This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, July 26, 2015. The Bible verses used are John 2:1-12.
We continue our sermon series looking at the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. About eighteen years have passed since Jesus was left behind in Jerusalem after the Passover. What were he and Mary doing all that time? We don’t know. The gospels don’t tell us. We assume he continued to live in Nazareth. We assume Mary continued to live there, too. We don’t know about Joseph. After Jesus was found in Jerusalem, Joseph never shows up in the Bible again. If the theory that Joseph was significantly older than Jesus is correct, he may well have been dead by this time. We don’t know. We just know that he does not get mentioned any more.
In our reading, Jesus and Mary have been invited to a wedding in Cana. Cana was about four or five miles from Nazareth, so it was not nearly as hard a trip as going to Bethlehem or Jerusalem. Shortly before this, according to the gospel of John, Jesus had been baptized and had started gathering his disciples. We don’t know if he had all of them yet, but Simon Peter and Andrew are mentioned, as are Philip and Nathanael. We’re told that Jesus’ disciples were also at this wedding, as well as Jesus and Mary.
This is one of those stories where we don’t get nearly as much detail as we’d like. We’ve already mentioned a couple of things we don’t know—whether Joseph is still in the picture and whether Jesus has all the disciples at this point. But there are lots of other things. Whose wedding was this? How were these people connected to Mary and Jesus? How did they come to run out of wine? Why did they tell Mary about that? Why did Mary feel like it she needed to do something about it? There are so many things about this that we simply don’t know.
However, and for whatever reason, Mary finds out that the people in charge of the wedding have run out of wine. And she tells Jesus about it.
Which is another thing we don’t understand, really. Why did she tell Jesus? What was it she expected Jesus to do? Or did she have any specific expectation at all?
Think about it. If, as we assume, Jesus was living in the same town as Mary, she probably was used to asking him to do stuff for her. After all, Mary was not a young woman any more when this happened. Life was hard back then, and life expectancies were not as long. Even if Joseph was still around, but especially if he was not, Jesus was probably used to helping Mary out with one thing and another. People usually do that for their parents as they get older, especially if they live close by like that.
So it could be that Mary, knowing Jesus was the divine Son of God, expected him to perform a miracle. But it could also be that Mary had no particular expectation of anything that Jesus might do. Maybe she was just so used to asking Jesus for help, and maybe Jesus was so good about helping, that she just kind of went, “Jesus, do something”, just assuming that somehow, in some way, Jesus would be able to figure something out because he always did.
Jesus did not want to do anything at first. He resists. He says, “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.”
We don’t know if Mary knew what that meant or not. She was not about to take no for an answer, though. So, she told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. And Jesus helps his mother. He takes ordinary water and turns it into wine. Mary was pleased. Everyone was pleased. And that’s the story of the first miracle Jesus performed while he was on earth, or at least the first miracle that we have recorded in the Bible.
Apparently, Jesus had not planned for this to be his first miracle. We don’t know what he was planning for it to be, or if he had a specific plan at all. Again, he’d already been baptized, the Spirit had come down from heaven upon him, he’d started gathering disciples. Something, at some point, was going to be his first miracle. Yet apparently, from a human standpoint, the first miracle he actually did happened almost by happenstance, by accident. God the Father may have planned it that way, of course, but it appears that Jesus did not.
And yet, after this happened, Jesus’ life on earth was permanently changed. And so was his relationship with Mary. Because from then on, Jesus started his ministry. He was no longer a carpenter who lived in Nazareth. He started traveling all over the area, preaching and teaching and healing. He came back to Nazareth sometimes, and I don’t doubt that when he did he looked in on Mary to see how she was doing and helped her when he could. But after this episode, Jesus’ life was never the same. And neither was Mary’s. There are two things that occur to me as I think about that.
One of them is how, in parent-child relationships, a lot of times there’s that moment when you realize that the relationship has changed. There’s that moment when you realize that things are different now, and they’re never going to be like they were. Maybe it’s when the child graduates from high school or college. Maybe it’s when they get their first job. Maybe it’s when they get their own place. Maybe it’s when they get married. Maybe it’s when they start having kids. But whatever it is, there’s that moment when you realize that my child is no longer my child. He or she is now an adult. You still love each other. You still care about each other. And of course, if you’re a parent, there’s always a sense in which you’ll still look at that adult as your child. But you realize they’re not a child any more. They’ve grown up.
I suspect, when Jesus turned the water into wine, that both Mary and Jesus knew this moment had come. Jesus knew it was coming—that’s one of the reasons he’d started gathering the disciples. And in some sense, I’m sure Mary knew it was coming, too. But I don’t know if she knew it was coming right then.
And I wonder if she was really ready for that moment when it came. She was proud of Jesus, of course. And yet I wonder if, later, she regretted having asked Jesus to act in this situation. The moment would still have happened sometime, of course. I’m sure Mary knew that, just as every parent knows it. But maybe, if she had not said anything to Jesus, she could’ve put it off a while. Maybe she could’ve kept Jesus in Nazareth with her a little longer.
And while I’ve never had kids, I suspect those mixed feelings happen for every parent when this moment comes. You know the moment has to come when they go off on their own and the relationships changes. And you’re proud of them for becoming adults. But still, a part of you wishes you could put that moment off for a little while longer. A part of you wishes you could keep them your kids for a while yet.
And the other thing that occurs to me about this incident is how a small thing can irrevocably change our lives. The way it reads, when Mary and Jesus went to this wedding, they had no idea anything significant was going to happen. Even when Mary asked Jesus to do something, she may have had no idea anything significant was going to happen. And yet, it did. Mary uttered two sentences. She said to Jesus, “They have no more wine” and she said to the servants “Do whatever he tells you”. Ten words. And yet, those ten words changed Mary and Jesus’ lives forever.
It seems to me that happens a lot in our lives. Small things happen. We hardly notice them at the time. We don’t really think about them. And yet, they change our lives forever.
Can you think of something like that? I can. One day when I was living in Pierre, I looked out the window of my apartment. I saw this pretty girl out on her landing, working on a craft project. A week or two later, I happened to meet her in the parking lot when I was coming back from somewhere. Now, we’ve been married almost twenty-six years.
A little more than four years ago, I was minding my own business, watching a basketball game, when the phone rang. It was Bob Ruedebusch, asking if I’d consider being the pastor of the Wheatland Parish. I said, “Where’s that?” Now, we hope we never have to leave.
Our lives can change in an instant. They can change as the result of small things, things we hardly notice. We answer the phone. We look out the window. We go to a wedding. It can happen any time. It can happen when changing our lives is the farthest thing from our minds. And yet, it still happens.
That’s why it’s important for us to stay close to God all the time. Because if we do, then when these small, seemingly insignificant, but life-changing things happen, we’ll be able to handle them. We’ll be able to take advantage of them. And we’ll be able to trust that, even though we were not expecting this to happen, it’s part of God’s plan and things are going to work out the way they’re supposed to work out.
Mary did not expect anything major to happen when she went to this wedding. She may not have expected anything major to happen when she asked Jesus to help with the wine situation. But when something did happen, she was able to handle it. Because she was close to God, and she knew God was involved, and she knew this was part of God’s plan and things were going the way God wanted them to go.So let’s stay close to God. Because a life-changing event can happen at any time. We may not realize it. But if we’re close to God, like Mary was, we’ll be able to handle it. We’ll be able to trust that it’s part of God’s plan. And we’ll be able to trust that things are going the way God wants them to go.