Saturday, May 18, 2013

When the Wine Runs Out

At Faith Baptist Church in Georgetown, Kentucky, I heard Pastor Bob Fox preach my aunt’s funeral service. He used the story of Jesus’s changing water into wine as a symbol of my aunt’s hope and growth after personal devastation in her own life.

So I am borrowing some from Bob, because we all want to have our water turned to wine.

The gospel of John doesn’t speak of miracles, preferring the word signs.  The actions of God’s power in the world through Jesus are not merely wonders, but signifiers that point to another reality.  And John, so that we don’t miss it, says that this first sign of Jesus manifests his glory.

In the funeral service, Bob talked about a pattern made up of a celebration, a grief, and then a better celebration.  In that pattern there is a manifestation of God’s glory.  God is present both in joy and in sorrow.  And in our sorrow, Jesus is working to bring us joy. 

For us, I would describe the pattern as the joy, the mundane, and then a better, renewed joy.  In that pattern too is the manifestation of the glory of God.  And like grief, our mundane times also are visited by God – He is present even then.  And in our mundane times, Jesus is at work to prepare us (in the words of Frank Lewis) for what He has prepared for us – renewal, service, a greater joy.

I don’t know exactly when the wine ran out for each of you reading this, and I don't know precisely how your life has manifested the symbolic lack of wine. For some, it has been disease or divorce or depression.  For others, it is a loss of enthusiasm for work or relationship or church.  For still others, it is simply the continuation of the same, the mundane.  And for all of us, it is our choice not to rely on the supernatural as we strive for our own independence, our own self-reliance.
To say that the wine has run out does not mean that you are dead, dying, living in sin, or ineffective.  Drinking water is perfectly acceptable – it can even be healthy.  Don't read this expecting a rehash of how you got to where you are now.  It does not matter. The point of the water-to-wine story is not the water; the points are the wine and the winemaker. 

The Problem – The wine has run out.

This is not just a problem for the drunks in the crowd.  It is not even just a minor social faux pas.  It is a big deal – the host at a wedding had an obligation to provide, and in that day, wine was required.  The host could actually be sued for a want of hospitality.

The Jewish rabbis had a saying, “Without wine there is no joy.” 

Of course, this is not just a story about a party.  It is not just a story about a wedding.  And it is not just a story about a lack of alcohol.

Our wine can run out too.   When we have no resources available, we tend to turn to diversion.

Note that John says “When the wine ran out…”  It is expected.  Our wine always, eventually, runs out.  We weary of doing good.  Note also that the wine ran out while Jesus is at the party. Just because Jesus is there does not mean the wine will not run out.

Frank Lewis has another favorite saying: “It is always too soon to quit.”  When the wine runs out, what do we do?

When the wine runs out, we turn to Jesus.

Mary could go shopping.  She could ask the neighbors to borrow wine.  She could start berating the help.  She does none of that.  She turns instead to the source.  She tells Jesus the problem, and then she manifests the great faith to say to those around her, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Mary does not know what Jesus will do, but she knows Jesus. 

Dr. Martin Luther King said, “When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker that a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a great benign power in the universe whose name is God; and God is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”

Jesus does not just change things; He brings abundance.

Jesus does not get rid of the water. Nor does he always simply make the struggles and vexations of our lives vanish. Instead, He turns the water into wine, and they only know how sweet it is who have tasted it.

The response, “You have saved the best till now,” reminds us that the result is not just doctored water but changed substance.  Jesus does not mess around and redecorate.  Jesus transforms.

Tom Lane asks, “If Jesus could transform common water into wedding wine, spit and dirt into new sight, troubled sea into pathway, well water into living water…could Christ transform the waters of my life, shallow, murky, polluted, stagnant, sour, into a shower of blessing?”

Paul says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Find that perfect will.  Feast on the abundant good wine.


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