A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church
January 13, 2018
Jesus’ mother comes to him at a wedding when the wine cellar at the party has gone dry and says, “son, they have no wine.” She doesn’t tell him what to do. She makes an observation that may, perhaps, be relevant to his call to reveal God’s glory.
And his response to her?
“Woman. What concern is this to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
Today, I’m going to set aside the fact that Jesus calls his mother, “woman”. I’ve preached before about how that gets me all in a twist, and even if there is a way to explain away his choice of greeting for the woman who gave him birth,
really, I promise I’ll let it go—
I want to focus on what he says next, “what business is it of yours?” And then he tells her “my hour has not yet come.”
I notice she doesn’t answer Jesus after he calls her woman and tells her it doesn’t concern her. She turns away from him and toward the servants.
“Do whatever he tells you,” she tells the servants.
And the servants accept her instruction and turn to Jesus.
I wish we knew what Jesus was thinking at this moment. Even though he has just told his mother that his hour has not yet come, his next actions suggest that his hour has, in fact, arrived. Does he realize she is right? Does he realize he has work to do and might as well get going? Or was he just trying to please his mother? I’m grateful he doesn’t double down on his first response, and accuse her of being on a witch hunt or something. He doesn’t call her a liar or explain why she’s wrong. There are some men in our public discourse today who could learn from Jesus’ example. ahem.
He turns to the servants and asks them for some water. Not just a little water. But 150 gallons of water in 6 stone water purification jars.
He could have zipped over to Winco and bought a few more bottles of wine. But he made enough wine that the host family is not going to know what to do with the extra. Fill the bathtubs and every Tupperware container they can find?
Jesus’ time has come, and our sign to know of it is a sign of abundance that borders on “too much”, more than we expect, and more than we know what to do with. It is a reminder that God cannot be contained and may not lead us to the easy solution.
It occurs to me, though, that for this abundance to happen, Jesus needed someone to tell him his time had come. And he didn’t really want to hear the news.
I also can imagine how it might have been easier for Mary to stay silent. She could go buy another bottle of wine when she left the party. She wasn’t going to go thirsty. And was she really ready for what would happen when Jesus worked his first public sign? She’s the mother of God’s son, and I guarantee there was a thought in the back of her mind that had a mother’s worry for what that was going to mean for him. She may or may not have known crucifixion was at the end of the story, but she had to have known it wasn’t going to be the easy path for him to stand in opposition to religious and political rulers.
She’s sitting at the party, overhearing the servants comment, “pour slowly, that’s all we’ve got”, and I can imagine her thinking, “Jesus can take care of this…..But maybe his first sign is supposed to be something else? It’s not my job, how am I supposed to know what God wants him to do? Would his first sign be a party? Shouldn’t it be something bigger? Like overthrowing the Romans? Maybe I should just be quiet and trust that he’ll do the right thing when it’s time for him to begin his ministry. What difference could my voice make, anyway?”
Woman, what concern is that to you and me?
This week, I invite you to listen for the voices we aren’t hearing, those who have been told to be quiet. They may be telling us our time has come. They may be calling out gifts we didn’t think we were ready to use.
And then think about the times you thought about speaking—and then decided it wasn’t your business, or you weren’t qualified to speak about it, or what could one voice matter in such a big mess.
What if Mary hadn’t spoken? What if she had not instructed the servants to do what Jesus instructed? Woman, what concern is that to you and me?
Oprah Winfrey received the Cecil B DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award this past weekend at the Golden Globes. I didn’t watch the show, but I did hear her speech later. She said:
“what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories….So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”
She was speaking about the “Me Too” movement—women coming forward to share their stories of assault and harassment in the workplace, or just in their lives. And I think of my own reticence to hear such stories. I hear them and somehow feel less safe because I’m reminded of the way we can fail each other. I want to hope we’re past the era where men can get away with such behavior
“Woman, what concern is that to you and me?”, I think.
In truth, I also want to create a society where people can share their stories, even their painful ones, so that we can build a society that will be less painful. Our hour has come. We must speak truth and listen to people brave enough to share their truths.
What are the other things we need to say? What are the things we don’t want to hear, or things we’d as soon deal with on another day?
I know racism is not a light and easy topic. And maybe we think we can say, “what concern is that to you and me?”—perhaps we want to believe racism is only a problem in inner cities, or for other people. About racism, our hour has come. Because the President of the United States has shown a consistent trend to denigrate people who are hispanic, African American, or from other religious traditions. This week he insulted countries, and entire continents, with language we would not let our children use— and so we must be clear. Racism says immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa are not welcomed here, but people from Norway are.
It is antithetical to our American ideals, and to our Christian belief, to suggest categories of people are beyond our concern and our value. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a debate about appropriate levels of immigration. I am saying that debate needs to have awareness of the way our policy is informed by our deeply held, often unconscious biases.
We must not be naive. We must also not lose hope. Yes, there is racist rhetoric being used in the White House. And yes, there are plenty of people across our great nation, who still support such views. President Trump is not an outlier. He’s a mirror, reflecting back the brokenness of our society. Our call as Christians is to speak truth we’d rather not have to speak, and say that such rhetoric is not what we expect, or accept, from our elected leaders, of any political party.
This weekend we mark Martin Luther King, Jr Day. He once said in a sermon:
“There is little hope for us until we become tough minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of softmindedness. A nation or civilization that continues to produce softminded men (sic) purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.”
From the sermon “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” published in his book, “The Strength to Love.”
Our hour has come to let go of our softmindedness, to heal what is broken and to hold our leaders accountable to lead us in the work of reconciliation and healing.
We look at our proverbial wine bottles and see them as nearly empty—there couldn’t be “enough” to share. There might be one more glass in that bottle for me, but I couldn’t possibly have enough to share with you, or with someone from another country who is seeking to build a better life, or maybe just a safe life, in our country.
Whether we drink wine or not, we can all think about times we thought there wasn’t enough. We often speak about this in financial terms—faith involves trusting that if we fund the things that matter to us the most first, we’ll have enough left over to do the other things too. Whether we have enough to share with others is actually never about how much we have. It’s about how we value what we have. It’s about how we remember where it came from in the first place. It’s about how we value the lives, experiences, and hopes of other people.
For Jesus and his mother, they were in a situation where an absence of beverages would be seen as a failure of the demands of hospitality. The story could have ended with Jesus saying, “it’s not my problem. I’ve got plenty of wine, what do I care if they didn’t plan ahead?”
Whether we are talking about if there is room in our land for more people to join in the American Dream, or if we’re talking about if there is room in our society for stories of abuse to come to light—-we too, are faced with choices about how to view, share, steward the resources we have.
I’m thankful for Mary’s voice calling Jesus to live abundantly into his identity, trusting in her hopes for him, and setting aside any potential fears about what it might mean for him to be a public Son of God. I’m thankful he heard her voice, even if maybe he didn’t want to hear it. I’m thankful that they both, in their own ways, made choices that reflected their hopes and not their fears.
Attend to the moments when voices ring out, when they are silenced, when they call us to be who God is dreaming us to be, and when they lead us in to an abundance we can’t even imagine.
Thanks be to God. Amen.