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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Walls, Weddings, and Wine

John 2:1-11 – Weddings and Walls
          We hear a lot about walls these days. Walls that should be erected, walls that should come down, physical walls and virtual walls, and both the costs and opportunities walls may represent.
No, I am not going to talk about THAT wall – this is not a political speech, although we will talk about commonalities in all the walls that exist in our lives, and how in Jesus Christ those walls crumble and fall.
Walls are nothing new – that much is obvious. The oldest wall discovered so far was built about 11,500 years ago in Mesopotamia, modern-day Turkey. The Great Wall of China is considered one of the world’s greatest architectural feats, the first sections of which were built in the 7th century, B.C., with the bulk of it being constructed during the Ming Dynasty in the roughly three centuries beginning in 1368.  
Robert Frost once wrote in one of his poems that “good walls make good neighbors.”  Too often, that is just how we view the barriers that we put up – as being only good.
Martin Luther King, Jr., whose work we celebrate in a national holiday tomorrow said in speeches delivered in 1964 to both West and East German audiences, “For here on either side of the wall” and of course, he was referring to the Berlin Wall, “are God’s children, and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact.” Those are words to remind us that regardless of what kind of walls we are facing, God is with us and God can remove our need for the walls we put up, and bless us in our relationships with people, for, “In Christ There is No East or West, in him no north or south!” as sung in an old African American spiritual found in our hymnal.
And yet, there still exist all kinds of walls in our lives. Some are composed of bricks and mortar, some of stone, some of computer-generated protective layers of technology we call firewalls. Perhaps the most damaging of all walls are those of heart and mind. What I would like to talk about is what lies behind our building of walls and how it relates to our gospel today.
Often we use that word – “wall” – to refer not only to the physical walls in the world, but to the limits of what we think we are capable of, or the threshold of our patience or endurance, or the externally-imposed restrictions on our movement or freedom, even our progress in something challenging.
The thing that most often comprises or causes walls to go up is fear.
I can recall times in my life when I definitely felt like I had hit a wall. I can also identify the fear that drove me to the wall. It was often the fear of failure of some kind – like the time I took a two-week intensive in biblical Greek, in what was called “Greek Boot Camp” at the beginning of seminary and as the mid-term arrived I was sure I would fail.
It was fear of not being good enough, smart enough, or spiritual enough that kept me – for way more years than I like to admit – from answering God’s call to ordained ministry in the first place.
Then there were the times as our children grew up and they were struggling with profound difficulties; I feared not being able to help them in ways that would make a lasting difference in their lives.
It was fear of being judged and fear of being incapable of being on my own that kept me for too long in an abusive first marriage.
Walls, built by fear, and fear is often driven by the principle of scarcity the guides the world. It’s the principle of the “not enough.”
This is the deep conviction that we aren’t enough, or we don’t have enough, or that there is not enough to go around. The principle of scarcity leads to protectionism – we protect ourselves from the embarrassment of not “being enough” by simply not engaging; we protect ourselves from our fear of not “having enough” of what we need or want by holding tightly to what is ours; and we protect ourselves from the fear of there not enough by grasping at what we fear will not be available later if we don’t get it now. All of this fear drives us to the wall. We can’t get over it, we can’t get around it, but we can – and do – hide behind it.
Of what are you afraid today? What kinds of walls might you be erecting around yourself because of fear? What fear-driven barriers do you need help overcoming? Jesus is here to break the tight hold of fear and offer us a life of abundance beyond our imaging.
Jesus came to conquer our fear and to break down the walls that divide us as people. Jesus came to eradicate the walls that keep us from being the people God created us to be. If we doubt that Jesus is capable of penetrating our well-constructed walls, we have only to look at the gospel today to see how God, through Jesus, is revealed to be our “enough.”

Imagine, if you will, that you were throwing a big party – perhaps even a wedding reception for your son or daughter, like the friends of Mary and Jesus were throwing in our gospel lesson. Imagine what it would be like if, just an hour or so into the reception the dessert bar was empty and the drinks bar had run out of wine and liquor. The humiliation!
Imagine living in an honor/shame society where keeping face and maintaining your good standing on the honor side of things was of supreme importance - the shame you would suffer from such misstep would be enormous. The embarrassment!  Your fear of not being a good enough host or hostess or of being judged as not having enough resources to afford feeding all your guests just got reinforced.
Given the fact that wedding feasts typically ran for days and often as long as a week in Jesus’ time, what happened at the Wedding at Cana would be a lot like that experience. Halfway through the party, you have lost the ability to provide for your guests, your family, and your children, and you’ve lost that ability in a very public way.
John tells this story in his Gospel at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry to highlight how, as God sent Jesus into the world and as Jesus begins his teaching and preaching and healing, we should have no doubt that what John writes about Jesus is true. In the miracle of changing the water into wine, Jesus shows that the fear we bear of “not enough,” in him, becomes an overwhelming supply, not only of “enough,” but of the very finest provisions.
In this twenty-first century world, our motto might well be “there’s not enough.” Whether we are thinking of food, water, shelter, money, or love, the repeated messages that there is not enough to go around reinforce our fears. This fear infects all segments of society – home, family, church, work, nation, world. In an increasingly insular world, where we function in a “it’s a dog-eat-dog world and we need to grab what we can first,” this text invites us to stop, and to look at what Jesus is doing.
Jesus takes a moment of supreme fear for the stewards who were charged with making sure they ordered enough wine and turns it into a story of abundance and wonder as they marvel that the very finest of wine – and so much of it – would be provided for the second half of the feast, assuring that all who attended not only “got enough” but were well-pleased at being filled with such a fine provision of food and drink to the end.
This gospel story reminds us that the magnificent, inexplicable love of God is a gift that is abundant and satisfying. God’s generosity moves us from wanting to satisfied, and from fear to fullness. In God walls are unnecessary, because in Jesus God provides for our every need.
Because God loves us we need never fear not being good enough, bright enough, rich enough, or loved enough. In the baptism that we remembered last week, God takes each of us and declares that in his eyes we will always be enough upon which his love and mercy and grace will rest. Each of us has been miraculously willed into being by God and saved through God’s grace. Therefore, we have no need to fear. As theologian Walter Brueggemann puts it, “the story of abundance says that our lives will end in God, and that this well-being cannot be taken from us. In the words of St. Paul, neither life nor death nor angels nor principalities nor things—nothing can separate us from God.”
Of what are you afraid today? In what ways is God providing abundantly for you in the midst of your fear?
When water was changed into wine at the wedding at Cana, Jesus proclaims the radical abundance of God. The wine is copious. God’s love is unending. God’s mercy is without parallel. God’s forgiveness is eternal. Just as the quality of the wine in Cana is not just adequate but is “the best,” in Jesus, God grants us not just a better story but the best. God gives us new creation, new life, new possibilities, new and eternal hope.
Trust that regardless of what fears you may be holding inside, and regardless of where you fear the judgment of “not enough,” God has already answered your scarcity with abundance – with overflowing answer to your prayer – with unending healing of your pain.
In Jesus, God is revealed and shines forth as the one who answers the myth of scarcity with a powerful new narrative, filled with abundant new life in Christ. may we learn to trust in the abundance of God, relinquish our fears, and live new lives shining forth with the generosity of faith and love, in Christ. Amen.