Sunday, January 5, 2014

Jesus the Party Animal?

We were ice-d out on January 5th, so we decided to celebrate Epiphany on January 12. Following the Narrative Lectionary Year 4, Presbury United Methodist Church is exploring the Gospel of John, so we are celebrating Epiphany on the same day we remember another celebration: the Wedding at Cana. What follows is a sermon that leads directly into communion...and it is an interesting meal indeed...

Scripture: John 2:1-11 (NRSV)
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 you and to me? 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 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. 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.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Parties can be magical. At least, I always felt they were. When I was in seminary, I would have a long hard week in class, wondering how I could ever pass my systematic theology midterm let alone pass ordination exams, but then on the weekend, I would gather with friends and we'd eat together and laugh together and just talk all night, and I would leave remembering again the strange beauty in the world. For as much as I find sitting alone in my room curled up with a good book as the height of goodness, I also just love being with people, and I find sitting around playing card games and talking about nothing and everything to be healing, actually. I sometimes leave these gatherings with my closest friends feeling more whole. Sure, not every party has this effect on me, but I do think there is such thing as a wholesome party, a party you leave feeling more happy and whole again. 

Wholesomeness has nothing to do with there not being alcohol or loud music at the party: rather it is about connecting with people you love and celebrating that love. It is about vibrant living that can reach into the wounds in your soul and help stitch you back together.

As Christians, we have woefully neglected partying. Now, at Presbury, we are privileged to have people like Carol who do know the value of parties, but Christians as a whole do not have good reputations for being the life of the party. Worship is often written off as dry, Christians are seen as uptight, and God is too often understood as a judge whose rules make it too easy for us fail and end up with eternal punishment. But our scripture today shows us that this concept of what it means to follow Christ is skewed. For, according to scripture, Jesus was a party animal.

I know it sounds a bit blasphemous. But let us not forget that this guy we come here to talk about each Sunday was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of all the wrong kind of people, at least according to the Gospel of Matthew. Let us not forget that people's first reaction to Pentecost was to call Jesus' followers drunk even though it was only nine o'clock in the morning. And let us not forget that Jesus' first miracle in the Gospel of John is turning water into wine. In the Gospel of John, Jesus' first miracle is essentially to keep a party going.

In Palestine in Jesus' day, though many people did not have the resources for huge parties, wedding celebrations were a big deal. The groom's extended family would throw this extravagant banquet. In fact, these banquets were such a big deal in Jewish tradition that often prophets used them as metaphors to describe the joys of the coming of the Messiah. Prophets claimed that when the Messiah came we would all feast together in celebration of salvation. Yet, when the wine gives out at the wedding banquet in the Gospel of John, Jesus' first response is that his hour, meaning the arrival of the messianic age, had not yet come. The Gospel of John is very much preoccupied with leading us to this hour, the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.1 

But the mother of Jesus, as she is called in the Gospel of John, does what mothers do best: she smiles at him, pats him on the arm, and tells him without words that she wasn't asking, she was telling. So he does what she says. She reminds him, and reminds us, that just because the messianic age has not yet arrived does not mean that there is nothing we have to celebrate here and now. I've realized that the most I hear about celebration from Christians comes from those who are comforting the grieving. “Well, Grandma can dance again now that she's in heaven,” we say. Or, “Think of how much fun Uncle Johnny is having with his brothers now they are all together in heaven.” But our celebrations shouldn't just come later in heaven. We should be celebrating now.

Robert Hotchkins, a theologian out of the University of Chicago, claims:
Christians ought to be celebrating constantly, we ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment. We ought to give ourselves over because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death. We ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the fun there is in being a Christian.2
This is my philosophy of evangelism--- let folks see how much fun we're having! Don't try to evangelize by saying, look we need more people or our church is going to die. Don't try to get people to come to church by telling them if they don't accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they will go to hell. Let people in on the party--- that we Christians are a partying people following the guy who is the life of the party. 
Now, encouraging celebration does not mean that we have no time to mourn or be serious. It does not mean that we have no reason to reach out and serve in often dirty and broken places in the world. As we will see these next few months in the Gospel of John, our partying Jesus gets angry and overturns some tables, reaches out in compassion to those in need of healing, roams the countryside teaching and preaching, and he demonstrates service by washing people's feet. But through it all, he is calling us to an abundance, and extravagance, a joyous wholeness that we find in connecting with God and celebrating God's love for us. And so then, even when part of our call also means that we will suffer and sacrifice, even when we feel too mired in grief to lift our heads to call out for help, we need to also make time to reach out to one another and celebrate together. For in the celebration, we may find transformation and new life.

So today we will have a little fun in church by throwing a party.

Did you ever think of communion as a party? Well it is. To help you remember, we're doing something a bit unorthodox--- wedding cake instead of communion bread. We also have some wafers for those of you unwilling to eat that much sugar this early in the morning. But I wanted a visual and tasteful reminder that this ritual we do every month is a foretaste of a banquet to come. Jesus has invited us to a banquet today and in the future, a big party where we revel in the fact that we are beloved of God.

Of course, say we're invited to a party, but we and the host have been in a fight or just had a bit of a falling out. Sometimes we may stay home, avoid the host, avoid acknowledging the problem. But that hurts us, prevents us from finding that wholeness and love at the party. So the better option is reconciliation. Before we come to the banquet table today, let us offer a prayer of confession and reconciliation:

Holy Friend, forgive us. We can be so stubborn, refusing your help and wisdom. We have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us for the fear and stubbornness that keeps us from following the way of life you encourage us to take. Offer us grace upon grace again!

Open your ears to hear the good news: our God makes all things new in Christ Jesus!
Glory to Our God who is full of Grace and Truth!

PASSING OF THE PEACE: Now let us share signs of that peace which we find in Christ with our fellow party-goers!

Our Holy Friend is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord Our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to praise the host of this party, the creator of us all. God is the life of the party, the life that was the light of all people. God pulled us out of the dark places of sin and slavery and famine and war, and made covenant with us to love us. And God has been true to that promise, even when we aren't true to anything. 

And so, with your people on earth and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn.

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Holy are you and blessed is your son Jesus Christ, the true light which enlightens everyone who came into the world. For even when we stood outside the party and sulked, or even when we were too busy with our sin to even stumble toward the party, you kept on extending an invitation for us. In Jesus, you didn't just mail the invitation--- you came to us, walked right into our broken lives, and offered to pick us up, wash off our faces, and laugh with us again.

In fact, you through Jesus threw a party that we still talk about today for twelve of his friends. It wasn't an ordinary party. Even though Jesus was the host, he washed the feet of his friends, demonstrating to us how we ought to serve those we love and love those we serve. And then Jesus served a simple meal, simpler than we have today, but a simple meal that burst with a celebration of life to come. 

Because Jesus' friends needed to remember simple joy. In the days that followed, Jesus would be betrayed by one of us and sent to a horrible death. Jesus knew this. But his love overcame. 

On his last night with us, Jesus sat at a table and fed us. He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it with us, saying “This is my body, which is given for you.” 

When supper was over he took the cup, blessed it, and shared it with us, saying, “Take, and drink. As often as you do this, remember me.”

Because when we eat and drink and receive Jesus, we gain the power to become your children.

And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ's offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Transform us as you did that wine at that wedding, transform us completely. From your fullness may each of us here receive grace upon grace. May we in receiving through bread and cup go forth from this place sharing grace upon grace with our brothers and sisters. May we extend the invitation to your banquet to all.

And now, with the confidence of the children of God, let us pray as Jesus taught us: THE LORD'S PRAYER


Come--- let us join the party!

1This whole paragraph references the work of Phyllis Williams Provost and Barbara McBride-Smith, “The Wedding Feast at Cana: John 2:1-11,” The Storyteller's Companion to the Bible, Volume 10: John, eds. Dennis E. Smith and Michael E. Williams (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1996), 43.

2Robert Hutchinson quoted in Brenan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, quoted in (ha!) Robert M. Brearley, Pastoral Perspective on John 2:1-11, Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 4, eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 262 and 264.

3Communion Liturgy based on John 2:1-11 by Shannon Sullivan, 2014.

1 comment:

  1. The wifedom was formed over a series of wholesome parties. Party on, wife!