January 17, 2016

Just Go and Love

The story about the miracle Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee is one of my favorite passages of scripture and one on which I frequently preach. In fact, I chose to preach from this passage not quite three months ago during our Heritage Sunday celebration in October. At that time, I focused primarily on what this miracle reveals about God, noting that by meeting a social blunder (the wedding host ran out of wine) with an extravagant response (turning 120 gallons of water into wine), Jesus ultimately reveals God to be generous, merciful, abounding in love and extravagant with grace.

This morning, we revisit the miracle at Cana to tweak that focus just a little bit. Mindful of God’s qualities on display here, today I invite you to ask of this passage, “So what?”

Yes, this miracle reveals that God embraces us with abundant love and showers us with extravagant grace, but so what?

What impact does the experience of being so loved and blessed have upon us?

God is loving and merciful, but so what?

With that question in mind, let’s go back to the text.

This miracle about which Saint John tells us took place at a wedding celebration attended by Jesus, his mother, and his disciples in a town called Cana in a region called Galilee.

It happened at this wedding in Cana, after three days of festivities, that Mother Mary made a startling observation. All the wine was gone.

Mary shared this news with Jesus, but he didn’t seem particularly concerned about this development.

Sure, running out of wine would’ve probably embarrassed the host (no one wants to attend or throw a bad party), but this was a far cry from a life or death issue.

But Mary persisted and, as she took her leave of Jesus, told a group of nearby servants to do whatever he told them to do.

John records what happened next.

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty 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 chief steward.”
So they took it.

But it wasn’t water anymore.

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward 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 the good wine until now.”
And that’s it.

That’s the miracle of turning water into wine. Again, it isn’t that Jesus turned water into wine that had magical properties. This wasn’t some sort of enchanted elixir. Jesus just turned water into really good wine—and a lot of it; fifty, sixty, seventy cases by our count. And that was more than enough to “reveal his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

But so what?

What are we to do with this news about Jesus and the divine characteristics he reveals?

We make of this Good News by taking it into our hearts and offering a grateful response.

You see, when we are confronted with the power and beauty of God’s grace, when we are confronted with the love that—according to Charles Wesley’s lyric—exceeds all other loves, sincerely asking “So what?” or “What’s next?” moves us closer to the heart of discipleship.

God blesses us and God loves us, but what are we going to do about it?

The Gospels record multiple instances in which Jesus discusses the essential characteristics of a faithful response to God’s love. We read the most famous of these instances in Luke’s 10th chapter.

A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And [Jesus] said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
Now, that conversation continued with Jesus telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan as a way of illustrating how tempting it is to diminish love’s radical call on our lives. He told the parable to illustrate how we can know and say the right things at one time, but when pressed to do the right thing, we often fall helplessly short. However, the lawyer’s summary of discipleship, which Jesus did indeed praise, still stands.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
This is the answer to the so-what question.

The miracle at Cana of Galilee is just one moment in which we recognize that God—through Jesus Christ—embraces us with abundant love and showers us with extravagant grace.

But, so what?

So, in response to God’s holy presence and goodness, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

I’m in the habit of repeating this dual commandment as “Love God and love your neighbor.”

Ask me to give you a one sentence summary of Christian ethics or discipleship and I’ll probably say, “Love God and love your neighbor.”

To me this seems a suitable and concise description of the response to God’s grace that Jesus praises.

I’ve been thinking, however, that given how important love is to the faith we share, maybe we should strive to say more about it, not less.

Given that all that we have and ever hope to be rests in the reality of God’s love of us, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing if we got a little bit chatty when we started talking about the love we return to God and the love we share with others.

John Wesley displays such exuberance in his New Testament Notes. Listen to how he amplifies the words of the love commandment.

Thou shalt unite all the faculties of thy soul to render [God] the most intelligent and sincere, the most affectionate and resolute service…With all thy soul, with the warmest affection, with all thy strength, the most vigorous efforts of thy will, and with all thy mind or understanding, in the most wise and reasonable manner thou canst; thy understanding guiding thy will and affections.
“Intelligent and sincere” love, “affectionate and resolute” love, “wise and reasonable” love—while there’s a stiff-upper-lip quality to Wesley’s language, his enthusiasm still comes through.

In doing so, Wesley pushes us to mine the depths of Jesus’ vision of discipleship because he understands that love is one of the easiest things to profess, and one of the most difficult things to do.

“Oh, yes, yes, I love God and I love my neighbor.”

“What’s that? Do I love intelligently and sincerely, affectionately and resolutely, wisely and reasonably? I’ll need to think about that.”

That lawyer just wanted Jesus to tell him who his neighbor was. He wanted to know who to love. He wanted Jesus to tell him that love was easy.

But Jesus said just go and show mercy, just go and love.

As Christians, we’ve received the same commission.

Just go and love, love God “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

The miracle at Cana of Galilee is just one moment in which we recognize that God—through Jesus Christ—embraces us with abundant love and showers us with extravagant grace.

But, so what?

So, in response to God’s holy presence and goodness, just go and love, love God “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself,” for in this commandment, there is Good News for all people.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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