The Hard Work of Miracles
Some years ago, a young woman named Emily had suddenly been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. I say suddenly because she had no symptoms, was a healthy woman in her late 20s, and the mother of two beautiful little children and wife to a wonderful man. Their lives were just getting started. Emily was healthy and strong. And one day during a routine doctor’s appointment in early winter, the news came: She was terminal. As you can imagine, the news was more than jarring: All of this young couple’s hopes and dreams — their whole life — would completely change. The news was announced on Facebook and through email and text requests to pray for Emily and her family. And that’s what we did. I remember pleading with God to give Emily more time. At the time, my boys were still toddlers. I would look at them and think how heartbreaking it would have to be to leave them at such a young age. Emily declined treatments that would have her live out her short time in a hospital bed, hooked to machines and undergoing useless surgeries. Instead, her family and friends collected money for she and her family to travel to Disneyland in Florida to give her kids some lasting memories. They went, they celebrated Christmas, she planned for the kids’ futures… And we prayed. Whole churches prayed daily for Emily. People got together to pray for her regularly. The Facebook posts came several times a day. And we vowed that if God would just give this miracle, we would spend our lives testifying to his majesty and greatness. Yes, we were bargaining with God, even though God doesn’t need anything we have to bargain. It was heartbreaking hard work, and whenever the thought that Emily wasn’t going to make it popped into our heads, we’d immediately dismiss it with the words: “God is able,” Ephesians 3.20. Rather than opt for treatments, Emily went for runs. She played with her kids. She went to work. Nothing seemed to have changed with even her energy levels. Later that winter, Emily went to see her oncologist with a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. “How much longer, Lord?” The medical team did the routine blood work and cat-scans and tests. Then the doctors told her the news: Her cancer was miraculously gone! Completely gone. Inexplainably gone. Joyously gone. Years later, Emily is still running, working, being a mom and building all sorts of memories with her husband and kids. And I’m still holding up my end of the bargain praising God for it and telling you all about it. Abundant Life Now, it’s true that we’ve here in this church seen God act and even witness miracles — real miracles that we acknowledge and share — And we give thanks and praise. They do change us and strengthen our faith, and we have many testimonies. Unfortunately, we also pray vehemently and seek prayers from thousands of people for others, and God has other plans for those we pray for. Even ourselves. Yet we still testify to the greatness of God, knowing the promise that he has always kept and always will keep: eternal life and eternal light in God’s presence. Always held. When our prayers are answered, we praise God; but the fact that we’re eternally held and only because of Gods love and grace, we praise God in those times, too. And so when we read or hear about Jesus’s first miracle of his ministry — turning water into wine — three things become clear in John’s Gospel: That Jesus is God’s son (the main point of John’s Gospel) and can in fact do God’s work — not just acts, but miracles; That Jesus reveals in the wine miracle account a profound image of his death, resurrection and ascension; and That what Jesus gives not only meets the basic needs of his children, but is abundantly excessive. Systematics So let’s take them systematically. * We know from our reading that John’s is the only Gospel that mentions this miracle — none of the other Gospels include Jesus’s FIRST miracle… * we know that Jesus has been baptized in the Jordan River, God’s voice tells all those there that Jesus is God’s son, and that his public ministry begins. * They’re at a wedding — and weddings back in Jesus’s time and culture were sometimes days or weeks long. * The wine has run out. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a wedding reception with an open bar… … but at some point in the night, the barkeep announces that the keg is kicked and from that point on, it’s pay-only. You can hear the collective hush and grunts… Now, imagine that you’re only a couple of days into a wedding celebration in Jesus’s days— you’ve traveled hundreds of miles that may have taken many days. On camel or by foot. In the desert. Leaving your farm behind. Which means leaving money on the table back home. You bought an extravagant gift for the new couple. And the father of the bride is footing the bill for your hospitality. That’s the deal. And the wine is gone… And when the wine is gone, the party is over. Imagine the hush and grunts. And in that culture? The shame that not only the father of the bride would feel, but the couple themselves. And for whatever reason, Mary sees this and goes to her son — who hasn’t performed any miracles yet — and tells him to do something. Jesus dodges the situation: “It’s not my hour yet, woman.” “My time hasn’t come yet.” And like the mama bird kicking the baby bird out of the nest, she basically tells him, “Time to fly, son.” Jesus then tells the headwaiter to bring all the jars with water and bring them to him. Now, we tend to think of these little glass jars. No. We read in John’s text that there were six STONE jars. I was just at the Bible Museum in DC. They had some of these casks… They’re HUGE! How big? Big enough to hold 20-30 gallons of water for ritual cleansing. 30 gallons equals 250 pounds! Imagine one of those stone jars and how much they would weigh even empty! They were filled to the brim! Stack 10 cinderblocks together and try lifting them, and you get some sense of the weight here. And it’s not like they had plumbing and running water and a long hose. Those jugs — six of them weighing a total of 1500 pounds! — had to be hefted by several servants down to the river to be filled, then somehow hefted all the way back! Are you getting the idea here? This was incredibly hard work. And it probably seemed ridiculous. Especially since there was no precedent of who this Jesus of Nazareth was or what he could do! But they were obedient. And my guess is was that it took an awful long time to complete this task. Imagine the gravity of that moment? The sweat on the brow of the father and the bride and the groom. The din of gasps and frustration from the crowd of what probably was hundreds and hundreds of wedding guests… And with all the servants around him, Jesus turns the water into wine. John tells us “he revealed his glory.” Verse 11. Abundance First: Jesus shows us in this revelation and in this miracle that he is God’s son. Second: He alludes to his death, resurrection and ascension in saying his hour hasn’t come. And the third thing we see is God’s abundance. Like Jesus’s other miracles, he gives abundantly: 31 miracles of nature, healings, provisions, exorcisms, raising the dead… Think about feeding the 4000 and 5000 — which were probably more like 10,000 — and all that was left over. Think about the great catch of fish — bursting the nets. Think about raising Lazarus from the dead! And, of course, six 30-gallon jugs of wine filled to the brim with the BEST wine, not just the bottom-shelf stuff — way more than enough. Abundance, always abundance. And my friend Emily. Abundant healing! And what about all those in our families and our churches who weren’t healed from their physical diseases? ABUNDANT LIFE IN RESURRECTION! ETERNAL LIFE WITH GOD. No more sorrow, no more pain. United with God in God’s FULL and LOVING presence. Jesus’s death on the cross took away not just ONE sin. But how many of our sins? ALL OF THEM. Erased. Gone. Forever. Never to be spoken again. And for what price to us? Nothing. Absolutely free. ABUNDANCE. Say it with me: ABUNDANCE! Hard Work Christ’s abundance is free. His “burden is light” (Matt 11.30) But I want you to notice the persistence that it sometimes takes so that we can see the contrast and abundance itself. * In the feedings of the 4- and 5000, recorded in Mark 6.32 and 8.1, Jesus tells the disciples to begin passing out the bread to all the people. Have you ever hosted a dinner party and served a roomful of guests? Now imagine passing bread to 10,000 of them…. It’s hard work, people. Don’t breeze past this. With the fish haul in the nets we read about in Mark 1.16, Jesus tells them where to cast their nets, and this is after they’ve had a frustrating long night on the boat with no catch. They’re back ashore, mending the nets, nets all rolled up and stowed, boat put up… And Jesus tells them to go back out. And imagine how heavy that haul was? It almost swamped the boat! HARD WORK! The miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. How much do you think a stone sealed and rolled away from a tomb weighs? John 11.1. HARD WORK. Carrying six stone jars down to the river and then back! Back-breaking HARD WORK! Having enough faith and courage to live out what little time you have in your life with the joy of what God has given you, despite what the doctors have said. It’s HARD WORK! Going to the cross, beaten and scourged and hung with nails in his hands and feet. GAVE IT ALL FOR US. If that’s not hard work, I don’t know what is. For us… Even miracles are hard work. The grace is free. The love and the mercy and the goodness, all free. We can’t earn it through any of our hard work. But if we really want to WITNESS God’s grace, love, mercy and goodness, we have to open our eyes and our hearts, and while some may think that’s easy to do; it’s not. . Our propensity is toward safety, rest, avoidance, the path of least resistance, no conflict, ease… We have to pray that God opens our eyes and hearts to have eyes like Christ and a heart like Christ — that we can see and feel the things Christ does. So our hearts break like Christ’s does for those in need of God’s love, mercy, goodness and grace. For the sick. For the beaten-down. For the broken-hearted. For the suffering, the abused, the addicted, the discarded… For your brothers and sisters even here today. Encouragement If you haven’t heard yet, 2019 is the year of missions here in this church. A couple of weeks ago, a dozen or so of us gathered around a table and Linda led a discussion about how we’re being called to do this work. Prayer, ideas, brainstorming, input, cooperation and excitement to do God’s will for this church. That’s the work we need, and those are exactly the workers and dreamers we need. It is our prayer that we have the courage and the strength as well as the vision - the hands, feet, shoulders, back, legs and so on to be able to do this work that we can follow God’s will for this church and bring life to our community and our world. In loving and excited obedience to see the miracles and acts that God will deliver for us. But we have to do the work. Become disciples or stronger, more faithful disciples. We all have a long race ahead of us still — We have to heft heavy jugs of water, raise nets, pass loaves, roll stones and suffer the nails… — as long as we are living and breathing and listening to God’s voice — we will run with great endurance the race that Christ has set out before us. Let our response to God’s great love and mercy and grace be just that: Doing everything within our power, with all our God-given gifts and talents, to do nothing short of giving life, to bringing light, and to making Kingdom Living a reality for all who seek, all who suffer, all who search for that which is given freely. All in Christ’s love. All for all of us. Amen.