Sermon: Surprise, surprise, surprise!

butterfly_greenSecond Sunday after Epiphany

January 17, 2016

Do any of you remember the TV character Gomer Pyle? He was originally a minor character on “The Andy Griffith Show” and later had a show of his own. One of his trademark phrases came to mind when I read this week’s Gospel text: “Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise!” This story from John is filled with moments that would leave Gomer slack-jawed with awe.

Perhaps it’s in keeping with a theme that seems to be unfolding in all of our Epiphany texts: Jesus turning up in the least likely places, far away from places of power and influence, doing what no one expects. We began with the newborn king being found not in Herod’s palace but in a humble dwelling place. Then in last week’s text, Jesus was not found in a place of honor and privilege but among the rabble being baptized in the River Jordan. Today’s story is in keeping with this trend. Jesus is again demonstrating his solidarity with humanity by demonstrating his authority and compassion not in front of Pontius Pilate or the High Priest, but for a local family that has run out of wine at a wedding feast.

Now I know that this may not sound like a big deal—an inconvenience, maybe, but not a crisis—but in first century Palestine, an honor/shame culture, running out of wine too early wasn’t just a social faux pas, it was a disaster. Wine wasn’t just a party drink. Wine was a sign of the harvest, a symbol of God’s abundance, an emblem of joy and gladness and hospitality. For them, running out of wine was tantamount to running short of God’s blessing. And that WOULD BE a tragedy. Fortunately for everyone involved, Jesus’ mother Mary is determined to salvage the situation.

And then, SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE! Jesus, prompted by his mother, steps in and provides not just enough more wine for the remainder of the three-day feast, but more wine than the crowd could have consumed in three weeks! When Jesus transforms those six large stone basins of water, he provides close to an additional thousand bottles of wine. But that’s not the best part. The best part, as the baffled wine steward discovers, is that this sudden cellar-full of wine is no “two-buck Chuck.” This is superb, top-of-the-line reserve wine! SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE!

According to John’s Gospel, this is Jesus first act of ministry. First things are always important clues to any author’s agenda. In the next two weeks we’ll hear Jesus’ first sermon from Luke’s Gospel, and it will be clear that Luke wants us to see how it represents Jesus’ entire ministry as healer and friend of the poor. We should pay attention now to the fact that, according to John, Jesus first reveals his true self not in the Temple square, nor in a palace, but at a village wedding party. Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise! Here at the wedding in Cana, John shows us how Jesus is the embodiment of God: expressing in this story the overflowing, generous, delicious, wonderful, abundant grace of God.

The story of more than enough is one we rarely hear, but I think we really need these days. Most of the time, we are surrounded by people who are talking about not having enough (and I’m not just talking about the folks who work on Trinity’s budget). If you listen to the politicians, you will hear an endless list of what is missing in our lives so that we will be persuaded that if we’d just vote for them, everything will be better. If so-and-so were just in charge, there would be enough money, enough food, enough security, enough power, enough privilege.

This may also be a theme in your own lives— you might feel that your home doesn’t have enough room, or your days don’t have enough time, there’s just not enough creativity, enough sense, enough patience, enough faith. If only we loved more, feared less…. I could go on and on. But over the din of this message of “not enough-ness,” Jesus bursts on the scene with that crazy Gomer Pyle voice, crying out, “SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE!” Jesus goes on: “I didn’t come just to make up for whatever you are lacking, I came to bring you more than enough! More than enough blessings, more than enough joy, more than enough of whatever you imagine you lack! Remember the party when I could have just provided a bottle or two of pedestrian wine, but decided to create a liquor store’s worth of the really good reserve stuff instead? That’s what I want to do for all of you!”

Sometimes I like to picture what the family did with all the wine they had left over after the wedding in Cana. Can’t you just see that young couple popping the cork on a bottle of the Special Jesus Reserve on their 10th wedding anniversary? Or at the birth of their first child? Maybe they sipped a glass or two when they made a successful business transaction or a fortuitous social connection. Perhaps they shared a glass or two after their first big fight, with one or the other suggesting, “Maybe some of that miraculous wine will make things better. They sure can’t get worse!” Because the marvelous thing about our God of abundance and surprise is that his miracle at Cana was not a one-time wonder.

Throughout his life, Jesus repeatedly popped up saying, “SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE! You think all you have is two little fish and a few barley loaves? Let me show you what I can do with that!” Or “You think your brother is dead and gone for good? Come out to the tomb with me, and roll back that stone!” And then, again and again, “SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE!”

Why shouldn’t he do that with us now as well? Why would Jesus refrain from attending our board meetings, kitchen table conversations, or group discussions, challenging our notions of scarcity with his own graciousness and abundance? Perhaps we just haven’t paid attention to the fact that Jesus continues to come to our relationships whether we are celebrating or in distress—and perhaps especially when we are experiencing both at once! Just before his death, Jesus told his friends to remember that he was present in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of wine, and I believe he still does.

I believe that every time we host meals and overnight stays for the Road Home, Jesus is reminding us that we have enough hospitality, enough generosity, enough space to share. I believe that every time we cut a check to ELCA Global Mission, Jesus is reminding us that we not only support a missionary in Hong Kong, but also share the Gospel with all of her students and all the parishioners those students will one day serve as pastors. We have more than enough! I believe that every time our building hosts AA meetings or Operation Fresh Start or East High School, Jesus is present, extending more than enough hope and more than enough encouragement to people who need it. I believe that every time we say, “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you,” and every time we reach out to someone who is hurting, Jesus gives us more than enough humility and courage.

The possibilities for how we can see Jesus bestowing abundant blessings among us, around us, and through us, are literally endless! Trinity Lutheran Church, you are not just plain water in a bunch of stone jars! You are a precious cellar-full of God’s very best SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE!”

Here we have more than enough grace to taste and to share! Here we are emboldened to remind each other that Jesus can transform the basic substance of life into something richer, deeper, and more profound. Here we acknowledge when and how God moves through our lives, healing and freeing us, changing what is watery and insubstantial into the finest wine. I look forward to hearing stories how has God surprised you so far, and even more to hearing how surprised you will you be by God’s abundant grace this week! Oh, taste and see that the Lord is Good, my friends! Taste and see!

~Pastor Susan Schneider

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