September 22, 2014

We Are Far Too Easily Pleased

The Wedding Feast at Cana, Schnorr von Carolsfeld

The Wedding Feast at Cana, Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Second Sunday after Epiphany
John 2:1-11

I used to not like weddings very much. They seemed like a lot of trouble, and people tended to overdo them. When we had children at home and lots of things on our plate, it seems that weddings always interrupted other plans and caused upheaval in our routine. Plus, they usually took place on Saturdays, and, as a pastor, Sundays were packed, so I was preoccupied and unable to just take part and enjoy. Sure, we were happy for the couple and their family, but we were also glad when the whole affair was over.

Now I love weddings. First of all, since I work for hospice and am on hand for so many sad occasions, it is a nice change of pace to participate in an event that is all about life and love and joy. Second, I don’t have as many Sunday responsibilities these days, so my mind is freer and more able to focus on the fun and celebration. Third, many of the couples whose weddings we attend are in some way connected to our children, so we are able to rejoice with our friends in the coming of age of a new generation of families.

Being outside of our former pietistic evangelical circles also enables me to enjoy the wine more freely. And the dancing. And many other celebratory aspects not always included in the wedding parties of the moralists.

I remember watching “Fiddler on the Roof” when I was a young man and being befuddled by the total abandonment to celebration pictured in the wedding scenes. What a killjoy I was! I wouldn’t have known a good time if it had bitten me on the tukhus.

canaAnd along comes Jesus in John 2:1-11, providing wine at a wedding — the very best wine, in large quantities, after all the other wine has already been consumed — as a sign of who he is and what he has come to do. Taking the stone water pots that were sanctified for the somber religious purposes of purification, he had filled them to the brim and then transformed their contents into the finest of alcoholic beverages — for the pure enjoyment of the people who were gathered there.

The result? A sign — a sign of the Kingdom. Glory — the glory of God. And where was God’s blessing seen and experienced? In glasses raised and toasts proclaimed! In whirling dances! In laughter and light-hearted banter! In joy and celebration!

Don’t imagine God is pleased with your sacrifices. Don’t believe he delights in your strenuous efforts at holiness, your morbid introspection, your sober demeanor and serious attitude. Don’t think for a minute that he wants you to rein in your passions and turn your back on pleasure. No! No! A thousand times no! Not for nothing does the psalmist say to God, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.” (Ps. 16:11)

As C.S. Lewis reminded us:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

L’chaim! Now and evermore.

Amen.

Comments

  1. “Let the good times roll…..”

  2. As a life-long non-evangelical, it has always amazed and amused me the lengths to which evangelicals will go to deny Jesus positive relationship to wine; it’s as if they want everything in the Bible to be taken literally, except for three things: the wine, the Body and Blood in Holy Communion, and “turn the other cheek.”

    • what about “sell all that you have and give to the poor”

    • As John begins his series of replacement epiphanies describing who Jesus is and what he does, here, Jesus replaces the original purification cleansing waters that were contained in the jars with the now cleansing wine; later his blood that will not run out, and for which we thirst. The wedding at Cana recalls not only a miracle (a minor one in the sequence of things) and fulfills the Old Testament promise of the abundance of wine in the days of the messiah, but prepares us for subsequent accounts that tell us of Jesus’ wine/blood as sacrament. By his presence at the wedding, Jesus blesses that act as sacrament as well.

  3. Love this Lewis quote, but hadn’t seen it in several years…..the visual of making mud pies in a slum instead of even dreaming of white sandy beaches to make castles in speaks to me.

    I guess I find it hard to be joyful and happy when I know that I do NOT deserve it, AND that others are suffering so badly on this earth. Maybe that is the point……the Lord loves us and wants us to be happy, much the way we delight in our children’s reaction to our largesse to them. And while we are called to serve the poor, my dancing at a wedding does not increase or decrease the plight of a child in Darfur….

    • Pattie,
      In church today the pastor gave a sermon that developed the idea that this passage is a proleptic text that shows Jesus making present the future eschatological feast that he has prepared for his people in the fullness of his Kingdom; if that is so, then even though we mourn with those whose cross it is to suffer in this present age, we can nevertheless harbor the joyful eschatological hope that one day, in God’s time, their mourning, and ours, will be turned into laughter. This hope is itself a taste of celebration that we can carry in our spirits always.

  4. Great post, Chaplain Mike. I so wish that in addition to making people sing and dance and enjoy themselves it didn’t also make them drunk, stupid, and downright dangerous. Working in the corrections field makes me leery of alcohol, though I do drink a bit myself and in my younger days got drunk and stupid too. Sigh…

  5. Chaplain,
    I appreciate the gist of your post, but I think you may have gone a little far in some of what you said, particularly in the last paragraph. You said, “Don’t believe God delights in your strenous efforts at holiness.” Now I realize I may be misunderstanding you due to a differnce in understanding holiness. I don’t really know the Lutheran concept of holiness. But I do know 1 Peter 1:14-15 says, ” As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” And Hebrews 12:14 says “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” God may not be impressed with our efforts at holiness, but I do believe he is pleased when by the Spirit we seek to be holy in obedience to him.

    • “Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.” (Martin Luther)

      See Michael’s post: “Sin to Spite the Devil”

      • The problem with this, Chaplain Mike, is that all the weddings celebrations (and other celebrations) I’ve ever been to (including my own) had their share of petty and painful soap-opera going on in the background, and sometimes the foreground; the banter is often mean-spirited or biting rather than light-hearted, and you just know, as the Eagle’s song says, “There’s gonna be a heartache tonight, heartache tonight, I know….” I often think I can see the devil skirting around the dance floor with a big smile on his face and a napkin tied atop his head; despite what Luther said in another place, the devil really doesn’t mind playing the fool if he can get other fools to join in, and he’s pretty good at that.

        • I agree with both this and your earlier comment about the eschatological feast. The two comments combined rightly testify that our celebration of hope is always enacted in circumstances of human sin and imperfection. “In the world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer: I have overcome the world”

  6. Highwayman says:

    It was pointed out in a sermon I heard this morning that the quantity of wine Jesus provided was far more than could have been consumed by the wedding guests without leaving them all flat on their backs – there was plenty left over for others as well. Our joy can be shared even with outsiders…

  7. I visited a friend a few months back that lives in West Virginia…we met up with her boyfriend and some of his extended family and went to a wine tasting/festival. I don’t drink all that often, but decided to just enjoy the day and enjoy the tasting. Throughout the day I ended up chatting with my friends boy friends uncle- and somehow we ended up talking about Jesus and the wedding at Cana. He was explaining to me the significance of the miracle and how touching it was- both in the quality of the wine, but in the quantity and how much was made. It made me smile because I don’t know that he was particularly religious and he was so touched by that particular miracle- it also made me smile because Jesus always seems to show up when I don’t expect….such as at a wine festival in West Virginia.

  8. Slàinte !!

    But here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armies
    will throw a feast for all the people of the world,
    A feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines,
    a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts.

    And here on this mountain, God will banish
    the pall of doom hanging over all peoples,
    The shadow of doom darkening all nations.
    Yes, he’ll banish death forever.
    And God will wipe the tears from every face.
    He’ll remove every sign of disgrace
    From his people, wherever they are.
    Yes! God says so!

    Also at that time, people will say,
    “Look at what’s happened! This is our God!
    We waited for him and he showed up and saved us!
    This God, the one we waited for!
    Let’s celebrate, sing the joys of his salvation.
    God’s hand rests on this mountain!”

    Appreciate. Indulge. Share. Revel in such wasteful grace and goodness!

    Tom

  9. Excellent post! Thank you, Chaplain Mike.

  10. Yep.

    We are bound to sin and cannot free ourselves.

    We actually need a Savior.

    • Yes we do. I am always struck by how much the Puritan ethic sticks with us. We are sinful, we drink alcohol, we smoke tobacco. Neither one is a salvation issue. Believe that Jesus died for your sins aand was ressurected on the third day. Accept this and you shall be saved. And if we are saved we would keep his commandements, which are 2 or 10, the 2 cover the 10.