Sermon: “Up to the Brim” (January 17, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Up to the Brim” (John 2:1-11)
January 17, 2016
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When I lived in Charlottesville I performed many weddings and was often, though not always, invited to the receptions. My wife Steph was usually off with our kids on Saturdays at one of their sporting events, which meant I often attended these receptions alone. At receptions with assigned seating I always felt bad for those assigned to sit at my table, especially if they were people I had never met. You could see some of them trying to hide the look of panic on their faces when they realized they were assigned to sit at a table with the priest. After all, on their way to the wedding it is doubtful they were saying to one another, “I sure hope we get to sit with the priest at the reception—nothing more fun than partying with a priest!”

The conversations could be so awkward. “It was a very nice wedding,” someone would say to me. “Yes,” I would reply, “it really was—they are a really sweet couple.” “Yes, a very special couple.” Cricket, cricket… “Have you done a lot of weddings?” “Yes, quite a few. I enjoy it. It’s a real privilege.” Cricket, cricket… “This is a lovely reception,” someone else would say. “Yes, so lovely,” another would respond. Cricket, cricket… And this sort of “stimulating” conversation would continue…so awkward. In those moments I was always reminded of why wedding receptions are often accompanied by wine, lots of wine.

The setting of today’s gospel passage is a wedding reception. The Apostle John structures his account of the gospel around seven “signs” or miracles Jesus performed during his earthly ministry. The first of these seven signs is Jesus’ transforming water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

Jesus, his mother, and his disciples had all been invited to a wedding. Everything was going smoothly until, as John writes, “The wine gave out.” Mary lets Jesus know about this and his initial response was not so promising. “What concern is that to you and me?” Jesus asks, and then he says something curious—“My hour has not yet come.”

And yet Mary knew Jesus would do something to help because in spite of his initial response she says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” John then tells us that nearby were “six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.” Jesus then orders the servants to fill all six of these jars with water and as John notes, “they filled them up to the brim.” Then Jesus orders the servants to take some to the chief steward, who was the one who realized Jesus had turned the water into wine—lots of wine—anywhere from 120 to 180 gallons of wine. Apparently this was an Episcopal wedding.

And the wine—gallons and gallons of wine—Jesus had miraculously provided for the wedding reception was of superior quality. The steward commends the bridegroom, “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.” John is silent as to whether the bridegroom had any idea of what had happened. Of course, more than likely the bridegroom had his mind on other things. John then concludes his account of this miracle by observing that “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee and revealed his glory.”

Since it is Martin Luther King weekend I am going to connect this miracle with the slain Civil Rights leader.

One day at school when I was in fifth grade I remember watching footage of Dr. King’s stirring and anointed “I Have a Dream” speech that he gave on August 28, 1963 to over 250,000 people in Washington, D.C.. Usually when we would gather to watch films my friends and I would sit in the back and goof off and cut up, but not this time. I was mesmerized by the speech we were watching, mesmerized by the repeated refrains of “I have a dream” and “let freedom ring.” It is a brilliant speech—replete with scripture, replete with hope. I got goosebumps then and when I watch it again online I still do. You probably remember these words:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” This is our hope.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

On U2’s 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire there are two songs dedicated to Dr. King. The first is “(Pride) In the Name of Love” in which Bono sings:

One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One man come, he to justify
One man to overthrow

In the name of love
What more in the name of love?

Early morning, April 4th
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

In the name of love
What more in the name of love?

Bono is exactly right. Martin Luther King indeed came “in the name of love.” He spoke out for love and he labored for love and eventually he died for love—for on April 4, 1968 Dr. King was assassinated by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was only 39 years old.

Back to Jesus’ miracle of changing water to wine…What about you today? Where in your life has the wine given out? Where in your life did you use to say, “I have a dream” but not so much anymore? Where in your life do you need freedom to ring?

Remember that the Apostle John referred to Jesus’ miracle at the wedding of Cana as his “first sign”—and signs, as you know are more than an end in and of themselves; signs point to something greater than themselves.

When Jesus said to his mother Mary, “My hour has not yet come,” he was referring to something that would happen later. When John observed that Jesus’ miracle at Cana “revealed his glory,” he was foreshadowing an even greater revelation of his glory that would happen later.

At the conclusion of the Last Supper, on the last night of Jesus’ earthly life, John tells us that Jesus “looked up to heaven” and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (John 17:1).

In other words, the hour referred to the time of Jesus’ suffering and death. On the cross Jesus indeed glorified the Father and was glorified himself in giving his life for “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics.” Jesus also came “in the name of love” to justify sinners through his mercy, to overthrow the powers of sin and death. From Mount Calvary freedom rang—for John also records Jesus’ words, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). And at his death Jesus was only 33 years old.

And the gallons and gallons of superior wine Jesus provided at the wedding in Cana point to the gallons and gallons of superior love and mercy and grace Jesus provides for you in the places in your life where the wine has given out, in the places in your life where you do not have any more dreams, in the places in your life where you need freedom to ring. In fact, each and every jar is filled up to the brim.

And when you receive the wine at Holy Communion you receive anew this superior wine of love and mercy and grace from Jesus Christ, wine as a sign pointing to the very blood Jesus shed on the cross for you.

Back to U2’s album The Unforgettable Fire for a moment…the second song dedicated to Martin Luther King is the closing track called “MLK,” a brief haunting lullaby in which Bono sings:

Sleep, sleep tonight
And may your dreams be realized
If the thunder cloud passes rain
So let it rain, rain down on him
So let it be
So let it be

The good news of the gospel is that the same Jesus who turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana offers you the wine of his love and mercy and grace.

May your dreams be realized, may freedom ring in your life, and may God fill each and every jar in your life up to the brim.

Amen.