First Reading Isaiah 62:1-5
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Gospel Reading John 2:1-11
Sermon: “From Ordinary to Extraordinary”
Ordinary is a term often used to mean plain, uninteresting, nothing to see here. To be ordinary is to be overlooked. We deal with hundreds of ordinary things every day without even noticing. The design of the fork you ate your breakfast with this morning – did you notice? How about the pattern or texture of the driveway? You saw it I’m sure, but it was ordinary so you didn’t notice.
What is it that makes someone or something more than ordinary? With things, the answer is often some unusual characteristic such as size, color, rarity or usefulness. With people though it usually has something to do with relationship. Perhaps an uncommon degree of understanding or empathy – wow that person really gets it! How did they know? that was just what I needed at just the right moment – how extraordinary! In today’s readings we are invited to watch and perhaps to participate in the transformation from ordinary to extraordinary; from plain old water to most excellent wine. From regular self interested individuals to members of the body of Christ! How wonderful, how extraordinary!
Something interesting had happened to the Jewish people during and after diaspora following the Babylonian conquest. The temple had been destroyed and the daily sacrifice ended for a time. New traditions grew up to replace those that had been lost. One of these was the washing of hands. The law of Moses had explicit instructions for the priests to ritually cleanse themselves before approaching the altar or entering the tabernacle. The loss of the temple lead many of the Jews to begin to regard the table of the home as an altar and the eating of bred as a sacred act, like the sacrifices of old.
Therefore, and even to this day, before an observant Jew eats, the hands are first cleaned then ritually washed to the wrist by pouring water to or three times over each of them from a cup and reciting a brief blessing, they then proceed to immediately begin the meal without any other activity of conversation until the bread has been tasted. At its core it is a way of remembering the blessing of God even in the ordinary things of life. They understand that they are to be a holy people, dedicated to God in all they do. We could learn some important lessons from them.
As you might imagine, this requires a substantial amount of water if you have a large gathering such as a wedding feast! Hence the six large stone jars mentioned in the gospel reading. They were just plain ordinary jars, something to dip water out of and then to be forgotten. But they will become extraordinary in this story. We think weddings today are getting elaborate, but a wedding in Jesus’ day often lasted a week! Generous hospitality was an important source of honor to the family hosting the wedding and so it was that when the wine ran out, it was potentially a terribly embarrassing incident that would be whispered about for years. No wonder Jesus’ mother Mary thinks that something must be done and done quickly!
Now much has been said and speculated about the awkward response of Jesus to his mother’s insistent demand. But note that Jesus complies and in doing so, he restores honor to the host and provides a thought provoking example for us to consider. Jesus merely instructs the servants to refill those jars with plain old ordinary water. When they were done, he told the, to dip some out and present it to the master of ceremonies. In that act of obedience to Jesus’ command some extraordinary happened. Ordinary water had become wine and not just regular wine but really, really good wine! The Master of Ceremonies was shocked that here, several days into the celebration that this new batch of wine was far superior to what had been served previously. Things were ordinarily done differently – first the good stuff and then after most folks Tongues were a bit pickled and appetites satisfied, then you could get by with the cheap stuff.
Now we are not going to get into a wine tasting class this morning, rather, I want you to consider this gracious act of Jesus from a few different perspectives. First, just the surface. It was simply a kind thing to do for the host and a respectful acquiescence to his mother’s request. It was a little act, unlikely to advance the great goals of the Kingdom of God. Jesus took no personal credit with the host, only his mother, the servants involved and apparently some of his disciples actually knew what had happened. Acts of grace are often done this way – quietly and gently, for no particular reward but for the sake of obedience and kindness.
The various gifts of God are given in various ways to various folks. That what Paul was talking about in his letter to the church at Corinth this morning. He cites a whole variety of gifts and in other places mentions still more. But one thing is always consistent- when God gives to one, it is Always intended that that ability be used for the benefit of others. I don’t know a a single person except for Jesus who ever had the ability to transform water into wine. But I know many who have the ability to transform the circumstances, attitudes and lives of others into something so much better, so much more delightful. When the gifts of God are used as God intends, abundance, generosity and grace naturally abound. It is simply the nature of the gift. It overflows and enters the core of us, transforming us and those around us.
Finally, consider what was used. The vessels and the water they contained was set aside for sacred, if common use. They were ordinary things with a sacred role. At the command of Jesus, they became something even more. Beginning with the humble purpose of removing uncleanliness from the hands, they became a source of delight and satisfaction. Oh how I wish that we could see that process in our lives and in this place more fully.
• That Bible that rests on the communion table might change from a decoration to a source of life giving inspiration. People would be joyful to join together in Bible study, eager to hear and to share what the Spirit has dipped of it depths for us to be nourished with.
• That baptismal font over there, would be brimming with water, often needing to be refilled, as we add to those whom God has claimed as precious children of God through our witness and work in the community. It should be continually reminding us who’s we are and how we have pledged our lives.
• The communion table itself, might be a place of deep satisfaction. A place where we are continually reminded of what Christ has done for us and how we are sustained by his grace and continually fed as we journey through our daily lives.
Such transformation is possible if we are willing to do what Jesus asks of us – to love as he loved us. Or are we content to just go through the ritual motions of the day and years. They are not bad, just ordinary: plain, uninteresting, nothing to see here. We serve the Lord of grace and of love. We serve the one who takes a little boy’s lunch and feeds a multitude who were hunger to hear the words of life, we serve the master who takes the ordinary things of life and and turns it into fine wine – rich and delightful. We serve the one who took the bread and wine of Passover and transformed them into not only remembrance of events long ago but a promise of belonging, forgiveness and reunion. We serve the one who tasted the inevitable bitterness of death and turned it into life everlasting for any who will but receive it in his name. In the light of such extraordinary truth, How can anything ever be ordinary again?