Message for Epiphany 2 & Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on John 2:1-11 given on January 16, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
The steward at the Wedding at Cana has come to expect “business as usual.” This wedding party will be like every other wedding reception he has managed in Cana. He was not expecting anything spectacular to happen because “business as usual” is code for mutually agreed for low expectations. In the case of first century weddings, the agreed upon low expectation was that there would not be good tasting wine for the whole party—only at the beginning when people can still taste the difference. Then after everyone’s had a few, you switched to the stuff out of the box, because no one was paying attention, and because, everyone needed save a buck. And that’s business as usual.
Lousy wine at parties, traffic jams, rude people, slow service, missed deliveries, people not doing what they said, emails going unanswered—you know, business as usual. When we expect things to go according to” business as usual,” we hedge against disappointment. We do not want to get our expectations up and have them come crashing down, so we go out—whether to a wedding reception, to work or school, or whatever life has in store—expecting business as usual.
If you are a person of color in this country, business as usual can still mean being followed through the store on suspicion that you will steal something; being trained by your elders on how to interact with the police in order to stay safe, putting up with any number of micro-aggressions or racist acts during the day—from not being able to jog safely in your own neighborhood, from feeling absolutely invisible, to being the victim of an outright violent hate crime.
Business as usual for our Jewish friends means having an armed guard when they worship and locking the door when service begins, however, this did not prevent the hostage situation in Colleyville yesterday. I am friends with Rabbi Elana Zeloney of Congregation Beth Torah here in Richardson and we talked about how we worshiped during the initial lockdown of the pandemic. Here at St. Luke’s, we worshiped outside without giving a second thought to our safety; Rabbi Zeloney said it was not possible to do that at her synagogue. They would be sitting ducks for an anti-Semite with a gun. Business as usual for them is always to be planning for safety and security against anti-Semitic violence.
Back at the wedding at Cana, “business as usual” was worse than expected, because even the bad wine ran out. Although Jesus and his disciples were at a wedding party—not a political event, not a religious service, not a civic gathering—Jesus made clear with this first miracle that his life and ministry would not be “business as usual” for anyone—no matter who you were, or where you came from, or how awful your “business as usual” might have been.
Jesus turned the 6 stone jars—each holding 20-30 gallons of water—into the best wine the steward had ever tasted. “Everyone serves the good wine first…But you have kept the good wine until now.” It was not only delicious wine—there was rivers of it—6 stone jars full—if they had 25 gallons each, that’s about 3800 glasses or 760 bottles of wine! All of Cana was going to be flowing with the abundance and goodness of Jesus’ generosity for weeks and maybe even months to come!
The disciples would quickly learn that life with Jesus was anything but “business as usual.”
• Walking from town to town would become a parade of healing miracles
• A kid’s sack lunch would become a picnic for 5,000 people
• A widow’s son is brought back from the dead, and Lazarus is raised from the tomb
• Followers and exemplars of the faith included tax collectors, widows, enemies, the poor, children, and mixed race Samaritans!
At the beginning it was, “Everyone serves the good wine first…But you have kept the good wine until now.” And then it became:
• Everyone suffers in misery, but you, Jesus, touch even the outcast with God’s healing love!
• Everyone fends for themselves, but you, Jesus, feed all of us!
• Everyone accepts death as inevitable, but you, Jesus, treat it as a doorway to more life!
• Everyone reviles and casts out these rejects of society, but with you, Jesus, everyone is beloved and given a place to belong!
Everyone expected “business as usual,” but with Jesus, there is no such thing—there is no such thing as “business as usual” in the kingdom of God. There is only radical abundance, lavish surprise, overflowing generosity. Every person fed, healed, embraced, forgiven is treated with the equivalent generosity and love of 3800 glasses of wine.
So, “business as usual” is never what it's about for us as followers of Jesus. Faith and life together as the body of Christ, is about offering people goodness and abundance overflowing—760 bottles worth of love and forgiveness and new life! If people want business as usual—they can find it someplace else—my vision for this congregation is that people come here experience grace overflowing…
• Everyone splits into partisan camps, but you St. Luke’s, center your unity in Jesus Christ so each person matters, and the focus is on faith
• Everyone asks for identification to get help, but you give away burritos and have a free food pantry with no hoops to jump, and only ask, “how much do you need?”
• Everyone judges and rejects LGBTQ people, but you St. Luke’s, welcome and celebrate the whole rainbow of people God made
• Everyone feels isolated when they try a new church, but you welcome and love people with gift bags as if they are already home.
Ultimately our calling as Christ-followers is to offer grace over-flowing—not just here on Sunday morning, but in our daily life. Jesus offers the image of the kingdom at the wedding at Cana as one of overflowing abundance, lavish love—a life where we live together sharing the equivalent of 3800 glasses of abundant love, especially with those who are trudging about in business as usual, or worse, being harmed by society’s ills.
This is ultimately the dream of Dr. King—to win the overflowing abundant love of the kingdom for all. In his Christmas Sermon for Peace in 1967, Dr. King said,
I've seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow, we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say…We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we will still love you… We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.
Dr. King wanted to win every soul—even those who wished him harm—that’s 3800 glasses worth of love, and 760 bottles worth of grace. In this sermon, King held out an image of the wedding at Cana for all—a table of abundance, goodness, lavish love, that was flowing grace where everyone enjoys the fruits of creation, as we celebrate our unity in the God who made us all.
How will you share the radical grace, the unexpected joy of Jesus, who loves you 3800 glasses worth of forgiveness? How will you change the day, the narrative, the experience of someone who thinks that life is business as usual, and instead give them a taste of the resplendent, overflowing, lavish goodness of a God who loves you 760 bottles worth?
Everyone walks around like "business as usual," but you, follower of Jesus, overflow with the radical love and grace of our abundant, lavish God.
Image: Free image from pixabay.com.