth.
Mary is deeply concerned for her kin because to run out of wine at a wedding wasn’t a mere faux pas, it was tragic; one more sign of the difficult times these poor people found themselves in. One more indication that the traditions they cherish and the expectations they hold dear have been outstripped by their circumstances.
In a culture where hospitality was not just a matter of honor, but survival, to run out of wine 3 days into what was meant to be a week long feast, would have ended the festivities early, brought shame on the family, and been seen as a bad omen hanging over the new marriage.
But what more could you expect living, as they all were, under the weight of Roman occupation. In spite of the fact that many of the guests themselves would have brought wine as their gift, these are a people of limited resources.
There was only so much to go around, such that, by the third day, in spite of their love for this young couple, everyone has used up all they have to offer, exhausted what little they had to give. This feast, which in the old days would have been a sign and celebration of hope and possibility, seems bound to end in disappointment.
And Mary just can’t take it anymore. She will not have it. She is ready to turn things around, ready for the hungry to be filled with good things and the rich sent away empty. She pulls Jesus aside and says, “They have no wine.”
And his initial response is anything but reassuring. “Woman,” – which in this case was a bit like saying “Lady or Madam” – “Woman, what is that to you and to me?”
But Mary is not deterred by his seeming indifference. I imagine her standing there, simply holding his gaze.
“My hour has not yet come,” he says, and she doesn’t so much as blink.
Because, maybe in her heart, Mary knows that this is the hour. The hour to hold out for something more. The hour for a sign that points to better days, like the day God promises in Isaiah when God says, “I will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine– the best … and the finest …(I) will swallow up death forever…wipe away the tears from all faces; (and) remove the disgrace of (my) people from all the earth” (Isaiah 25:6).
Mary holds out until something in Jesus shifts, and then instructs the servants to do whatever he tells them to do. At which point Jesus steps up and doesn’t just make wine, but the finest wine anyone in that little town has ever tasted.
And he doesn’t just make enough to get them to the end of the feast. No, he has the servants fill the great stone jugs that have been put in place out on the front lawn for people to wash themselves in before they leave for home, and turns roughly 180 gallons of water as red as blood.
It is a sign, the first of seven, that the kingdom of God has drawn near. It is a sign, the first of seven, of God’s love and abundance.
A sign Mary herself foretold when she proclaimed all those years before: “The Mighty One has done great things for me.”
And yet only Jesus, his mother, a handful of servants and 12 disciples, see it. The chief steward is as surprised by the appearance and quality of the wine as are the bride and groom. They have no idea how close they came to running out.
The crisis is averted, the party goes on and the wedding is saved, and yet the people at the center of the story know nothing of Mary’s intercession or Jesus’ profound act of grace.
Cameron Trimble speaks of Epiphany as “a time of illumination and enlightenment where the world we thought we knew is pierced by new wisdom and revelation. Those things we took for granted and that were common suddenly become something else, a threshold for awakening.”
In this time of great resignation and deep discouragement, in these days when we have felt, over and over again, as if we have run out and simply cannot go on…I feel compelled by this story to stop and wonder about all of the Marys and the miracles in our midst.
I look back on this past year, the past seven, on all the years of my ministry and I realize that I’ve been running out this whole time: running out of time, running out of words, running out of energy.
It feels a though I am always coming to the end of my reason, my rope, my resources. Which makes me think that God’s grace has been poured out for me, over and over, whether I realized it or not.
After Christmas I hit a particularly low point, so low that I put myself on the prayer list. You know we have people in the church who actually look at that list and pray for you when you do that.
And perhaps that is why – right here in this moment – I feel both completely overwhelmed and inexplicably held. Like many of you, I am not ok – this is all too much and I am not enough – and yet I am also, given the circumstances, doing amazingly well. The Mighty One has done great things for me, too.
Friends, one of the things we can learn from this story is that God doesn’t always broadcast that miracles are afoot, but this Epiphany I am awakening to the possibility that miracles abound.
Miracles that have kept us afloat.
Miracles that have kept the party going.
And I have no doubt, were we to pull back the curtain of this reality, that we would find these miracles coupled, more often then not, to the prayers of people like Mary, people who love and care about us more than we will ever know, people like you.
This Epiphany I am awakening to the reality that there is so much light and love we cannot see, and yet it’s there. So much so that as hard as this season of life has been, as challenging as the rest of life might still be, when my time comes and I stand at that great check out in the sky and St. Peter or Gabriel or Jesus himself asks, “Did you find everything you need?”
I wonder if my answer might not be “Yes,” no matter what.
“Did you find everything you needed?”
“Yes. Thanks be to God. Yes I did.
All I needed… and more.”