The Hospitality of Jesus

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
First Lesson: Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Gospel: John 2:1-11

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

wine-2Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to help plan a wedding.

It takes a lot of work, doesn’t it? Chelsea and I have been married for almost thirteen years, and I still remember how stressful it was to plan all of the details for our big day- everything from the save-the-date cards to the reception after the ceremony. Ours was a relatively small affair. So, I can’t even begin to imagine how stressful it must be for those who choose to have larger, more elaborate weddings.

There are so many details to consider when planning a wedding. There’s the guest list, which might change at any moment. There’s the location for the rehearsal dinner, which of course has to be reserved months in advance. There’s the ceremony itself, which has to be beautiful and memorable but definitely not too long. There’s the photography session after the service, which may or may not be held outside depending on the weather. There’s the menu for the reception, which has to include food and drinks that everyone will enjoy. So many details and so many things that can go wrong at a moment’s notice. They say, “the devil is in the details,” and I think that’s right, especially when it comes to weddings.

But, there are reasons why we make detailed plans for weddings, aren’t there? We want these special moments to be as enjoyable as possible for the couple being married and for their guests, and we desperately want to try to prevent anything disastrous or unexpected from happening that might ruin the experience for everyone.

I shudder to think what it would’ve been like at my own wedding if something had gone terribly wrong, such as someone coming over to me in the middle of the reception and telling me that there was no wine left or that all of the food was gone. How embarrassing that would’ve been! But, even worse, I would’ve felt like a terrible host with nothing to offer my friends and family, some of whom traveled a long distance to be there.

Weddings, in case you don’t know, are not just about the couple being married. They’re also about the couple’s family and friends as well as the larger community- anyone who might be impacted by the couple and the relationship they share. In our faith tradition, a wedding is a celebration of new life. The bond established when two people exchange solemn vows in the sacrament of marriage is a sign of God’s abundant love for the world. It illustrates the kind of covenant relationship shared between Christ and all baptized Christians, the kind of relationship that God desires to have with each one of us. So, when a couple decides to be married in the Church, it’s fitting for us to celebrate and make special plans for such a joyous occasion and for us to be as welcoming and hospitable as possible to the people who celebrate with us.

Modern day weddings are actually quite different than the weddings that Jesus and his friends would’ve attended in the first century. We tend to think of weddings as fairly quick events, usually lasting no more than a day, but in Jesus’ time, wedding celebrations lasted much longer. According to one author, “In those days, the bride and groom celebrated the marriage not with a honeymoon but with a seven-day wedding feast at the groom’s home.”

In our lesson this morning from the Gospel of John, Jesus and his friends aren’t just casually passing through the city of Cana for what you and I would think of as a quick wedding. They’re in it for the long haul, a seven-day-long celebration with family and friends and other members of the community. This puts things in a slightly different perspective, doesn’t it? A seven-day wedding feast is a lot longer than an hour-long ceremony followed by a reception, and the family of the groom would’ve been expected to provide enough food and wine for their guests during the entire celebration. To do otherwise would’ve brought shame upon the entire family. Hospitality was very important in Jewish culture during the time of Jesus. So, when Mary comes to Jesus during the wedding feast and tells him, “They have no wine,” we know that the situation is serious.

At first, Jesus is hesitant to intervene, telling his mother, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.”

What follows is one of my favorite parts of the entire passage. Mary doesn’t even respond to what Jesus says. Rather, she takes things into her own hands, turns to the servants at the wedding feast, and says to them, “Do whatever he tells you.” Mary knows that Jesus has the power to help the groom’s family and to prevent a joyful celebration from turning into a public disaster, and she doesn’t intend to let him sit by and let that happen. She’s determined to keep the party going.

There’s a lot that could be said about this Gospel lesson, and we haven’t even touched the actual miracle of Jesus turning water into wine and what that signifies for us and our relationship with God.

It’s Mary’s determination in this passage that I find especially compelling because I think it has a lot to tell us about the importance of hospitality and how we, as followers of Jesus, are called to serve as examples of radical welcome to all people, not only to those who walk through our doors on Sunday morning but also to those whom we encounter in our everyday lives. We’re called to invite and welcome all people to join us in this way of life that we share, a way of life that is loving, liberating, and life-giving.

Stephanie Spellers, the Presiding Bishop’s Canon for Evangelism, Racial Reconciliation, and Creation Care, describes the act of welcoming as an embrace, similar to the kind of embrace that two friends might share after a long period of time apart. In her book, Radical Welcome, she writes, “If welcome is the drama of embrace, then a radical welcome is the embrace that is hardest of all, requiring the broadest extension and opening of self, even as it draws us back to our core values. It is the embrace of the marginalized, silenced, oppressed Stranger.”

It’s easy for us to extend arms of hospitality to those whom we know and love and to those who look like us and sound like us. It’s much harder to extend those same arms of hospitality to the “other,” to those on the margins of society with whom we wouldn’t normally associate, but it’s exactly this type of hospitality, this radical welcome of Jesus, that we’re called to share with our brothers and sisters. If this is something you struggle with, don’t worry. You’re not alone. All of us fall victim to our own biases and prejudices from time to time. All of us resist change for fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. It’s what we do with our fear that matters. Do we hold onto it at all cost, trusting that it’s what’s best for us? Or, do we begin to try to find ways to let go of it, trusting that God’s love has no place for fear? These are questions we must ask ourselves as individuals but also as a community of believers as we consider the ways that God is calling us to show hospitality and radical welcome to the strangers in our midst.

Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was determined to extend the celebration at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, may we also be determined in our own ministries to extend the radical welcome of Jesus to those we meet, and may we always be focused on looking for new ways to show the world that the love of God is open to all people. Amen.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of this sermon.

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