What's with the wine?

Preached January 17, 2010

Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church

When I was 16 years old, I went to a wedding, in Haiti.  The bride and groom from the tiny village couldn’t stop smiling. The small cinderblock church building was hung with flowers and greenery and packed to overflowing with people.  The bridesmaids wore flowers in their hair and had found somewhere buried in the collection of donated T-shirts we’d brought along, the ones the church ladies had hidden in horror after we arrived – six matching pink shirts with an image of a guy in a boat and expletives across the bottom about rather being fishing.  They had dug them out and, not knowing the English translation of the symbols and words they were wearing, proudly came down the aisle in matching pink.
Everyone waved palm branches like it was Palm Sunday, as the wedding party danced in.  There was singing, so much singing, and laughter, and joy.  And after the ceremony, we turned the pews towards tables and we feasted, a goat they had killed for that night, and the specialty that the Americans brought along that was served alongside it- popcorn.
If Jesus had been at that wedding, there would have been wine. But there didn’t need to be. Jesus was there, we had our wine. In the midst of that celebration we lacked for nothing, poverty was not a concern; it was a taste of rich and abundant joy.

In John’s gospel we have a story of a wedding, and this story is a sign - it is about a wedding, but it’s not about a wedding. Jesus came and did something entirely unexpected; the jars of water for cleansing are turned to wine.  Good wine, the best wine, and more of it than they could drink, abundance and vitality where there was lack and no expectation for anything different.  It points to joy, fulfillment, the promise of the arrival of God’s new age anticipated in the Old Testament, it has come in Jesus Christ.  It is symbolic of God’s eternal purpose and overflowing grace.
It calls us to trust, it beckons us to faith – that God can do more than we could ever ask or hope.

But it’s not a wedding right now in Haiti. It’s not a celebration. It is nothing short of hellish suffering and horror.  And it seems ridiculous, inhumane even, to talk about God giving wine when there is not even any water. 

I had the urge to yell back at this text all week long, what is this wine? We need water, plain water, nothing fancy, no abundance, no over the top moves, here, we’re not asking for parking spots and special perks, we are asking for life and death help, and water.  Just plain old water will do. 
What place is there for wine when there is no water?
How do we talk about God bringing things like abundance, joy, happiness in the face of such devastation?

There were reports, the first couple of nights, that all over the city of Port-au-Prince, when the sun went down and there was no electricity to aid the searching, and people tried to find somewhere to sleep on the streets, and those crying out from under the wreckage eventually went silent, a sound could be heard, rising above the rest, the sound of singing – all over the city, church groups singing.  In the darkness, in the fear, in the unknown, music of hope, rising above the rubble.
A song does not belong here.  It belongs with weddings and joy, with feasts and fun, happiness, hope. It has no place in terror. It can’t dig people out of collapsed buildings or bandage open wounds; and it seems counter to what anybody needs or feels to sing.
But in that moment, the song becomes what sustains them; a promise, heard in the dark, a benediction shared, hope coming from outside of what they are experiencing in the moment. It points to a reality beyond what they can see and know; it proclaims a truth that exists in a completely different context than where they find themselves at the moment.
The song is the wine.

They need water in Haiti. Yes.
But they need more than water. They need the wine.
They need the jars that hold the foot water to be filled not once again with foot water, the status quo, the ordinary maintenance of an impoverished and unjust existence. In a city that had no clean water before any of this even happened, they don’t need things to go back to the way they were.

They need wine, they need the eschaton, the great wedding feast, where all will be fed and made whole, and filled with joy, and there will be no more pain and suffering. 
Ultimately we need beyond what is ours to provide, more than what we’re capable of seeing as possible. 

And even when it presents such a stark contrast with what we see in front of us today, maybe especially now, this story of Jesus’ first miracle is a reminder of a promise – that the God of steadfast, abundant, overwhelming love can act.

So, then why doesn’t God?  Where is God in this?

“They have no wine!” Mary says to Jesus,
“What concern is that to you and me?” He answers.
“Whether it is of concern to you or not, I can’t say,” Mary, the one with faith says to God incarnate, “I am telling you, they have run out of wine and you can do something about it."

I don’t know what it means, Jesus, your time has not yet come…
Why not? I want to answer, this seems like a pretty good time to me.
I don’t understand.
So I will keep on asking.
Like Mary, I will keep on speaking to God about these things – the wine has run out, there is no water, things are really really bad.  God, do something. Do something

There is another story of wine, that I think of today.  It is when Jesus stands before his disciples and lifts the cup and says, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  And he tells them to drink it, to share in his broken body and spilled blood as he shares in ours.
“This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, shed for you.
Drink this wine and remember."

And then he dies, the God of our humanity takes on himself our suffering and death and fear and aloneness so fully that it extinguishes his life.
And on the 3rd day, when the dead are really dead and not coming back, he rises, and breaks the power of death to separate us from God.  He is the life of the world. He is the hope of the world.
On the 3rd day, there was a wedding.

Jesus is NOT at a wedding instead of in Haiti.
He is not only in abundance and joy, and ignoring the cries for help.
The God of the cross is there right now, he is under the buildings with those who are afraid and alone, and clawing at the cement with his bare hands to free them, and weeping with the orphans and widowers, and standing with every single person there or anywhere who suffers in any way. 

I don’t know why God doesn’t keep horrific things from happening.  But if God is found anywhere, it is with those who suffer.
And also, we do believe God is abundant in love and faithful, and generous. You and I have seen this in our lives, and like the disciples, we believe.
So like Mary, we will not let up - because we do trust God, even when we don’t understand. 

And that is our calling, actually. We will be the ones who ask, the ones who expect that God can do something different than anyone can imagine, that God can intervene to change the course of things and so we will keep on asking, and keep on asking, and maybe even wont take no for an answer. 

We will speak out the need, and we will live from the future reality – that poverty and injustice have no place, and we will not accept them.
We will sing in the darkness,
We will embody the hope: that the world our God intends and promises is one where nobody is thirsty, or alone, or afraid,
and so we will stand with those who are,
and we will give generously,
and love profusely,
and trust in the unexpected end,
and raise our glasses in anticipation,
and with every breath say, “Come Lord Jesus.”

Come Lord Jesus.

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