Sunday, January 20, 2013

Aint No Party Like A Jesus Party- Sermon based on John 2:1-11

I’m going to go ahead and blame the Puritans for the poor reputation of the church, and even Christianity at large in our country. It’s boring, some say. Too strict, claim others. It’s all about what you can’t, shouldn’t, or mustn’t do. Perhaps we’re a little bit beyond that, but I would guess there are at least a few of you in here today who hesitate to share your faith background and practice with people for fear of the assumptions people will make, that all of a sudden they will look at you and see a dour, straight-laced Puritan who is eyeing everything they do with righteous judgment. Or maybe you hesitate to invite people to church because, well, it is a little…sedate. And serious.

Sometimes that’s a good thing. Our world is busy and noisy and full of drama. Sometimes we need a break from that, a place to come into quiet, to rest and have a few minutes of peace to actually hear the voice of God.

And often we need to deal with serious issues that can’t be left outside the church. We can’t come into worship and pretend that the world is not broken and that God is not calling us to be part of its healing.

However. We do not need to always be serious. We do not need to always be quiet, or still. While we need to be careful not to make the goal of worship entertainment, as I think has happened in some churches, that does not mean it can’t be fun.

Jesus, as we see in this story, knows about fun. There’s a wedding going on. Weddings in those days were not one evening and done as they are now. No, weddings occurred over an entire week, and it was the host’s job to keep everyone fed and happily imbibing. Running out of wine meant scarcity not just for the couple’s family, but symbolically for the marriage itself, and would certainly mean the end of the party after only three days.

At first, Jesus is dismissive. What business is it of his if there’s no wine left? But Mary is confident, and tells the servants to do what he tells them. He has them take large stone jars, which people use to ritually purify themselves in the Jewish custom, and fill them with water. The water then is transformed into wine. And not just any wine. Good wine, the stuff you’re supposed to serve at the beginning of the party, when people actually care what they’re drinking.

Jesus not only approves of the party and celebration, he’s overwhelmingly enabling it to continue! This is not the image of Jesus we usually see. We know righteously angry Jesus, and meek and mild baby Jesus, and patient “ok, Disciples, let me explain this to you one more time so maybe you’ll understand” Jesus. But fun Jesus? Not so much.

And why not? Because we limit ourselves to what we feel is good and proper. Maybe it’s not just the Puritans. Maybe it’s New England. We’re Yankees. Reserved. Don’t get our feathers ruffled too much. Maybe. Although I’m going to bet that will not be the impression made this evening at Gillette Stadium. So why can’t church be fun?

We put limits on what church is “supposed” to be, and we do the same with God’s grace. We act as though we will need to settle for what God gives us, as if sacrifice and discomfort are what make us better Christians. Yes, sacrifice is called for. But sacrifice of what, exactly? Pleasure? Enjoyment?

That’s not the way God works. We turn to God and expect crumbs, and God gives us the entire loaf of bread. We ready ourselves for a bottle of cheap wine, and God pours out six 25-gallon jars of the best there is.

The jars in this story represent the old ways, old practices of purity that Jesus transforms with his new wine. Maybe we should think about what rituals and practices we’re holding onto that limit the abundance of Christ’s grace. Maybe we should reconsider what church and Christianity are supposed to be, and open ourselves up to what they could be.

Now, of course, we are all of many generations and backgrounds and personalities and interests. What is enjoyable to one may be intolerable to another. But that’s part of being the body of Christ, right? We also need to consider those who aren’t yet part of the body.
But we need to be open, to others and to our own desires. Are you feeling moved by a prayer or song and want to raise your hands? That doesn’t happen much in our church, but that’s ok. Do it! Is there an upbeat hymn that makes your hands itch to clap or your hips beg to sway? I was just swaying to that last hymn. Go for it! Do you agree with something I’ve just said in my sermon or with the beauty of a choir anthem and want to affirm it with a vocal “Amen?” Why not? It is, in fact, ok, to laugh and smile and have fun in worship—and not just during the Time for All Ages! God is awesome, so let’s make the worship of God that way too! We are sharing the GOOD news, right? Yes, sometimes the Holy Spirit moves us deeply to tears or to consider action in response to a prophetic word, but hello, it’s the Holy Spirit, and She likes to be mischievous and active, too, so we should let her!

Living as disciples of Christ can be serious business, but we also must be careful not to take ourselves too seriously. For everything there is a season: a time for reverence and a time for irreverence; a time for reflection and a time for action; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to be still and a time to PAR-ty!! How many of you have seen the movie Sister Act? This group of nuns sing in a choir in a mostly empty Catholic church. They sing with love, sure, but without a whole lot of passion (and, at the beginning, not a whole lot of skill, either). Then Whoopi Goldberg arrives, acting as a nun to hide in the witness protection program. Her previous profession was as lounge singer. She is assigned the task of coaching the choir, and all of a sudden these staid nuns are not only sounding better, but they’re having fun. In one scene, they begin with a traditional arrangement of “Salve Regina,” sung very sweetly. “Hail, holy queen enthroned above, O, Maria…” Maggie Smith, who plays the head nun, looks on approvingly. Then, the piano picks up and they are rocking out and clapping, “Hail holy queen…” Maggie Smith is not amused. The sound brings in people off the street to see what’s going on. The priest waves in these inner-city kids who are peeking in to see what’s going on. In subsequent services, they sing “I Will Follow Him” and “My God (My Guy).” “Nothing you can say can tear me away from my God…”

That’s mostly about music, but it’s also about an attitude, that loving God and serving Christ does not have to be boring. “Ain’t no party like a Jesus party, ‘cause a Jesus party don’t stop!”  Now, we’re not in an inner city, so the chances of people coming in off the streets of Francestown because they can hear us outside are slim to none. But what if people heard of us and decided to take a peek? What if what we were doing—in worship, in mission, in the entire life of the church—were so exciting we couldn’t hold it in and had to share with others? What if it wasn’t just our congregation? What if that started happening all over the Church-with-a-capital-C? It makes me excited and joyful just thinking about it! Forget about church membership numbers or attendance or pledge amounts; just imagine how many more people would hear and know the Good News of Jesus Christ—the power of God’s love and the abundance of God’s grace; the feast God has prepared for us, the river of delights to which we are invited. What might our world look like, if that’s the message people heard about Christianity? It would be amazing! And all because of fun Jesus, who kept the party going.

In that spirit, we’re going to do something a little fun. Who here has played MadLibs? [Explain if necessary]. So we know how this works? Ok, let’s try this out.

On the third day there was a _BIRTHDAY________ (special occasion or event) in __CHURCH______ (place), and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his __COWS________ (plural noun) had also been invited to the (_____BIRTHDAY same special occasion or event). When the _WATER______ (liquid) gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And ___MARK_____ (name of person in the room) said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My __SKI_______ (noun) has not yet come.” His mother said to the ___PEWS______ (plural noun), “Do whatever he tells you.” Now ­­­__SINGING______ (verb ending in –ing) there were __3____ (number) ___BEAUTIFUL____ (adjective) water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding __24_____ (number) or __6______ (number) gallons. Jesus said to them, “___PLAY_______ (verb) the jars with ____BEER______ (liquid).” 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 __TEACHER_______  (profession) tasted the __CIDER_______ (liquid) that had become __WINE______ (liquid), and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the ___DOCTOR_____ (profession) called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone __WALKS_____ (verb) the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become __LOVELY_______ (adjective). But you have kept the _HAIRY________ (adjective) wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his __PEOPLE________ (plural noun), in ___FRANCESTOWN_______ (place), and revealed his __COW________  (noun); and his disciples believed in him.

Having had this fun, remember it. Remember the abundant joy God wishes for you. And when we sing “Joyful, Joyful” after Communion, let’s do it with gusto! 

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