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Second Sunday After Epiphany: Enough
John 2:1-11
1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Walking through our dining room on the way to the kitchen one afternoon, I heard Adam who was four, and Daniel who was three. They were in the little family room off the kitchen. “Daniel, you’re looking at the yarn for the sweater Mommy’s knitting for me.” “Nuh, uh!” said Dan. “It’s for me!” “No, Dan,” said Adam with the authority of a know-it-all big brother. “It’s for me because Mom loves me best.” 

Stopped in my tracks, I did some quick thinking and was suddenly on the hook for three sweaters, one for each little boy as he started kindergarten. And, I came up with my answer to who I loved “best.” I told my boys I didn’t love one of them more than the others, I loved Adam, Adam. And Daniel, Daniel, and Benjamin, Benjamin. It was different with each boy because they were different boys.

I try never to play favorites with my kids. Parents, teachers, grandparents, we all know it’s not wise or kind or good to play favorites.

If someone were to ask me however if I have a favorite Gospel, I’d be quick to respond. “I love Luke best. I love Luke best because of Luke’s emphasis on the poor and outcast because Luke paints the best picture of Jesus welcoming the unwelcomed and lifting up the lowly, Luke’s Jesus liberates women. 

And, if you asked me my second favorite, I’d probably tell you it’s Matthew. Matthew has the story of the Wisemen and the holy family’s flight into Egypt and I’d hate not to know those stories. I’d probably tell you I like Mark’s gospel next because Mark gets right to it and doesn’t belabor parts of the story. And, if you asked me, at least until very recently, I’d tell you the Gospel of John is my least favorite of the Gospels. It’s flowery and wordy, and I think John is a little too full of himself with all his self-referential mentions of the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” I don’t like his humble brags about being Jesus’ favorite.

The fact that I have favorites is one of the reasons I’ve almost always preached from the Revised Common Lectionary even though, in my tradition that is less the norm than it is in the Lutheran Church and other more liturgically focused branches of the church. The lectionary doesn’t let me get away with favoritism in my preaching. And so, this week, gulp(!), the lectionary has dealt up the Gospel of John, and lo and behold, I really like it. I like it a lot.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story that just after Jesus was baptized by John he went into the desert for forty long days of self-sacrifice, fasting, prayer, and wrestling with the devil. It’s the pious, up-tight, Christian’s dream text. 

It’s the ascetic’s example par excellence. But John’s Gospel doesn’t tell us that story at all. In John’s Gospel, Jesus was baptized, and in his baptism Epiphany happens! This is God’s beloved son! Something truly outstanding is happening in him! And then the next couple of days Jesus called a few of his disciples, and on the third day after his baptism he didn’t head out to the wilderness, instead, in John’s telling of things, Jesus went to a big wedding. 

The first thing after calling people to follow him, Jesus and his disciples went to a party. Everybody was there! It was a grand celebration of love and life and living in community with others. It was an occasion when folks shared in each other’s joy. And when the wine ran out (how did that happen? The family surely would have had an ample supply of wine. The party must have been really rollicking for the wine to have run out.) When the wine ran out, Jesus didn’t retort something about “the Devil’s Firewater” the way my piously Christian grandmother did when my father, her son, poured a Whiskey Sour for me on my 18th birthday, No. Jesus, although a little put-out to be told what to do by his mother, Jesus turned to the great big water jugs the family kept for purification, and he turned them into big-ole wine barrels. Six twenty-gallonish jugs of wine! One hundred and twenty gallons of really, really good wine. Jesus’ first recorded miracle was a miracle of plenty, of more than enough, of overflowing celebration that blessed the whole community. Ah-ha! Another Epiphany!! 

In John’s telling of the story, God’s beloved son, shows his world first and foremost that our God is one of plenty, of more than enough, of all that we need and more. Our God is a God who provides. Our God is a God who celebrates. Our God is a God who joins in when communities come together. Our God is a God who says of human love, “I’ll drink to that!”

This week I met with a new spiritual director for the first time. I’ve had two other wonderful spiritual directors at earlier seasons in my life, and as I adapt to retirement and what it means to be a Christian for whom faith is no longer my career, I realized a few months ago this may be a season of life in which I need some direction again. Meeting over Zoom, my director asked me to tell her the story of my life with God. She said, “just start at the beginning and take it from there.” Wow! Even though I left out huge chunks of the story, by the end of our session, I was blown away.

Never once, not in the deepest, darkest, hardest episodes during my sixty-plus years on this planet, when the figurative wine had run out completely, never once did God fail to provide for me what I needed. Help didn’t always come from those I thought should be helping me. Answers to prayers weren’t always the answers I was anticipating and hoping for, but, oh! 

The stories I could tell of the saints who came to my rescue, the stories I could tell of the epiphanies I’ve experienced, the moments when God has shined on me like a great big spot-light to remind me I am loved by my creator. I bet you’ve had those times, too. I bet God has turned water into wine for you, maybe more than once or twice, depending on how long you’ve been alive.

Funny, as I shared my stories with Kay, several times I told her how words of scripture came to me in those moments when I felt most emptied and in need. Several times the words the spirit used to guide me came from the Gospel of John. Maybe it’s not my least favorite Gospel after all. It’s a Gospel of God turning water into wine. It’s a story I’ve experienced myself time and again when bad times have been turned around by people who, like Jesus, stepped up and with what they had at hand, with the gifts given to them, in deeds of loving, creative, kindness, gave me back my joy. 

When I was sure I wasn’t enough, there wasn’t enough, nothing was enough, the community of Christ together came up with more than enough, and sometimes they did it without even knowing that what they were doing was taking care of me.

Our God sent Jesus to show the world God is a God of abundance and celebration and joy.

I don’t have a favorite child, and maybe I need to think of the Gospels the way I do of my sons, I love John for John, and Luke for Luke, and Matthew for Matthew and Mark for Mark. But I do have a favorite storyteller and a favorite story. Tony Campolo, a professor of Sociology in Pennsylvania is my all-time favorite storyteller. Once, I got to hear him preach at a big church convention where he told the story of Agnes. I have a book full of his stories, and the Agnes story is in it. I’m going to edit it a little for length.

Tony was in Honolulu for a speaking engagement. Having flown in from the east coast, he was wide awake and ready for breakfast at 3:30 in the morning. There wasn’t much open in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. Eventually, he found his way to a greasy spoon where the plastic-coated menu was so thick with grime, he left it lying where it was and read it kinda sideways rather than touch it. “What d’ya want?” The big guy behind the counter asked him. “Um. Coffee and a donut” Tony replied. (Better safe than sorry, and a donut from the display case seemed a safer bet than anything coming from that kitchen).

While he sipped his burnt-tasting coffee and nibbled the donut, the door opened, and, much to Tony’s discomfort eight or nine boisterous prostitutes burst in. The place was small and the women sat on either side of Tony at the counter. What they said turned Tony’s ears red. He was about to leave when he overheard the woman next to him say, “Tomorrow’s my birthday, I’m going to be thirty-nine.” 

“What do you want from me, a birthday party?” the woman she was talking to retorted nastily. “No. I don’t want anything from you. I was just telling you, that’s all. Why would I expect a party from you? I’ve never had one in all my life. I sure don’t expect one now.”

Tony stayed on that stool and nibbled at that donut until the women left in as big a whoosh as they’d arrived. Tony asked the guy behind the counter, “Do those women come in here every night?” “Yup, just about the same time.” Tony asked, “The woman next to me?” “Agnes, yup she’s here every night.” The big man, Harry, said. 

Tony said, “I have an idea. She said it’s her birthday tomorrow. How about you and I go together to throw a surprise party for her? I’ll bring decorations and the cake and you let people know so they’re sure to come.” The big guy hollered into the kitchen for his wife. This guy wants to throw a birthday party for Agnes tomorrow night. “What a great idea!” the woman said. “Agnes is the sweetest woman. She’s always doing something kind for other people. I’ll bake the cake!”

And that’s how it happened that in the wee hours of the next morning, Tony Campolo found himself in a Honolulu diner decorating the place for a birthday party. Around 3:00 the place started to fill up and at 3:30 Agnes walked into a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday to You.” 

When the cake came out of the kitchen bedecked with thirty-nine candles, Agnes broke into tears. After the singing was done, she looked up at her friends through her tears and said, “do you guys mind if I take the cake home for a minute? I really want to show it to my Mom. It’s just a couple doors down. I’ll be back quick. I just want to show her. Nobody’s ever done anything like this for me before.”

The place was dead silent when Agnes went out that door with her birthday cake. And, like any good preacher, Tony took the opportunity, “Shall we pray?” he asked and in what was perhaps stunned silence there were some nods and Tony prayed. He thanked God for Agnes and for her friends and for her kindness and for God’s love for all of them and for the joy of being able to celebrate together. 

He prayed that Agnes and her friends would know how much they are loved by God and that their lives would be all that they wanted them to be and more. When Tony finished praying Harry leaned forward on the counter and said, “You never told me you’re a preacher! What kind of church do you belong to?” In one of those Holy Spirit moments when just the right words came to mind, Tony replied, “I belong to the kind of a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning.” Harry looked hard at Tony and shook his head. 

“No, you don’t. There aren’t any churches like that. If there were a church like that, I’d join it.”

Isn’t that precisely the kind of church that loves Jesus? Jesus, whose very first miracle was making wine for a wedding party. Jesus who in flesh and blood embodied the light and the life and the all-encompassing, creative, empowering, joyful love of God. Isn’t that exactly the kind of church that’s made up of people like us, who’ve experienced first-hand the ways God meets us in our hours of need, cares for us, provides for us, forgives us, and answers our prayers?

I don’t have a favorite child. All the Gospels are my favorites for different reasons. Tony Campolo is my favorite storyteller, and now, before I’m done, I want to share with you one of my favorite songs. With all my heart I believe it to be true.


In this Very Room

(Words and Music by Ron and Carol Harris)

In this very room there’s quite enough love for one like me,

and in this very room there’s quite enough joy for one like me;

and there’s quite enough hope, and quite enough pow’r to chase away any gloom,

for Jesus, Lord Jesus, is in this very room.


Verse two: for all of us.

Verse three: for all the world.