Sunday, January 20, 2013

What do you get for the couple who have everything? (J. Barry Vaughn, Jan. 20, 2013)

What do you get for the couple who have everything? These days that’s a lot easier to answer than it used to be. We have online gift registries.


Where would you go to find a truly outrageous gift? The answer, of course, is Nieman Marcus. A friend of mine has a saying, “If I die in Walmart, drag my cold, dead corpse to Nieman Marcus!”


So, Kevin and Krystal, take note, here are some truly outrageous gifts that you can get from Nieman’s.


  1. A $175,000 personalized library full of photography, art, and travel destinations from around the world. Personally, I don’t get that. Why would you want a room full of books that you didn’t pick out yourself?
  2. For only $1.5M you can get “his and hers” dancing fountains like the ones in front of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas.
  3. A $75,000 “yurt”, you know, a Mongoloian tent, resembling Jeannie’s tent in the 60s TV show “I dream of Jeannie”, complete with carpets and a chandelier.
  4. A $395,000 Ferrari that goes from zero to 60 in 3.7 secs. Oh, and it includes customized luggage.
  5. For $30,000 you can get a walk on role in the musical “Annie.”


Do you suppose Mary, the mother of Jesus, was embarrassed that she had not brought a gift to the wedding in Cana? Is that what motivated her to ask Jesus to do something about the wine shortage?


The story in John 2 is mysterious.


Who were the couple getting married? Why did Mary ask Jesus to do something about the shortage of wine? Also notice that the steward compliments the bridegroom on the quality of the miraculous wine. Why compliment him rather than Jesus, the real source of the wine?


This led Bishop John Spong to suggest that the wedding feast was really for Jesus’ own wedding. I don’t find this persuasive b/c at the very beginning of the story we are told that Jesus and his disciples were invited guests. And anyway, I am absolutely certain that there is no way that the fact that if Jesus had been married, there is no way it could have been concealed for 2000 years.


There are some things you should know about John’s gospel that will help make sense of this story.


First, John’s gospel is neatly divided into 2 parts: the book of signs and the book of glory.


One of my favorite tricks for my New Testament students was, “How many miracles are there in John’s gospel?” The answer is none. I don’t mean that Jesus did not perform amazing deeds; what I mean is that John never uses the word “miracle;” instead, he speaks of “signs,” and there are seven of them.


  1. water into wine
  2. healing the centurion’s son
  3. healing the paralytic at the pool of Bethsaida
  4. feeding the 5000
  5. walking on water
  6. healing the man blind from birth
  7. raising Lazarus


A second mysterious aspect of this story is Jesus’ cryptic comment that his hour has not yet come.


The word “hour” or “time” pops up througout John’s gospel.


When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, he says, “The hour is coming and now is when you will worship God neither at Samaria nor at the temple in Jerusalem.”


But in John 12, when some Greeks, that is Greek speaking Jews, say that they wish to see Jesus, he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”


In other words, at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, he tells his mother that his “time” or “hour” has not yet come. According to John’s chronology, his hour is 2 yrs in the future. But for just a moment the curtain is pulled back and we get a glimpse of things to come, a preview of coming attractions, a vision of God’s glory embodied in Jesus.


Glory is another key theme in John’s gospel. In the first chapter of John, the author tells us that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.”


But what does the miracle or sign of water become wine tell us about God’s glory?


It tells us that God’s purpose is to enhance and deepen our joy, that God’s deepest desire for us is that our joy not only be full but running over like the six jars full of rich wine.


Presbyterian minister and poet J. Barrie Shepherd writes:


"They have no wine,"

the mother said, and did not

realize she spoke for all of us

since then whose lives drink

of those stone cold jars of water,

never seem to taste the rich and ruby wine

made by her son that wedding day.

What happened to that transformation scene?

How could the kingdom broached at Cana

turn into a cross, our festal song

become one long funereal dirge?

Might there be a bridegroom yet, beyond

the graveyard, at whose feast the wine

flows freely and forever, blesses,

kisses every tasting lip with

sweet surprising laughter?


But that brings me back again to my original question, what prompted Mary’s original request that Jesus do something about the shortage of wine? Did she come to the wedding feast without a gift?


Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians reminds us that we all have gifts: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit… To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”


A wedding is just a sprint, but a marriage is a marathon. I imagine that a long marriage may begin to feel like a wedding party that has run out of wine. The joy that was there in the beginning plays out, and the wine of gladness becomes the water of drudgery and the commonplace.


What happens when she discovers that he snores? What happens when he discovers that she can’t boil water to save her life? Paul reminds us that no one of us has all the gifts, that the spiritual gifts are something that we possess together as the body of Christ.


And John reminds us that even the water of the ordinary and commonplace can once again be shot through with the glory of God when we remember and realize that in and through Christ we have married into God’s family.