Abundant Life - John 2:1-11
The first wedding I ever performed was for my friend Josh and his wife Magen. Some of you met Josh, he visited here over the summer. He lived in Colorado at the time, so I flew out there. I was nervous the morning of the wedding, but it went off without a problem. And after the wedding it was time to celebrate: I took my clerical collar off and started tearing up the dance floor!
Toward the end of the night one of the bartenders came up to me and said he wanted to thank me. He told me he was raised in a very conservative church and that he was amazed to see a pastor having so much fun. Amazed in a good way! He was surprised to see a pastor dancing, drinking a beer, and not taking myself too seriously. We talked a while and he said he hadn’t gone to church in a long time, but that his mother had always thought he would be a preacher someday. I tried to explain as best I could that God is not against us enjoying life, though obviously there is a line that can be crossed if we start living selfishly, forgetting God, and putting ourselves in danger for the sake of a good time. Ultimately though, God created us to share in the joy of the universe. After a good conversation with this man I recommended he check out the church I interned at in Denver. We shook hands, wished each other well, and went our separate ways.
This story came to mind when I was thinking about this text. Not just because it was a wedding story, but more because I think it’s important that Jesus’ first miracle was for the sake of a celebration! We tend to think Jesus is all about serious business, as if being the savior of the world meant no time for fun. And while saving humanity is serious stuff, as one of my seminary professors said, “Jesus’ first miracle isn’t ‘something useful’ like a healing or exorcism. It’s turning water into wine to keep the party going!”
I think it’s important that this first miracle—or “sign” as the Gospel of John refers to them—is for the purpose of joy and community celebration. It sets the tone of why Jesus is here. It’s a very down-to-earth, incarnational miracle that contains earthy stuff like water and wine. It isn’t something scary like a clash with demons or the healing of a deadly illness, but is something that helps people enjoy life a little more. I think it says a lot about the purpose of Jesus’ coming. Jesus isn’t interested in ordering us to have stern faces and training us to be serious all the time. Jesus wants us to have fun, to laugh, to play, to enjoy each other’s company, to enjoy being alive. He’s not encouraging drunkenness or irresponsible behavior, but He is encouraging us to lighten up, relax, and have a good time every once in a while.
Now I’m not talking about superficial happiness. I’m talking about the joy of being that is our natural response to life, but is so often covered by stress, anger, resentment, disappointment, or grief. Underneath our burdens and defense mechanisms is the pure joy of being. Later in the Gospel of John Jesus says, “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly”. This abundant life is seen in the central role that joy and community celebration play in Jesus’ first miracle. I don’t think it’s coincidence that this is His first miracle, I think it sets the tone for everything Jesus is about: joy, community, abundant life.
I think it’s fair to say that most Americans are so busy and so stressed that we actually find it difficult to enjoy living. We disregard our Sabbath rest for the purpose of important ventures that are supposed to make us happier in the long run, but which make us more stressed and disconnected now. God wasn’t kidding when He told Moses that Sabbath rest should be on our top ten list, as one of the Commandments. God didn’t create rest just so we could work harder after we’ve regained our strength. It’s the other way around: work exists so we can get the necessary things done to relax and enjoy life. And if you enjoy your work all the better! How soon we forget that God intends for us to enjoy the good gift of life.
God created us to enjoy abundant life. God intends life to be playful, enjoyable, fun. Life is a great adventure meant to be lived joyfully, gratefully. Enjoy each precious moment. Be mindful of God’s gifts and pay attention to God’s presence in your life. Stop and smell the roses. Take a load off. Don’t strive to make yourself happy by accumulating things, but discover the pure joy of being inside you that nothing can take away.
And as Christians we are called to strive for others to have abundant life too. We are called to change structures which perpetuate poverty, oppression, and racism. We are called to dedicate our lives to the mission of seeing that everyone lives an abundant life. That’s what Martin Luther King Jr., who we honor this weekend, dedicated his life to. Working for the betterment of the oppressed so that all humanity might have abundant life. Inspired by his Christian faith, MLK got political and changed the world for the better. MLK knew that the world he described in his “I Have A Dream” speech is the world God dreams of establishing on earth too. A world of peace and justice. A world of diversity and unity. A world of kindness and love. Before it was MLK’s dream it was first God’s dream. This fact is revealed throughout scripture and throughout the teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament prophets. God’s dream is a world of shalom. A world of equity, joy, and genuine happiness for all. A world of abundant life.
And so we are ambassadors for Christ, working to share abundant life with all people. And we don’t do so with anger and bitterness in our hearts. We do so with joy, with peace, with faith, hope, and love. We enjoy the highlights along the way, the weddings, the holidays, the celebrations, the good times when the world is as it should be. And we strive for a world where all people experience the goodness that this world has to offer—the abundant life of God.
There will come a time when Jesus leaves the wedding banquet and takes up His cross and enters into suffering. But suffering does not have the last word, or the first word either. We know that Jesus’ ministry began with this celebration of abundance, and we know that after the cross comes the joy of Resurrection!
Being a Christian isn’t about living sternly, never smiling, never dancing like my bartender friend was taught to believe. Being a Christian is about carrying the joy and peace of Christ in your heart, and letting it shine through into every situation—even and especially when hardships and suffering come. Being a Christian means living fully every moment, and uplifting and encouraging others when life drags them down. Being a Christian means resting assured that our lives are in God’s hands and following God’s call to share the joy, peace, love, and abundance of God with all the world.
God bless you this week as you enjoy your walk with God. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 1/16/22