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Peeking Through the Window of Grace
a sermon based on John 2:1-11
by Rev. Randy L. Quinn
Allen Blanchard UMC

Last month I heard people looking forward to January as a time when life's hectic pace would slow down. But just this week, some of those same people confessed to me that life hasn't slowed down for them at all. In fact, life seems even more frantic. And they're getting tired.

I recently purchased a new computer program that I hope will increase my effectiveness as your pastor. It's taking time to learn how it works, but I found myself this week congratulating myself: "You did the right thing in buying this program. It's going to make your life much easier." Then I learned this week that it couldn't do one of the things I had hoped to be doing. It may not be all I had hoped it would be. I'm not sure I really am on top of everything. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if it's going to save me time in the long run.

Maybe it's just the winter gloom setting in. You know, the season of cloudy skies, short days, long nights, wet roads, mud tracking into the house, into the car . . . just plain 'yuck'. And in the midst of that, I'm beginning to work on our income taxes, not a pleasant task for most of us even when we remember that it's the simple cost of living in a land of freedom.

And as I began looking over my tax records this week, I found myself in front of the TV watching the coverage of the funeral for the Seattle Firefighters. And I wondered, is there any hope? Will there ever come a day when we can celebrate and experience the joy promised by God?

I imagine these are familiar feelings to the Disciples as they gathered in the Upper Room following the crucifixion. Life seemed pretty hopeless . . .

. . . until the third day, the day of resurrection.

In the days of Jesus, weddings were a major community event. The celebration would last several days, and the host would be evaluated in his community by how well the party was handled. To have the wine run out before the party was over would be a major error.

Mary understood this and had a great deal of empathy for her hosts when the wine ran out. The future looked bleak, not just for the party, but for the rest of their lives in the community.

Some have made conjectures about the hosts and their relationship to Mary. A family member? A close friend? It doesn't matter, I think except to realize that without the response of Jesus, the party would be over.

I understand that in the Neckar Valley of Ontario there are many vineyards where grapes are raised for wine production. An early frost several years ago caused the grapes to shrivel up on the vine and threatened the year's crop.

It seemed as though their party was over.

But some began to see a hidden gift in the frozen grapes, a gift only seen by those 'who had eyes to see.' Someone decided to use the frozen grapes, making what soon became known as "ice wine". The exotic appeal of this wine became an instant success. So much so that some growers intentionally wait until after the first frost to harvest their grapes now.

But someone had to be looking for a window of hope, a glimpse of grace, an opportunity for God to provide in the midst of apparent disaster.

It amazes me how often I find myself or witness others making decisions and acting as if we were entirely self-sufficient. We make New Year's Resolutions anticipating that we can actually change our habits and behaviors by sheer will-power. We begin a new job, a new day, a new week with a sense of confidence in our abilities and the assurance that we can handle any thing that may come our way.

We look for how we can accomplish something rather than looking for how God wants to meet our needs. We find ourselves looking at the gloom and not looking through the window into the light of God's glory and the gifts God has already provided for us.

Rabbi Kushner, in his book When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough, says that the most profound religious thought can be found in the Talmud, where it is written, "in the world to come, each of us will be called to account for all the good things God put on earth which we refused to enjoy."

Maybe we have not allowed ourselves to see the signs of God's presence. Maybe we have missed out on a special gift of God because we haven't seen.

You see, it wasn't the wine steward that recognized the gift God had provided. Nor was it the groom. Neither was it his family that recognized what had taken place at the wedding feast. It was the servants and the Disciples who had eyes to see, who saw through a window and caught a glimpse of God's goodness, God's grace.

Early on this week, I realized that this passage isn't about a wedding. We don't even know who was being married! (We may be able to learn about God in and through marriage, and we may even recognize in a wedding a marvelous window into the nature of God, but that is not what this story is about.)

Nor is this story about water becoming wine. We, like those in the story only begin to realize what has happened after it has happened. No, this story is about belief. It's about seeing a sign of God's presence in our midst that leads us to believe, that leads us to celebrate. Only a few people saw it that day, and only a few responded. Whenever we face the darkness of life, it's an opportunity to look through a window into the light of God's presence. Like the water turned into wine, we can sense that God is at work in our midst, meeting our needs and giving us cause to celebrate.

This story begins with a rather unusual opening comment: "on the third day there was a wedding. . ." Is this on Tuesday, following Sunday and Monday in the week? Or is it some other reference to time? Perhaps John wants us to think this is the third day after Jesus' baptism. That might work since each story in the first chapter of John's gospel begins with the phrase, "the next day he (John or Jesus) . . . (Jn 1:29, 35, 43).

I believe John uses the phrase "on the third day" for a very specific reason. Like the gathered Disciples in the upper room, those at the wedding party were facing a bleak and unknown future. Like many of us in the middle of January, life looks pretty gloomy.

But God, in Jesus, was present and able to create a new moment, a new opportunity to celebrate. This is a prelude to the resurrection. It is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. It is the setting out of which the new covenant is born. And God, in Jesus, is present with us today. This is the day God has recreated for our benefit.

When Ronda and I were married, I wrote a poem about the transition my life was taking. I knew that what was before would never be again. All my life to that point was a prelude for this new life, this new adventure. It was both exciting and frightening to give up everything I knew and to give myself totally to her.

At the wedding in Cana, a man gave himself to a woman and she gave herself to him. They gave up what they knew and took off on a new life together.

But it's also true that at the wedding feast, Mary gave up what she knew and turned it over to Jesus; the servants gave up what they knew and did as they were told; and the Disciples gave up what they knew and followed Jesus.

This story is an invitation to become vulnerable to God by giving to God all that we are in the anticipation and hope that God will provide. A crisis, then, becomes a window of opportunity through which we can experience the wonderful grace of God as we learn to rely upon God rather than ourselves.

Thanks be to God. Amen.