Bold Promises

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I have been a pastor for not-quite-four-years—and two of those not-quite-four-years have been, y’know, the last two years—so I haven’t officiated that many weddings. But I still have this little piece that I have always included in the handful of weddings that I have performed.

It’s an idea that I stole from my worship professor in seminary. It’s an idea that is important enough to steal.

In every wedding—during that moment in the ceremony that everyone remembers—two people stand before God and a congregation to make bold promises. They promise to love and sustain each other in the covenant of marriage: in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in how and in sorrow… as long as they both shall live.

And in the hour of the wedding and the season of the honeymoon, those are easy promises to keep. Love is easy when everyone is healthy and there’s plenty to share and people are surrounded by joy. But…

I don’t know if you’ve been paying close attention for the last couple of years, but people are not always healthy, and sometimes there just isn’t enough, and there are seasons when sorrow rules the day. And, sometimes, love is hard.

Weddings are about bold promises that are easy to keep in the moment, but that can be harder to keep when life leads us away from the green pastures and we wander down into the valley of the shadow of… whatever.

And let’s be honest, it’s not just weddings and marriages.

I don’t know how everyone does things, but here in the United Church of Christ, we are a people of bold promises. We make them at baptisms and confirmations and welcomings of new members. We make them at ordinations and installations and, yes, weddings. And we might call them covenants. But, when you get down to it, they are bold promises.

And in the moment when we make them and the season of the honeymoon, they are easy promises to keep. But…

I don’t know it you’ve been paying close attention for the last couple of years, but we are in a time when our friends and neighbors, when strangers and enemies, when people who we have made bold promises to love are not healthy, when there just isn’t enough, when sorrow is ruling the day far too often.

There is COVID-19 and the Omicron variant. There is partisanship and polarization. There is fury and fatigue. And in so many ways, it seems like life has led us away from the green pastures and we have wandered down into the valley of the shadow of… whatever. And in those seasons—in this season—it can be hard to keep all of those bold promises.

Our scripture today is about a wedding. It is a little episode that we call The Wedding at Cana. In the copy of The Gospel According to John that was looking at while I wrote this sermon, there was a little heading, helpfully added by some editor, that read The Wedding at Cana

Our scripture today is about a wedding… except that it’s not about a wedding.

We do not see a couple standing in front of God and a congregation, or rings being exchanged, or a contract being signed. We do not hear vows being made, or blessings being recited, or a glass being broken underfoot. We are not witnesses to the bold promises of an anonymous couple.

Our scripture today is about a reception… and a problem.

Wedding receptions are celebrations of hospitality. And there are rules.

You invite the people—friends and relatives and even some people who are, basically, complete strangers—for an evening of eating and drinking and singing and dancing. And you cannot… you cannot… you absolutely cannot run out of wine.

And in this moment, not long after the wedding ceremony and not far into the honeymoon, this couple has already run up against the first challenge to their bold promises: there just isn’t enough. Here they are, in their first time of want.

But Jesus is there, and we are Christians, so we know that everything is going to be fine. When you need food for five thousand people, or wine for a wedding reception, or a friend raised from the dead, you go to Jesus. Bold promises made, bold promises kept, problem solved.

So when Jesus’s mom turns to him and tells him that the reception has run out of wine, we know exactly what is about to happen. And we are ready when Jesus turns back to his mom and says…

“So? How does that concern you? How does that concern me? That sounds like a them problem.”

I have been a pastor for not-quite-four-years—and two of those not-quite-four-years have been, y’know, the last two years—so I haven’t officiated that many weddings. But there’s this other piece that I have always included in the handful of weddings that I have performed.

It’s not an idea that I stole. But I think that it’s an idea that’s important enough to steal.

I ask the couple of look around. I ask them to look at all of the people who have gathered with them to celebrate their marriage. And I tell the congregation that they are also going to make some bold promises; they are going to promise to bless and love and support and encourage this couple in their marriage. And I tell the couple of lean on them as they would lean on each other, to let them celebrate the times of health and plenty and joy, to let them help in times of sickness and want and sorrow.

I tell the couple that they are not alone.

And, let’s be honest, that’s not just true about weddings and marriages. That’s also true about all of the things that we do to bind ourselves together as a community: the baptisms and confirmations, and welcomings of new members; the ordinations and installations and, yes, weddings. It’s also true about all of those things that we made bold promises about.

You are not alone. We are not alone.

I’m going to say something a little weird here. But I think that Jesus might not be the hero of this story. I think that the hero might be character that doesn’t even get a name in The Gospel According to John. I think that the hero might be Jesus’s mom.

When Jesus tells her that this sounds like a them problem, it is Jesus’s mom who ignores that, and tells the caterers to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. It is Jesus’s mom who, basically and silently, reminds him that there are no them problems… that all problems are us problems.

And Jesus—the word who was in the beginning, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, God-become-one-of-us—can’t say no to that.

He tells the caterers to fill jars with water: a-hundred-and-twenty or a-hundred-and-eighty gallons of water. And, after they do that, he tells them to draw some out and give it to the sommelier to taste. And when that sommelier does taste it, he discovers that it is the good stuff—the best wine—and that there are hundreds of bottles of it. And he gives all of the credit to the groom, who he believes saved the good wine for last.

And in this moment… in this moment of celebration and trouble… in this moment when Jesus’s mom told him, basically and silently, that there are no them problems… in this moment when the groom gets all of the credit… Jesus’s glory is revealed.

And maybe, just maybe, it is in those moments when we see that someone is struggling to keep their bold promises, when we help someone do what they need to do and let them take the credit, when we step in and love for someone, when we silently remind each other of who we are called to be…

…maybe those are some of the moments when Jesus’s glory is revealed. Maybe those are some of the moments when we see the kingdom of God. Maybe those are some of the moments when we discover what it means to be truly and deeply human.

So I want you to do something for me… something that I usually reserve for couples at weddings, making bold promises.

Look around.

All of us who are here today—and many who are not—are here for each other. We have made bold promises—you have made bold promises—to God and to each other: to bless and love and support and encourage each other, in good times and in bad, when it’s easy and when it’s hard. Let up your neighbor. And, when you need it, have the grace to let your neighbor lift you up.

And look up here at this cross. Because the truth is that, while Jesus might have needed a little prompting in this story, in Christ, God has made and kept and lived the boldest of promises. God makes and sustains the cosmos, lays aside glory and comes into the world to lead us out of the valley of the shadow of death, and brings us to abundant and eternal life. God has loved us. God does love us. And God will always love us.

And all of those bold promises that we have made? All of those bold promises that bind us together as a community? The reason that we could make them—and the reason that we can keep them, even when we can’t quite keep them—is that we do not make them alone. We have friends and neighbors supporting us. We have God guiding us. We are surrounded by love.

Thanks be to God!

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