Text: John 2:1-11
We’ve all witnessed the drama and some of us have been actors on the stage. And this drama of which I speak? You are in a room full of people attending a very important event. This room is filled with people of all ages—from two year olds to ninety-two year olds. About 15 or 20 minutes into this important event, a kid gets bored with all the adult talk. In his restlessness, he begins making movements to garner some attention. Not feeling noticed enough, he starts talking—telling his mother or father something that he deems important at that very moment. At first the kid talks in a relatively normal volume. The parent, in hush tones, tries to quiet the child, which only makes things worse. Now, feeling ignored and dismissed, the child speaks loudly with increased activity and intensity. This scene escalates until the parent either carries the child out screaming or firmly leads the child out of the room by his arm, still screaming. About 10 or 15 minutes later, both the parent and the child return to the room. Both look a little worse for the wear but both appear to have come to an understanding about what is expected; and from that point on, things are different. I call what happens outside the room the hidden manuscript of a parent and child. I have been on both sides of this drama. I have been the child, and I have been the parent. And neither is a relished position.
When I read, again, the story of the wedding at Cana and the interaction between Mary and Jesus I thought of this hidden manuscript. Mary and Jesus are at a wedding—it would seem a very important wedding. On the third day of the celebration the wine gives out. Now we might not think this would be a big deal. If this happened to us, we would whisper nervously to some friends and ask them to make a run to the local wine shop and pick up some more. But in Jesus’ world, running out of wine too early isn’t a little embarrassing, it’s a disaster. Wine isn’t just a social aid to help ease into conversation, it’s a sign of the harvest, of God’s abundance, of joy and gladness and hospitality. And so when they run short on wine they run short on blessing.
Knowing this, Mary pulls Jesus aside and directs him to do something. To which Jesus offers a most unusual, and in Mary’s mind, unsatisfactory response. He says to his mother as recorded in verse four by John, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” Then in verse five we read this: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m wondering: “What happened between verse 4 and verse 5?” In the reading of this story, might we be experiencing one of those “hidden manuscript” moments between a mother and her son? How might the manuscript read if the conversation between Mary and Jesus had been recorded? What was said between verses four and five? For just a moment, let’s use our imaginations.
Maybe it went something like this. Mary speaks, “My son, our friends have run out of wine for their guests. This can’t happen. Do something.” Jesus speaks, “Look mom, this is not my problem to fix. I’m just a guest and besides it’s not time for me to take on such responsibility.” Mary: “What do you mean it’s not your problem to fix? The Huie’s have been our family’s friends for your entire life. They have cared for you and been with you at important moments in your life. They came to your Bar Mitzvah, sat through your first reading of the Torah at the temple, and when you got lost that time and we couldn’t find you for three days they helped look for you and sat with us in our worry. What do you mean it’s not time for you to take responsibility and help them? This is important, and I expect you to do something. Do you understand me? Now let’s go back to the party and you do whatever it is that you need to do to replenish the wine.” Jesus: “I understand. I get it. Let us go back now to the celebration. I’ll take care of it.”
And we know the rest of the story. Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. Jesus instructs them to fill six stone water jars with water, each holding 20 or 30 gallons. After which he said to the servants, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” The servants did as instructed and when the steward tasted the water, it had become wine. And thus we have Jesus’ first miracle of his public ministry.
But here’s the thing about this story. More than a hidden manuscript between a mother and her son, more than a wedding that was teetering on the verge of disaster, more than water becoming wine, even more than Jesus’ first miracle that began his public ministry, this story is about timing and the urgency of responding in a particular moment in time.
As the saying goes, “timing is everything.” And it seems that Mary is more tuned into the timing and urgency of Jesus’ ministry than he is. She was, after all, the one who brought him into the world, the one who fed him as a babe and watched him grow, the one who dried his tears as a child and followed him when he became an adult. It is not coincidence that she was at this wedding where he began his public ministry and performed his first miracle and at the foot of the cross on which he was executed for challenging the powers of the empire. And so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if Mary recognized that whenever her son was on the scene, it was no ordinary time. And perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the urgency and timing of her words when she instructed him to intervene at the wedding at Cana. There comes a time to act. Now was that time, and Mary knew it in her heart.
Across John’s gospel, timing is at play. One scholar has said of John’s gospel, “…there are two kinds of time that animate John’s imagination. One is the kind of time with which we count and track the everyday events of our lives. It is the time that is measured in minutes and seconds, hours and days. It is the time we spend standing in lines, or clocking in at work, or waiting at the stoplight. It is mundane, ordinary time, and it beats on relentlessly until that time when we close our eyes and escape its dull, predictable cadence. But there’s another kind of time at play, as well…where all that is predictable fades and what emerges in its place is sheer possibility. This is God’s time, and it punctures through the ordinary canvas and clock of our lives at unexpected intervals to reveal a glimpse of the divine.” When Jesus speaks of his “hour,” he isn’t speaking of a time and date on his calendar, he is speaking of discerning God’s timing. There is truth in the saying that “timing is everything.” But to take that one more step, I would like to suggest today that part of our spiritual work as people of faith is being able to discern God’s timing in our lives. It is the work of identifying those moments when all that is predictable fades into the background and we allow to emerge in its place the possibility of hope and transformation, love and justice, peace and redemption.
There is a sense of urgency permeating the soul of our nation and world. You can almost feel that now is the time for possibility, for something new to emerge, for the chance of a new humanity to break forth. This sense of urgency is palpable. Now is the time for a new vision to break forth for how we live together as one people while celebrating our diversity. The chaos creates the urgency. And the urgency affirms for us that now is the time. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to take whatever risks that God/our faith is asking us to take for the sake of justice-love, for the promise of a tomorrow that is filled with hope for all God’s children, for the reality that Christians, Muslims and Jews can stand in solidarity with one another for peace and justice, for the dream Dr. King envisioned of a nation where all people are treated equal regardless of the color of their skin. Timing is everything. If you don’t hear the urgency in Mary’s words to do something NOW, then hear the urgency in Dr. King’s words:
“We have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”
And if you don’t hear the urgency in Mary’s words or in Dr. King’s words, then consider the urgency of these, my words: Now is the time of fierce urgency for all people of faith to act on justice-love. Now is not the time to pull back in fear. Now is not the time to say that someone else will do the work. Now is not the time to give into despair and retreat into reminisces of a world that never was what we want to remember it as. Now is not the time to close our borders, those of this county or this church, in hopes that we can preserve what “we” have. Now is not the time to pull chairs away from the table. Now is not the time to let the guests go thirsty, or hungry, or homeless.
Now is the time to feel the urgency of the opportunity. Now is the time to draw the circle wider than we’ve ever drawn it. I had an old friend tease me last week – he said that now that the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage that Pullen would have to find some other issue to make a fuss about. Well, he was joking, but he was also right. As our own safety and rights have been secured, we find our neighbors in jeopardy of deportation, of eviction, of marginalization, of discrimination. Our manuscript must not be hidden. Our manuscript must proclaim boldly, now is the time to act on the sheer possibility that we can create a beloved community in Raleigh, in North Carolina, in this nation, in this world where all of God’s people are treated equally. For our world’s sake, in the words of the Psalmist, we must not keep silent, we must not rest. Now is the time to act for the common good so that all of God’s children will know of God’s blessing and abundance.