“Cana Grace” John 2:1-12, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. Donald W. Dotterer, PhD, 1/27/19
This story comes out of Cheshire, England. A traditional March wedding at Peckforton Castle was interrupted when an owl trained to deliver the wedding rings to the best man went off course.
Owl deliveries are popular thanks to the Harry Potter movies in which owls deliver the mail. Having owls swoop down and deliver packages is a trendy thing now. On this occasion the owl came flying into the wedding hall with the rings as it was supposed to. However, all of a sudden the owl changed its mind about where to land. The bride and the groom watched as the barn owl flew down the aisle toward the best man. But a seated groomsman pointed at the owl, and the owl took this as a signal to fly to his hand instead of to the best man’s. The wedding photographer described what happened. She said, "The owl just dived down and hit the groomsman, who is terrified of birds. He fell off his chair.”The bride said, “Everyone was absolutely hysterical. But,” she said, “it made the wedding, because we were talking about it all night."[i]
As ministers know, weddings are accidents waiting to happen. It seems that a lot of times, something goes wrong. Is that because people work so hard to make everything perfect? I don’t know. Most everybody is so usually nervous and uptight it seems inevitable that something go wrong. Sometimes the microphones don’t work or the candles don’t get lit. Sometimes we can’t get the rings off the pillow that the ring bearer is carrying because somebody tied the knot too tight.
At one wedding I did the ring bearer put his hands over his ears coming down the aisle because he thought the organ was too loud. At a couple of weddings the couple forgot to bring the marriage license. Once I forgot to have the father give away the bride. I know of one destination wedding that the minister forgot about and didn’t show up.
It seems that something big or small always goes wrong at a wedding. We should not be surprised then that something went wrong at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Or, it was more like something went wrong at the reception. In those days the bride and groom didn’t go on a honeymoon after the ceremony. Instead they celebrated with a seven day wedding feast at the home of the groom. Now that was some wedding reception, if you can imagine that!
And the problem was this: the celebration was at risk of being spoiled because the liquid refreshment was running out before the party was over.[ii] Somebody had messed up and didn’t order enough wine. And the groom’s family was on the verge of being embarrassed for their lack of hospitality.
Now this wouldn’t be a disaster like a plague hitting the village of course. But it was a situation that would cause shame and embarrassment to some nice people who were trying hard to do the right thing for their son and new daughter-in law and all their neighbors and relatives.
Interestingly, it is Jesus’ mother Mary who notices the problem. We aren’t told who the couple was or who the groom’s family was. But Cana is located less than ten miles from Jesus’ family’s hometown of Nazareth. So the wedding family could have been relatives or close friends of Mary and Joseph.
Anyway, Jesus’ mother sees that there is a problem, and she decides to do something about it. Mary takes action. She knows that there is something special about her son, although like everyone else, she probably didn’t quite understand yet what it really was. Jesus obviously was not like other young men. He could do things that others could not do. That is why Mary asks Jesus to get involved, to help these people out. At first Jesus is reluctant to do so. But Mary has confidence in him that he will do the right thing. So she goes ahead and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. Jesus relents and does what his mother asks, which is to do something about this problem. And the rest, as they say, is history. Quietly and miraculously, Jesus turns the water into wine. The wedding celebration continues. The family of the groom avoids embarrassment.
Jesus saves the day, as later he would save the world. And Jesus has given people their first glimpse of his glory, the first sign of who he was and what he could do. It is what one writer has called “Cana Grace,” an example of God’s love and power at work to bring joy and happiness and salvation to the lives of God’s children.
So what are we to make of all this? There have been a lot of interpretations of this story, a lot of messages found in the text. There is much to consider here.
One, there is the sheer fact that this is a miracle. And it is Jesus’ first miracle, and we need to pay special attention to this one because it helps us to understand the miracles that come after it.
Let me ask you, do you believe in miracles? The technical definition of a miracle is this: “an extraordinary event that is perceived to be the direct, purposeful action of God.” I would venture to say that all of us have seen or heard of miracles, things that have happened that have no logical explanation other than that it was the hand of God at work.
To me, life itself is a miracle, especially the birth of a child. The vastness of the universe is a miracle. Considering the wonder and majesty of the universe, the turning of some water into wine by the Son of God himself seems like a rather minor miracle, does it not? A close call in an accident or natural disaster or the healing of a disease may be a miracle.It’s all in how we see it, how we think about it, what we believe, and what it means to us. Sometimes you have to believe in things you cannot understand. That is what miracles are all about.
One of the more interesting interpretations of this story comes from a pastor by the name of Joanna Harader. She sees something in this passage that I never noticed before, She looks at the story from the perspective of the servants, the persons whom Jesus told to fill the jars with the water that he would turn into wine.
Think about it. The servants, some of whom who were most likely women, had to fill with water six stone jars, each of which holds 20-30 gallons. Those jars must have weighed 200 pounds even when empty. Filled with water they would have been nearly impossible to move. And of course they didn’t have any faucets or hoses then. The water would have had to been drawn in buckets out of a well.
So what’s the point? Simply this, I think. Even a miracle can be hard work.[iii] Even a miracle requires some human input and effort.
Think about the feeding of the 5,000. There was a boy who had to give up his lunch so that Jesus had something to work with. Then the disciples have to pass the food out and pick up the leftovers. hen Lazarus is raised from the dead after being dead for four days, somebody had to push the stone away from the entrance to the tomb. Somebody had to remove the burial cloths from his resurrected body. As Pastor Harader says, “Miracles may be inspired and holy and wonderful, but they are not easy.”[iv] They require effort and participation.
The Eastern Orthodox Church has this marvelous belief in what they call the synergy of the Spirit.[v] What they believe is this—that the chief end of life is acquiring the Holy Spirit. Grace is simply the presence of God within us.
And this presence of God in us calls forth an effort on our part. And when God’s grace and our freedom work together, it is a beautiful thing indeed, perhaps the most beautiful thing in the world.
What happens in the life of faith is this: there is a synergy, a coming together, a cooperation of our human spirits with God’s Holy Spirit. And when we work together in partnership with God, when the divine and human spirits--that is the will of God and the will of humans—when these spirits work together, great things, unbelievable things, even miraculous things can happen.
Can we call that “Cana Grace”? I think maybe we can. This much seems true: miracles require not only faith and belief. Miracles also require our work, our participation, our effort.
Our epistle reading today which you heard is Paul’s well-known listing of spiritual gifts. Joanna Harader says, “We hope and pray for the Spirit’s power to come down and fix our problems. But we sometimes forget that when the power comes, it comes into us. The Spirit gives us the gifts of wisdom and prophecy and healing and interpretation and whatever else we need.
The Spirit gives the gifts of music and singing, the gift of speaking. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the gifts of teaching, of leadership, the gifts of stewardship and generosity, the gifts of comforting others, managing money, office work, the gift of fixing things that are broken and building new things, the gifts of cooking and serving food. All these gifts come from the Spirit. We did nothing to earn them. But in order for these gifts to bear fruit, we must allow the Spirit to work in us and with us.
One of the most profound instances in many of our lifetimes of God’s Spirit working with the spirits of human beings was the progress that was made in this country in the area of civil rights in the 1960’s. That is what we celebrated last Monday on Martin Luther King Day. Today, in 2019, it’s hard to even conceive of how bad things were in the South in the 1950’s and 60’s. There was segregation on buses, at lunch counters and drinking fountains. Schools and colleges and universities were segregated. People were denied their right to vote based on their color. All this in a country in which our Declaration of Independence says that all people were created equal by God.
Anyway, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others led an inspired campaign of non-violent resistance that eventually changed a lot of that. There was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination on the grounds of race and gender. The 1965 Voting Rights Act gave political power to minorities by enfranchising all adults for voter registration.
Now what fascinates me is the way that so many different people were empowered to work together to make this happen. Black people, white people, university people, church people, business people and politicians all worked together with God’s Holy Spirit to make this all happen.
I see that as miracle. How about you? The way I see it, if the Spirit can do that working with human spirits, then anything is possible. Anything is possible in our church and individual lives.
So let’s make 2019 the year of synergy for us and for our lives, the year that God’s Spirit and our spirits work together to do great things for God in our church and in our lives. Let’s call it Cana Grace.
Let me close with this story that you may have heard me tell before. But I think it’s worth hearing again.
It has been over 53 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. After Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, it is probably the greatest and most well-known speech in American history. At that time there was a 12 year-old boy by the name of Gene Young who lived in Jackson, Mississippi. He told his parents that he wanted to go to Washington D.C. Reluctantly, they let they let him get on the bus at age 12 to go to that march.
Gene Young remembers standing in line to get on the bus. He was about two people back when his mother came running up to him. She had sandwiches for everyone on the bus. Gene Young said that an amazing thing happened when he got to Washington. He was first of all amazed by the sheer numbers of people gathered there, black and white together. They were speaking and acting together as equals. He had never seen that before. But the thing that amazed him the most was that all the men were wearing suits and ties. Remember, this was the 1960's when people were dressing more casually than in the forties and fifties.
What the suits and ties meant was that these men realized that they weren't going on a picnic. This was serious business to them. This, you see, was life giving. This was an important, formal occasion for them. And that attitude was one of the reasons why this event had such a huge impact on our nation and on the world.[vi]
Miracles change people. Miracles lift people up. They are the Holy Spirit at work and in our lives.
May God’s blessing be upon us as we seek to be led by the Spirit in our personal and corporate lives.
Thanks be to God, Amen.
[i] BBC, 3/27/2018
[ii] Robert Brearly, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 1, p. 260.
[iii] Joanna Harader, Christian Century, 12/19/18, p. 21
[iv]Harader, p. 21.
[v] Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church,
[vi] Thanks to Jim Standiford for this story.