The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Water to Wine (my sermon for January 14, 2007)

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Do you think of Jesus as growing in wisdom? I think of him as knowing everything from the start. But look at this verse about Jesus’ boyhood:

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:52 NIV)

And, since he apparently did grow in wisdom, do you suppose he was “done” – like we say about a steak – when he became an adult? Or did Jesus grow in wisdom all his life?

cana-mafa036.jpgNow to the story (and here’s a delightful artwork of Mary talking to Jesus about it from the African Jesus MAFA project:)

John 2:1-11
From Water to Wine
Three days later there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, “They’re just about out of wine.”

What did she say? Or rather, what did she not say? She didn’t say, “Jesus, why don’t you take care of this?” And yet, Jesus responds:

“Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.”

He knew what she meant. And yet, she doesn’t respond, but . . .

She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”

So she has given him a bit of party intelligence. He says, “Not our business.” She makes no response to him, then tells the servants: “Do what he says.”

Six stoneware water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, “Fill the pots with water.” And they filled them to the brim.

What do we have here? Six pots. 20-30 gallons each. Used for ritual washings.
So what are ritual washings?

We know that Jesus would later be criticized because he and his disciples didn’t do it. Here’s the comment Mark makes during a controversy:

Mark 7:3-4 (New International Version)
(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

And some groups of Jews still practice such washings – here’s an example from AskMoses:

What is the exact procedure for the morning hand-washing? by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

– Upon awakening in the morning, one is not supposed to walk even four cubits (approx. 6 ft.) before … ritual hand-washing. It is therefore customary to place a cup of water and a basin at bedside before going to sleep. …
– Immediately upon wakening, before [washing] the following is recited: …[translation:]I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.]
– Water is then poured onto each hand three times alternating between hands between each pouring. First the right hand and then the left hand, and this process is repeated until each hand has been washed three times. With each pour, the water should reach the wrist. The water must be poured from a vessel, it should not be coming directly from the sink faucet.
– After [washing] the following blessing is recited: [translation:] Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded concerning the washing of the hands. The Chabad custom is to first get dressed and use the facilities, and then to wash Netilat Yadayim again before reciting the aforementioned blessing. Thus the blessing is recited when the person is more presentable, in mind, body, and spirit. …
– One should wash Netilat Yadayim anytime one sleeps for more than 60 minutes. However, if one is napping during the day it isn’t necessary to prepare the water at bedside (you can walk to the nearest sink), and the blessing is not recited….

And you need to know that these are big pots. You can see how the artist drew them in the MAFA painting above. Each one holds 20-30 gallons. Water weighs 8.4 lbs/gallon, so 20 gal = 168 lbs plus the pot! Each! I found a bucket in my workshop, calculated its volume, and realized it would take twelve to fill one of this wedding’s pots!

Now the servants may not have found Jesus’ orders too strange so far: The rabbi’s doing something, probably some lesson in it about cleansing, likely he’ll want everybody to wash again. And, since it’s a big crowd, lots of water is needed – remember, it has to be poured. But then it gets peculiar:

“Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,” Jesus said, and they did. Here’s Giotto’s version:Cana - Giotto

Now maybe the sercants thought the host needed to wash. But instead, he takes a swig! I don’t know enough about Judaism to imagine how this would be received, but it seems like it might be offensive – for someone to drink from the cleansing pots. And he likes it:

9-10When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!”
11This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

Remember last week? Jesus’ baptism? Remember how he was in the crowd, having gone with the people, and was baptized like everybody else, like it was just the next right thing to be doing, and then the voice of God singled him out and said “”You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”?

Later on, at the transfiguration, the Father’s voice would come again – but this time, it would say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”

See the difference? At the baptism, the Father speaks to Jesus, for his benefit. At the transfiguration, he speaks to the disciples, for theirs.

First time was for him. Was he “growing in wisdom”? And now, today, could he be learning again? Perhaps he was expecting a grand moment, at which his ministry would officially begin. Perhaps he was enjoying being a traveling teacher with few disciples and not much notoriety. Perhaps he had an ominous feel about where his life was going to lead, and he wasn’t too eager to kick it off.

But, as is often the case, someone who knows him well sees. And here’s the remarkable character of Jesus: it is not that he understands everything perfectly right from the beginning – it is that he is able to bend, to change directions, when he does understand. And isn’t that a model to follow – a model that has a whole lot to say about how we live our lives! If he just always “gets it,” he’s pretty hard to identify with. But if he struggles like I struggle to know the next step – Oh, my, that’s a Jesus I want to know. He shows me the process of life: growing.

Maybe Jesus had been standing there looking at the pots, thinking about the ceremony. Mary points out the wine need. “Nah!” then, “Oh – Maybe it’s me. Maybe now. Hmm – how could I – wait, why not take these ceremonial washing pots and make them over, from something full of that which affects the outside of people, to something that affects the inside of people.” And maybe his heart’s beating in his throat. Maybe he realizes this is going to kick it all off. So quietly, without calling attention to himself, he tells them to take a pitcher to the host. No abracadabra, no public announcement, no attention. The host praises the groom.

But the servants stare. And the disciples, who were watching, gape. They’ll talk about that moment for the rest of their lives.

Jesus, it looks like, “grew in wisdom” about his time, about his work, about his role, about himself. Thank you, Jesus, for letting us watch you learn.

But what about us?

1 Corinthians 12
Spiritual Gifts
What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often mis-understood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. …

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.

And what about you? I wonder if you – like me – are coming into a new understanding of who you are and what it is you are to be doing for God. I heard it in the musicians this morning – a new sense of mission, and the water turns to wine: music is becoming more meaningful, more appropriate for us, that it’s been for a while. I heard it in the Board this week – some speaking of a sense of “maybe God is showing me that I could …” And I saw it in myself, too – doing something simple, but being aware that it was mine to do, and discovering a result from it far greater than the water I’d poured in.

I wonder sometimes if a pastor’s job is to say, “They’re running out of wine.” To see a need. To help someone see it. To wait until the light goes on – “Oh – Maybe it’s me! Maybe it’s now!”

Let’s be quiet for a minute, to see if things happening in your life suggest such a situation.

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 14, 2007
John 2:1-11;1 Corinthians 12:1-11;Isaiah 62:1-5;Psalm 36:5-10

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The Message (MSG)

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