Turning time into wine | February 10


Isaiah 62:1-5; John 2:1-12

Here’s a bit of CMC trivia: In what official congregational document do these words appear: “Thus we pledge to allow sufficient time for work of the congregation and to involve ourselves, on a scheduled basis in the outreach of the congregation, realizing this may conflict with an already busy schedule.”

This is a bit of an unfair question because this is more of a formerly official document.  A big clue is that we are currently working on revising our current version of this statement.  Any takers?

This line comes from our original membership commitment statement, written in the early 60’s.  It’s actually the last line of that statement.  How interesting that when our founding mothers and fathers were naming the commitments they were making to one another as they formed this new congregation, they felt compelled to end by naming a key limiting factor in anyone’s commitment to any purposeful activity: time.  We only have so much time.  We commit, we pledge, we will, we also pledge…”realizing this may conflict with an already busy schedule.”

That very last part about busy schedules didn’t make it into the Revised Standard Version of the Membership Commitment from the 1990’s.  Maybe Mennonites were less busy in the 90’s than they were in the 60’s, or maybe the busyness of life was such a given it didn’t seem worth mentioning.

In the next couple months we’ll be drafting the New Revised Standard Version of this statement – which may look very different than the first two.  We’ll see if stewardship of our time gets named or if it’s assumed that everything we do has to do with time.

At least for today, we’re naming it.

Worship Commission has been kicking around the idea of a stewardship series for a little while.  We’ve settled on a three week series this month on those three key areas of stewardship: Time, Talent, and Treasure.  The fact that we’re doing this well after our fall First Fruits pledge drive, and just a bit after the due date for the Opportunities to Serve forms, either means we are terrible at strategic timing, or  we can consider stewardship free from feeling directly manipulated to give more time, talent, and treasure just to the congregation.  This is not a sales pitch, but it is an invitation into an expansive and generous way of living.

Our text for this morning is the recent-lectionary passage of Jesus at the wedding in Cana.  Also known as the water into wine story.

For starters, this passage makes unique references to time.  It begins, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.”  John’s gospel is charged with symbolism, so it’s unlikely his mention of “the third day” is merely about chronology.  Especially since there’s no clear first and second day that come before it.  Commentators have pointed to the significance of the third day in the death and resurrection.  The third day is the day of resurrection, the day of life in all its fullness triumphing over the powers of death.  Perhaps John is telling us this story has to do with the fullness of life Jesus brings, on the third day.

Taking the third day reference a bit further – John’s gospel begins with a clear reference to the creation story of Genesis 1.  In the beginning was the Word.  And the Word became flesh.  On the third day of the Genesis creation Elohim adds to the waters of days one and two by creating vegetation, and plants with seeds and fruit of every kind.  Of this third day Jesus enhances the water into the fruit of the vine – a new creation of goodness for all to enjoy.

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.”  When his mother points out to him that the wine has run out, Jesus makes another reference to time.  “My hour has not yet come.”  It’s not the right time.  The hour, the time of revelation and unveiling is not yet here, Jesus replies.  But Jesus is no match for his persuasive Jewish mother.  If she says the hour has come, then the hour has come.

It is time.  It’s time for you to show these people what you’re all about Jesus.

What he’s all about, it seems, is enlivening the life of the party.  Six large stone jars, filled to the brim with water, become vessels of delicious, fine vintage wine.  25 CE, or whenever this was, was a good year for wine.   The story says nothing about the particular bride and groom being celebrated.  All we learn is that when Jesus shows up at your event, with a little nudge from his mother, there will be more than enough of the good stuff for everyone.

A final reference to time is John’s indication that this was the first of Jesus’ signs.  This is the beginning of John chapter 2 and there’s a lot of narrative yet to go.  Jesus’ next major action, which John places toward the beginning of his story rather the end like the other gospels, is to visit the temple and overturn the tables of the moneychangers profiting off the poor.  John might be less concerned about chronological time and more concerned about symbolic time.  What might John be trying to say by placing this wedding story as the first of Jesus’ signs?  A third day at the beginning and end of his gospel.  A feast with wine, a resurrection.  The hour has come.

What I find especially intriguing is that what puts this story in the category of miracle has everything to do with time.  Turning water into wine, as any winemaker will tell you, happens all the time.  It just takes a while.  It’s a miraculously natural process.  Evaporation from the earth leads to condensation in the clouds which leads to precipitation.  Some of that water falls in vineyards, or gets piped in, drawn up through the roots of the carefully selected vines which bloom and fruit into grapes.  A time tested process of picking, pressing, fermenting, and storing moves things along.   Keep it all at the right temperature and you’re on your way.  All you need now is Time, the ultimate ingredient.  When the time is ripe, water has been turned into wine.  Thank you Jesus.

George MacDonald has a great line about this.  He was the 19th century Scottish author who helped pioneer fantasy literature ahead of Lewis Carroll and Tolkien and Madame L’Engle.  He was also a preacher.  He wrote: “The miracles of Jesus were the ordinary works of his Father, wrought small and swift that we might take them in.”

The goodness of time – which can heal a broken body, which can turn water into wine – the goodness of time gets concentrated so that we may taste and see.  Ordinary works wrought small and swift that we might take them in.

Wine is a common image used by the Hebrew prophets to speak of the grand banquet of Yahweh at the end of days.  There is a superabundance.  At this table will be rich foods and fine wines.  But the prophets speak of it in future tense.  A feast yet to come.  In this story, the future banquet becomes a present reality.  The celebration of life is now.  Mary elbows Jesus in the side and says, “It’s time.”  And it is.  It’s time for the eternal feast to wedge itself into the present fullness of time.

That’s the invitation.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I think about this in a practical way, I’m “realizing this may conflict with an already busy schedule.”

We are indeed busy people.  This is sometimes a matter of choice and management, and sometimes a matter of necessity.  And sometimes a great injustice.  There’s something fundamentally anti-Christ about a society in which one needs to work three part time low wage jobs and still barely make rent.  It’s hard to taste the sweetness of the banquet feast when you barely have time to eat in between shifts.

Time, as we all experience it, is a limited, non-renewal resource.  No matter how careful we are with managing our time, the further along we get in life the more aware we are of our inability to stop time or even hold a moment.

Time does not heal every wound.  And our bodies will not survive the effects of time.  We live in the first day, we die on the second day, and nobody knows for sure what will happen on the third day.  This water to wine story suggests a transformation.

For now, we do have time.  We have time.  And it almost goes without saying, and sometimes does go without saying, that what we do with our time is what we do with our life.  Annie Dillard writes: ““How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”  (The Writing Life).

What we do with this hour is what we’re doing, and what we’re doing is pondering what we do with our time.

One of the biblical tradition’s great gift into the flow of time is Sabbath.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel noted that while cultures around them focused on the sacredness of objects, Jews focused on the sacredness of time.  The Sabbath, he says, is a cathedral in time, a holy space that we can dwell, which holds us and gives meaning and richness to the rest of the landscape in front of us.

This past week was our monthly Central District Conference pastor peer meeting, up near Bluffton.  We got on the topic of healthy sexuality and one of the pastors mentioned the tradition of the Sabbath being a time when couples were intentional about having sex.  So, there you go, get a bunch of pastors in the room and this is what we talk about.  And now I have just given each of you a come on line you can use 1/7th of the time with your partner.  You know…it’s tradition…on the Sabbath…  The point is when we treat time as sacred, we are intentional about nurturing and participating in things that give us – and the relationships we hold most dear – health and life.

We manage our time, we spend our time, we plan our time, we budget time.  These are important life skills.  We take time to do something. We give our time.    Part of what good religion teaches us is how to order our time in a way that cares for ourselves and for others.  To be generous with the time we have.

Part of what really good religion teaches us is the importance of enjoying time, no matter what stage of life we might be in.

Einstein theorized time as a fourth dimension of the space-time continuum.  As far as we can tell, he was on to something.  Perhaps we can think of the life of the spirit as a depth dimension to time itself.  A fullness, a sacredness where we encounter the holy, the good, the infinite within the confine of the finite.

What if this story of water into wine isn’t just the first of Jesus’ miracles, but the prototype of what makes a miracle miraculous?  What if we saw Jesus in this light?  Jesus came to sweeten and thicken our experience of time.  To bring the eternal feast of the kingdom into the present moment.  To declare today as the Day of Divine favor.  Time itself gets turned into wine, and flows freely.

And, of course, being Jesus, to remind us that this feast is for everyone.  So if someone is locked out it’s time to overturn some tables and fling wide the gates.

John ends this passage by writing: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and thus revealed his glory.”