Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Boring Miracle at Cana

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee...         — John 2

     Chamein Canton, a New York wedding planner for almost fifteen years, has witnessed just about everything that could go wrong: The bride who gained weight and discovered two days before the wedding that she couldn’t fit into her gown; the groomsman who drank too much the night before, leaned too close to a candle during the ceremony and caught his head on fire, prompting the father of the bride to knock out the flames… and the groom; the fair-skinned bride whose friend talked her into getting a spray tan, so she ended up looking like an Oompa-Loompa.   After years of doing weddings myself, it almost doesn't feel like a wedding to me unless something goes wrong.  Usually, it's something minor: A cell phone going off in the middle of the vows.  But at the wedding in Cana, something went terribly wrong.

Weddings in Palestine were major celebrations with extended family and friends that typically lasted a week or more.  And three days into that week, the host family had run out of wine.  Only this is no minor faux pas. According to the customs of the day, it's a social disaster.  Crestfallen, the bride's parents regard each other in dismay. The bride looks over at them, too, tears flooding her eyes. Then she looks to her new husband, who's turning red with embarrassment. His eyes won't even meet hers. The whispering has already started: "They have no wine."  Then, across the room, two mothers' eyes meet: the desperate mother of the bride and Mary, mother of Jesus. In that instant, Mary knows what she has to do.  Mary goes to Jesus and says simply, "They have no wine."
She didn't tell Jesus what to do about it, she simply reported the fact that they had run out of wine.  So often we don't just tell Jesus our problems, we tell him how we want them fixed.  We pray, "Thy will be done,". "But if you haven't got any ideas, Lord, I can tell you how I think you should handle it." Mary should be a good example to us.
Jesus responds by saying to her "Woman, what concern is this of ours? My hour has not yet come.  I guess calling her "woman" might sound a little harsh, but it wasn't.  There is no good equivalent in English for the Koine Greek term translated as “woman.”  If we were looking for the real meaning in English, it might be Lady or Madam. Perhaps these work better if you’re British. The southern English term “Ma’am” captures the Greek pretty well.  It is the same gentle word Jesus used on the cross as he was dying to make sure his mother Mary was taken care of.  He said to his mother, "Woman, behold your son," and to his beloved disciple who was to take her into his own home, "Behold your mother."
Now at this stage of the game, Mary was no blushing violet.  I guess after years of angels popping up saying impossible things, and troops of shepherds, and wise men from the East, and stars, and running for your lives to Egypt, and then having to return by the long road, bypassing your home and moving to Galilee because you were still afraid for your life, having a few more kids, your husband dying... you get a little tough.  Mary didn't argue. Mary didn't plead. Mary didn't nag.  She just went and told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to.
Six stone water jars for Jewish rite of purification were sitting there;  they held 20-30 gallons each. (That's 120 to 180 gallons total).  Jesus told them to fill the stone urns to the brim, and then take a cup of it to the head table.  The chief steward was amazed: this was not just wine. This was good wine.  And the Gospels report him saying something like, "Behold, verily most weddings serveth the Two-Buck Chuck after all ye are drunk, but thou hast saved the $50 a bottle Ferrari-Carano Merlot till now!"
Just a side note here: this miracle took place simply because Jesus did not want the celebration to end.  No one was sick.  No one was dying.  No one was demon possessed.  Jesus performed his first miracle simply because he cared about sparing a family embarrassment and keeping a celebration going.  That should really say something to Christians who believe anything fun must be sinful. I swear, you'd think they were baptized in vinegar instead of water.
And I have to say. What a boring miracle!  Where's the razzle dazzle?  Where's the flash of lightning?  Where's the explosion of smoke and gasp of everyone at the wedding?  The only people who even knew a miracle had taken place were Jesus, and Mary, and the slaves who had filled the water urns.  The mayor of Cana didn't see the miracle.  The rich guy and his wife who owned half the town and drove a gold Lexus chariot didn't see it.  The bride and the groom didn't even know what had happened.  Maybe sometimes to see a miracle, it takes the eyes of a servant.  When everything's going right, and we feel like we're completely in charge of our own lives. we tend to miss the miracles.  But when we take on the attitude of a servant; when things aren't going right; when our lives seem out of our control; when we begin to see others as more important than ourselves; when we have the very attitude Jesus had, we begin to see miracles everywhere.
Jesus’ first miracle wasn't a personal miracle for one person. It was a miracle for the community.  When we get outside of ourselves, and instead of looking for personal miracles, begin to open our eyes to the miracles that take place when we are in community. when we share our lives with others. They happen all the time.
I can't change water into wine (or at least I haven't been able to so far!)  Maybe you've had more luck at it than I.  But maybe we keep missing the miracles because we expect the flash bang type.  Jesus changed the water into wine just to keep the party going.  Perhaps the greatest miracle you and  I are called to do is to simply step into the human situations around us and do what we can to keep going whatever good stuff might be happening, because that's where God is.
C.S. Lewis once said this miracle of changing water into wine is still going on today.
"God is always changing water into wine. In fact no wine exists that didn't start out as water. It's all of the intermediary steps —the root of the vine taking the water, the bloom, the maturation of the fruit, the gathering, the fermentation, the aging and finally the wine."
The only two things that change are whether we are involved in it, and whether we see it.  Moses saw the burning bush. Mary saw the angel. Jesus saw the heavens opened at his baptism and the Spirit of God descending as a dove.
Frederick Buechner writes, "Most people have also seen (miracles). Through some moment of beauty or pain, some sudden turning of their lives, most of them have caught glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded by. Only then, unlike the saints, they tend to go on as if nothing has happened.”
Like the wine at the wedding feast, in this present world, everything runs out.  Food runs out, and we get hungry.  Energy runs out, and we get tired.  And we lose things.  We lose our innocence; we lose relationships; we lose people we love.  Sometimes, we even lose our hope and our faith.  But we have a God who loves to work with emptiness and with simple, everyday, common things like water to create something new and extraordinary.  And no matter how common you may feel, or how empty you may feel, when we open ourselves to God, slowly, without a flash or a bang or a thunderbolt, we find ourselves being filled... and then it begins to run over.  And then, without knowing how, just as that common water was changed into extraordinary wine… just so, we are changed.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hitchhiking with God

     In the path of your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you; your name and your renown are the soul’s desire.     — Isaiah 26:8 

            I make the mistake sometimes of thinking I'm doing a lot more than I really am. With all our prayers, liturgies, Christian symbology, and observances, it's easy to fall into thinking we have God cornered… figured out. Perhaps it's better to understand that all we are really doing is trying to put ourselves in the path where it's likely God will pass by. That's really the best any faith practice can promise us. Because God is the very desire of our souls, all we can do is try to scramble up onto the road, put our fists in the air, thumbs out, and hope to get picked up.