Rev. Danielle K Bartz February 6, 2022
John 2:1-11 “No Offense to Mr. Spock, but…”
Let me set the stage for you. The year is 2259. The USS Enterprise has been attacked and badly damaged, and is about to crash into Earth. The only way to save everyone on board is to engage the warp core, but in the attack the warp core fell out of alignment. The way to fix it is for someone to sacrifice themselves by crawling in the radiation flooded core and forcing it back into alignment. Captain James T. Kirk goes to the rescue, saves the ship, but sacrifices himself. No one on the bridge of ship knew what he had done, and as the ship safely climbs out of the Earth’s atmosphere, someone says, “It’s a miracle.” Commander Spock, “There is no such thing as miracles.”
That was the climax of the 2013 movie ‘Star Trek Into Darkness.” Because I thought of that line when I was working on my sermon for this week, re-watching the movie was obviously a vital preparatory activity before sitting down and writing what I am sharing with you today. As I watched the movie, I noticed several other references to miracles or people being called miracle-workers. It made me start thinking about how that word is used and what people think of when they speak of miracles.
Today’s scripture includes maybe one of the most referenced miracles in Christianity: water into wine. Even if people don’t know the actual story, they have heard of the miracle – and ‘water into wine’ is practically an idiom in the English language. But there is so much more to this story, indeed there is so much more to the idea of miracles that so often gets overlooked. When all we remember about this story is water became wine, then we lose the true lesson that this story is trying to teach.
You see, the water didn’t just turn into wine. There is a whole series of events that include far more people than Jesus and a great deal of communal effort. First, and perhaps most importantly, Mary had to notice there was a problem. And it was a huge problem. Weddings were multi-day celebrations, and if the food and wine ran out early, there were real social consequences for the couple and their family. Furthermore, it wasn’t only a social problem for the couple, it could have ended the livelihood of the stewards who were running the party – the Chief Steward could be blamed because he didn’t plan accurately, and he could possibly never work again. This was a big problem. And the miracle couldn’t have happened if Mary hadn’t first noticed it and placed her trust in Jesus to solve it.
Mary was the only one at the party who truly knew who Jesus was. In the Gospel of John, there is no birth narrative, there is no heavenly host announcing the messiah’s birth. There is only John the Baptist, who upon seeing Jesus, recognizes him as God’s Son. The first disciples, who were with Jesus at this wedding feast, were following him more out of loyalty to John than to Jesus, at least in the beginning. But Mary knew, Mary understood who her son was. And so after she noticed the problem, she placed her trust in Jesus and instructed the others to do so as well. “Do whatever he tells you,” she says to the servants. And they do. Jesus, initially reluctant to begin his public ministry, instructs the servants to fill 6 stone jars with water. Each of those jars held 20-30 gallons, and remember, there was no tap to fill them from. The servants had to draw water up from a well. Now, I don’t know how long that would take – drawing up from a well about 150 gallons of water and carrying it however far the well was from the jars. But, it was no small feat. Jesus asked for a tremendous amount of work from the servants, but they complied because they were told to place their trust in him and follow his instructions. Then, and only then, does water turn into wine. A miracle, yes, but a miracle that only occurred because of the combined effort of a community of people.
Is that how we usually think of miracles? Do we see the extraordinary and notice all of the work that had to take place? Can a miracle only be a miracle when it is mysterious, beyond our comprehension and completely out of our control? I don’t think so. Yes, something happened here that is beyond our ability to understand, but there is so much more to the creation of this miracle that we can perfectly understand. John’s text doesn’t imply magic – Jesus doesn’t wave his hand and the 6 stone jars mysterious fill with wine. The miracle happens only after the need is identified and publicly named, trust and hope is placed in the Divine, AND a community of people come together to do the hard work. That is how the ordinary turns into the extraordinary.
Praying and hoping for a miracle is one thing, and it is important. Prayer may not change God, but it does change the one doing the praying. But miracles almost always require more effort. I have experienced in my life moments of the Divine’s movement in our world that are completely beyond explanation. Many people have. But I have also experienced moments or periods of time that are equally miraculous, equally Divine, that are the result of a group of people, placing their hope in God and their trust in one another, doing the hard work of making the Kingdom of God real. The water into wine story is about so much more than the culmination of the miracle, it is a guide for us to follow in partnering with God to create miracles today. That guide is best described by my favorite scripture commentator Debie Thomas. She says to create miracles we must “be like Mary. Maybe we can notice, name, persist, and trust.”
First, we must notice the need. Mary said, “They have no wine.” When we look at the world today, what needs do we notice? “They have no water.” “They have no food.” “They have no shelter.” “They have no healthcare.” “They have no equal justice.” “They have no books.” “They have no teachers.” “They have no hope.” We must be active observers of the world, willing to look the pain of others in the eye. We must notice the need and then we must name it. Name it aloud. Name it to anyone willing to listen. Name it aloud over and over and over again until the world is finally no longer able to ignore it. Name it to God, and by doing so commit yourself to partnering with God to create a miracle. And then, the work must begin. And in the work, we must persist. The servants in the Gospel carried 150 gallons of water to fill the stone jars. What must we carry? What hard work do we need to do? And how will we support one another to persist in that hard work? How will we persist when the world tries to tell us our work is futile, when we are told world is too broken and the Kingdom of God is beyond our reach?
The Good News is the Gospel answers those questions for us as well. We will persist by placing our trust in the Divine, by following the teachings of Jesus. By working together as a community committed to serving God, even when that service is exhausting. “Do whatever he tells you,” Mary tells the servants. “Do whatever he tells you,” Mary is telling us. We may not have Jesus right in front of us, giving us clear commands and directions. But we do have the Holy Spirit constantly whispering in our ears. We do have the scriptures of both Testaments pointing us to justice with God at the center. We do have prophets, old and young alike, calling on us to follow them. “Do whatever he tells you,” and a miracle will happen.
The fictional character of Spock, with his highly logical mind, saw the effort and only the effort. And many people today, suspicious of religion, suspicious of God even, often see the work and only the work of the people. But, to live a life of faith is to at times set aside logic. The world loves to tell us that the work of justice is futile. The world loves to tell us that “everything is stacked up against us.” But we lean into the arms of God, draw from the well of the Holy Spirit, and carry with us the teachings of Jesus and say back to the world, “miracles are possible and we will not give up until they are experienced by all of Creation.” And maybe, just maybe, that is the miracle itself – acknowledging that God has given us the ability to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Amen.
God of miracles, when we look at the world, help us to see your movement in it. When we look at the effort of your people, let us see your inspiration behind it. And when we look and see the needs of your Creation, help us to know you have given us the ability to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
God, they have no water. They have no food. They have no justice. They have shelter. They have no teachers. They have no freedom. They have no friends. They have no healthcare. They have no hope.
God, we name these pains aloud not for you to notice, but for us to notice. We know that your presence is not separated from anyone. We know that those who lack always have you. So, as we pray for the miracles that are so needed in our world, we pray as an act of commit to partner with you and make your Kingdom come.
Give us the courage to name what we see. Give us the wisdom to speak the need aloud. Give us the strength to work together. Give us the resilience to lean on you. Give us the hope that you provide.
God of miracles, we are grateful for the miracle of our creation and carry with us the spark of your light to shine into the shadows of this world.
We pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, our teacher, our guide, our source of wisdom, and our partner in hope. And we pray with him and all who believe with the words he taught…Our Father…