To the Brim; Rev. Dee Ledger, January 16, 2022

At the beginning of his ministerial career, Jesus performs a miracle which is very public.  In addition, it is a reluctant miracle—his own mother has to persuade him (push him) to get involved.  Jesus, his mom, and a couple of the disciples are at a wedding when the hosts of the party run out of wine.  Disaster in the making.

Those of you who have been to a wedding or a gathering know those awkward first moments when people are hesitant to dance, that is, until they muster the courage to brave the dance floor in groups, or after they’ve had a bit of alcohol to calm their nerves, making them a bit less self-conscious.  So, imagine a party in full-swing with the non-dancers dancing and the music grooving, and joy bubbling all around until… Until someone asks for a refill and whatever was flowing for the past hours or days—whether wine or otherwise—just stops.  Whatever wine they once had has vanished with the guests returning home to children, or elders needing some shuteye, or the folks needing to get up early for work the next day.

Weddings in the first century were weeklong events.  To run out of party supplies—particularly wine– would be an embarrassment to the groom and his family, not to mention a poor omen for the marriage.  So Jesus’ mother inserts herself into the situation and basically orders Jesus to do something quick because “they have no wine.”  Jesus’ mom understands that when the wine stops flowing, when the folks start to leave, it is only a matter of time before the festivities end. And maybe she’d seen before how Jesus could turn things around on the playground, in the carpentry shop, and at the family table.  Maybe mothers know best and Jesus’ mother knew he needed a bit of a nudge.  Who knows?  She knows a miracle is needed, but Jesus, like petulant child, is reluctant, if not a little harsh—

“Woman,” he says, “What concern is that to you and to me?” 

Now Jesus isn’t the host, but his mother seems to think he is, even though he is a guest like everyone else.  “My hour has not yet come,” he retorts, like the youth who complains about getting up in the morning.  Some folks down the centuries trip over themselves to explain how Jesus doesn’t want to do what he could clearly do because he doesn’t want to hasten his eventual demise, but I think Jesus just wanted to be a part of the crowd at the party.

In any case, I could ask you if you have ever been asked to work a miracle on behalf of a family member or friend but instead, let’s jump to the end of this miracle, shall we?  Let’s get to the moment just after the water has turned to wine or joy or kindness or whatever was needed to keep that party going.  It’s a part of the story that drives me nuts—and maybe you too.

Let’s revisit the part where the chief steward sips the wine and turns to the bridegroom and says how great the wine is, how good it tastes, and how the hosts amazingly kept the good wine until the last.   “Yeah,” we might want to say, “where were you when the wine stopped flowing?”

Maybe you’ve felt the same way about friends or even God.  Hey, where were you when the joy in the marriage ended? Or where were you when the tumor came back and the news turned for the worse?  Or where were you, God, when the shoe dropped or the memory went blank or everyone left?

Whether you interpret the wine as literal wine or symbolic of joy or as something really good passed around and overflowing, clearly it was given by Jesus just as the first supply ran out.  And you have to wonder why that was.

Why does good seem to overflow just when the scarcity is on the horizon?  Why leave the miracle up to Jesus when others can clearly see supplies running low?  What kind of wedding is this where the guests would leave the groom and the bride wanting? Clearly, there is more to this story a couple of bottles of Cabernet.  Perhaps those who came to the party just to get drunk got the inferior wine because that is all they were looking for—to get drunk at the groom’s expense and not to become a communal support for the marriage couple.

And those stone jars—those six huge jars capable of holding some 20-30 gallons—were they only partially full?  They held water for purification, sort of like water for washing hands and the like before entering host’s home, before entering the party.  When Jesus points to those jars and tells the servants to fill them up, you just know those servants slowly shake their heads in weary measure because not only will be a lot of work to move those jars but they are going to have to ferry a whole lot of water to get them filled.  There’s no faucets or garden hose to stretch from the kitchen to the dance floor.

But Jesus tells them to fill the jars and they do so– “up to the brim.”  Interesting detail.  Now, these are huge jars and these friends don’t even see how the water becomes wine yet— meaning, there is no guarantee that dirty water will become what Jesus needs, or that water will become the finest Chablis.  Which makes me wonder if Jesus knew just how much those jars held to begin with.   Because when Jesus asks, only then do they fill the jars—full up to the brim.  Maybe that is why what seems to be the best is offered last; Jesus gets them to put in their very all at the last minute – even as he is reluctant and they are too.  Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: the more they give, the more they possess.”

But some of you may still assume that this is about wine that I am making a fuss over, or about a couple of stone jars that existed in the past.  Here’s the point:  a miracle manifested when those servants repurposed a couple of dirty water jars and filled them full.  Then the wine overflowed.  As Boyd Packer once said, “Some people think a miracle is only a miracle if it happens instantaneously, but miracles can grow slowly and patience and faith can compel things to happen that otherwise never would have come to pass.”  There’s something about the sheer work of carrying those jars from the well to the groom’s home that keeps that party going when those who missed the miracle went home.  It’s not the best for last, but the best as a result of being filled to the brim with Jesus’ wine and not some kind of half-strength, diluted affair.

How many us fill ourselves to the brim with other things than the joy that is our birthright as disciples of Jesus?  How many of us have let this pandemic lessen our faith or our resolve to accomplish good, even great, things for Jesus?  Just as a good marriage isn’t built on a wedding day; movements do not happen overnight.  If there is to be wine or joy or justice that continues to flow unhindered, our efforts must not diminish in isolation but increase in solidarity.  If there is to be a party, there must be partygoers, who like Jesus’ mother, nudge miracles to happen among the reluctant and worn out.

To close, I want to share a quote from Martin Luther King that can give us food for thought today as we consider the changes taking place all around us, within us, and within this church.  When we are reluctant, like Jesus, or when some mother-figure pushes us beyond our comfort-zone, please consider what MLK, Jr once said,

“The soft minded always fears change. They get a security in the status quo. They have an almost morbid fear of the new. For them, the most pain of all pain is the pain of a new idea. An elderly segregationist in the south was reported to have said a few days ago: ‘I have come to see now that desegregation is inevitable. But I pray God that it will not take place until I die.’ He feared living with the change. The soft minded person always wants to freeze the moment, and hold life in the gripping yoke of sameness.”[1]

Friends, what sameness do you want to shake these days?  What stone jar awaits our filling to the brim under Jesus’ direction?  What wine are you saving for the very last moment to share with strangers and friends?  And if the party is to continue unabated, what role do you have—as a drunken participant or as a guest who wants to see the marriage succeed?


[1] MLK, Draft of Chapter I, “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart”



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