And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” John 2:4

My three year old son has come to that age where trouble seems to find him all too easily.  OR maybe he goes seeking after it.  Either way the results are not pretty.  And along with getting into trouble on a fairly regular basis, he’s been learning, slowly, how to say he’s sorry.  Occasionally, that’s just a way to try to avoid consequences, but he is actually learning, and beginning to feel remorse.  It’s interesting to me, however, that it tends to be when he is the most truly remorseful that he is also least inclined to apologize for his actions.  He’s embarrassed, and I get that.  There’s a certain odd dynamic in being told to do what you already know is the right thing, in being called out for something you haven’t quite gotten to yet yourself.

No matter how old you get there are inevitably going to be family dynamics at play.  It’s very amusing to watch a whole bunch of adult siblings get together with their parents; and everyone suddenly reverts to being seven.  And so I find this particular gospel passage fascinating.  In it, we find the adult Jesus, he’s about thirty at his point, with his mother and his brothers.  It’s a wedding – a huge family gathering.  And the family dynamics just come pouring out.  In this very human moment of stubbornness, really, where Jesus turns ot Mary and says, “Mooooooooommm… don’t tell me what to do…” She called him out in front of others – in front of the servants, at any rate, and probably in front of some family members, and he’s embarrassed.  It’s a very familiar scene to most of us  – Mary and Jesus, not as depicted in Renaissance paintings with their glowing halos and serene, all-is-right-with-the-world expressions, but as any mother and son.  All that glitz and glory stripped away, and it’s a woman and her son dealing with dynamics.

Jesus in this moment is very human, uncomfortably like us. This is a rarity in the Gospel of John, and it’s worth noting.  And he’s making excuses.

Mary says to him, “Hey, they’re out of wine.  You should really do something about that.  yOu know you can.”  But what does he say back to her?

“Hey, that’s not my problem, really.  That’s not our concern.  It’s not convenient.”

“This is not what I had planned,” he said to her.  We see here in Jesus that very human desire to plan, to control a situation, to think about what the reaction is going to be to the things that we do.  These are excuses that we make on a regular basis, this reaction is uncomfortably familiar.  These are excuses that we make to keep from doing what we know we should, what we know is right.  Even when the timing feels off.  Even when the reaction might no be the one that we wanted or expected.  We can understand that Jesus might be thinking, “This would be my first miracle, and I wasn’t thinking I would do that in front of a bunch of drunk people at a wedding… really, Mom, this isn’t what I was going for.”

It’s especially awkward: these are the excuses we make when we feel like we are alone in our actions, like what we’re doing might be unpopular, or merely a drop in the bucket or less.  These are the excuses we give when we really want accolades for our actions – or at least not unwanted, undesired attention.  And so it’s very easy for us to set aside what we know needs to be done, to say “My hour is not yet upon me.  The timing is not right.  Let’s wait for a more opportune moment, shall we?”

As I was preparing this sermon, I found myself drawn more and more, not just because of the day but because of the text, to Dr. King.  And in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail, maybe one of his most famous pieces of writing, he addressed this exact question:

“For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’  It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity.  This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never.’
“I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say wait.  But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisting and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see the tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness towards while people; when you have to concoct and answer for a five-year-old son who is asking in agonizing pathos, ‘Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?’; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; … when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’ – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.  There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair.  I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”*

This, in a letter to clergy: “I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

The language seems a little antiquated, and we can give thanks for that, but the emotion is not.  We could substitute in this day and age, any number of groups and examples that would turn this into a very modern document.

The cry rings out, “Wait!” and the answer immediately forms, “Wait for what, exactly?”  Wait until it’s convenient?  Wait until it’s popular?  Wait until we get the reaction we’re seeking?  Wait until we can use our gifts?  What are we waiting for?

We all have gifts.  Whether or not we know it, whether or not we’re ready to use them, we all have them.  They’re not all the same; I very much doubt there’s anyone reading this who can change water into wine (if there is, leave a comment); but we know there are people in our lives who have the gift of hospitality; the very gift that Mary was trying to encourage in her son.  We know there are people in our lives who have the gift of organizing and delegating, people who can see what needs to be done, and know how to do it – people who can be like Mary.  We cannot all be preachers and teachers, cannot all speak words that will continue to resonate, as Dr. King could, but we can still march, and we can still protest, and we can still write letters and we can still boycott that which needs to be changed.  We can still stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed and mistreated.  And we can still educate ourselves, because there are those who have the gift of teaching.  There are those who have the gifts of storytelling, and we can listen with open hearts and open minds, recognizing our own reactions and our own prejudices.

If there is one thing that we do all share it is that we can recognize that we all do have gifts, and we all do have life and that it is all Spirit-given and God-given.  What we do have is not of our creation, it is not merit-based or somehow within our own control.  The gifts we have are not things that we can use as we desire, or that we can take for granted if we so choose, or that we can manipulate for a reaction.  Because even when the desired reaction is “Wow, isn’t God amazing?  Water into wine?  WOW!”  producing our reaction is not up to us.  OR to our fallible sense of timing.

Opportunities are going to present themselves, they do so every single day, and all we can do is be ready.  Whether or not it is convenient, whether the response will be good or popular or any of those things that we want, whether we feel like our hour has come, that the time is right, even that we will be safe or accepted in our choices.  Because when we do, finally, allow ourselves to give rein to the gifts that God has given to us; when we cease to fear, that is when we receive abundance.

So imagine it for a moment.  You’re standing at the wedding feast, the revelry is ongoing – heaven knows, they’ve already run out of wine! – and Mary turns to Jesus and mentions that little fact to him.  And then she goes on to ignore the dynamic. To ignore his reaction, his reluctance; she turns to the servants and says, “Do what he tells you to.”  She may have glared at him first, in good maternal fashion; possibly she even rolled her eyes, and he may well have rolled his.  It’s a mother-son relationship, after all.

But she made him act.  She made him do the right thing.  Despite his initial protest, despite the dynamics, despite the embarrassment of being called out in front of the servants and possibly his brothers (who knows?), he accedes to her request.  And there is abundance in that gift: that was 180 gallons of wine that he made.  A lot of wine, even for then.

But it’s not just the abundance of liquid in a jar.  It’s the abundance of good wine.  Of the best wine.  Of the kind of wine that the steward comments on to the bridegroom.  It’s the abundance of the sort that God reserves for those who use their gifts willingly, and selflessly.  It is the sweetness and the abundance of love for those who give of themselves in the service of others, who give of their gifts without counting the cost, who recognize and encourage the gifts of others, as Mary did for her son.  Who do not make excuses, but who recognize that with God-given gifts comes God-given responsibility.  The responsibility to strive in all of our days for the oppressed, the needy, the unloved.  The responsibility of discipleship, to bear the light of God’s Kingdom – we are still in the season of Epiphany, we are still talking about light!  To overcome human dynamics; to overcome human embarrassment, and reluctance, for the sake of doing what is right; for doing what we know is right.

That we might never again say “wait.”  That we might never again put off the rights, the equality, or the dignity of anyone; but that we may strive for a dream too long deferred; for justice too often and too long denied.  That we might take upon ourselves this very Gospel, this very Good News that we are here to hear and to follow.  That we might be able to say, with our heads held high and with certainty in our voice that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

That is our call.  That is our gift.  That is the gift that God has given to each and every one of us.

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