Shame, Grace, and Abundance
Posted on January 15, 2018 | Posted by Pastor Daniel
Pastor Daniel’s sermon on January 14, 2018 on John 2:1-11
In seminary, I learned a lot about food. I mean I learned about God and church and maybe preaching (we’ll see), but I also learned about food. And a bit about shame.
I had a part-time job in the seminary dining hall. I was usually the grill cook, making eggs in the mornings and hamburgers in the afternoons. I got used to going to class covered in grease.
I loved the job. I loved making omelets and the free meals and the early hours. But occasionally I had to work catering events – and I didn’t love that. They were always so stressful. Trying to get all the tables set-up and all the food ready at exactly the right time. Let me make eggs at 7am, someone else can do the catering.
One time I was working on a big outdoor charcoal grill for a barbeque for a couple hundred folks. It was a warm Minnesota summer day, which meant it was sweltering over the grill. I sucking down water as fast as I could. And then right in the middle of it all, Rick came out to tell me the bad news – we were out of burgers. Well, technically we weren’t out, but someone forgot to take the last hundred or so out of the deep freezer the day before, so they were rock hard and totally stuck together. It was going to take Rick a while to chisel them apart. I raided the kitchen for a few chicken breasts, and then had to tell a hundred or so people they’d probably only get pork and beans for lunch. That day I learned about proper planning and also about the freezing point of hamburger fat. And maybe something about shame.
See, the head of dinning services, our boss, was totally freaking out. And I think it was partly because she felt shame. We all did, really. Shoot, I was probably the one who was supposed to thaw the burgers. Guilt is feeling bad about something you’ve done. Shame is feeling bad about who you are. We had one job, one thing we were supposed to do – make some burgers, and we messed it up. We were all thinking, if you can’t even do that, how are you supposed to be running a dining hall? If you can’t even do that, how are you supposed to be reliable in life? If you can’t even do that, how are you going to be a pastor? Little events like this remind you: You aren’t who you thought you were. That’s shame.
Jesus and his disciples go to a wedding. It’s only been a few days since Jesus met them, so there’s probably a bit of awkwardness. After all, they dropped everything and followed him based on the word of a bug eating prophet living in the desert. And the first thing Jesus and his disciples all do together is go to a wedding. Now, weddings were as big a deal then as they are now, maybe bigger. Huge celebrations, often lasting days, that included music and feasts and, of course, plenty of wine. What better place for Jesus and his disciples to get to know one another.
So Jesus is there in Cana enjoying the wedding, when his mom interrupts to tell him that they’ve run out of wine. I imagine Mary gently pulled on his sleeve to bring him away from the group before whispering this little piece of news.
She’s whispering because it is shameful to run out of wine. It is the job of the host, the expectation, to not run out. It’s why we always cook a 20 pound turkey for a four person Thanksgiving dinner, bring three dozen cupcakes to our kid’s tiny pre-school class, and thaw all of the burgers before a catered barbeque. For the host to run out is shameful. It makes it seem like you weren’t able to provide. It reveals your lack of planning or poverty. It makes you feel not only like you’ve failed, but that you are a failure. And for this to happen at an important event like a wedding, when your social status is on the line, well… Yeah, I’m pretty sure Mary whispered this shameful news to Jesus.
Who then responds, “Woman, what concern is this to you and to me?” A whole sermon could probably be written on Jesus rudely calling his mother “woman,” but I couldn’t figure it out, so let’s focus on the question part of that question – what concern is this to you and to me?
The thing is, Jesus, dare I say it, misses something about this situation. Whether or not this small shameful moment is actually of concern to him we’ll see, but it is definitely a concern to Mary. Not because she’s a gossip or sticking her nose into other’s business, but because she’s been there. Mary knows shame.
Remember that just a few weeks ago we were reading about Mary the unwed pregnant girl who’s fiancé almost left her. Mary who couldn’t even get a room in an inn. This is decades later now, and Mary’s invited to a wedding, so she has regained some social status. But I’m betting she hasn’t forgotten what shame feels like. She hasn’t forgotten what it feels like to know that you haven’t only failed, but that you are a failure. Like there is something inherently wrong with you, something lacking. So when Mary sees this impending shame, even these decades later, it concerns her.
And it concerns us, too. Ever felt shame? Probably – shame’s abundant in our world. Ever felt like you are lacking in some way? Like maybe you aren’t the spouse or worker you thought you could be. Or you lack some essential moral fiber or patience or insight. You mess up at work, you’re short with your kids, you miss someone’s birthday. And for a while you tell yourself you just made a mistake. Maybe you did something wrong, but that doesn’t mean you are wrong.
And that works for a while, until your next door neighbor, she just seems to never make those mistakes and the guy in the next office or desk always seems to be right. And on the whole you just don’t feel as successful as you thought you’d be, or you look back on life and you just aren’t sure you did enough, not sure you were enough. The cumulation of botched barbeques changes things. Throw in some TV commercials featuring beautiful people and news stories about doctors without borders and you start to realize that maybe you are lacking in some way. You aren’t enough. And that thought gives you pause and a pit in your stomach. That pit – that’s called shame and it makes living, really living, hard.
If Mary saw you in that moment when the pit formed in your stomach, if she saw the way it made your head hang low, she’d go find Jesus, tug on his sleeve, and whisper something to him.
After she did that in Cana, Jesus performs his famous first miracle. A miracle to resolve the impending shame. Except it’s not called a miracle. It’s called a sign. More on that in a bit.
Jesus spots 6 large stone jars. He tells the servants at the wedding to fill them all up to the brim, and so they do. And then the chief steward, who would have been like the wedding planner of sorts, comes over to have a taste and discovers a fine wine.
150 gallons of fine wine, actually. Which, to state the obvious, is a lot of wine. We’re talking about three barrels of wine. The wine of about 1 ton of grapes, if it had come from grapes. Enough to give a few thousand people a glass. It’s a lot of wine. Too much, really. I mean, the whole population of Cana probably couldn’t have finished that wine. So, why so much?
That’s where this being a sign is important. See, everything Jesus does. All the big miracles and confusing teachings. All the healings and feedings. They’re all done out of compassion for those around him, for sure. And maybe also because he’s got his mom tugging on him. But mostly, they’re done to show who Jesus is. Or, as the author says at the end of the gospel: Jesus did many things that aren’t written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and through believing have life in his name. These miracles and teachings, these signs are all so that we, so that you, might believe and have life.
150 gallons is a lot of wine. Abundant to say the least. So this miracle, this sign – maybe it’s a sign of Christ’s abundance. Cause there sure is an abundance of shame. From frozen burgers which make you question your ability to work, to the consistent failures that chip away at your sense of worth, to the big character flaws that make it hard to even try. There’s an abundance of shame in this life.
And yet there’s also God’s grace. Grace which tells you that even if you feel you aren’t enough, you are loved. Even if you feel you are lacking, God fills you up.
Of course, you may find yourself, now and again, feeling so low down, so lacking, so worthless and unworthy, so abundantly full of shame, that it wouldn’t matter how much grace you might be given. There surely isn’t enough to lift the likes you out of that hole you’ve dug for yourself. I mean it would take an obscene amount of grace to counter that shame, more than anyone ever thought necessary, like … I don’t know, 150 gallons of grace.
God’s grace is precious. A treasure to admired and never forgotten. A truth about God and about us around which all other truths derive their truthiness. And, usually, precious things are in scarce supply. Like gold and diamonds and powder days. But not grace. If there’s anything we learn today about Christ, about God, it’s that God’s grace is more abundant than anything. Even shame.
As you kneel at the altar today, taking the posture shame wants to trap you in, you won’t even receive 150 milliliters of wine. But in that small cup there is an abundance of grace. More than anyone would think was necessary. An abundance which God is hoping is enough to convince you that in God’s eyes you are worthy and loved. Grace upon grace, all so that you might believe, so that you might live.
Come and see. Come and eat, drink, and be filled. Amen.