Sermon Text: Royalties for HDM
I think good stories are like fine wine. They get better with age.
One of my all-time favorite stories is true — it happened to me...back in 1978. I’ve told it so often, I should be paying royalties to the guy. But I still get a charge out of it.
I was in a seminary class called “Philosophical Theology.” Our professor was from Scotland. His name was H. Dermott MacDonald. And I’ll never forget the day he was talking about what he called “religious enthusiasm.”
He was against it. He glared at us, and said, “Jaysus didn’t die ta make ye hilarious...
He died ta save ye from yer SINS!”
I loved it. I’ve said it so much my kids know it by heart. And I have devoted my career prove that man wrong.
All through Christian history, lots of Christians have been wet blankets, killjoys, and party-poopers. This makes no sense to me. Christianity is supposed to be about a God who loves the world. It’s about lowlifes and losers finding forgiveness and freedom. It’s about outrageous, amazing grace.
So today we have the story of Jesus turning water into wine. And not just a little sip of tawny port from a chalice here at the altar rail. We’re talking lots of wine — a hundred twenty gallons of good stuff. And this is JESUS!
A little edgy, don’t you think? Alcohol abuse is a curse. Alcoholism poisons lives and families. There are lots of warnings against it in the Bible.
But in that same Bible, wine is festive. Wine is a gift of God. The ancient rabbis said, “Without wine, there is no joy.” Those rabbis knew that drunkenness is a curse, but they also knew that wine is a blessing. So of course, moderation in all things, right?
In the time of Jesus, ordinary people did not have access to fine wine. Life was hard. Most people did not get to eat meat very often, and had fine wine even less often. Their daily foods were cheese, bread, olive oil, and water.
But a wedding — that was different. Parents would save up for years for a big celebration. Sound familiar? It was a point of honor to host a big wedding in ancient Palestine. Even the poor felt that way. And to run out of wine would be a disgrace.
So in this story, Jesus saves a host family from deep embarrassment. Jesus brings generosity and festivity. Jesus is the opposite of a killjoy or party-pooper.
John the Gospel-writer calls this a “sign.” John sees this sign as a blessing on marriage. John sees this sign as a blessing on celebration. And John sees this sign as a picture of the future banquet in heaven.
In the gospels, Jesus is always going to parties and feasts. It happens so often, his enemies call him a glutton and wino. But Jesus says God’s rule is like a great banquet, a great feast, a joyful wedding reception. John wants us to know that Jesus is about joy. Jesus is like fine wine. When Jesus is around, there is new exhilaration and life.
I like the story of a brand-new Christian. He didn’t grow up in church, but discovered Jesus as an adult. And, boy, was he happy about Jesus! So he goes to church — an Episcopal church.
During the service, he keeps shouting. “Amen! Amen!” The priest glares in his direction. One of the ushers goes up to him and asks him to quiet down. The guy says, “I can’t help it! I got religion!” The usher says, “Well, you didn’t get it here!”
I believe that the story of the water into wine says something big. I believe that in spite of all the tragedy and hard times we face (and God knows there is more than enough of those), there is also reason to celebrate. There is joy at the center of the universe.
So — I want to be part of a church that celebrates. I want to be part of a church which invites everyone to joy. I want to be part of a church where some members wear Hawaiian shirts, and they make newcomers feel welcome, and they make the children feel part of things, and they enjoy teasing their pastor with love, because life is too important to be taken too seriously.
I want to be part of a church full of happy children. I want to be part of a church with elderly people who remember how to smile and laugh. I want to be part of a church that knows how to make a joyful noise to the Lord.
Most of all, I want to hang out with a God who turns water into wine just for the fun of it.
And you know what? I think I might have found the right place.
Can I get an “Amen” to that?