By The Rev. Sherry Deets
2 Epiphany – January 20, 2013
You know what they say: timing is everything. Whether it’s telling a joke, making a dramatic entrance in a stage show, or popping the question, timing is everything. When the timing is right, people laugh at your joke, gasp at your entrance, or smile radiantly in response to your proposal. And when the timing is off, they are just as likely to gasp at your joke, smile at your entrance, or laugh at your proposal. Timing is everything.
Which is what makes this wedding at Cana such a scene. The timing goes all wrong. It’s not that the bride or groom speaks out of turn; it’s not that the presider mispronounces names or confuses the vows in a Four Weddings and a Funeral kind of way. It’s just that the wine ran out too early.
At first blush, that doesn’t sound all that surprising. After all, John tells us that it’s the third day of the wedding banquet. Three days means a lot of wine. Now if it were us, we might whisper nervously to some friends and ask them to make a run to the local wine shop and pick up some more. But in this time and place running out of wine too early isn’t a little embarrassing, it’s a disaster. Wine isn’t just a social lubricant, it’s a sign of the harvest, of God’s abundance, of joy and gladness and hospitality. And so when they run short on wine they run short on blessing. Timing is everything. The wine has run out before the wedding has. And it is a catastrophe.
To make matters worse, Jesus’ mother doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of timing either. At least that’s what Jesus seems to think. “They have no wine,” she says to her son. Now, we don’t know whether she was close to the families of the bride and groom and so eager to help, or whether she just was particularly sensitive to this kind of social faux pas. What we do know is that she expected her son to do something about it. But Jesus seems to think this is another instance of bad timing: “Woman,” he responds, taking an oddly formal tone with his mother. “Woman, what concern is that to you or me? My hour – my time – has not yet come.”
But Mary knows better. Rather than raise an eyebrow at his tone or offer a counterpoint to his assertion, she turns to the servants and tells them simply and clearly, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now it could be that, like a good Jewish mother, Mary knew her son would come around. Protest he might, but eventually he’ll listen to his mother.
Or it could be that Mary knew how to tell time better than Jesus thought. She was, after all, the one who brought him into the world, the one who suckled him as a babe and watched him grow, the one who dried his tears as a child and followed him when he became an adult. And so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if Mary recognized that whenever her son was on the scene, it was no ordinary time.
Well, you know the rest of the story. Jesus instructs the servants to fill six large stone basins with water and to draw some of that water, now turned to wine, and take it to the steward. And once again timing is an issue. Most hosts, you see, serve the best wine up front, wanting to make a good impression, and save the cheap for later, when the palettes of the guests have been, shall we say, sufficiently dulled so as to not recognize the drop in quality. But this host, the steward assumes, has bucked the traditional timing and saved the best wine for last. And suddenly this couple has six huge basins – 180 gallons – of fantastic wine, more than enough for even three more days. No one, that is, could now leave this wedding thirsty, for abundance and blessing overflowed.
Timing is everything, and not just in this scene but across John’s Gospel. In fact, there are two kinds of time that animate John’s imagination. One is the kind of time with which we count and track the everyday events of our lives. It is the time that is measured in minutes and seconds, hours and days. It is the time we spend standing in lines, or clocking in at work, or waiting at the stoplight. It is mundane, ordinary time and it beats on relentlessly until that time when we close our eyes and escape it’s dull, predictable cadence.
But there is another kind of time at play, as well, a royal kind of time, where all that is predictable fades and what emerges in its place is sheer possibility. This is God’s time, and it punctures through the ordinary canvas and clock of our lives at unexpected intervals to reveal a glimpse of the divine. So when Jesus speaks of his “hour” he isn’t speaking of a time and date on his calendar, he’s talking about the time when God will reveal his glory through his cross, resurrection, and ascension, the time when God will be accessible to all, once and for all.
That time, that hour, Jesus says, has not yet come.
Or has it? Once again, pay attention to Mary, who seems to know what time it is better than we might expect. For Mary seems not only to believe that Jesus can do something about this disastrous loss of blessing, but expects him to. And the Fourth Evangelist would seem to agree. After all, it’s the third day of the wedding, John says, wanting to grab our attention. And in response, careful readers throughout history have asked, “Wait a minute? Did you just say it was the third day? As in ‘after the third day he was raised from the dead?” Yes. Because whenever there is need and Jesus is on the scene, resurrection and abundance are right around the corner.
And knowing this makes all the difference. For every moment that we live in Jesus, testify Mary and John, has the capacity to mediate the divine. Bread and wine can bear Christ’s body and blood. An ordinary hug can convey unbounded love and blessing. The smallest donation of food or money can tip the balance between scarcity and abundance. A simple act of kindness can make all the difference in the world. And a smile, shared at just the right time, can shed light into the darkest of places.
This peculiarly timed sign, you see, revealed something about Jesus. When he is on the scene, anything is possible. Because, as John testified in the first verses of this gospel, Jesus reveals in his own person God’s grace upon grace. So when Jesus is on the scene, so also is God, accessible, adoring, available to all.
When I reflect on the life and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr., one thing is obvious: he didn’t start out to be who he ended up being. He didn’t set out to be a visionary leader, intent on making an impact on the country and culture of his day. He allowed himself to be created. Slowly, layer by layer, choice by choice, he became himself. He didn’t choose “leader of a mass civil rights movement” from a list of vocational options. His identity emerged gradually from within as he yielded to the guidance of the community and listened and prayed and read and participated and took the risks of creativity that were uniquely his to take.
Underneath who we think we are, who people expect us to be, are as-yet-undiscovered aspects of our true identity–layers waiting to be uncovered. Timing is everything. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the minister of a local church, husband and father, a dedicated preacher who devoted hours to preparing sermons that were theologically sound and probing. This was a good fit for him. He wasn’t searching for a new identity. But he found himself interested in the writings of Henry David Thoreau about civil disobedience and Gandhi’s thoughts about nonviolence. He became interested in some folks who were questioning the color barriers in their town and were beginning to devise ways to stand up to them. He didn’t have answers, only questions. He followed the questions, exploring the hints that came layer by layer, and so becoming more of himself.
So, it was surprising, and yet not surprising at all, that within hours after a seamstress named Rosa Parks had “sat down for what she believed” he had been named spokesperson for a fledgling resistance movement. When he got home and told Coretta what had happened, he said he knew at a gut level that he was being asked inwardly to move beyond words and ideas and to put theory into practice. He said he knew he could no longer stand by and do nothing because to do so was to be a perpetrator of the evil he deplored.
Twenty minutes later the same young man who had a reputation for giving sermons only after hours of preparation was standing before a crowd of about 4,000 people speaking extemporaneously of the challenges and opportunities that lay before them.
Timing is everything.
And so, the question becomes, how would we look at all the ordinary, mundane elements of our lives if we believed God was with us, working through them to care for God’s people. Because according to Mary and John, and because of Jesus, whatever time we think it may be, it is also God’s time, and when God is around all things are possible. Amen.
(based on the Working Preacher words of David Lose).
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