Friday, January 22, 2010

Wedding Blues - A Sermon

We live in a strange world. Often small things seem monumental, and then a catastrophe on the order of Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti jars us into reality.

For example, a guy runs out of wine at his wedding 2,000 years ago, and it’s a disaster. Right. In contrast, in the news I see pictures of Haiti’s collapsed buildings, crumpled streets and masses of dead and injured.

The irony is that at the wedding, the Son of God intervenes while in Port au Prince, people wail in the streets, asking how God could let this happen, where God is now, why God isn’t helping them.

I wish I knew why natural disasters happened, and I wish I were able to point to specific actions, specific lives saved and buildings protected and say “This is what God is doing.” But I can’t.

I’m not sure if I can explain why God would intervene in one case and not another.

There is this, however.

Natural and manmade disasters have been happening since before people trod the earth. They have always and will always destroy lives. We live in a harsh world, and Jesus did not change that.

In all his earthly ministry, in fact, Jesus did not once stop a natural disaster. Small disasters yes, but nothing big. His miracles were never meant to change the course of nature or even to cause an end to pain.

We all suffer to some degree or other, and we all die.

Jesus intervened sometimes out of compassion but always with an eye to a lesson. He was teaching even when he turned water into wine.

So, what could be the lesson to today’s Gospel story of a host who ran out of wine at his wedding? First, Jesus is showing compassion for the people he is with.

Running out of wine may seem like a small thing for us, but in first century Cana, it was life-changing. The groom would be embarrassed if not shamed for years to come. The steward would probably lose his livelihood. There will be suffering if nothing is done.,

Jesus acts in part because he is there. The problem is right before him. He acts where he finds himself, and we are called to do the same.

Second, compassion is not always something you earn or deserve. You could easily argue that the suffering of the groom and steward would have been self-inflicted, just a matter of poor planning. They should have bought more. Or if it was too expensive, they should have saved more money till they could afford it. Or invited fewer people.

This is irrelevant to Jesus. He not only intervenes, but he makes better wine than the best. And lots of it. Six stone jars is a LOT of wine. Worthiness has nothing to do with it.

The third lesson is that God loves joy. Maybe it was because this was a wedding – a celebration of life – but Jesus did change the water into wine. He let the party go on and kicked it up a notch. You have to think he saw their joy and smiled.

God loves our joy as well. That’s not the same as pleasure or ease – joy is deeper. And when it’s there, as this story indicates, God celebrates.

Then there is the simple lesson that God does have power. Every intervention Jesus performs is relatively small and localized, but he has power. And as he is God’s son come to show us what life in God is like, we are to understand that God has power.

The problem for us is that we think of power and think it means we can have what we want when we want it. God’s power is love, and part of love is to simply be there.

The lessons Jesus seems to teach us in his miracles like at this wedding in Cana are that we are God’s hands on earth, that we can act in the situations laid before us. That we reach out to others even if they create their own problems. That we seek and rejoice in the joy of others. And that we have power to act.

You and I have power because we are guided by love. Yes, God can do things we cannot – and many of us think he should so that nobody suffers. Ever.

Of course, if that were the case, then none of us would ever learn how to love, how to have compassion, how to reach out beyond our own needs and touch the lives of others.

I don’t know why such horrendous suffering happens to people who have suffered so much for so long already. But I know that God has put their need before us just as the groom’s need was put before Jesus.

The question now isn’t, “What will God do?” but “What will we do?” Amen.