Staring at Grey Rainbows
2ND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY JANUARY 16th, 2022 JOHN 2:1-11
Most of you know that the Rectory now has a puppy. A Covid puppy. Esmeralda is her name, and she has changed everything. Mostly in good ways, for example, she has made me stop and think, which is never a bad thing. You see, Esme has a basket of balls and when she wants to play, she takes one out and not very subtly brings it to me and looks at me with those eyes. If I pretend not to notice her staring at me, she will get more assertive – like jumping on me and licking my ears until I give in and play ball. Now within this Aladdin’s Cave of balls there are green, red, yellow, blue, purple, pink, and orange. Some light up when you throw them, some make piercing squeaks when chewed. Some have soft spikes, some are smooth, some are covered in fur, some are the size of a small melon, some the size of a tangerine. Esme had a great Christmas.
So, a few days ago I watched her trot into the living room and approach the basket of balls. Which would she pick? Please, God, let it be a silent one. She gave this task a lot of thought. She studied the selection, like a child at a sweet counter, she moved towards a yellow one, then changed her mind and detoured to a blue, before finally settling on a green ball that she optimistically picked up and brought to me.
I was intrigued. Why the green one? Inquiring minds needed to know. So, I googled things about dogs and colors and found, devastatingly, that dogs are partly color-blind. They can’t see red or green, or shades containing either of those colors, such as pink, purple, and orange. I can’t tell you how this upset me. Our little girl was missing out on so much. I got down on the floor and I looked Esme in the eyes, and I apologized. “Oh Esme”, I said, “I am so sorry that you can’t see many colors. You poor creature. I feel so sad for you. You don’t know what you’re missing.” And she replied. She looked kind of offended and said, “Don’t waste your sympathy, human. You see, when I was with my friends last week, we began talking about how pathetic human noses are. Seriously, dude, how can you even call that a nose? You bipeds are rubbish at smelling things. We dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors in our noses, I don’t know what that means because I’m just a dog, but it is waaaaay more impressive than the six million you poor humans have. And did you know, two-legs, that the part of a dog’s brain devoted to analyzing smells is 40 times greater than yours. So, don’t patronize me with your species paternalism – you’re the one that deserves pity, you’re the one missing out on all those amazing aromas. I bet you can’t even smell the difference between bottled water and tap water. You don’t know what you’re missing.” That’s when she chewed up my collar.
You don’t know what you’re missing. Like a dog looking at a rainbow and seeing seven shades of grey, the guests at the wedding in Cana think they have tasted all there is to taste; they have no idea there’s more. As usual, the groom has brought out the vintage stuff first. They have filled their cups and admired the ruby red grape. The connoisseurs among them sniff it, perhaps even swill a sip of it around their mouths and spit it out. No doubt about it – this is the good stuff, the best wine some of them at that wedding reception have ever tasted. But all good things come to an end, and, as the party enters its second and third days (yes – its second and third days – they knew how to celebrate back in the day) the steward pours the last of the Chateauneuf du Cana and uncorks the two-buck chuck. If only they knew what they are missing. Like the dog staring at the grey rainbow, they think they’ve seen it all, tasted it all. They cannot even imagine there could be something better. But the best is yet to come.
I love this story, the wedding at Cana, the first of Jesus’ miracles. It’s a story of God’s generous, exuberant, even wasteful abundance. 180 gallons of wine – is that really necessary? How much do they need? And the quality of it is beyond anyone’s imagination. We’re familiar with Jesus performing miracles for good reasons – he heals because someone is suffering, he multiplies bread and fish because a crowd is hungry, he raises dead people because their families are desolate. But, not at Cana. Jesus turns water into wine because … well, because why not? This is not a miracle of compassion, but a miracle of fun! This is just Jesus being Jesus, God being God. The abundant blesser abundantly blessing. The extravagant lover of creation doing what the extravagant lover of creation does. Just for the sheer joy of it. Just because God’s heart is full of grace, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Sin as much we like, fail as often as possible, grieve God’s Spirit on the hour ever hour, but we cannot change the nature of God, and the nature of God is to give and give and give, to love, to love, and to love.
Like dogs staring at grey rainbows, the guests at the wedding did not know what they are missing, until they sipped the miracle wine. Well, I say that dogmatically, but actually there was one person who had an inkling. One woman who knew deep in her heart that this Jesus was special; that he was destined for something she could not fully understand; that this young man – flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone, was more than just that. That somehow, he had a power, a nature, and destiny that went far beyond her ability to comprehend. She didn’t get it, but she did believe it. And this faith without understanding leads Mary to see beyond the problem of the wine running out to the solution hatching in the mind of God.
Sometimes Jesus performs miracle in repose to people’s faith. And so it is here in Cana. And the faithful person is his mother. “Son,” she frets, “they have no wine.” Jesus appears to brush off her concern, “Mother, it’s not time yet.” But Mary won’t take no for an answer. She calls to the wine waiters and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” Mary’s faith is insistent. The scene is almost comical. The proud mother pushing her child forward, “Come on son, show them who you are. I’ve cherished this secret in my heart long enough. Jesus, it’s time – show them, give them a sign.”
At Christmas I preached about the baby who grew up to stand in the gap – to be the bridge between God and humans, reconciling us to God. And now, it is Mary standing in the gap. She sees, with compassion, the need of the moment, the embarrassment of the bridegroom, the disappointment of the guests, and she sees, with the eyes of faith, the God who can meet those needs. And she intervenes. “Son, they have no wine.”
It’s a beautiful picture of what it means to be a child of God, and indeed, the Christian Church – sensitive to the needs of the world but open to the possibility of miracles. Standing in the gap. At this moment in history, as we daily grope our way through the mess and the suffering and the despair of the pandemic, we have a task – a noble calling. We are charged with standing in the gap – noticing and feeling the pain of this fractured and needy world, because we are a part of it. Its agony is our agony, it’s frustrations our frustrations. And yet we are more than that. We are ambassadors of God, mini bridges, channels of reconciliation, crying to God, along with Mary, “Lord, they have no wine.”
They are burdened, they can’t raise their heads, their eyes stare at the ground. Lord, they have no wine.
They are weighed down by anxiety and frustration, they feel they have nothing to celebrate. Lord, they have no wine.
They are lonely, they are bereaved, they are heart-broken. They have lost someone they loved. They have tasted the bitterness of the grave, perhaps too soon, perhaps from the pandemic, certainly through the fragile thread of human life. Lord, they have no wine.
They are crushed, rejected, discarded because they can no longer make enough money for their employer, or because their faces don’t fit, or their skills have not kept step with progress. They fear that their usefulness to society, to their families, even to God is at an end. Lord, they have no wine.
Look around you and you’ll see a lack of wine. So many women and men created in God’s image who have lost sight of celebration. Forget wedding receptions, these dear ones have no reason to even get out of bed. In these draining, exhausting, bleak pandemic days, when people are burdened and burned, anxious and angry, desperate and desolate there’s not much to celebrate. Lord, they have no wine.
But God has a church – to stand in the gap and pray, “God, they have no wine.” God has a church – and that’s all God has. There is no Plan B. If we are not to going to stand in the gap and plead “They have no wine,” then who will? And in if not now in a pandemic, then when?
In our communities, our workplaces, our schools, our social media circles, there’s a lot of staring at grey rainbows. ‘I guess this is all there is. Another dismal day and then another.’ But, to those in pain and those in despair, to those staring at grey rainbows, we dare to speak in the name of Jesus of Cana and say there’s more. There’s a life you cannot even imagine. The life in God is not the answer to all our problems. It doesn’t always take away the pain or the illness or the troubling situation. But it does open our eyes and gives us the ability to see the rainbow as it truly is – in all its muticolored beauty.
Unlike Esme we will never be able to sniff the difference between tap water and bottled, but we can experience a life in a new dimension. We can share Mary’s faith and we can stand in the gap. They have no wine. And then we can watch God use us to open eyes, to speak hope, to give justice and consolation. Enough of grey rainbows. Let’s stand in the gap and see the miracles.