Good morning! I’m so glad to be in Wellington this morning (First Congregational Church of Wellington UCC).
Driving through Wellington. I have a personal Wellington story: It was the mid-1960’s (1966). I was in the car with my family and it was night. We were driving from Oberlin (where my cousins lived) to our home in Medina, which means it was Thanksgiving and we were going through the middle of Wellington on Rt. 18. I was about thirteen. Do you remember being thirteen and what was important to you? Where you lived? Your friends in school? Your room? Your favorite food? Your favorite music?
Well, the Beatles were important to my brother and sister and me – and a lot of other people our age. As we were driving through Wellington, my parents and the three of us kids, one of us must have been sitting in the front seat controlling the radio, hoping the DJ would play something from the latest Beatles album. But the DJ was talking about the Beatles. He was quoting John Lennon, who had said “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now…”
What? He didn’t really say that, did he? Do you remember how popular the Beatles were back then? Hard to believe now, but everybody else making popular music was somewhere below the Beatles. For a lot of people, they were more popular than Jesus. As we were driving through Wellington, the DJ was talking about Beatles records being burned and radio stations not playing their music because of what John Lennon said (Turns out he had made an off-the-cuff comment to a journalist months before and he apologized later). We just sort shrugged our shoulders and when we got home we played the records we’d bought.
So, has the popularity of the Beatles lasted? Maybe with some people who are my age; not so much with younger people (anybody under 40?).
And how about Jesus? Popular? What’s ironic here is that Jesus never tried to be popular. His words and actions spoke for themselves. People were healed, they were fed, thirsty people had something to drink, and crowds gathered. Being around Jesus changes life. Believing, trusting in Jesus changes lives today and crowds still gather.
They Have No Wine! Can you picture Jesus at a wedding? In every eastern-Mediterranean culture, there is a tradition of music and dancing at weddings. I know this. I am the half of the big fat Greek wedding who is not Greek. Before the wedding, I had to learn to dance. So, did Jesus dance? I think there was music and I think Jesus danced. And having Jesus at a wedding feast had other benefits, right?
Off to the side, Jesus turns water to wine, and only a few people knew. I’ve known some people who have had a problem with Jesus being a wine-maker and say it was really just grape juice. But I would say that it had to be wine. In that time, wine was more than a social drink; for thousands of years, until people began to operate big machines in factories and on roads, it was one of the safe things you could drink.
When Mary turns to Jesus and says, “They have no wine,” she is telling him that there is a big problem in Cana. The celebration will go on for a week (that was the tradition), they have tons of food but nothing to drink. And there are a lot of people at this wedding. It was the tradition to invite the entire village. The story doesn’t say how many people that was, but it may have been as many as a few hundred.
I don’t think Mary knew what Jesus was going to do; I think it was surprise to her too. He says, “What’s that to us?” because I think he needed a few minutes to think about it, to grasp how he could use this moment as Messiah, as Savior.
The jars are empty because all the people at the party have been washing feet and hands. The servants re-fill the jars and Jesus turns the water into wine, and apparently, really good wine. One minute they had empty traditional, unsanitary stone jars, then suddenly, with Jesus at the party, they had more good wine than they might have needed, at least 120 gallons. Their cups “overflowed,” right?
It’s a sign. It’s a hint. Who is this? Jesus took the tradition and made it better. Before, all they had were clean hands and feet, now they’re satisfied on the inside. That’s what Jesus does. Having religious habits and traditions is good on the outside, but having faith in Jesus, believing in Jesus fills the internal spiritual void we all have. He fills the empty place in us.
On the surface, it might seem like a magic trick, presto-chango, but Jesus changing the water to wine had a purpose. It was a sign of who he is; he is God. John the Baptist called him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. A little while later, therewas a huge hungry crowd gathered around Jesus on a hillside. Do you remember what happened? Suddenly, there was enough bread for everybody to eat, with leftovers, and a side order of fish! Hmmm. Wine at the wedding and bread on the hillside.
Sounds like… the Lord’s table, right? “This is my body, given for you; this is my blood…” We do more than eat or drink. We internalize Jesus when we have faith, when we believe in him, when we give a deeper “yes” to that bread and cup. Jesus satisfies people who are spiritually thirsty, satisfies people who are spiritually hungry. It’s as simple as saying “Yes, Jesus, I believe in you.”
In scripture, from beginning to end, there is a lot of eating and drinking. You remember Adam and Eve and what caused their problem? A bad decision about food! And there is a fix for this disconnect between people and God. At the end of scripture, in the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Rev. 3:20)
Opening that door, believing in Jesus, starts a connection with God that changes everything!
I believe that God living in us can reach people through food, help us love neighbors, through meals, and the church is called to create relationship moments around food and drink. One of the first stories of the early believers in Jesus goes like this:
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)
I believe one of the easiest ways for Christians show to God’s love, the love of Christ, is through food, through meals. It’s more than just giving food away; Meals served with open invitations. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone in a church say, “This church knows how to cook!”
So many ways to think about how that can work in the church and in our homes, blessing each other with hospitality and food because of our relationship with God. No better way to express relationship with God and physically show God’s love. And I believe there is always something more we can do. It might take some imagination and faith.
Babbette’s Feast. There’s a story I love called “Babbette’s Feast.”
In a time long ago, Babbette is a French chef who is a refugee in Denmark. She is escaping a war in France that killed her family, and she settles in a small seaside village where the weather always seems cold and cloudy, just like the people. She finds a job keeping house and cooking meals for two sisters. The food is easy because it’s always the same: boiled fish and bread. Day after day, and it goes on for years. Life in this house – and life in the village – never changes, and no one can imagine it being any other way. They are obsessed with tradition. They believe this is what God wants.
In spite of this bland life, Babbette is just glad to be alive. She adapts, she serves, and the years roll by. She never leaves the village, but she kept a connection with people in Paris. Every year, someone buys her a lottery ticket and sends it to her. You guessed it; one year, she wins the lottery.
It doesn’t take her long to decide what she will do with the winnings. She is a chef; she will create a feast for the people of this village like they have never had before. She will open their eyes to the joys of life through the food she makes. Babbette works for days to make the feast. She buys only the best ingredients, the best meats, the finest wines. Some of these things have to be shipped in from other places. She uses all her skills.
But making the food was the easy part. The people of the village trust Babbette, but they don’t trust this new thing she wants them to do. If it’s different from the kind of meal they’re used to, it must be sinful. It might be witchcraft!
At first, they don’t want to come to the feast, but reluctantly, they come. It’s Babbette, after all; they know her. Then, at the table, the villagers only sip and take small bites. And one by one, they begin to taste what’s on the plates in front of them. They begin to taste the gift. And their eyes begin to widen and their jaws drop. Who knew food could taste so good?
As they eat, you can see their personalities begin to change, their relationships change. They leave the house arm in arm singing together and begin to dance around the village well. The people of the village trusted the giver and the gift worked in ways they never expected.
In the end, we learn that Babbette spent all she had; there was nothing left. But everyone had all they needed.
Everything we need to be a force for Christ is right here. Everything God needs to make a real, lasting difference in our homes, our community, and our world, is right here.
God wants to know, “What’s your empty tradition?” Jesus wants to fill it with life. He wants to change the old stuff and fill it with himself. The empty tradition could be any of the bad habits we have at home that are so hard to break. It could be some of the things we do at work or at school. It could even be the things we do at church, unless the intent is to bring us closer to Jesus. Most of the empty traditions we change need something to fill the void, and that’s what Jesus does.
Someone here is thinking of their favorite food and how they can offer that as a gift to somebody as an expression of their faith. And someone here needs to be fed, maybe just with conversation around a table.
Jesus is just waiting to be asked to change our water into wine. He’s ready to give us the kind of joy we’ve always needed. Better than happiness… an inner confidence that God has things under control, has written the end of our story, so we don’t have to worry.
Faith in Jesus doesn’t stop bad things from happening, but gives you a new ability to overcome. Overcoming might take time, but there comes a moment when God uses you to bring joy to someone else. Maybe through the joy of a meal. And a group of believers full of joy is hard to resist.
O God, thank you for feeding us. We confess that sometimes, we feel empty, just like stone jars. Cold and lifeless. We follow our traditions without even thinking what they mean. But we want to be filled with life. We want you to make us new. We want your kind of joy. Send your Spirit into our lives so that when our friends and family ask us, “What’s new?” we will know that the change they see has happened through our faith in you. Amen.