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Sermon, January 16, 2022

Sermon delivered by the Rev. Cristina Rathbone

John 2:1-11

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.” 

                           You Have Kept the Good Wine Until Now

“You have kept the good wine until now.”

What does this mean to you today? 

“You have kept the good wine until now…”

I’m so glad to be back here with you all today, having spent my time away at home, in Ashley Falls on a kind of one person, self-directed retreat. I read and prayed and wrote and walked, and then read and prayed and wrote and walked some more, until it was dark when I’d light a fire and end the day in front of it — and the truth is that during each part of each day I was convinced that the good wine was being revealed only now, and then now, and then now.

It was the same when I travelled to Boston for my birthday on Friday. I felt that same sense of rooted groundedness  – you have kept the good wine until now – as I did errands long postponed, and then walked in the park, and visited with friends. And when a one good friend asked me to go pick up some things from the store across the street, and I ran into a man from the homeless community downtown who I love very much, I felt it again:  Oh dear Lord, you have kept the good wine until now!  

I’d never once seen this man in my neighborhood before, but now there he was, limping a little as he walked towards me in the freezing cold. He was wearing his usual four or five coats one on top of the other, and a child’s wooly hat with a pom- pom on top, and he was carrying two, bulging, plastic shopping bags that I knew would be full of old newspapers. “John!” I said, and he looked a little startled.  I pulled down my mask and pulled up my hat: “John, it’s me, Rev Tina!” He stepped back half a step and said, shy as always: “oh…. oh, Rev. Tina. you’ve been gone a long time…” which was true of course.  “I have been John,” I said remembering all at once how slow and gentle you had to be with John.  “But I carry you in my heart wherever I go – and now here you are, and I am just so overjoyed to see you!”  Then I wondered if he would like to get a coffee from Dunkin Donuts.  “A coffee?” he said.  “Well….I could take a hot chocolate…” and so we went and got two hot chocolates with whipped cream on the top and we drank them as we walked down the road together in the cold and he relaxed enough to talk to me about the weather as he always had. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the best wine had been kept until now…. 

So, by way of at least partial thanks for it all the ways you helped take the time away, this is the first thing I’d like to offer you today, this simple line, like a mantra:

You have kept the good wine until now. 

Use it, perhaps, as a simple prayer of gratitude when beauty and love and healing reveal themselves to you so obviously in the present moment that they are inescapable, the way they were for me when I ran into John. 

And maybe also consider using it as a reminder, and a reassurance, and a return, when beauty and love and healing seem to be nowhere to be found. Because the fact is that it’s true then too; that in some way you cannot yet but will one day see, the good wine is being kept until now and now and now and now whatever the circumstances, however frightening or painful or unsettled they may be. 

The good wine is always available to you now, and to me now, and to every living person and creature and plant and organism on this planet now – this is what Jesus came to show us, I believe.  And it is why he emerged from his years of formation to begin his ministry in this way, celebrating with other people of all kinds who had been drawn together by love.  “Jesus did this, the first of his signs,” John tells us, “in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

But the truth is that Jesus didn’t do it on his own. His mother, Mary, was the one who first brought the need for more wine to his attention, and it was his mother Mary, not Jesus himself, who gave the clear instruction to the servants to “do  whatever he says.” Which they did. The text takes great pains to make this clear to us, taking the time to spell it out clearly:

“Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them to the brim 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.” 

Why was this important enough to spell out in this way? Why bring in these hum drum details of Mary’s urging and the servants obedience to this first revelation of Jesus and the fullness of his powers? Well, because as with them – so also with us, surely. 

Jesus’ mother –  a woman alone it seems, and so inconsequential at best — and the servants who moved through the space with so little importance they must have been close to invisible,  these were the ones who helped make Jesus’ power manifest, and who brought his desire and love and generosity and provision to the great crowds of people that day. Aligned with his purposes, and partners in his work, they became – at least for a time – one with him, each in their own way.  

And this – as St. Paul spells out so clearly today too – we,ll this is what we were made for: to work together, each of us offering our own particular gifts for the benefit of us all, under the guidance of the one who came to show us the way. 

We are not Jesus. And none of us is perfect. And few of us are faithful no more than a tiny percentage of the time. But it turns out that this doesn’t matter nearly as much as we worry it might. Because here’s the thing: Jesus is Jesus! And he is with us. And to share with him in the goodness he brings, not for ourselves only but for the whole messy and disaster prone world, all we need do is offer ourselves to him  through the particular unfolding miracle that is each one of our lives which he brings about moment by moment by moment – and, slowly, step by step, those miracles will become manifest in the world  and we will all be just that little bit more empowered not just to survive together, but to thrive. 

With help from his mother, and from the servants, Jesus leavened the feast that day and brought the gathering alive not for some – but for all. He didn’t do it to be thanked, or to be honored, or praised. He did it then and does it still because revealing the abundance of life that is available to everyone, everywhere, was and is his work. And, if we choose, we can join him in it, offering each one of us the gifts we have been given to share with all of God’s people, with love, and through love, and for love.  

This was what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King understood – and this was what he strived so mightily to create. A community where all were celebrated and feasted and granted a place, every single one of us, rich and poor, healthy and sick, black and brown and white and queer and straight –honored guests, all, and essential everyone one of us, to the well-being and the growth and the becoming of the rest. 

May we settle enough today and tomorrow and every day after that to notice that the good wine has been left until now for the use of us all – and may we join with Dr. King, and with all of God’s servants and prophets and faithful disciples to resist oppression in the name of God’s love, and strive to secure for all God’s children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.