JAN 17 “Running on Empty”

James R. Renfrew, Teaching Elder

SCRIPTURE            John 2:1-11       “The Wedding at Cana”

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.  When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “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.”  Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Wedding at Cana Quiz (multiple answers are possible)

  1. Why was Jesus at the wedding?

(a)  He was the presiding rabbi             (b)  He was the best man

(c)  He was a guest                               (d)  He was a wedding crasher

  1. Who went with Jesus to the wedding?

(a)  Just himself  (b)  His mother   (c)  His disciples    (d)  Pharisees

3.  How far is Cana from Nazareth?

(a)  1 km   (b)  6 km   (c)  13 km   (d)  21 km   (e)  35 km

4.  How large was each of the 6 stone jars that Jesus filled?

(a)  1-2 quarts   (b)  5-8 quarts   (c)  1-5 gallons   (d)  20-30 gallons

5.  What is the meaning of the story?

(a)  Always plan ahead:  be sure to have enough wine on hand

(b)  God always supplies what we need

(c)  Always serve the best wine last

(d)  Jesus has power not yet fully revealed

 Answers:  1-c, 2-bc, 3-c, 4-d, 5 (to be discussed)

When I told some of my clergy colleagues about my sermon title this morning, “Running on Empty”, one of them immediately asked if I would be singing Jackson Brown’s song of the same name, “Running on Empty”, during the service.  I replied by saying that I don’t think anyone even remembers that song anymore.  I don’t think that most people have even heard of Jackson Brown.  So how about it?  Anyone remember that singer or his song?   So when I mention my sermon title “Running on Empty”, what comes to your mind?

Of course, the fuel gauge on your car.  Have you ever glanced at your dashboard only to realize with horror that the needle was well beyond “E”?  Have you ever found yourself begging, pleading, or praying that you could make it to the next gas station?   One time I rolled up to a gas station on Clinton Avenue in Rochester.  When it was my turn to pull forward I couldn’t because the gas had run out, so I had to push the car that last twenty feet.  Other customers were quite amused to watch me!

What else comes to mind when I say “running on empty”?  An empty cupboard.  An empty wallet.  A run-down battery.  Tired and no energy.  Not enough patience, love or hope?

“Running on Empty”.  I thought of these kinds of situations when I was reading from John’s Gospel about the wedding in Cana.  It was a wedding where the wine ran out.  That must have quite the wedding.   Jesus, his mother, and his disciples had been invited to the wedding that took place about 13 kilometers, or 8 miles, from Nazareth, about as far from Byron as Bergen or Elba.  At first, Jesus was reluctant to step in to solve the problem, he explained that it was too early in his ministry to be doing stuff like that, but his mother insisted, and before you knew it Jesus had them bring in six large stone jars that could hold 20-30 gallons each, and then he had them foiled to the brim with water.  Then Jesus told them to give the contents a taste, and it wasn’t water, it was wine, and not just any old wine, but the best stuff anyone had tasted.

Now what does this story mean?  Here I’m looking at the answers to question 5 on the quiz in your bulletin.  (a) Always plan ahead:  be sure to have enough wine on hand when you have quests over. Do you really think that’s why the story is here? (b)  God always supplies what we need.  I love using this story at weddings, to make the point that when we run out of what it takes for sustaining a marriage, God can add to what we lack.  But be careful with this reasoning. You may have wanted to win that billion dollar lottery this week, but God may have concluded it’s not at all what you need.  (c) Always serve the best wine last.  Maybe good advice for dinner hosts, but I think there’s much to this than that!  (d) Jesus has power not yet fully revealed.  John hints at this to conclude this story:  Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”  If this was the first of his signs there will more to come, so keep reading John’s gospel.  When it comes to Jesus, there’s always more, always more to discover.

It’s also important to think about what a sign is; it’s not the thing we see in front of us, a full glass of wine in this case, it’s what the whole story points to.  So if you showed up at church this morning with your empty wine glass expecting a generous refill, you may be disappointed.  This story is about wine, but it has something much greater than that to show you.

Think about your marriage (yours or one you know about):  Has anything ever run out?  Love, patience, joy, peace?  Or, more broadly, think about a relationship that you have with anyone else.  Has anything ever run out?  We know what Jesus offered long ago in that little village wedding, as they brought out those six 30 gallon jars filled with wine.  But what does Jesus offer to you today?  God knows what you want, but even more God knows what you need.  Take some time to think about your wants and your needs.

One thing troubles me about this story.  The wine ran out, so Jesus’ mother went to him to solve the problem.  At first, Jesus says “no”.  Has it ever felt that Jesus was reluctant to help you? Why would he be reluctant?   Well, you could answer that by telling all the sad stories of your life, mistakes, missed opportunities, hurtful or hateful things you have done that would make Jesus reluctant to help you.  But I think that if we know anything about Jesus, we know that he doesn’t hold the past against us, and he’s eager to help right now with a fresh start.  So the real question is this, why do people like us often assume that Jesus is reluctant to help?  We miss out on what he has to offer.

The story of the Wedding at Cana seems to be all about wine, but it really isn’t.  It’s not about wine, it’s about everything we need.  It’s not about Jesus’ reluctance to help, it’s our reluctance to trust him.

So it’s not about wine … but it is about wine.  When we pass the cup today during Communion have a taste – really take a moment to taste it and savor it – we are reminding ourselves that what Jesus offered long ago during a moment of crisis in Cana is just as available to all of us now.  Where you have come up short, God’s love never runs out.  Taste it!  Believe it!

 

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