Merlot and Jesus
Rev. Joshua D. Gill
Years ago, one of my youth group’s favorite games to play was clue. But this wasn’t the board game, this was what we called human clue. Some of the youth leaders would dress up in detective costumes. The kids were then divided into small groups and one of the youth leaders would act as a guide. They would get a few minutes in designated rooms to search for a clue. If they found a clue it would help them to eliminate a suspect, a room, or an imaginary weapon. If they didn’t find every clue it really came down to your best guess. Because this was an annual game over the years we ended up making the clues harder and harder to find. The one rule is the clues always had to be visible. I remember once taping one of the clues to the underside fin to an air return vent. You had to lay on the ground with your head against the wall directly under the vent to see it; or the time I taped a clue to the very top of the door or the clue that was written in laundry soap that only became visible if you turned on the black light. After everyone diligently searched each room, each team would submit their best guess, it was always a little nerve racking when the teams would make their guesses. The teens would get very competitive over the game, and you always wanted at least one team to get the correct answer. Some years only one team would get it; other years several teams would figure out the answer. All they had to do was follow the signs and the clues.
The gospel of John is all about signs and clues. Our lectionary invites us to reflect on what the author calls “Jesus’ first sign, a sign that reveals his glory; and his disciples believe in him.” The author is already introducing some foreshadowing, this miracle takes place on the third day. John is already trying to point us to the events that take place on the third day at the end of the gospel. But on this day the setting is a wedding that takes place. The disciples and Jesus have been invited to celebrate at a feast that takes place over multiple days. But the feast is running short on wine. Culturally this is a big deal, running short on wine could be viewed as bad luck for the marriage. The mother of Jesus asks him to intervene. Jesus tells the servants to fill the ceremonial jars with water. These would have been jugs that guests used to wash themselves prior to coming into the feast.
It is interesting to note the amount of work that is done here in this moment. It is likely these jugs would need to emptied of their dirty water, cleaned . Carried over to a water source and then these servants would need to refill these jugs by hand and then carry them back to the feast. This is also a ridiculous amount of wine. Most estimates would place it between 600-900 bottles of wine. Much more than what would be needed at this point in the feast. The other thing that is truly unique about this sign, is that this sign is not offered to the guests, the steward, the bride or the groom. The sign is for the disciples and those reading this text. This sign leads the disciples to a greater understanding of the reign of God, of who Jesus is, and it offers clues or signs about the way in which we are to operate in this world.
I recently read the story of Verda Tetteh. A student who graduated in June from Fitchburg High School in Fitchburg Mass. Most of her classmates are deemed “economically disadvantaged” She is a remarkable student. She secured a prestigious state scholarship and admission into Harvard University all while juggling activities, a pandemic and work at a grocery store. In her graduation speech she talked about resilience, saying “because if we’re honest with ourselves, some of us were born with the odds stacked against us.” She went on to say, “To every immigrant child, you can make it.” Verda’s family had immigrated from Ghana and she knew how difficult that that transition can be. After giving her speech she sat down. To her surprise she was called back up to the podium. The principal announced that she had been voted to receive her school’s highest honor: an award for “General Excellence.” The award came with $40,000 — $10,000 for the next 4 years and she could use it to cover whatever she needed. Verda was overwhelmed by the recognition, but immediately recognized there were others in her class that needed that kind of support more. She thanked her teachers and fellow students for award but asked that the money be used for a student who had a need and was attending community college. Verda thought of her mother who finished her bachelor’s degree at the age of 47 and thought about how hard she worked. She thought about her faith and our call to bless others and knew it was the right thing to do. Verda offered a sign of her faithfulness to the world.
The question this text forces us to answer is when people look at our lives what signs of faithfulness do they see? Do they see a desire to work toward the kingdom of God? A desire to lay aside our hopes, our plans, and look for the promptings of the spirit, to see the signs that God is calling us to this day? Do we live a life of generosity? Generous with our time, generous with our listening ears, and generous with our finances? Are we looking for the provision of God? Looking to see were God is working in this world, and align ourselves with that work.