I’ve told you all before about the month I spent studying abroad in China after my freshman year in college. I often look back at that trip with some regret, I don’t know that I really embraced the opportunity and the experience to the extent that I should have. I have an excuse for that, we were supposed to spend four weeks at the University and then do a week of touring but because of the Swine Flu or Bird Flu outbreak they wouldn’t let us into the University until we had been in the country for a week, so we did the tour first, which meant we had nothing to look forward during the weeks of class except going home and as you might imagine when all you have to anticipate is getting to go home it makes you want to go home even more. Despite my attitude not being the best I can still say it was a good experience, I enjoyed my time there for most part, the people were incredibly nice, but I always knew I wasn’t home. If any of you have spent time overseas I’m sure you can relate, no matter how western your experience was I’d guess there was always a reminder that this was not the place you belonged, and for me in China a lot of it had to do with the food. In the dorms we could have been at any college, we hung out with international students and the best English speakers at the University so we settled in fairly well with the people, but when we went to the cafeteria each day the fact that we weren’t home anymore was clear. The food was too spicy, too tofu and peanut based, all in all too foreign and the difference between it and what we’d have been eating in the US was so stark that it made you miss home all the more.
Taste has a special kind of power. Familiar tastes conjure up memories don’t they? They take us back to different times and remind us of important moments. There are restaurants I go to when I’m back in Laurens that draw me in as much because of memories of growing as they do with the quality of the food itself. Tastes can also have the opposite effect, sometimes we bite into something we’re expecting to be a certain way and the taste doesn’t measure up to the memory. Those of you who have gone to that first Holiday meal with a significant other’s family might remember questioning why a certain dish wasn’t on the table or why the macaroni and cheese or green beans didn’t seem quite right. A parent of one of my Youth at Zion talked about a time, barely weeks if not still days into his marriage, his wife made a dish that he always loved growing up, but when he tasted it it wasn’t quite like momma used to make it. He commented as such, and his wife proceeded to through the entire pan out and tell him she guessed he needed to go on back to his momma’s then. He didn’t comment on the differences between their cooking again.
There’s another power in taste, the power to leave us desiring more. When you have that first bite it leaves you wanting another, once the taste is on our lips we desire to get more and more of it. That particular aspect of taste is the one that we’re going to focus on this morning.
All in all this is a strange miracle that Jesus performs here, because it doesn’t come with any real stakes at play when it happens. Now obviously it would have been embarrassing for the wedding party if they had run out of wine for their guests but in comparison to healing people with deathly illnesses and exorcising demons this seems like more of a magic trick than a miracle, something meant to impress people more than a world changing act. And yet, this is the first miracle John chooses to write about, it is our big introduction to Jesus in the gospel. For John what happens here is not just significant but essential to gaining an understanding of who Jesus is and what he’s about, so let’s take a closer look at it.
It is a fairly straight forward story, Jesus is at a wedding with his family and the beginnings of his disciples. He has picked up these followers in the days prior to this wedding, they’ve just started to follow him. That’s an important factor in what happens here, the disciples haven’t seen anything from Jesus yet. They’ve talked to him and listened to him but they haven’t seen any evidence of who he is yet. This is going to change that.
Mary comes up to Jesus and lets him know that the party is almost out of wine. We don’t know whose wedding it was, we don’t know how Jesus and his family end up invited to it, we don’t know why it matters to Mary that they’re running low on wine, but for some reason it does. She goes to Jesus about it, at first he seems like his isn’t interested, even asking why that’s his concern, but Mary seems confident he’ll do something about it and leaves servants with him with instructions to do whatever he says. Sure enough, she’s right, Jesus decides to act, and sends the servants to collect the stone jars that were used in ritual cleaning practices and fill them up with water. They then take those over to the party, where the chief steward, the guy who is in charge of the food and drink served at the party, reaches in to find not water, but wine. And not just any wine, what is apparently an incredible batch of wine. He goes off to compliment the groom, never knowing that a miracle has occurred. That’s something worth pausing on I think. How often are we in too much of a hurry to realize a miracle happened right under our nose? How often do we rush off to the next moment without appreciating the gift that each one is? The steward never realized that he had witnessed something miraculous because he was in too much of a hurry to get to the next thing. Don’t be in such a rush that you miss the moments when God is at work in your life. Stop to notice the miracles when they happen.
The disciples do realize what happened, they do understand that they’ve witnessed the miraculous, and John tells us that in that moment they believed in Jesus. After seeing a glimpse of what he could do they had to see more. After getting a taste of what God had to offer, they had to go after more. And that’s what this miracle is about, no, no one is healed or saved or resurrected, but in this moment the abundant grace of God is shown. God gives more than we can expect or need. And when we get tastes of who God is, how could we not want more? Once we’ve experienced real love, how can we settle for less? Once we’ve experienced true life, how can we be satisfied with anything else? Peter wrote to Christians struggling with their decision to follow Christ and wondering if it was worth it “like new born babies, crave spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow in your salvation, now that you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
When we taste and see that the Lord is good, we’re left wanting more. When we taste and see that the Lord is good, we change our priorities. When we taste and see that the Lord is good, we change how we treat people. When we taste and see that the Lord is good, we view the world differently. When we taste and see that the Lord is good, we’re changed. God offers all of us tastes of salvation, glimpses of the world as it could be and should be. Embrace those tastes, let them leave you wanting more. Its in that desire for more that we’re moved to action. Its in that desire for more that we’re called to move. Its in that desire for more that the world changes, because once we’ve had a taste of how things could be, how could we settle for anything less?