We have come to the holiest week in the Christian year. In fact, it is called Holy Week. It begins with Palm Sunday, which is today. It ends with Easter, which is one week from today.
Traditionally, Palm Sunday has been kind of a smaller celebration before the bigger celebration. Today it’s Jesus triumphantly riding into Jerusalem. Next week it will be Jesus rising triumphantly from the grave. It’s like one victory after another. We beat a team we were supposed to beat one week and we beat the defending champions the next. It’s all positive. It’s all good.
But of course you know that’s not the way it was. In between the twin celebrations of Palm Sunday and Easter came the worst day ever. I’m still looking for a reason that makes sense for calling Good Friday good. Holy Week is the week Jesus was put to death.
So what are we going to talk about today? Palm Sunday or Good Friday? Neither. We are going to talk about wine.
If you’ve been with us through Lent, you know we’re in a series called, “Words From God’s Word That Will Change Your Life.” Today the word is “wine”. No, actually the word is “help”.
I could have stretched things today – maybe talking about the help Jesus got from his disciples in securing his Palm Sunday donkey, or the help Jesus got from Simon of Cyrene in carrying his Good Friday cross. Instead I’m going to take us back to the early days of his ministry, back to when Jesus changed water into wine.
First though, a little something about the word. “Help” is a hard word for some of us. Because it is an admission that we can’t do it by ourselves. We are not self-sufficient. I think all of us have a hard time with this word, but I’m pretty sure it is disliked most by one gender in particular.
In this age of satellite navigation systems, we men really have no excuse. But still I read about a study that found the average man drives 276 unnecessary miles each year just because he is lost and won’t ask for directions.
Helen and I celebrated an anniversary in Chicago a few years ago. We were having a wonderful time and were looking forward to a romantic boat ride on Lake Michigan in the evening. We had some time and were exploring downtown. There was a cloudburst. The rain was coming down in sheets. Just then a bus stopped right in front of us, so we got on. We were out of the rain. We had an all-day pass to ride public transportation, so we were set. I figured the bus would do a big loop and take us back to where we got on. That way we could do some sightseeing and some relaxing at the same time. Perfect.
Except this bus did not do a loop. It was point to point. Helen figured this out pretty early and suggested I go talk to the driver. I insisted that, no, all these buses eventually end up back where they started.
We had been on that bus for a long time. It was continuing in the same direction. The neighborhoods we were passing through were getting scarier and scarier. We were almost getting into the corn fields. Finally I listened to my wife and asked the driver when she was going to turn around.
She said, “This is a one-way bus, honey. It don’t go back till tomorrow morning.”
So we caught a bus going back into town, and when it became apparent we were going to miss our boat reservation, we got off that bus and caught a taxi. We had to run but we made it. We were the last ones on board.
So I will own up to having a problem asking for help, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Even women have a problem asking for help. We can list a few of the reasons:
- “I don’t want to look weak.”
- “I don’t want to feel obligated to the person who helped me.”
- “I don’t realize I need help.”
- “If I ask for help, the person who is helping me might take over and I would lose control.”
There are many reasons we prefer to do it by ourselves. Often we get along just fine by ourselves. But often our stubborn refusal to admit we need help turns a small problem into a major crisis.
It started with an impulse purchase. It ended with out of control credit card debt. It started with an unresolved conflict. It ended with divorce. It started with trying something just this one time. It ended with an addiction. It started with innocent flirtation. It ended with an affair. It started with procrastination. It ended with unemployment. It started with a negative personality. It ended with a lonely, friendless life.
It starts so innocently. It’s not that big a deal. We don’t need any help. We’ve got this. But the truth is we do need help. It takes courage to admit that. But when we are able to admit that, the help is there.
People really do care about you. They really do want to help. And God’s help is always there. You just have to ask. One of the names for God in the Bible is “helper.” Jehovah Ezer. In the Book of Hebrews we read, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid'” (13:6).
So, what does all this have to do with Jesus turning water into wine? It’s a story I always thought was frivolous. All the hurting people who need the help of Jesus and his first miracle in John’s gospel is making sure wedding guests who have already had plenty to drink get to keep on drinking. Why is this story even here?
Let’s break it apart and see what it might be saying to us.
There is a wedding. Jesus is there, along with his mother. And the supply of wine has run dry. So Mary turns to her son and speaks four words. “They have no wine” (John 2:3). Max Lucado calls this the first prayer ever prayed to Jesus. Mary is asking Jesus for help.
So, where is your supply running low? Where are you running on empty? Courage? Wisdom? Patience? Hope? Will you do what Mary did? Will you ask Jesus for help?
Here’s something else that will come as encouragement to any of you who think you don’t know how to pray. Or maybe you can pray fine in private, but you hate in when you get asked to pray in public. Here is the first prayer ever prayed to Jesus: “They have no wine.” Short. Direct. No big words. No complicated concepts. Just a simple statement of fact. Any one can pray a prayer like that. In fact, there is a single word we can all pray that is one of the best prayers of all: “Help!”
What matters in prayer is not what you say but to whom you say it.
And notice something else here. Nothing remarkable would have happened had Mary not spoken those four words. Jesus was not there to officiate at the ceremony. He was not giving the homily. He did not come with a miracle in mind. Jesus did what he did only because Mary asked what she asked. Her prayer changed things.
What comes next is hard to explain. Jesus doesn’t respond to his mother’s request in a very respectful way. He says, “Woman, what has this to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (2:4). I don’t recommend you address your mother, your wife, or any other female for that matter, as “woman”. It’s probably not the best way to start your conversation. But here we find a cultural nuance that sounds worse to us than it really was because it is hard to translate into the way we speak today.
It’s clear though that Jesus is not eager to get involved. Which may serve to remind us of something else that is important. Just because we pray for help does not mean we get the help we want. We pray for someone to be cured of cancer and that person dies of cancer. Where is God’s help in a case like that?
All I can say is we are not yet at the end of God’s story. That hour has not yet come. As I heard someone say once, everything will be the way God wants it to be the end. If it’s not that way yet, it means it’s not yet the end.
What Mary says next, after her son speaks to her in a manner that sounds so disrespectful, is fascinating. There is so much here about prayer and about help! Mary speaks these words not to her son. She speaks them to the servants who are nearby. She says, “Whatever he tells you to do, do it” (2:5).
That’s just about the best advice I’ve ever heard. Whatever Jesus tell you to do, do it. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Lay up treasure in heaven. Care for the poor. Seek first the Kingdom of God. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Let your light so shine that others will see your good deeds and give glory to God.
We already have a great purpose statement for this church. “Know Christ, Love God, Serve Others.” But here’s another great one. “We are a ‘whatever he tells us to do’ church.” I hope we are.
So Mary is not put off by her son’s remark. She may wonder why he isn’t doing anything yet, but that doesn’t keep her from trusting that he will. “Whatever he tells you to do, do it.”
Are you enjoying this passage of scripture yet? There is so much here, it is amazing!
So Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do and then Jesus tells them what to do. He says simply, “Fill the jars with water” (2:7). Which they do, but notice the detail here about how they do it. ” . . . they filled them to the brim” (2:7).
Why would they do that? Why fill them that full?
There are six jars. Each of them holds 20 to 30 gallons. That’s a lot of water and that’s a lot of weight. Have you ever moved a 55 gallon drum? That’s 440 pounds. You aren’t going to move that without a hand truck. Each of these jars is about half that size, which is a lot of weight to heft around. Wouldn’t two-thirds full be good enough? Jesus didn’t tell them to “fill them to the brim”. That was their idea.
But see what’s going on here? The servants obey Jesus not just barely. Not just by doing the minimum. They obey him extravagantly. Over and above. You might call it “fill it to the brim obedience”. What a great reminder of what it means for followers of Jesus to do whatever he tells us to do!
It means we don’t just go through the motions. When you encourage somebody you encourage them with your whole heart! When you serve somebody, you do so with delight, not with a grudging spirit! When you give a gift to God, you give your very best! When you preach a sermon, you preach like you mean it! Like God gave you something important to say and it is such an incredible honor and privilege to be the one who gets to say it!
Because here’s the deal: When we follow Jesus with a “fill it to the brim” spirit, we become part of the miracle. Just as those servants who did more than was expected got to become part of the miracle. There were many more gallons of water that became wine because of their extravagant obedience.
And then finally we are told that the wine Jesus made was of the highest quality.
. . . the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then
he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings
out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now” (2:9-10).
Jesus made the best wine anybody ever tasted. Even better than the wine Helen will serve you if you ever visit her at Fujishin Family Cellars, Idaho’s 2018 Winery of the Year.
This is a miracle that is downplayed in a lot of churches, and for good reason. Alcohol is a serious problem for a lot of people. There’s the story of the woman who abstained from alcohol as a matter of Christian principle. When her friend pointed out that Jesus turned water into wine, she said, “I know. That’s one thing about Jesus I never did like.”
We can joke about it, but it’s not a joking matter in a lot of families. Alcohol abuse ruins lives.
There are people who can drink in moderation and it never becomes a problem. But there is a certain percentage of the population that cannot take a single drink without it becoming a problem. Because they can’t stop. It becomes an addiction that enslaves them. And the only sure way to make sure that never happens to you is to never take that first drink. Or to not take that next drink. To stop drinking.
It’s pretty well established that addicts don’t stop being addicts without help. The help of others. The help of 12-step recovery programs. And one of those 12 steps, most people will tell you it’s the most important one, is asking God for help.
Yes, it is strange that this miracle, with so many lessons about asking for help has to do with a substance that a lot of people cannot free themselves from without asking for help.
That might be the miracle you need most. Maybe for you. Maybe for someone you love. Or it might be something else. I promise you this. God has a miracle for you bigger and better than you can imagine. Ask him for it. Ask for help.
Life is funny. We all need help. All through our lives we need help. Yet most all of us go through an extended period of time in the middle of our lives when we convince ourselves that we don’t.
As babies we need a lot of help. As children, we know we can’t get along without Mommy and Daddy. Then we get to be teenagers, and we decide we don’t need anybody’s help. As the Beatles sang, “When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody’s help in any way.” And we often live under that illusion for most of our lives.
But if we live long enough, things will change. We will need help. We who helped our children will be needing our children to help us. “Help me get dressed. Help me eat my food. Help me go to the bathroom.”
We are born needing help. We die needing help. In between we can fool ourselves into thinking we don’t need any help. But we do. We always do.
Thank God help is always there. God put us on this earth to help each other. And God who put us on this earth, is only too happy to help us. All we have to do is ask.
Dear God, we all love independence. We all love the freedom to do whatever we want to do, just the way we want to do it, without anybody interfering. But the truth is, we need each other. The truth is, we need you. The truth is, we need help. So help us to pray that shortest and simplest of all prayers: “Help!” And to pray it often. And to pray it with our whole heart. And then to do whatever Jesus tell us to do. And to do it over and above the minimum, with a “fill it to the brim” spirit. And God, help us also to be helpers. Make us sensitive to those who need our help. Give us wisdom in knowing how to help without enabling destructive habits. For we can care, but only you can cure. In Jesus’ name, Amen.