What does it look like to receive and offer abundant grace?
Is it an extravagant gesture or can it be something ordinary? The first miracle Jesus performs in John’s gospel is an act of grace. Jesus extends his unusual brand of hospitality to the guests at the wedding at Cana. In doing so, Jesus demonstrates how easy it is to offer grace to another.
Scripture: John 2: 1-11
At Cana, at the wedding, Jesus watched people enjoy an outstanding wine whose origin most people never learned (and maybe would not have believed even had they been told). And if people did not thank him, it was nothing new. As Augustine first observed—and as C.S. Lewis later enjoyed pondering—what Jesus did at Cana (as in many of his miracles) was really no more than a speeded-up version of what he does every year on a thousand hillsides as vines silently turn water from rainfall into wine. Millions of people enjoy that wine every year without for a moment recognizing the divine origin of it all. It’s a reminder that we serve a God whose effusive overflow of providential gifts knows no bounds. It’s a reminder that God is also often content to watch people—sometimes even Christian people who should know better—from afar as they soak up the goodness of his creative work (reference).
This is a story about abundance. Not our abundance, not the treasures we have stored up. This is a story about God’s abundance. About how easily and willingly God will share that abundance.
This is also a story about grace. God’s grace which flows out of God’s abundance. Grace which is shared with us, freely. It is interesting to note that in John’s gospel the first act of public ministry that Jesus performs is not a healing or a sermon, rather it is an act of grace.
Changing the water into wine allows the hosts of the wedding to save face, it keeps them from being shamed. Perhaps they didn’t know how many people would attend, perhaps they simply couldn’t afford what was required. The reasons don’t matter to Jesus, he simply offers his grace.
In his commentary on John’s gospel theologian NT Wright argues, that John’s gospel is a series of signs that point to when ‘heaven and earth’ meet (NT Wright, John for Everyone: Part 1, p 22). Each time we see an act of grace, that is heaven and earth meeting. He goes further and ties this argument with the appearance of Mary in John’s gospel.
Consider that this passage is one of two times we meet Mary in John’s gospel. The other time is when she is at the foot of the cross. Mary’s presence bookends John’s gospel then reflect on the words Jesus speaks to her, “My time has not yet come.” Wright argues, “That event [the cross], for John, is the ultimate moment when heaven and earth meet. That is when it takes all the faith in the world to see the glory hidden in the shame: the creative Word present as a weak, dying human being.” (NT Wright, John for everyone: Part 1, p. 22).
It’s this encounter with his mother here at the wedding, while offering abundant grace that John points us to the fulfillment of that grace through the events of the cross. And this is reinforced through the presence of Mary.
This act of grace at the wedding at Cana points to the fulfillment of God’s grace that we witness through Jesus Christ. The material change of water into wine, not too shabby a miracle if you ask me, is representative of lives changed.
I’ve been doing some reading for the Stewardship Team. We are reading a book called Not your parents offering plate by Clif Christopher. In the book Christopher talks about non-profits and churches and what they do. He actually quotes from Peter Drucker’s book Managing the Nonprofit Organization, “The non-profit institution neither supplies goods, services, or controls. Its product is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its product is a changed human being. The non-profit institutions are human change agents. Their ‘product’ is a cured patient, a child that learns, a young man or woman grown into a self-respecting adult; a changed human life altogether.” (J. Clif Christopher, Not Your Parent’s offering plate: A new vision for financial stewardship, 2015, p. 11).
The abundant grace offered by Jesus Christ, results in changed lives. In fact, whenever we look at the gospels and we see the grace of Jesus Christ on display, we witness lives and relationships fully restored. Think about Lazarus, the deaf man and all these other stories that feature grace, they result in lives changed. As agents of God’s grace, that’s what we are called to do.
You know we often get stuck on numbers. How many were at church this week, how many in the Sunday school. I record all this information every week, because I have to. At the end of the year I to complete what’s called the Statistical Report. I send it back to the Presbyterian Church in Canada. It let’s them know in broad strokes how we are doing. One of the questions is: Including children what is the average attendance during Sunday Worship? We get stuck on numbers. 95, in case you are wondering. The number is 95.
Now speaking of numbers, I was reading a devotional by Roland Walls this week and he wrote the following, “Now, the funny thing is that when it comes to numbers, the gospel writers tell us about 5000 or 4000, not the numbers who came to hear Him, but the number He fed. That’s a different thing. Now, if we could get new church statistics, they ought to be about the numbers we’ve really given to, unconditionally, – like the feeding of the crowd. It was unconditional. It was an abundance of grace. It wasn’t about how many people were won for the Lord. How we twist all this! With that gospel story, we can all of us think: ‘What a marvelous success story – He got 5000 to listen to Him!’ but that wasn’t the point of the gospel story. It was how many were fed. Now, if we want statistics, that’s the way they ought to be presented: how many have you touched – rather than ‘got in’ (Celtic Daily Prayer Book Two: Further in and Farther Up).
I tell you that passage is speaking to me. I’m glad you are all here, but it’s not about how many of you are here. It’s about how many we have collectively touched with the Good News. You see, we already get it. We already follow in the Way of Christ, our job is yes to tell people about Jesus. But more than that we are called to offer the abundance of grace we have already received. It isn’t ours, we don’t get to keep it and store it all up. Grace doesn’t work that way, you don’t earn more, you can’t bank it. The grace you have received is sufficient.
Karoline Lewis writes, “Abundance, as it turns out, is never just about you and Jesus alone, as much as we want it to be that way, hope it will be that way, but about bringing us into relationships when once rejected, into a community when once abandoned, and into life, true life, abundant life, once thought to be lost forever” (reference).
Abundance and grace are never about hoarding for ourselves alone. The offer of abundant grace compels us to see when it is absent in others and then to do something about it. It’s about lives touched. It is about making a material difference in a broken world and shattered world. A world which thinks we should horde everything and only look out for ourselves. A world which has disregarded the sacred and the spiritual and lives for excess with no regard to the consequences.
But the grace of God revealed through Jesus Christ says no. That is not the way. It is not the way to wholeness or harmony. The way of the world will only lead to brokenness. Jesus Christ comes and says, I offer you something more. Jesus Christ says, I offer abundant grace and life restored.
I give thanks to God for that grace and the opportunity to share it. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.