Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nonvitation


Nonvitation
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
January 20, 2013
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 2:1-11 

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.
Amen.
 

The Wedding at Cana
2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When 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 10 and 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.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. [1]  

So I started this week by doing some research on this text. One of the cool parts about preaching from the lectionary is that everybody else is preaching from it, so there are tons of articles and sermons all on the topic, right there for you all in one place. One of the not so cool parts about preaching from the lectionary is that everybody else is preaching from it, and from what I've seen so far, most of the ideas that collected on the Lectionary Sites on the internet are so tired, boring, played, obvious, insert your own adjective, in short lame. For the last three weeks I've been completely underwhelmed by what I've seen. Ok, so for today, for the Wedding at Cana, at first I had to wade through a debate over whether drinking alcohol is a sin or not. It is funny watching people proof text the same passage to make a case for  their opposite agendas. Non drinkers downplaying the wine by saying it was cultural and that the water was undrinkable, and drinkers saying if Jesus drank, I can drink. Next I waded through tons of them making awkward transitions to Martin Luther King Day tomorrow, or President Obama's Inauguration, everything from Mary being like Rosa Parks, to Wedding s being a new beginning, and I even saw a person make the claim that the saving the best for last line from the text, you know the “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,”  that, that line is proof that President Obama's second term will be that much better than his first. I've tried to stay away from political statements, but from a purely Biblical Interpretation standpoint, that's a bit of a stretch, and maybe stretch is an understatement. I mean it said water into wine not water into kool-aid. Sorry I thought of that line and just couldn't resist.
Without much help there, my idea had to come from the text, and a conversation I had a few months ago with my friend Jerry King. He posed the question to me in the conversation, "Do you think most people would want to invite Jesus to a party?" and you see in this passage, there it is verse 2, "Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding." So they're not just crashing, they are not just passing through, they are not just on their way somewhere else. They are invited to this wedding. It seems to me a very important question and a challenging question, especially when I put myself in with that category of most people. Do most people want to invite Jesus to their party? Would I want to invite Jesus to a party? Would I want to be invited to a party where Jesus is? Maybe we'd like to send him an invitation because we feel obligated, but do we  really want him to come?
There was a Seinfeld where Elaine received this wedding invitation from a woman who had been a rival/friend for quite some time. They had known each other from high school, and the friend was a cheerleader, and a homecoming queen, etc., and Elaine and her had this face to face friendship, but a behind the back resentment, hatred, and animosity, type thing going on. So there is this one episode where this woman, Sue Ellen Mishki is getting married, but she is getting married in India, so she invites Elaine to it. In perfect Seinfeld form Elaine obsesses over and talks about this invitation again and again to Jerry, firing each other up, convinced that the invitation is a, well I'll send her an invitation, knowing she won't come all the way to India. They have pet names for everything. This they call  a Nonvitation, so Elaine ends up going to the wedding, traveling all the way in India, purely out of spite.
So I made that the title of this sermon, "Nonvitation." Would we really want Jesus to come to our party? The answer of this question says a lot about us because it says a lot about who Jesus is to us. The real question is, do you think of Jesus as a buzz kill, or as someone who'd be constantly giving you that eye, you know the judging eye that looks deep in your soul and makes you think twice about what you are doing, no matter what it is, it can't be right, and then here comes the guilt, rolling on in. Would you get nervous around Jesus? Would you feel like you just couldn't relax because, I mean, hey it's Jesus? Would you feel you'd need to put on airs? Wear nicer clothes? Be on your best behavior? Only talk about "God" topics? Or maybe feel like you'd have to brush up on your Bible Trivia? Would you think you'd be constantly studying for some test? Would you be trying to see if you'd somehow measure up, competing with others over who can be the most pious, the most "good," the most helpful to him? Would an impromptu competition erupt, over who can love their neighbor the best? Would you be concerned that the party would have to revolve around him? Would that make you jealous? Would it be possible to have a party where Jesus is not the center of attention?
Let's put a new spin on it, just to help to illustrate the point, so it's not a wedding, it's not just a regular party, it's a Super Bowl Party. Could you have Jesus come to your Super Bowl party, and still watch the game? or would that be way too worldly, way too much of the world, and you'd want to show Jesus how "not of this world you are."  Could you still comment with your friends over which commercial is best? Could you still lay a friendly wager, maybe do the dollar a square matrix pool for the score at the end of each quarter? Hmmm I wonder. . .
What do you think? Would you? Would those questions enter your mind? Why is that? Why do we feel that way about Jesus? Is it biblical to think that way?
Well this is the beginning of Jesus' ministry. It is the beginning of John's gospel. Chapter one includes John's prologue, and John the Baptist making claims about who Jesus is, then Jesus recruits some disciples, and the next thing  you know he's here at this wedding. His turning the water into wine is his first public miracle. If first impressions are important, then we may be missing something thinking like we do because here is Jesus invited to a party, and he doesn't kill the party but rather enhances it. He doesn't distract from the party, but leaves people fulfilled and full of life. He doesn't just transform water into wine, but he transforms a lot of water into a lot of wine: "six stone jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons." I'm not great at math, but if we go with the low figure that is 120 gallons of wine, and with the high number its 180 gallons of wine. Now I don't know how many people are at this wedding, but no matter how you slice it that is a lot of wine. Just think about it, even if there was 100 people at the wedding that is more than a gallon of wine a piece. That's not a good party that is a dangerous party. And it's not just wine it's really good wine, according to the steward. He even compliments the bridegroom about the quality upgrade that Jesus brings to the party. Compliments the bridegroom, not Jesus. Could Jesus have done this not for attention, not to be the center of the party, but so the bridgegroom got the credit. Only those close to Jesus are in the know. And the passage closes with: "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him." That was some party, this guy is the truth, but only the disciples knew.
It is interesting that there is not a scene anywhere in the Gospels where Jesus breaks up a party. I even challenge you to find a scene in the Gospels where Jesus makes people around him feel nervous, or agitated. You do see some scenes where the disciples are posturing, fighting over Jesus' attention or approval, but Jesus always quickly tells them they are wrong for feeling that way. Jesus doesn't stop gatherings, he brings life to them, whether it's turning water into wine, or feeding multitudes. So why do we feel apprehensive about inviting Jesus to our party?
It's interesting, there is an example of Jesus breaking up a group of folks and challenging what they are doing, but it's not a party, it's a temple, it's a house of God, it's a church, and wouldn't you know it, in John's Gospel it is the very next story. John 2:12-25

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 

Now here is the interesting part, another party and people believe. The Passover festival, check it out.  

23 When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24
 

Signs at the party, people believe, but not at the temple. And then the story concludes:
 

But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone. [2]
 

 Jesus already knows, so we really have nothing to hide. Do you hear that? Hiding from Jesus is futile. He already knows, and he still wants to come to the party, so why would we not invite him? Why do we feel like Jesus would judge us and give us that eye? Why do we feel like Jesus would kill the mood with only "God" talk, only that which is high brow, stuffy, and proper? Is that how Jesus is or is that how church is? Do we see Jesus that way because that is the way we do church, or maybe it's not always like that, but sometimes it can be like that? Is that how church can be? Does church have that tendency? We may say no to each other, but the prevailing view from an ever widening majority of non church goers may disagree. It is possible that they are simply misinformed, but what are we doing to challenge their notion?
I talked last week about Christ being the head of the church, reminding and challenging the elders that the decisions that they make are not to be based on their own ideas and agendas, but rather on trying to discern the will of Christ. The idea that Christ, not any of us, is the head of the church,  one could understand this to mean  that Church is Christ's party, and we are invited to it, to be a part of it, to be inspired and transformed by it. He changed water into wine, what will he change us into? What will he transform this church into, the temple that took forty six years to build, and that he destroyed, and then raised in three days, his body?
We've been asking the wrong question this whole time. I've been asking would we want to invite Jesus to our party, a better question would be, are we willing to go to his?

 



[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 2:1-11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 2:13-25). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.