Do what he tells you to do

Text: John 2:1-11

The season after The Epiphany, which is where we are now in the liturgical year, is one of those seasons in which the appointed readings are specifically picked for particular reasons. The readings during this season, after we have had Christmas, from the annunciation to Mary to the birth of Jesus to a visitation by the magi, are organized to show us who this Jesus is.

So it works like this: On Epiphany, Jesus is made manifest to the world. The next Sunday he is baptized. After that, we have other stories that reveal something about Jesus’ identity and mission, beginning with his first public act and ending as we crown the season with the story of the Transfiguration just before Ash Wednesday.

Jesus’s first public act is different in each of the four Gospels. In the Gospel of Matthew, it is the sermon on the mount, in which Jesus, in the style of Moses, lays out a great deal of teaching to describe God’s vision for the world and how God’s people might live out that vision. In Mark, his first act is to cast out an unclean spirit, emphasizing his battle against evil and embodying God’s dream of making all people free. In Luke, Jesus immediately begins teaching and specifically announces himself as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah (which, by the way, we will read about next week). But in John, our story today, Jesus’s first public act is to go to a wedding, where his mother provides some wisdom, and where he saves the day by miraculously turning gallons and gallons and gallons of water into gallons and gallons of wine for the wedding guests to enjoy well into their time together in celebration.

Isn’t that something? No preaching, no teaching, no spectacular healing. As his first public act, Jesus goes to a wedding and provides the wine.

I’m glad we are in the year in which we read this story because I think we can all use a little joy these days. And to say that Jesus began his public ministry by celebrating a joyful occasion, by showing his intention to provide so abundantly, is uplifting to me today. John calls this a sign, not a miracle, and that’s an important distinction. In another of his signs, he will later provide abundant bread, too, when thousands of very tired people need to sit down and rest and eat after following him for days and days and days. 

And these are signs because they are not just about food and drink. They signify something bigger, more significant, they are holy signs meant to show us something important about God and God’s dream for us. And Jesus’s mother’s instructions to the steward - do whatever he tells you - is meant for us as well. This story is not told to make us marvel that Jesus can turn water into wine. It is to show us God’s dream for us, that God will nourish us with good stuff, not just at the beginning but when we are in the thick of it. Jesus is showing us this dream, and the Gospel writer adds the commentary that it would be best for us to do what Jesus tells us to do. It’s not so much a story about Jesus himself, but about what he does, and what that signifies, and give us food for thought - or in this case drink - as to how we should respond.

I’ve mentioned God’s dream for us a couple of times, and that was intentional. I’ve been reading a book by Verna Dozier called The Dream of God: A Call to Return, a book that I’d love to share with you and read along with you in a book group if you are interested. Dozier posits that God’s dream is for us to be creative and free, that Jesus came to show us what life in God’s kingdom is like (which is NOT like the kingdoms of this world but is a new and beautiful thing), and that our job is not to just sit around and worship Jesus but to follow him. To do what he tells us to do.

Dozier has a lot to say about the church and how it has missed its opportunity to live out God’s dream for us. But as the subtitle to her book shows, she believes we can still turn around and learn to follow. Turning around means repenting. Following means serving. Serving means doing ministry. 

And she is clear that gathering in joy and for sustenance, like we do here on Sundays, like we do at a wedding, is part of our life together. But it’s not all. She says it like this:

“The church is the people of God. It takes two forms, the church gathered and the church scattered. We gather to break bread as a community, to hear our story, and to recommit ourselves to the dream of God. We scatter to live into that dream. It is the task of the church, the people of God, to minister within the structures of society. It Is the role of the church, the institution, to support that ministry.”

In other words, it is the role of the church to equip the saints, as we like to say around here. But it is the role of us equipped saints to go out and serve in the world. Dozier says, “The urgent task for us today is to reclaim our identity as the people of God and live into our high calling as the baptized community. We are a chosen people, chosen for God’s high purposes, that the dream of God for a new creation may be realized.”

It is the dream of God that we will be something new in the world. And it occurred to me that during this time of discernment for us as a parish, as we discern who we are and where we perceive God may be leading us next, it might be helpful to spend some time in Verna Dozier’s company, thinking about the dream of God and what new thing we might be becoming. You’ll be hearing next week about an opportunity to do that.

But today we are gathered in celebration, to hear the story, to share in the bread if not, thank you pandemic, the wine. And the story today is this: Jesus as God’s precious son will joyfully sustain us as we live this life, and Jesus also will tell us what to do — all the time the story is Jesus showing and telling us what to do — and our work, when we leave this place where we joyfully gather, is to go out and do it.