Monday, January 18, 2016

“Best for Last” (John 2:1-11)

When throwing a party . . . like a wedding reception . . . the unwritten protocol is to serve the best first, let the people get liquored up, and then bring out the cheap stuff.  Why?  Because the people will be too inebriated to know the different . . . they will be too drunk!  Even the caterer for the wedding reception in our scripture reading knows this as he speaks to the bridegroom about his faux pas.  Remember what he says? “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink . . .”

The bridegroom wasn’t playing by the rules!  He had saved the best for last.  Actually, he really had nothing to do with it.  Blame it on Jesus.

Any of you who have been to a wedding know this story.  The minister officiating at a wedding typically includes this story in his or her opening remarks about how Jesus officially started his ministry with the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana.  As Jesus, his disciples and mother, are sitting around the banquet room with all the other wedding guests it is discovered that there was no more wine to drink.  An observation that Mary, Jesus’ mother, points out to her son.  Not only does she point it out, she more or less hints to him that he should do something about it.  And, what is Jesus’ reaction?

Like a typical child, he responds: “Aw, Mom!”

But, he does it.  He takes six stone jars, tells the servants to pour water into them . . . and, viola!  There is wine . . . not the cheap stuff either, but the good stuff . . . which creates the scene between the caterer and bridegroom.

The result of the very first miracle?  The disciples believed in Jesus.  Well, that and a big argument between the caterer and bridegroom . . . but, the important thing is that the writer reveals to us that the disciples believed in Jesus.

For generations there have been arguments about the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament over whether or not it is the same God.  There are folks who argue that the God of the Old Testament was a mean, grumpy, vindictive God . . . always smiting this person or group . . . punishing the people.  There is a lot of bloodshed in the Old Testament.  Because of this, they argue, this cannot be the same God as the New Testament.  The God of the New Testament is a loving, caring God of grace . . . a nice entity.  They argue that this could not be the same God.  The argument goes that because this is true, there is no need for the Old Testament . . . after all, we are a people of the New Testament.  They have no need for the Old Testament.

It is a pretty good argument . . . it makes sense . . . except for the fact that the God of the Old Testament is the same God as the one found in the New Testament.  God is God whether it is in the Old or New Testament.  You cannot throw out one book in favor of the other book . . . you have to have both to get the whole story and to understand the story.  Thus, after many, many years, I have come to this conclusion in explaining this issue or argument about the God found in both books . . .  

Picture, if you will, God as a parent.  In the Old Testament we have God, the parent, attempting to get the children to do the right thing . . . which is to love God and one another . . . to develop that intimate relationship between one another.  And, like any parent, God tries every parenting tip that there is to get the children to be obedient.  God chews them out.  God sends them to their rooms.  God spanks them.  God does every imaginable thing that God can do, but nothing works.  The people just will not be obedient to God’s desires or will.

In reading the Old Testament we can see every act of God in God’s attempt to get the people to be obedient.  It is some pretty hair-raising stuff, but nothing works.  Now any parent who is at the end of his or her wits would probably throw up his or her hands, quit, and walk away . . . of just wipe the slate clean and start over.  But God does not do this; no, God finally figures it out.

The best parenting skill a parent can have is the ability to model what he or she wants the children to do.  God figures this out.  God figures this out and decides that the only way to effectively get the children to love God and one another is to show them how it is done.  To model it.  Through Jesus, God models what God desires.  God shows the way it is to be done.

And, guess what?  This is it.  This is the last attempt of God to get the children to be obedient.  After this, there is nothing else.  Thus, I would argue, that God has saved the best for last.

The best is the way shown by Jesus . . . the way that he lived his life . . . the message that he spoke.  Jesus said, in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Over and over again, Jesus said, “Follow me.”

In the Gospel of John the story of grace and love . . . the story of redemption and salvation . . . begins with the best being offered last . . . and, this is it.  This, in my estimation, is God’s last attempt in fulfilling what God originally intended . . . intimacy with us and between one another.  God, through Jesus, shows us the way.  Ultimately the life and story of Jesus shows us the way.

Now, no one likes it when the good stuff runs out and the cheap stuff is brought out.  Typically that is a sign that it is time to go home.  But, when someone brings out the best for last . . . well, that is a different matter.  We think of the host in a different light.  Here is a person who really cares about those who have gathered . . . cares enough to use the best.  In using the best that individual lets us know that he or she cares about us . . . wants us to have the best . . . that he or she loves us.  And, because of this gracious and giving act, we in return hold that individual in esteem . . . maybe even feel as if we love the individual . . . maybe even believe in that person.

Isn’t that how we feel when we encounter Jesus in our lives?

A central theme during the season of Epiphany is focused upon those moments in our lives where there is a sudden awareness—an “aha” moment—that reveals a great understanding or learning.  Sort of like that moment when you are sipping on your tomato juice and you become aware that you could have had a V8 instead.  For me, this scripture reading was an epiphany in that it became apparent to me that as the writer in the Gospel of John is setting Jesus off on his ministry and mission, that the writer is also tying up the loose ends in the story by revealing that this is it . . . this is God’s last attempt at restoring that which has been lost . . . intimacy and grace.  Jesus is the best and God gives the best to us last.  This is it.  With Jesus representing such a gracious and loving act . . . of showing us the way . . . of modeling the relationship with God and others . . . we ought to believe.

In believing, we give our best to God . . . we give our best to one another.  In the end, that is all we can do.  Amen.

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