The gospel according to John, the second chapter:
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.
Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.
In the gospel of Matthew, it’s a sermon that jumpstarts Jesus’ ministry. In the gospel of Mark, it’s an exorcism that gets him on the map. In the gospel of Luke it’s a spirit released from a man with a shriek that earns Jesus local notoriety. In John, it’s Cana.[i] Way, way before author Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, my grandmother told me that first impressions are important; it’s fair to assume that responding to a booze emergency at a townie wedding wasn’t how the Son of God hoped to take his first steps into the public arena.
“Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come,” we hear him say when the party disaster is made known to him. Interpreters have been hard on Jesus for his tone. They suggest that Jesus is distancing himself from his mother with this harsh address. But, having older brothers and a mother, I hear it differently. I hear Jesus say: “Mama, please, don’t make me do this.” And I hear Mary say, “But, Baby, they have no wine. I’ve watched you for thirty years and know you can do something about it.”[ii]
To Jesus’ “not yet,” Mary says, “now is the time for you to be who you are.”
The whole theme of time is important in John’s gospel, but it’s tricky. One of my teachers says that “[here] we actually have two time frames operating simultaneously. There’s ordinary clock time. It’s a few minutes after [nine/eleven] o’clock on a Sunday morning in January. Ordinary time. But above it is God’s time. Eternal time. And like a sewing machine, eternal time keeps [pressing] down into ordinary time, creating signs and wonders of the fullness itself.”[iii]
On April 12, 1963, eight prominent religious leaders—seven pastors and one rabbi—crafted and published a letter in the local newspapers urging the Black community to withdraw support from the demonstrations led by Martin Luther King, Jr. These men—considered by most to be progressives—encouraged the community to “show restraint,” to “observe the principles of law and order and common sense,” and to “press for change in the courts, not in the streets.” In words that their children would later say came to haunt them for the rest of their lives, they wrote, “We are now confronted by a series of demonstrations…We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.”
In response to the clergymen’s letter, Martin Luther King penned and published a letter from his jail cell in Birmingham, saying,
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities “unwise and untimely.” I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
I wish you had commended the Negro demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer, and their amazing discipline in the midst of the most inhuman provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, courageously and with a majestic sense of purpose facing jeering and hostile mobs and the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman of Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride the segregated buses, and responded to one who inquired about her tiredness with ungrammatical profundity, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” They will be young high school and college students, young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’s sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.[iv]
To the church’s “not yet,” Martin King says, “now is the time for you to be who you are.”
This morning we are the church as we witness the needle add another holy stitch to the fabric of our community as Mateo—the newest revolutionary in Christ’s family—is dunked in the waters of baptism. The name Mateo means “gift of God.” In our baptism class, we say that on this day we hear God say to Mateo: “You (the wet one there with all the water on you) are mine! I love you! I will not abandon or forsake you. You are part of my unending life.”[v]
With God’s blessing, we say to Mateo, “baby, now is the time for you to be who you are.” This isn’t a one-time address; we promise to keep repeating it again and again. It will be our refrain through his untimely squeals and his wiggles and his adolescence and his prodigal years; it will be our refrain through his doubt and his loneliness and his pain and his hard times; it will be our refrain as he stands with the least of these, as he stoops at the feet of his neighbors, as he turns the other cheek, and as he prays for his enemies; it will be our refrain as he ages, and loves, and forgives, and feasts. “Baby, now is the time for you to be who you are.”
And, people of God, I’m confident that if we say it enough, we’ll come to believe that this refrain is spoken for us, too.
[i] To be fair, preaching and healing are often bound up together in the Synoptic Gospels.
[ii] My friend Jodi Hogue says it another way, which is also helpful: “I keeping thinking of the Wedding at Cana story for Sunday. And Jesus being not quite ready. Would that we all have a Jewish mama saying, “Come on. Yep. It’s time. Be who you are.” at our coming out. And a party waiting on the other side.”
[iii] Tom Long said this.
[v] These are the words of Marc Olson.