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Abundant Grace

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Gallons of Grace     John 2: 1-11; Isaiah 62              January 14, 07

SCRIPTURE INTRODUCTION:

   •   Today’s scripture from John’s gospel is the story of “The Wedding at
       Cana,” where Jesus turns water into wine. Stories in the gospel of John
       are never linear events moving from point a to point b- rather they’re like
       going down a mine shaft- revealing depth after depth of meaning- (as a
       preacher this is both a joy and a nightmare! – there are so many levels of
       meaning)

   •   For example the wine in this story is not just wine- it’s Jesus blood, sealing
       the new covenant. The timing of the story- on the third day- is code for
       resurrection- this is a story about new life, eternal life.

   •   In fact if we count the days from when Jesus first appeared, to be baptized
       by John, this is not the third day- it’s actually the 7th day, and this has
       significance.

   •   Seven, connotes fullness, completion. On the Seventh day God rested-
       when creation was complete. The Sabbath is the seventh day of the
       week. In Jewish thinking, the Sabbath is like a wedding- between God
       and human kind- a day set aside just for “us and God”- for our being
       united with God.

   •   And sure enough on this seventh day, this Sabbath Day, we find ourselves
       at a wedding.

   •   Jesus is there with his disciples- Half the previous chapter was devoted to
       their being drawn to him, wanting to see who he is. He told them to stick
       around and they would- and now at this wedding they have their first
       chance

   •    John speaks of what happens at the wedding not as a miracle but as a
       sign- what is important is not the event but what it points to: what it tells us
       about who Jesus is.

   •   So put on your seat belts as we descend into the Word of God- according
       to John 2: 1- 11




GALLONS OF GRACE
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I didn’t know my father, but apparently he was not a great “catch”. An alcoholic,
    abusive when drunk. My mother says she married him because she was
    afraid- that no one else would ask her. It was SO IMPORTANT to be
    “MARRIED”. Not to be left on the shelf…

Perhaps it is still important, though to a LESSER degree - if you’re married it
   means that you’re CHOSEN. SOMEONE at some time decided that they
   WANTED you- YOU, above all others, to be their life partner. SOMEONE
   thought you were worthy. Marriage confers WORTH. It’s not the only way of
   conferring worth, but it is one way.

It was ESPECIALLY so in ancient times.

This was the reason, Jesus says, that a man leaves his father’s household- to
   become one with his wife, to set up his own household, to take a place of
   responsibility in the community. To become a father, a man of standing and
   worth.

And for a woman, it was her assurance of material security, safety, and the
  STATUS that MOTHERHOOD would bring. To be married conferred
  WORTH.

Marriage was so CENTRAL to a blessed life that it was often used as an image
  for GOD’S relationship with GOD’S PEOPLE. Isaiah says
      Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged,
      you will not suffer disgrace; .
      For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name;

The Jewish people thought of God’s covenant with them as a marriage – where
   God desired to be one with them, chose them, conferred worth on them.
   Marriage was and is the richest, deepest relationship conceivable.

This precious life of being married begins, of course, with a wedding. Oh the
   stress of it- such an important day one doesn’t want anything to go wrong-
   like running out of hospitality –running out of food or wine.

Now a middle eastern wedding in Jesus time lasted 7 days- - Remember-7
  signified fullness, completion-   7 days expressed a hope for fullness of joy
  in that marriage. So it was important to celebrate for the full 7 days.

But in real life, of course, things seldom work out as planned. The “wine” so
   often does run out too soon. In real life nothing lasts as long as we might
   want it to.
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Patience, kindness - run out. Love runs out. Energy and time run out. Health
   and for all of us, ultimately, our life runs out. At times our hope and faith run
   out, and we wonder what is the point of it all.

This is the reality of being human, mortal. All things have an end. And there in
   the little town of Cana in the backwaters of Galilee, the wine for a wedding
   has run out – too soon. It is the groom’s responsibility to provide enough
   wine- but now shame, disgrace is about to descend……

Jesus is there, with his disciples- and also his mother, when disaster strikes.
   .There is a whispered conversation.

Mother to Jesus: “they have no more wine” Jesus to mother: “it’s got nothing to
  do with me- this isn’t my time yet”. Mother beckons to the servants and, loud
  enough for Jesus to hear, “ do whatever he tells you”.

What do we make of Mary butting in here? This is the first time we meet Mary in
  the gospel of John. There is no birth story ; instead John shows Mary birthing
  Jesus’ MINISTRY, so to speak, galvanizing Jesus into ACTION, to show who
  he is.

“Do whatever he tells you, “ she says to the servants.

What Jesus tells them to do is very strange. There are 6 large water urns
  standing there for ritual washing. Together they hold 180 gallons, and Jesus
  tells the servants to fill them up. FILL them up, he says. And they do
  EXACTLY that          -they FILL the urns-- not ¾ full not 7/8 full or 15/16 full,
  but, we are told, FULL - to the very BRIM.

And this FULLNESS draws us back to John’s earlier words about Jesus where
  he says, “from HIS fullness WE have received GRACE upon GRACE.

When the clay urns, according to Jesus word, are FILLED TO THE BRIM, the
  water is experienced to be not just water, but WINE. It’s a mystery, and a
  sign.

A mystery that mirrors the mystery of who Jesus is: not just a human being but
   also the fullness of God. As Paul says of Jesus – “in him all the fullness of
   God was pleased to dwell.” A mystery.

And a sign. A sign that points to the abundance of grace that comes to us
  through this Jesus of Nazareth, his life poured out for us, grace abundant like
  180 gallons of wine.

More than enough grace for all the wine of our life running out. More than
  enough for all our failures and weakness and plain stubborn wrongdoing.
  Grace sufficient, for every disgrace that comes upon us.
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We probably know that prayer that goes, “Thank you God that I have not said
  anything wrong today; I’ve not been impatient or lost my temper, I’ve not been
  selfish or harmed anyone. And now I pray, please be with me as I get out of
  bed….”.

180 gallons of grace awaits us every day, for all the times we run out of kindness,
   all the times we run out of love, run out of patience, energy, time, faith, hope.
   180 gallons of grace, to fill us, renew us, empower us and bring us joy.

Grace that is accessed by turning to Jesus, as Mary does.

Mary doesn’t tell Jesus what to do. She simply brings the problem to him, and
  leaves it with him. She’s not put off by the possibility that this is not the right
  time, or that Jesus might not be willing.

She brings the problem to him and leaves it with him, trusting to his goodness.
  Trusting that he CARES about a young couple, not important enough to
  anyone else for their names to have been recorded, she trusts that Jesus
  CARES and will ACT.

All around us, people whose names we do not know struggle with dead end
    situations, with shame and loss.

People who have lost hope that they will ever amount to anything, that anyone
  will consider that they are worthy- worthy of employment, worthy of love and
  friendship, worthy of a place in society.

In every corner of the world, there are nobodies who have nothing, who wonder if
    anyone thinks they are worthy to be alive.

And all over the world, there are whispered conversations- prayers. Jesus,
  they’ve run out – of food, of money, of hope, of shelter, of health- please,
  Jesus, do something.”

Jesus DOES care. God cares for every last little person, for whom the wine of
   life has run out.

But who will bring the water to fill the urns, so that God’s abundant grace may
   flow? Who are the servants who will do Christ’s bidding?

Even though it may seem foolish? Even though no one may know or appreciate
   the action?- (At the wedding, the guests were too drunk to APPRECIATE the
   new and better wine ..only the SERVANTS knew where it had come from )

Who will do the hard work of bringing the water and for no reward?

And it had to be a HUGE amount of work to fill those urns to the brim- to FIND
  180 gallons of WATER would be difficult in a land where water is not plentiful;
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   to CARRY 180 gallons of water and fill the urns is a huge enterprise. I have
   no idea how the servants did it-

They must have done what human beings do in a CRISIS: used all their savvy,
   resourcefulness, strength and energy to the very limit. And they did not stop
   until the urns were filled to the brim.

Would we be willing to be those servants?

Last week, some of us participated in a renewal of faith commitment - we
   promised to bring our whole selves under God’s will- to offer our whole selves
   – to the very brim, so to speak,- in God’s service-

We asked that we might be put to work- whether it brought us suffering or
  success, whether it brought fullness or emptiness, whether it brought reward
  or reproach.

We asked God to use us. Some of us, no probably ALL of us, may have
  blanched at the words, and thought, “I can’t do this- how can I possibly do
  this?”

Humanly speaking, we can’t. Not in our own power. But here is the mystery: in
  offering our whole selves to the very brim, so to speak, and not holding back,
  we somehow allow a transformation to take place in us.

What we have offered becomes more than we have brought. What we have
  brought becomes infused with the grace of God, that abundant grace that
  now fills us to the brim, and in that grace we find that we can do everything
  that is necessary.

Next week Rick Tobias will be speaking about the work of Yonge St mission.
  About poverty in the city- Many of us are TROUBLED and CONCERNED
  about hunger in the midst of our affluence. We’re stunned, for example, at
  the insanity of expecting a welfare family to manage weekly with the roughly
  $30 left over after rent.

We’re stunned, but we DO nothing, many of us- not because we don’t CARE- but
  perhaps because we feel small, inadequate, impotent- we don’t know what to
  do. HOW to impact the political will. And besides, our own lives are busy and
  fragmented, and we’re consumed with our own worries.

The message of today’s scripture is that what is impossible for human beings is
   not impossible for God.

If we bring to God all the water of our lives, so to speak, all that we are and have,
    though it may not be adequate, if we truly commit our whole lives to serve
    God and God’s purposes, God WILL put us to work.
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Perhaps in ways that may not seem immediately USEFUL. But if we are willing
   to do what is put before us WHOLEHEARTEDLY in God’s service, the
   mystery of grace will begin to work – The wine of God’s abundant grace will
   flow.

You know, it’s such a PRIVILEGE to be a servant of the Lord. It’s a PRIVILEGE
  to be the ones asked to do the work, to be the CHURCH, servants of God, to
  be asked to bring everything we have-

Because in doing so, WE get to see God’s miracles. We get to know where the
   abundance comes from- not from ourselves, but from Jesus. We get to see
   who Jesus is: the eternal bridegroom, the one who supplies wine that does
   not run out; the one who endlessly raises the cup and says here it is, wine for
   the world, my life, so that you may have joy.

In Jesus hand, the clay vessels that WE are BECOME that cup of grace. In
    Jesus hand our lives overflow with that abundant grace. In Jesus hand we
    become vessels to carry those gallons of grace to the world.

When I try to picture the abundant grace of God in a human being, I see the face
  of Susan Sarandon, as she plays sister Helen Prejean in the movie, Dead
  Man Walking.

Sister Prejean, a Catholic nun, has innocently been corresponding with a man on
   death row. Suddenly she finds herself asked to be his spiritual counselor
   during his last days. She is way, way out of her depth. Way beyond anything
   she’s ever done.

Called now to bring to him the grace of God, grace to a man who cannot admit
   any need for grace- who almost to the end defiantly denies that he killed or
   raped.

But somehow, before he dies Sister Prejean’s love gets through to him. He says
   he never really knew love before - it seems he has to die to find out what love
   is. He realises that if he tells her the truth, her love will not go away, and in
   agony, he does confess to her.

She tells him that he is a “Son of God”. He says he has never been called that
  before. (he’s been called a son of other things…) She says, “keep your eyes
  on me. I want you in the last moments in this world to see the face of love.
  Look at me.”

Abundant grace, beyond all HUMAN ability, in a clay jar, overflowing to the one
  who does not deserve it, calling him God’s beloved, giving him worth and
  dignity.
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When we bring to God all of who we are and what we have, there is a miracle
  that happens, that only we the servants know. All our inadequacy becomes
  through the grace of God sufficient for the task.

Grace flows and the wedding continues- - And God rejoices. As the forsaken are
   restored; the undeserving are deemed worthy, the outcasts are embraced,
   and even we are called beloved.

To God be the praise, the honour and the glory. Amen

				
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