Oct 29th: Finding Hope in Unexpected Places, with Rev. Kally Elliott.
A Part of the Series:
Finding Hope in Unexpected Places with Rev. Kally Elliott. Series: Postures for a Christ-Centered Life A Spacious Christianity, First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. Scripture: Luke 23.34, John 2:1-11.
You are invited to join Kally this Sunday to hear how God can work with what we have to reveal his glory and bring joy, hope and life to others.
The scripture comes from the Gospel of John chapter two verses one through 11. On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. And the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, they have no wine. And Jesus said to her woman, What concern is that, to me, and to you, My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servants, Do whatever he tells you. Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding 20 or 30 gallons. Jesus said to them, fill the jars with water, and they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, now draw some out and take it to the person in charge of the banquet. So they took it when the person in charge tasted the water that had become wine and did not know where it came from the servants who had drawn the water knew that person called the bridegroom and said to him, everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept to the good wine until now. Jesus did this, the first of his signs in Cana of Galilee, and revealed His glory and His disciples believed in him. On the third day of the wedding in Cana, they ran out of wine. Now, you might be thinking, so what if on day three, they ran out of wine, they’ve obviously already had enough to drink. And while most weddings today might, you know, drag into the night, these folks weren’t even halfway through their wedding reception. Jewish weddings lasted an entire week, and could be wild affairs of truly biblical proportions, to run out of wine on only the third day, it just did not bode well for the newlyweds nor their family. So this scripture has me thinking about the different weddings that I have officiated, of course, there have been the usual kind of weddings a church or an outdoor ceremony, followed by a reception at a beautiful country club. And then there were the family weddings that I’ve I’ve officiated. I’ve married my mom to my stepdad. I’ve married my dad to my stepmom. I’ve married my brothers, one of my brothers, I’ve married twice.
My very close friend from seminary and his girlfriend had become pregnant and they decided they wanted to get married quickly. They couldn’t afford a large affair, nor did they want one. So when I meet them at Wendy’s and marry them. Sure, I replied, though I was a little hesitant. I mean, I was still new to being a pastor and wasn’t even sure that marrying a couple in the dining Wendy’s dining room was allowed. To this day, I still don’t know the answer to that. But it seemed like the loving and supportive thing to do. So I showed up. And I listened to their vows and I asked them, will you take him? And will you take her and till death do you part and to this day, they’re still married, raising their twins who are now almost teenagers. There was something beautiful about that wedding in the dining room of Wendy’s.
It might seem strange to be talking about weddings and parties, especially today with wars in Israel and Gaza and Ukraine and other parts of our world. I mean, why talk about running out of wine after what was probably a three day Bender, when we are faced with a mental health crisis that might break our youth. For the first time in history, we are raising a generation that will not fare better than their parents. And they know this and they are scrambling against time to find another way in the world. And perhaps you are finding that your time is scarce. Where have those years gone? Or maybe the intimacy and your relationships once deep and meaningful? Seems to have dwindled to almost nothing? Or the energy you have to give seems wanting your creativity at a standstill, your hope, languishing.
Our churches budget is also at a breaking point. You might have received the letter from Pastor Stephen a few weeks ago cautioning us that we are facing the biggest financial challenge that we have faced in 20 years. Shifting attendance and difficulty finding volunteers and leaders to take on the work of being the church together, and an aging building in need of some tender loving care, all exacerbate our church’s problems. Our wine feels like it is running out too.
We’re just hoping it will last a little bit longer. Daily life has become a serious stress filled business. So why are we talking about something as trivial as a wedding with a lack of wine? Because it wasn’t just about the wine.
Kingdom was a place where life was serious to located in Galilee, a hotbed of political activity, much of it to be violent in nature. Cana was ruled by Herod’s son but also under the heavy hand of the Roman Empire, citizens paying taxes to Herod, to Rome to the synagogue to local authorities, and to any abandoned with a bent toward a petty crime. It is doubtful most families had anything left after paying all their taxes. And now this family there are only three days into what should have been a seven day celebration. When the wine runs dry.
It was a social disaster. But perhaps worse, it was a complete and utter letdown a punch in the gut to the family and community who so diligently pinched and saved and planned for the celebration to give this couple a hopeful start. Now instead, with embarrassment burning in their cheeks, they must send their guests away thirsty.
I imagine Mary the mother of Jesus seeing the embarrassment or even the fear etched into the face of the host and sidling up to her son Jesus and whispering in his ear, Hey, son, they have no wine. Here’s an opportunity to do something, do something. Jesus, Jesus’s immediate answer is woman. This is not my circus and not my monkeys. It’s not my hour. I mean, that’s basically what he says. It sounds harsh, even for biblical times. And it suggests distance and boundaries. Like he doesn’t want or need to get involved. Like he’s saying, really? You mean, you want me to do a beer run for my first sign my first miracle, know what woman it’s not my turn, not my hour. But Mary knows it is, in fact, his turn his hour and ignoring Jesus, she turns to the servants and says, Do whatever he tells you. I love Mary here.
Jesus hadn’t even begun his ministry yet. Sure, he had some disciples. But at this point, he was just a guy hanging out at a wedding with his friends. And he certainly didn’t plan to restock the bar as his first act of ministry. But Mary knows, she remembers the promises God made to her. You will bear a Son and you will name him Jesus and the child will to be born will be holy. He will be called Son of God. She knows this. She knows that this is his hour. It is his time to show the world who he is who God is.
Something shifts and Jesus at that point. And I like to think it’s because underneath his annoyance, he loved his mom. And she did teach him manners. So he does know a thing or two about being hospitable. So, okay, fine. He’s all in. And he looks around the room and he thinks, you know, what can I use? What’s here that I can use? And they’re over by the door he spots six purification jars, perfect, perfect. He’ll use those. They hold 20 to 30 gallons each they will make for plenty of wine. Oh, but shoot. There are only six of them. Raised in the Jewish faith. Jesus knew that seven was the Holy number. The number of perfection, Completion, wholeness. He could recite the Genesis poem from memory. God created the world in six days and called it good but on this seventh day, God rested. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.
He really should have seven jars if he is going to work his magic. But there are only six jars. And in Jesus’s world six was lacking. Seven is whole wine from seven jars would have really been a miracle. Six, just tacky lackluster not quite enough.
You know, some of us look around at the pews beside us and we see longtime friends missing. Maybe they moved away or perhaps they transitioned from this life to more life. Maybe they just quit coming. The pandemic left our Church changed as it did. Most churches. Some of us may look at our budget and see a frightening short shortage. How can we possibly do the ministry we are called to do when we can’t even meet our budget. The other day a longtime church member shared with me about the time in 1955 when there was an active group of families with children in the church. They were meeting in the old stone church here in Bend and quick and quickly outgrowing it. So they found a property on which to expand but they didn’t have the money to purchase it. So they started with what they did have people doing what they knew how to do feeding them. Thus, the spaghetti feed fundraisers began in 1962. They moved into what we know now to be Heritage Hall. But even in the new building, they still needed classroom space. So they did what they could with what they had holding all an all ages Sunday School in one big room.
Then when they didn’t have a pastor or a teacher for their education classes, they turned to what they did have each other. They asked church members to teach and to lead so they could continue to meet and learn.
You know, I look around now and I see the faces of people I grew to love before the pandemic. And in them I see faithfulness, friendship and deep care for one another. I look around now and I see many new faces, faces that have found a home here since the pandemic.
In these new faces, I see fresh ideas, energy, different ways of doing things. Like many of you, I look at our budget and yeah, I feel a pang of panic. But then I remember you know, we have this building. And yeah, it needs some TLC. But it can also host a great dinner party and Heritage Hall. It can host a groups a Jewish community dance classes for those living with Parkinson’s or support groups. For those living with mental health issues. It can host host a shelter in cold weather, and in preschool for children of working parents. I look at what we the congregation are already doing partnering with communities in Burundi and Guatemala and cooking meals at family kitchen, visiting those who are in the hospital making quilts for the Red Cross, collecting much needed items for children in need. tutoring kids at Bear Creek Elementary praying for specific needs in our community. And yet, yet, even with all these gifts, it’s still difficult to see a future for ourselves. It’s still difficult to find the money to do more of what we want and need to do. It’s still hard to find volunteers to staff projects and ministries that we care about.
You know, we’ve yet to figure out how to let people know who we are and what we believe and why we would love for them to be a part of it that there is room for them and for their beliefs to kind of feels like a six jar problem.
Mary says to the servants, DO what He tells you to do. Those are words that might give us pause. Because as she says this Jesus shrugs and decides, Oh, well. I guess I can work with this. six jars will be enough. So fill the jars with water. He says to the servants and they do they fill the jars to the brim with water.
And as a result, they become part of His miracle. They become part of the sign of who Jesus is of who God is. And this cheeses is good, so good, there will be no more boxed franzia, nor three Buck Chuck at this wedding. It’s the good stuff, the expensive wine, it’s hospitality at its finest, offering the best to you and to me.
Friends, when we fill what we have to the brim, like those servants dead, that’s when the good wind flows. Life is pretty serious right now, I don’t want to be little that the future can feel tenuous, like the wind is running out. And we can’t save the world. But maybe it’s enough to keep showing up to keep using what we do have to keep sharing and opening our hearts just a little bit wider, not fearfully or prudently, but brimming over with hope and trust, that that wine will flow.
My friends, the ones who I married in the Wendy’s dining room, you know, they didn’t plan to get married. That was not their intention, until they got pregnant with twins and decided, well, we have each other and we have these babies and we have love. I think maybe we can do it.