You have kept the good wine until now.

Preached on 20 January 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The Second Sunday in Epiphany, Year C

“You have kept the good wine until now.”  That’s what the steward says to the bridegroom.  And you know what?  Neither one of them actually knows what just happened.

This is the very start of Jesus’ ministry in the gospel of John.  His first sign.  The first time he reveals his power and glory and purpose. The first instance of the grace upon grace that John writes about in his prologue.  Not a sermon.  Not a healing or an exorcism.  Not a call to repent; not even forgiveness.

No, John tells us that Jesus’ first sign is unexpected abundance at a joyous celebration of a new relationship; the joining of two people in marriage, two households, two families.  It is a sign of God’s utter delight in us in our humanity.

This sign happens in a very public place, but almost no one is even aware of it.  Jesus, of course, the servants who fill the jars with water and then draw out wine know and possibly Jesus’ mother may be the only ones.  Apparently, the disciples find out because John writes that they believe in him because of it.  But everyone else?  The steward and the bridegroom, the bride and the guests they all enjoy the results, but they are unaware that a miracle has occurred.  Jesus was not trying to call attention to himself, you see.

Everything about it seems wrong, though:

  • The wrong person; when his mother points out the problem Jesus responds, “What concern is that to you or me?”
  • The wrong time; “My hour has not yet come,” Jesus says.
  • The wrong vessels; nobody stores wine in stone jars.
  • The wrong wine; you’re supposed to serve the best wine first
  • The wrong people are witnesses; the servants, not the bridegroom.

And yet, it’s perfect.

  • The bridegroom and the family are saved from the shame of running out of wine.
  • The whole party benefits from the grace without even knowing what’s happened.
  • We see God’s delight and God’s desire for our

I wonder if we’re a bit like the wedding guests in the story; enjoying the gift of God’s abundant grace, but missing the sign.

How do we look for and recognize the signs?  Do we see better in hindsight?  I wonder if there’s a part of us that resists seeing them?  Do we prefer to attribute those gifts to our own inherent goodness or merit, to our own hard work alone, without acknowledging God or the countless people and other factors that have helped us along the way?  Maybe we need to pay more attention, look for them with expectation.

You can be sure that God is giving us an abundance of exactly the gifts, the grace that we need, right now.

“You have kept the good wine until now.”
That’s what God does.  That’s what God is doing here, with us.  The marvelous thing about it is, That doesn’t mean that God has been holding out on us, that there hasn’t been good wine all along.  The best, in fact.

It’s more like God is the master sommelier, always pairing the perfect wine with the food on our plate.  God perfectly matches the gifts God gives us with the opportunities we have.

Do you think that might connect with our reading from Corinthians about spiritual gifts?

Paul writes to the brothers and sisters in Corinth about the gifts they receive from God.  He reminds them that the gifts are for the building up of the community.  They receive a whole variety of gifts – and he names them – but no one should think that their gift is better or more important than another.  God is the source of all of them and all are needed.

What is the good wine God is providing in abundance right now, here at Ascension?  And what are we doing with it?  Are we trying to save it, put it in the wine cellar for a special occasion?  Are we hiding it, hoping no one will notice?  Or are we pouring it out, seeing that everyone is included and treasured?  Are we sharing God’s delight?

Often, we see gifts as problems to be overcome rather than grace to be embraced.  I think the gift of a tight budget may be one of those.  I bet you never thought of it as a gift.

Now, I’m not trying to romanticize poverty or tell people who are truly struggling financially that they should feel lucky.  No, not at all.

However, maybe you can remember a time in your life, like maybe living the dorms in college, or when you were first starting out; or remember a time in the life of Ascension when there wasn’t much money.  So, you had fun by being together.  You worked together to get stuff done, whether it was preparing a meal or painting a room, fixing a fence or cleaning up the kitchen or the garden.

By coming together to accomplish something, we build community and form friendships.  We get to know each other better, discover the gifts in one another.  We share our lives and our stories.  And in all that knowing, we can learn to discern what God wants us to do.  Together.  So, you see, even a tight budget is a gift of grace.

Next week is our annual meeting.  I urge you to come.  We’ll learn about the gift of a tight budget and about the many opportunities to experience the grace of God’s abundant gifts shared in community.  Coming together to care for one another, to take care of our place, and to care for our neighbors, we build up our community; we care even more deeply about one another.

Lord, you have kept the good wine until now.
Sisters and brothers, let us rejoice and be glad.