Q & R: Wedding in Cana?

Here’s the Q:

I was in attendance at Davidson College Presbyterian Church Sunday, September 24, 2017 and was very moved by your sermon for us that day.  The wedding at Cana is a bibical story I’ve read and heard preached many times over my life.  But your putting it into a broader context was really enlightening.  I was trying to tell my bible study group about some of the points you made and found myself unable to do so with justice to your insights.  I was wondering if you might be willing to share your text with me.  Or perhaps, these thoughts are shared in one of your books.  I tried searching your website for the Cana wedding story to see if it was in one of your books, but if it is, I couldn’t find it.  Wanting to read more or your sermons or bibical teachings for today’s church, I’d also appreciate your recommendation for which of your books I should read first.
Thank you in advance for taking my questions.  I look forward to better sharing your thoughts and work with my friends and to reading more of your thoughts about how Jesus’ call is truly radical for his time as well as today.
Here’s the R:
Here are my notes – hope they’ll be helpful!


Jn. 2:7-21

2On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there for a few days.

Two Sundays ago – 300th anniversary of a Mennonite church in PA. As I preached, record-breaking hurricane named Irma was bearing down on SW Florida where I live. Between each service and speaking engagement, checking phone … landfall: marco island, little 6 mile by 4 mile island where I live.

The previous Friday, I had evacuated with my wife and 90 year old mother. On tuesday, my wife and I returned, leaving my mother with my brother until conditions improved. Flight to Charleston SC, rented a car – 8.5 hour drive, turned into 15. Flooding in SC had closed roads, most of GA too. Hard to find gas. Long lines. Traffic heavy with millions of people returning …

Arrived home at 3:15 in the morning. Haunting. Trees down everywhere. Missing roofs, flooded streets. Darkness … no streetlights. Coming into my neighborhood – road where every single tree was either sideways with its roots in the air or snapped. 4 – 6 foot Storm surge left boats in people’s yards, and in my hard, a huge pile of debris. A beloved mango tree was shattered, damaging my neighbor’s property. So these last 2 weeks – crazy. Sweating. Cutting. Hauling. Talking with neighbors. Simultaneously counting blessings and feeling loss.

Something you don’t expect – how brown a green place becomes. Within a few days, all the trees except pines and palms – the trees with normal leaves – lose their leaves, even though they’re still standing and rooted in the ground. It turns out that the little capillaries in the leaves are destroyed by being flailed by 130 mph winds, so they dry up and fall. A few days after Irma – I stood in my yard, tinkling of brittle dry falling leaves. Almost like a metallic rain.

But those leaves are already back. Most of those trees will survive. Life is resilient. New will come from the old.

That’s important to remember today. Because a hurricane of change has hit our world – not just since November, although I know it feels like it. But think of it like this.

500 years ago, Reformation. New transportation technology – multi-masted sailing vessel. 1517 not far removed from 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, got lost, and was discovered by the native Americans. New communications technology – printing press. New Weapons technology – swords and catapults giving way to guns and canons. New scientific worldview – Copernicus and later Galileo propose a slight revision to the standing model of the universe.

Now, fast forward to our lifetimes:

Transportation – horses & carts to planes, trains, and automobiles … and space shuttles and space stations.

Communications … printing press to radio, to movies, to TV, to cable TV, to the internet and youtube, to these devices that are turning us all into cyborgs, electronically connected.

Weapons – from guns and cannons to bombs, to chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, to suicide bombers …

Science – from Copernicus and Galileo to Einstein and Hubble and Darwin and Freud and a transformed universe, in both inner space and outer space, from the genome to cosmology.

A hurricane of change. You wake up and you don’t recognize the landscape anymore. It seems like the world we know is ending, and if we’re quiet, we hear the tinkling of dried up leaves of the pre-hurricane world. Many people – nostalgia. Longing for the good old days. I get that. Next summer, I’m going to miss those amazing mangos from my splintered tree. Whatever you think of Trump, he found the nerve of nostalgia in Americans, especially white Americans, when he built his campaign around the word “again.” There’s a great desire to go back. In fact, I used to think there were two kinds of people, liberal and conservative. Now – liberal, conservative, and regressive … and it’s actually even more complicated than that.

You see it in religion. Regressive fundamentalism – popular in Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism – and Christianity.

In Jesus’ day, something very similar. And I think this passage speaks to concerns that we all share as we face hurricanes of change.

When people hear the Cana story – water to wine. Chemical miracle. I suppose that’s interesting. But I don’t think it’s the point. Especially because in Jesus time, miracles weren’t about confounding or subverting rules of science. They didn’t know the rules of science. Miracle stories weren’t important because they were supernatural. That wasn’t even a category in their minds. They were important because they were significant. They signified something. That’s why they were called signs and wonders. They signified or meant something, and that meaning made you wonder.

And from that point, what’s amazing isn’t a literal change in the chemical contents of those stone containers. That would be impressive, although really, grape vines take water and soil and turn it into fermentable grape juice every year … which is miraculous in its own way. No, what’s really significant and meaningful has to do with the stone containers themselves.

Stone jars used for ceremonial washing. Deep insight into religion. Traditional religion is about drawing lines between clean and unclean. We wash our hands – because we are clean. They are dirty. We are good, they are gross. We are delightful; they are disgusting. We are in and chosen; they are out and damned.

Jesus – sacrilege of taking a religious or sacred object, using it for a “profane” purpose, wedding, wine. Reception – conga line – table –

120-180 gallons of wine … on top of all that had been purchased before hand! Surplus! Abundance!

What could that mean? Shifting from clean/unclean to anxious/joyous … from anxiety to celebration. In/out to enough for everybody!

Dividing … to uniting! Hostility … solidarity! From an us/them story to a love story!

Now imagine how relevant that is to religion today. Across religions, but especially in Christianity. A lot of people – doubling down on clean/unclean and us/them and in/out. Gay people, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, refugees … dirty! Dangerous! Disgusting! Let’s wash our hands of them. Let’s “cleanse” them!

But more … notice a detail of the text. Best wine saved for last. Direct rebuke to nostalgia. Best saved for last … best is yet to be. The way forward is not nostalgia; the way forward is vision!

The way forward is not fear. The way forward is faith.

A lot of people think religion is dying, Christianity is dying. There’s some truth to that. Many forms of religion have hardening of the categories … and I would say, with the songwriter michael gungor, that we should let bad religion die.

500 years ago, a great reformation transformed Christian faith. It is possible, if we are creative, if we are courageous, if we have faith and hope rather than nostalgia and fear, that this hurricane of change could be our opportunity … to let bad religion die and something new and better and more beautiful be born. In other words, you thought water was good? Wait until you taste the wine! And you thought the old wine was good? Wait until you taste the new!

As you hear the tinkling of those brittle brown dead leaves falling … imagine a flush of green that’s coming. As you look at those old stone containers – imagine that they could be repurposed from divisive institutions of in/out, clean/unclean, us/them … to joyful containers of new wine, so we pour celebrate God’s story of love. That’s what Davidson College Presbyterian Church can be, sisters and brothers, if you will believe.