The First of the Signs

Sermon originally preached at Saint John United Methodist Church on January 20th, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska.

The video recording can be found here.

John 2:1-11 (MSG)

Three days later there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, “They’re just about out of wine.”

Jesus said, “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.”

She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”

Six stoneware water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, “Fill the pots with water.” And they filled them to the brim.

“Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,” Jesus said, and they did.

When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!”

This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

Good morning. It’s such a joy to be here with you this morning. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Bailey Brawner, and my pronouns are she, her, and hers. I have the privilege of serving as the pastor for Kenai United Methodist Church and North Star United Methodist Church. I also was raised and brought into ministry by you all for the first 25 years of my life, which wasn’t an easy task.

As I was thinking about today, confirmation Sunday, I was reminded of my confirmation experience here, which happened about 13 years ago, when I was in middle school.

After we spent time studying and meeting with our confirmation mentors, and learning about all things UMC, the final step was to meet with Pastor Dave Beckett, to make that final decision about whether we wanted to be confirmed or not. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t the most diligent confirmation student. I had a lot of friends I liked to chat with, and that chatting often spread into our sessions, where we were supposed to be learning about the Trinity or the Book of Discipline.

So, meeting with the pastor scared me, because I was scared Pastor Dave would ask me tough questions or tell me I couldn’t go through with it because I wasn’t ready. I walked in to meet with him, and I couldn’t tell you what he said to me, or what he asked me, besides one thing. He asked me “What was this confirmation experience like for you?” And I remember that I felt disarmed, like I didn’t need to impress him or come up with something elaborate to tell him. But for whatever reason, the words that came out of my mouth, the words I decided to use to describe my experience were “life changing”.

How was this for you? Life changing.

He probably responded just about as surprised as I did, completely shocked by the matter of factness I said it with, and the fact that I said it in general, well aware of all the things I didn’t know about faith still, and the moments I couldn’t be bothered to focus on the different kinds of grace we were told are important.

But I said it, life changing, and it’s haunted me ever since. It was kind of embarrassing, those two words that I really don’t think I said on my own will. But it also rang out to be surprisingly true.

After that moment, my confirmation, I was invited to be a member of this church, was prayed over, was welcomed, and from that moment, I began to see more miracles pop up, and more realizations that this faith thing was actually important.

This brings us to our scripture, the famous Jesus turning water into wine story. It all began with a wedding. We’re not really sure whose wedding it is, but what we do know is some of the folks who were there. We know Jesus was there. We know he brought the disciples, too. And we know that Jesus’ mother was there, and she was playing a sort of a wedding planner or organizer role there.

I’m not sure if you’ve had this experience at weddings or parties, but there’s this tendency I’ve noticed for there to be that one person who is very close to the person being married or celebrated, often times a mother, who is just running all over the place, who wants everyone to be comfortable and happy and have what they need. For my sister’s wedding, my mom Robbie played this role, if you can believe that.

Jesus’ mother, Mary, played this role at the wedding in Cana, which is an important role, especially considering the high value placed on hospitality in their context. Mary noticed they were out of wine, and she went to Jesus, who sort of tells her, ‘chill mom, I’ve got this’. And Jesus took care of it. He turned water into wine, and not just any wine, but good wine. He didn’t make a big thing out of it, and there was no big thank you or proclamation afterwards, but that didn’t make it less of a miracle. Jesus provided hospitality, which was actually much more than that, but you wouldn’t know that unless you were there.

The people at the wedding weren’t looking for a miracle. They may not have been ready to receive one. They simply ran out of their beverage of choice and were hoping to find some more. But as our story tells us, Jesus does more than running to the store to provide that. He sent a message, a small message through this miracle, and he sent the message to a few people. And that message, that miracle, became a catalyst for the rest of his ministry.

The first of his signs, this miracle, began a movement that changed the world as we know it. You may even call it ‘life changing’.

This confirmation Sunday, our youth, the future of our church, are getting ready to stand up here and make a commitment to join us as a global church, in ministry to all the world. Somewhere along the line, something was stirred in them, and in each of us; a small miracle where Jesus showed up quietly to show us something new about the kindom of God. These youth today, are listening, and from here, I really do believe they will change our church and the world.

It sounds like a big thing. Join the global church. Minister to the world. It sounds daunting and it’s really easy to think we’re not ready or not good enough or didn’t pay enough attention along the way.

None of us are ‘ready’ to join the church, to be a part of the ministries we are called to. None of us come to the table fully equipped to make an impact, to tell people and show people the miracles we’ve seen. And still, the good news is that Jesus is performing miracles in our lives. Still, we are invited to the table, again and again.

May we see today, our celebration of confirmation and our recommitment to the church, as a water to wine moment, a reset and refocus of our faith, and an invitation to share the miracles of Jesus. Even if it feels small, I challenge you to recognize it as ‘life changing’, because even the small things in context of bigger things, are powerful and sacred, and people need to know about them.

You all, us all, as people of faith, have seen the goodness and the grace of God. You know on some level, that you are loved, that you are invited. Through the miracles of Jesus, you have been provided moments of newness, moments to reflect and reset and refocus.

After you have seen this newness, we are being called to be bearers of that message of abundance, taking what we’ve learned and the miracle we’ve just witnessed into the world, for the folks who maybe weren’t invited to the wedding, or the people in our life who feel like they aren’t invited to our celebrations.

The reality is, that not everyone was invited to that wedding in Cana. And there were probably some who were invited that weren’t able to go. They had other plans, or were sick, or something. As we look forward, our job is to invite more people to celebrate the miracles of Christ. The reality, is that this Jesus guy, this anthology of stories, it is life changing. It is transformative and sacred. It is worth sharing.

So as we leave this place today, may we remember that we are called by a God who calls us good, not ready. We are called by a God of grace and radical love to witness small and big miracles in our journeys of faith. We are called by a God of barrier-breaking and transformative invitation to recognize the fullness of God that is offered to us all. And may we remember that faith is a journey of miracles that offers newness to us now and always. Let us pray.

God of goodness and life, we give you thanks for the ways you show us who you are. We give you thanks for your son Jesus, who has left us with stories of miracles, miracles which still happen for each of us. Help us to see our lives as an opportunity to share the good news with your children, the ones who come to the table regularly, the ones we can’t stand, and the ones who don’t know they are invited. In your loving name we pray, Amen.

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