As you can imagine, the story of the wedding at Cana is one that we pastors are called upon to preach often; it is the gospel lesson commonly appointed for weddings. This makes some sense; it is the only time in our scriptures that we hear of Jesus attending a wedding (there certainly would have been others) and the story itself is a gem that perfectly reflects that inevitable, “Murphy’s law” aspect of life: if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. It certainly proves that the things we remember most vividly, and often affectionately, are not the days when everything is perfect, but the days when things go spectacularly wrong … the performances when a dog got onstage, the routine flight where the pilot has to land in the river. Cana is like that: we have no idea who the couple was, but we remember what went wrong in the kitchen.
And of course the wedding at Cana is also famous as Jesus’ first – and least important – miracle. Usually in scripture we see Jesus healing people of blindness or the effects of a stroke, or performing exorcisms or raising the dead. Here … he keeps a party going, and only because his mother made him do it.
As presented in the story, Jesus was not inclined to intervene in the embarrassing collapse of a wedding reception, but did it anyway because his mother reminded him that he could. To her way of thinking, if he could help, he should help.
That may seem obvious, though to many people – even some who call themselves Christian – the word should has little meaning, and they live in the world – not of could and should – but of can’t and won’t. Where are you on that spectrum?
I raise this, because I think there is a right answer and a wrong answer here, a Christian answer and a Non-Christian one, a We answer and a Me answer. I think Mother Mary has it right: we should always and everywhere do what we can, in big things – life and death things – and in little things like helping with a wedding.
This story of the wedding at Cana is good news for us, because – as it did with Jesus – it opens the question of whom we are and shows us our limits. At the same time, it calls those limits into question, and leaves open the possibility that we might find that what we think are our limits can be spectacularly exceeded.
On Martin Luther King, Jr., day, perhaps its helpful to remember how easy it would have been for him to simply ride his professional taxi to a life of comfort and prestige. Dr. King was the son of a prominent Baptist minister, born into a world of privilege, which would have allowed him to move higher and higher in his chosen profession, to enjoy the acclaim and respect that black people famously afford their pastors, and live a life of quite conspicuous material comfort, as many prominent black pastors do (the millionaire, the Rev. T.D. Jakes from my home town on Dallas is an example.) Dr. King had a different heart and a different spirit, and in the face of in-the-groundwater Southern racism, made a different choice with his life. He did what he could. He couldn’t do everything; he didn’t accomplish everything. As we now understand, he was in fact a deeply flawed man. Nevertheless, by doing what he could, he changed our country, he changed the world.
In this connection, I might mention the late, great physicist, Stephen Hawking. How easy it would have been for him, when he received his diagnosis of MLS, to retire to the pursuit of his own comfort, such as would be possible for him. He couldn’t speak, or eat, or move, but he could think, and with his eye movements he could operate a tangle of machines that allowed him to communicate his thinking. He did what he could, and in a very different way than Dr. King, he changed the world.
But this sermon is not about great heroes, like Jesus and King and Hawking. I will take the same word to the Nursing Home on Tuesday, to my congregation in wheelchairs, most of advanced age, some with serious dementia (and hearing loss and confusion … ) What message will they hear from me? Exactly the same one: do what you can. For them, that means offering a smile for no particular reason, or sharing a piece of cake, or NOT saying something angry or critical. Little things, the littlest of little things, can transform an encounter and make someone’s day, someone who perhaps doesn’t have many days left. God is at work in these moments.
And I think of our talented teenagers around here – what a privilege working with them has been over my years at Trinity – young people exploring the range of their talents as they learn who they are, testing themselves as artists and athletes, musicians, actors, mathematicians … and also as Christians living in the world. These young people are living on a roller-coaster of discovery; they don’t know yet what they can do. They seem to be able to do so much, so well … they will certainly find their way. The wonderful plot twist in the WIZARD OF OZ comes to mind: in order to get rid of them the phoney wizard gives Dorothy and her friends an impossible task: “Bring me the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West”. They do it because they don’t know they can’t. When I was a teenager, I belonged to a theatre troop that put on a play a week in the summer: Shakespeare, Shaw, Chekov, Tennessee Williams, Agatha Christie. We really were fabulous; I’ve seen the video footage. Someone asked the director how we did it, “They don’t know they can’t” was his reply.
That’s the lesson I’m taking away from the Wedding at Cana this morning: someone had a problem that was unwelcome and ill-timed and off-point. Against his own inclinations, Jesus did what he could for them. Jesus could do, and did, a lot more for many others, including us as we sit here. But in the moment, he chose to do what he could.
This should help us think about our lives, our relationships, and, frankly, the future of our ministry here at Trinity. We can retreat into the world of can’t and won’t, or we can rise to the challenges that call us to say Yes we can, and Yes we will. Neither choice will destroy or save the world, but it will unfold who we are, and maybe open up an adventure in faith. Let’s do what we can, and see where it leads.