Empty jars into abundance

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John 2:1-11
January 17, 2015
Second Sunday after Ephiphany
Shera Nesheim, DM

A woman from Arizona was driving down some rural dirt roads in North Dakota one winter day and drove by a field filled with dead sunflowers. For some reason this intrigued her, and while most of us would have kept driving, she pulled over. She walked over to the hardened stalk of a sunflower that at one time in its life held its bright yellow face high and proud toward the blue sky, but this day, it was blackened and stiff, facing down toward the frozen ground. As she looked closer she noticed a few seeds left in its disc. And to her surprise, below on the white snow there were little tiny footprints of the birds who found the provision of food and life. All of this in the midst what seemed barren.

A man from Nazareth was at an ordinary wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. There was much laughter and joy, yet the wine had run out too early. Far in the corner he spotted 6 empty stone water jars meant for the ritual of purification. Upon his request, a handful of servants fervently filled these jars to the brim with clean fresh water. And to everyone’s surprise, a wedding feast that was almost ruined was instead bursting with abundance, an unexpected gift from a guest named Jesus.

I know what you’re thinking, “Wow, can Jesus really throw in awesome party!” And yes, I’ll admit, the thought of preaching this text about ever-flowing wine to people in recovery is intimidating! But I tell you, even though Jesus turns water into approximately 1,000 bottles of wine, this first sign Jesus performs in the book of John is not about the alcohol at all. As preacher David Lose says, Wine isn’t merely a social lubricant, you see, it’s a sign of the harvest, of God’s abundance, of joy and gladness and hospitality. And so when they run short on wine they run short on blessing. And that’s a tragedy.

What this miracle is about is Jesus using ordinary things to make holy moments. Jesus, who really is God made into skin and bone, makes himself known to us in ordinary things. Things like water, bread and wine (or in some cases, grape juice). Jesus makes himself known to us, in the snow plows that clear the roads, in seemingly dying fields of sunflowers that have seeds hidden inside. Jesus makes himself known to us in the warm smiles and handshakes of sharing God’s peace with one another in worship on a cold Sunday morning and in the games of jenga and pizza shared on Wednesday nights with youth on the outside. Jesus makes himself known to us in the tears that are shared, in the laughter of children, in the dancing and celebration of life. Jesus is in these ordinary, grace-filled moments.

I spent a day in retreat with 7 other women this week. We spent time in prayer, in conversation, and shared holy communion. We were given the opportunity to ponder where we saw Jesus at work in the ordinary parts of our life. Maybe it was our Lutheran perspective coming out, but I think it was simply a truthful human perspective – through every story shared, it was not in the moments like a joyous wedding feast that they saw Jesus, but most of these women saw Jesus in the simple day-to-day moments, and most especially in the midst of grief and darkness.

When they didn’t feel in control. When they felt alone or afraid. When they thought they might lose their husband, or when dear loved ones struggled with paralyzing mental health conditions. Jesus, the performer of miracles, the healer, the restorer, he was most present to them in their deepest pain. Most of the time, in the chaos of the moment, we don’t have the flowery words to ask God for what we need in prayer. Instead, much like the mother of Jesus, we simply come to Jesus with our needs, and open hands, and we rest in knowing that he will answer us with enough grace for everyone.

Because we know that Jesus desires to give abundantly. Jesus takes that which is empty and transforms it into overflowing life. In his quiet exuberant gift at the wedding, abundance flows and overflows for every person there – rich or poor, old or young, servant or master.

In the bright, clear eyes of a young adult who is celebrating their one-year anniversary of sobriety, I see abundance. When talking with her about this sign Jesus performs at a wedding using wine, she said to me, “I feel even more blessed to feel at peace with who I am today, and to know happiness and gratitude, I didn’t have any of these things when I was using.” I think what she is really telling us is that Jesus has transformed her emptiness from using, into a life overflowing with peace and blessing and happiness and gratitude. She has spoken gospel truth to me in sharing that her life is fuller, brighter, and better because of the strength she has found in sobriety and in Christ’s healing power. And though there are days when we have to “fake it til we make it,” we still believe that Jesus is transforming us.

Jesus transforms empty jars into abundance only because this is who Jesus is and what Jesus does. As a friend once told me, “Jesus is in the business of taking what looks inconsequential to others and making it into the most extravagant offering of grace, ever.” Too often we assume an empty jar can’t be used. Or a wine-stained life is tarnished. Or that unsuspecting servant’s hands cannot deliver miracles. But Jesus comes and changes all of that. His entire ministry is filled with empowering and uplifting the least of these to be changed and to do great things. He touches and heals people with disease, he talks and speaks hope to people society has shunned, like tax collectors and prostitutes, and he calls upon simple people, like fisherman, to continue proclaiming his glory. So no matter who you are, no matter what your past or how empty you may feel inside, believe and trust that Jesus is not an ordinary man, but a generous God, who has come and who continues to come in ordinary things, to fill us up and activate our lives so that we too, may reveal his love and grace in the world.