Monday, February 04, 2013

The Miracle of Hospitality


John 2: 1-11

Everyone has a few favorite scriptures; mine include Acts 10, when God tells Peter than what God has created no one shall call profane; this is another one.
This one is another one-it was one of the ones read at my wedding. It is important because of the obvious, that it was a wedding scene, but it was also important to me because Jesus’ first miracle is a miracle of winemaking.

Before I was in ministry, I was in the wine business. I was born in Napa Valley, CA, and went through a phase of life where I wanted to be a part of the fabric of what made my hometown significant. So I was a cellar worker, dipping my arm up to the shoulder through the top of an outdoor 10.000 gallon tank of Pinot Noir to get a lab sample; I was a tour guide, leading groups of folks through the tank rooms and aging rooms of the California branch of a French champagne company.

When you read this scripture, and preach it in a town like Napa, you get to do all kinds of things with it, such as applying brand names to be lesser and greater wines; “The steward praises the bridegroom for holding back on the Mondavi till all the Gallo had run out;” things like that.

Aside from all the wonderful stories I can tell as a preacher in conjunction with this scripture, what I love about it is how few people actually knew about it when it happened. It also matters who knew.

This is a wedding, there are likely hundreds of people there. Jesus is there, the disciples are there, Mary is there; probably most of the town of Cana is there. The steward figures out that the wine is going to run out; maybe it’s a hot day, or maybe there are more guests than expected, or maybe the consumption is way more than expected. It doesn’t matter-the bridegroom is about to be embarrassed. Mary is sensitive to this, and lets Jesus know there’s about to be a social faux-pas in that wedding, and she hollers over to Jesus to do something.

Jesus’ first miracle isn’t the returning of sight to the blind, or healing someone who can’t walk. It’s a quiet little miracle that keeps a bridegroom from being embarrassed on his wedding day.

And he doesn’t even know it. The steward doesn’t either. I can imagine the face of the groom as the steward compliments him; a certain amount of bewilderment, pleasure, and relief at a problem solved.

But the servants know what happened. The disciples probably know, Mary knows, but the wider parties, including the principals, have no clue. And maybe they never do. They just know that that wedding that day was awesome, because the wine was above average.

Isn’t that the way with miracles? Miracles, to me, are those things that change the way we act in life, but are not big splashy things that make it into newspapers. Miracles are very generally huge to the people they are affected by, and unknown to the people around the rest of the world.

We do misuse the world miracle, too. Was it really a miracle that the USA beat the USSR in ice hockey in 1980? (“Do you believe in miracles?”) Was it really a miracle that Sully Sullenberger was able to land that plane in the Hudson river after all of his engines failed, or was it, as he said, just well trained people doing their jobs? Is it really a miracle that chemotherapy and radiation works? Or is it just medical science doing what’s designed to do?

It’s a hard thing to talk about miracles. There needs to be this unexplained component of an event, but more importantly, there has to be a component of the event giving glory to God in some way. It has to point to God. No matter what may have been said back then about “godless Communism”, the US’ hockey victory points more to the glory and power of coaching, training and teamwork, than God.

It seems to be frivolous that Jesus’ first miracle is to provide the drug that keeps the party going. For teetotalers, this miracle becomes problematic as well.
But keeping the party going is not Jesus’ intent. His intent is hospitality, which for many people is the only grace they feel they are capable of. When someone is sick, everyone can cook (or order out) food for the family of the sick person. Lasagna, brownies, each of those things is hospitality; helping other people, providing comfort to others, is as important to the testifying of God’s love and grace as any return of sign to the blind. In a sense, even those healings are hospitality, too!
And the miracle of hospitality is the thing that we are all capable of. This is within our grasp. I cannot make someone who can’t walk to walk again; but I can make a plate of fried chicken! I cannot take away cancer, but I can learn how to perform surgery to remove it as best I can, or I can clean their cat box, or clean their bathroom.

The miracle is in the love we show. The miracle is in the caring we show, and it is no less a miracle than turning water into wine.
It may sound like a strong statement, but try it sometime. And then try to receive someone else’s hospitality. When we receive someone else’s grace, it can be as powerful as successful surgery.

Hospitality can be a miracle. Truly.

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