Well, I brought a friend with me today to help out with the sermon. He’s a little hard to recognize, especially maybe for you way in the back. So I hope you can all see that this is Jesus, looking maybe not the way you’d expect to find him in church. He’s my plastic Jesus. Maybe some of you have heard that song, “I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic Jesus riding on the dashboard of my car.”
But this is not that kind of plastic Jesus because he doesn’t have a suction cup. I think of him as roller-skate Jesus, because he’s got wheels under his sandals, and his arms are posable, limited but posable. I think of this as his “come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened” pose.
So there’s a story about how I came to have this Jesus. When I was still at the church I served before I retired, every year in the fall they had a yard sale out in the area in front of the church. And people in the parish—but also outside vendors—could buy a table. And even though it’s out in the country, it’s a fairly well-traveled road. So it was a bit of visibility for the church, too. And it was very popular in the community.
And I would walk around and try to talk to pretty much everybody who was there, just to welcome them and kind of make them aware of our community in that church. So I walked past the table of a guy who sold a lot of junk. And I saw Jesus there sitting on top of some junk behind him. I walked on by, but then I said to myself, you know what? I’ve got to have that. So I went back and I said to him, how much do you want for Jesus?
And he looked at Jesus, and he looked at my dog collar, and he said, “You know, it doesn’t feel quite right to be charging for Jesus at a church, so you can just have him.” So he didn’t need to say anymore. I was happy to take him. And my plastic Jesus has been with me ever since.
Sometimes I take him around and take his picture in places I go. Maybe you’ve seen the traveling-gnome pictures on social media, or maybe some of you who work in schools are familiar with Flat Stanley, who travels around in an envelope and gets his picture taken wherever the students who have him are. So sometimes I do that just as a reminder of all the places God is in the world, which is pretty much everywhere.
But most of the time, plastic Jesus just kind of sits on my bookshelf up above my desk, looking down on me, keeping an eye on me while I’m preparing my sermons. So I went to sit down last week to work on this sermon, and saw him up there out of the corner of my eyes. He’s high up so I don’t usually notice him, but this time I could just tell that he wanted to along come with me and be here today. So here we are.
Now there’s a point to that story. There’s a reason that it relates to the season of Epiphany, the season that we’re in. It’s such a short season and it’s in between Christmas and Lent, and with those huge bookends it’s easy to kind of think that it’s not a very important time. But really the season of Epiphany goes right to the heart of what it means to live the Christian life. And the story about plastic Jesus brings out the two major points that we see running through the readings of the season. And the first is that they’re all about spotting Jesus in the world, seeing God at work in the world. The Epiphany readings are about the identity of Jesus becoming more and more clear to a bigger and bigger group of people, starting with the three travelers who found him in the manger, and spreading and spreading and spreading from there.
And the second thing theme of the season for us is giving Jesus away. Once we know who Jesus is, how do we share that with the world?
And we see those two themes in today’s Gospel about the miracle at the wedding at Cana. It’s the first miracle in the Gospel of John. There are only seven in that whole book, and each one is really important for establishing who Jesus is.
So this is the first. It’s not long after Jesus has been with John at the Jordan River. It’s immediately after Jesus has called his first few disciples, and they’re all there with his mother at this wedding. Now a wedding in this culture could go on for days. So who knows what they talked about over that period of time. Probably they drank wine and danced some of the time. And maybe some of the time they talked about the ideas that were taking hold of the heart of Jesus, that he was ready now to preach to the world.
These disciples had followed him almost on a whim it seemed. Come follow me, he said, and off they went, but they still didn’t really know who he was or what he was about. So I can imagine some of those conversations were just about getting to know him. And who knows what they were talking about at the moment his mother decided to come and tell him that she’d noticed that the bridegroom had run out of wine for the guests. Social disaster.
And she had to have known what he’d been up to by then. I mean, in a small community, people know what’s going on. And even if she didn’t know all of the details, she knew what kind of person he was, because she’d known him all his life, so she takes this problem to him. And of course he rebuffs her and says, basically, that’s not my problem. My hour has not come.
Now in John, when Jesus talks about my hour, that’s the crucifixion, so his mother is launching him here on that path towards the crucifixion. The thing that’s going to break her heart. She’s the one that gives him that little nudge because she knows. She’s basically the first one to proclaim the kingdom of God in the gospels, with her song when she goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. He will fill the hungry with good things, and the rich he will turn away empty. This is the Kingdom of God coming to turn the world upside down.”
So she tells him about the problem with the wine and he rebuffs her. And, then as kids often do, he turns around and does what she wanted anyway. He tells the servants to fill these jars with water and take some to the chief steward, who’s amazed at the excellence of this wine, and the party is saved.
And the Gospel says his disciples believed in him.
So this story tells us two really important things about the nature of our God, about the goodness of God, and about the abundant generosity of God. The goodness of God comes through in the presentation of the wine. It’s not just any wine, but really, really good wine. I mean water would’ve kept them going. Wine in this story, it stands for joy.
And the generosity, the abundant generosity of God, comes through in the quantity. One of the commentaries I read estimated that the amount involved here was probably 600 to 900 bottles. That’s a lot of wine.
But I think it’s important, though, also to see what Jesus didn’t do in this story. Jesus demonstrated God’s goodness and God’s abundant generosity in saving the moment for this couple, but he didn’t fix everything in their whole lives. There’s no record that he came back when they had their first argument as a married couple, and sorted it out for them. Maybe they argued about money. Maybe they were worried about how to pay this crushing tax that the Roman Empire imposed on them. He didn’t come back and sort that out. We don’t see that he was there when they were worried to death because their kids were sick, or maybe their kids were getting in trouble.
What he gave them was what they needed in that one moment. And what they did with it is they gave it away. They served that wine to the wedding guests.
They didn’t say, as far as we know, hey, this is such good stuff. Let’s put some aside so we can enjoy it ourselves later. Or, let’s put some aside so we can sell it and pay those taxes later.
They gave it away. God gave them joy in abundance, and they gave it away. It’s the kind of joy that really is only realized in its fullness by sharing.
So I leave you with two questions to ponder in the week ahead. The first, is where do you see Jesus in the world today? Where do you see God at work in your lives? (Don’t go looking for plastic Jesus; he’s mine.) But where is God at work in your world? What joy is God generously giving to you to get you through your hard moments?
And the second question is, what will you do with that gift? How will you share God’s abundant generosity with the world?
Preached at the Church of St. James the Greater in Bristol, PA.