October 18, 2020: Aged Sages of Biblical Renown: Mother Mary Words of Instruction
Aged Sages of Biblical Renown: Mother Mary Words of Instruction at an Embarrassing Wedding
Scripture: John 2:1-12
- Prelude – “Lasst uns erfreuen,” arr. by Lani Smith; Pauline Olsen, organist
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 2004 – “Praise the Source of Faith and Learning,” by Thomas H. Troeger; Hymn Leaders: Becky Morgan, Cynthia Zenner, Bill Baughman, Ken Burres; Donna Grubbs, pianist
- Special Music – “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us,” by Stuart Townend; Janice Parks, pianist and vocalist
- Scripture – John 2:1-12; Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Sermon – “Aged Sages of Biblical Renown: Mother Mary Words of Instruction at an Embarrassing Wedding;” Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 451 – “Be Thou My Vision,” by Mary E. Byrne; Hymn Leaders: Becky Morgan, Cynthia Zenner, Bill Baughman, Ken Burres; Donna Grubbs, pianist
- Postlude – “I Shall Not Want,” by Gene Clarke; Pauline Olsen, organist
I know that we’ve already seen a story about Mary, but the sage, in that case, was Luke, not really Mary or even Elizabeth. This story, however, lifts her up in ways that help us identify her as the sage she is. A caring Jewish mother who looks after her children and even the children of others. Her compassion, her action-oriented attitude, her ability to recognize potential challenges before they happen, and then offer potential solutions all come in to play here. It is a remarkable story on many fronts, and we’ll explore a few of those this morning. But first, look back at your own life.
Think for just a second about some really embarrassing moments in your life; something that had the potential of changing the way you are seen by friends and family. I have so many that it would be hard to choose just one. There have been times when I’ve let people down; times where I unknowingly did something really stupid in front of a lot of people; times when I’ve forgotten the words to a song being sung in front of an audience. Times when I’ve hurt someone because of some mistake.
Embarrassment is a part of life. But the embarrassing situation we find at this wedding could set the future of this couple at risk. Mary sees it, realizes what is needed, and knows who it is that needs to take action. Nope, it’s not just Jesus, but others are involved. She shows wisdom, understanding, and is a person of action – even with the Son of God.
Remember, this is the first of the signs in John’s gospel. It’s the first chance we see just how powerful Jesus is. So let’s look at the story again. Jesus is with his mom and a few friends. They aren’t yet disciples because they haven’t really seen or heard anything from him at this point. They are simply attending a wedding…a Jewish wedding.
Jewish weddings in that time were different than a wedding in our time. This was a contractual agreement between two families. Both would bring something financial to the table. Both would need to prove certain things before the wedding took place. One part of it was that the groom was to prove just how significantly he could provide for his bride. The wedding, even the meal he offered after the ceremony, would be as extravagant as possible. The food would prove his value. The wine would be the best possible, at least at the beginning of the celebration. As people got a little more drunk, the groom could have the steward bring out the less expensive wine.
The point is that there would be an abundance of all of it. Again, this was to prove just how secure this new wife would be in her marriage to this man. Anything short of that could ruin the reputation of the groom and even null the contract within the potential marriage. So, to run out of wine was so much bigger than meets the eye. It could literally change everything.
Notice that it’s Mary who notices the potential issue. It’s Mary who, like any good Jewish mother, would take action. It’s Mary who challenges Jesus to take on the problem, pushing him out of his own comfort zone and into what he was intended to be. It’s Mary who doesn’t listen to her son. And it’s Mary who offers the words that are to define the whole reason for the story, and particularly its placement in the second chapter of John. She says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” and it’s a message for the ages. His response – after rolling his eyes, he calls the servants, has them fill six stone jars with water, each stone jar holding 30 gallons. So that’s 180 gallons of what is now wine. Once done, he then has the servant take a sample to the head steward, who then, because of its quality, takes it to the groom. All are overwhelmed with the quality.
But let’s not jump ahead. Let’s do a little Bible study. There is intentional meaning in every aspect of this story, even the jars themselves. These are not clay jars that are available and cheap. These are old jars, old stone jars, hand-hewn stone jars, like those used for ritual washing at the Temple. Jesus is taking an old vessel, and making it something new. Symbolic. He’s taking something normal and making it greater than normal, creating a change that changes everything. Sounds like something he does a lot (symbolically transformational). And the new is better than the old, more flavorful, richer, lovelier, and remarkable. And given the sheer amount of wine, the miracle is about abundance, transformation… and yes, is a miracle that is beyond imagination. But there is even more here.
Now let’s pause for just a second, and talk about another element that it’s important for us to understand. Remember, the Bible is written on any number of levels. The more we understand those levels the deeper the understanding of the story. For instance, numbers play a very important role in scripture. Understanding the meaning of the numbers will add to any story we read. I think you already know that the number 40 always means a change in the world, an absolute, unquestionable new beginning.
Think Noah and the flood, or the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness, or even Jesus in the desert. The number three always refers to heaven or the heavenly realm. Our own understanding of the trinity is an example of that. The number four always represents the earth; the four winds, the four earthly elements, that kind of thing. Therefore, when you see the number seven, it means a place where heaven meets earth. God rested on the seventh day. Six means imperfect, or even incomplete. There’s a lot more, but you get the picture. These are ancient writings and numerology was a part of the style, even in the Bible.
So here we have six stone jars with what appears to be a missing vessel. Jesus is that missing vessel. He completes the set. This is his first “sign” and yet it really represents his life in ministry. He is where heaven meets earth, especially for John. It’s a symbolic synopsis of the life of Jesus, as transformational, extravagant, and gracious. For John, it begins with his baptism (water) and is completed at his death (wine) and ultimately the transformation brought on by resurrection – another place where heaven meets earth. These twelve verses are literally packed with meaning, and I’ve only touched the surface. It’s not just about a wedding and a whole lot of really good wine. His next action, the verses that follow this story complete the synopsis. He clears the Temple, turning the tables on the Jewish authorities. It’s why John has all of it at the beginning of his gospel while the rest of the writers have it at the end. And for Mary, it shines a light on her as an aged sage; of a person of compassion, vision, empathy, even recognition of who her son is and is to be. There is so much more but let’s get back to the story. Words that should come to mind when hearing a story like this one are things like: abundance, extravagance, transformation, possibilities, miracle, hospitality, and grace. So, pastor, enough with the theology, what does it mean for us? In two words, a lot. Here’s one example.
Like Mary, there are those aged sages in our lives that recognize in us gifts we may not otherwise see. I remember two significant people in my life; high-level political officials with whom I traveled who each, at different times, and in totally different places, and without the knowledge of the other, pulled me aside and talked about me being called to ministry. One was in a hotel lobby in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and the other in a restaurant in downtown Chicago. They saw something in me that I didn’t see myself. They felt called to push me toward that calling out of a love each had for me. As far as I knew they had nothing to do with the church. I didn’t even know that they were people of faith. They pushed and I eventually responded. I think it’s a part of the love we offer each other as friends and as family. It’s when we do it out of the love of the other, or as we assist them to overcome their own feelings of inadequacy or shame – kind of like a groom running out of wine. It’s what any good coach does, or any good teacher, or any good pastor. They see the potential and seek to push that potential toward something more, greater, fuller, richer, and more abundant. Yet, even more than that, we look at this story and need to see it for what it is; an introduction to who and what Jesus was and is. We need to see it as a miracle of power, love, and caring and as an overview of who he was to become – a savior who has a mom like no other.
So, it begs the question, is there someone in your life right now who needs that nudge toward what they could become? Age doesn’t matter. Life experience isn’t the driving factor. Love is. Care is. Seeing and listening and taking action is. So, is there someone with whom you might walk for a while and encourage to be more, to fill a call that they could answer to make them even more whole, transformed, loved, even more extravagant than they realize they could be? Are there those you remember who have done that for you? If so, take some time to acknowledge them, or even thank them. If they are no longer with us, then write a letter to them that allows you to offer gratitude for what they did in your lives. Take some time this week to remember… Let’s pray…