Lectionary Scripture: John 2:1-11 (NRSV)
It is fascinating to me that the first miracle recorded in John’s Gospel is where Jesus turns water into wine. I find it interesting because while we have Jesus attending a wedding banquet, he keeps the party going when the wine runs out. Not only that, but his mother is the one who asks him to intervene!
At some point in US history, many Protestant churches began to be associated with the temperance movement to curb the use of alcohol. Within Methodism, founder John Wesley wrote about abstaining in his explanation of what it meant to “do no harm” saying that we should avoid
“Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in the cases of extreme necessity.” (2016 Book of Discipline, 78)
Of course the “unless” in this sentence leaves “extreme necessity” up for interpretation! Later, Francis Willard, a famous Methodist laywoman, was the leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union which led the charge for prohibition.
Even today, the official United Methodist stance is
“We affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol as a faithful witness to God’s liberating and redeeming love for persons.” (2016 Book of Discipline, 124)
Yet today’s text can be an interpretational hurdle for the stance of abstinence. John’s Gospel indicates that the wedding guests had already been drinking as they had consumed everything available! So even moderation may take a hit here. At least no one was driving home in that day.
For those who struggle with alcoholism, this may be a very difficult text indeed.
Maybe we get so stuck on our modern-day issues with the abuses of alcohol that we miss the point of the miracle.
In Jesus’ day, the onset of the abundance of wine signaled the eschatological age - the end of time when God would step in and make all things right.
Amos 9:13 reads, “The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when...the mountains shall drip sweet wine and all the hills shall flow with it.” (NRSV) and Joel 3:18 mirrors Amos.
So if we shift the topic away from whether or not one should drink wine (and whether or not Jesus advocated either way with this miracle), we could shift toward the idea that in Jesus we find our abundance and joy. The difficulty is that this is not any less controversial - just for different reasons. If we celebrate God’s abundance over scarcity, what does this mean for those that are going hungry? Where is God’s abundance for those who don’t have enough to eat?
On Sunday, I will be starting a new sermon series for the season of Epiphany entitled, “Juxtaposition: The Paradox of Faith.” I hope to look at how sometimes our faith seems to hold or lift up two contrasting ideas. For this week’s text, how can we preach God’s preferred abundance for humanity when there is measurable scarcity in the world?
I will wrestle with this on Sunday - I hope you’ll join us if you are in town!
Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at precedinggrace.blogspot.com. Photo by Christian Haugen via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.