At least three different times this week I have heard stories from you about baby birds. And while the details vary a bit, the general storyline is the same. A bird had made a nest around your home in such a way that you could see into it without disturbing the natural process ensuing. One day, eggs appear, and regular monitoring continues until the big hatch. The eggs hatch and the baby chirping and worm feeding begins. You’re smitten with the whole thing. And then, the big moment… momma bird begins to nudge the babies. It’s time to fly! Many of the littles resist. “You want me to do what, mom?” But she nudges some more and Boom! The final nudge pushes them out of the nest and leaves them with the moment of truth. Can those wings you have flap well enough to soar or is it crash and burn city?
My wife texted me a video this week of our baby bird, Hayes, riding his bike. Upon first notice, this was not new. He’s been riding for a quite some time but upon further review something was different. No. training. wheels. He and his mom decided it was time… see if this kid could soar or if it would be crash and burn city. Turns out, there were a handful of unsuccessful attempts. But then… well, watch. Moms have a way of getting the best out of their children. They nudge them forward with confidence in what they can do and who they can be. They often believe in and for their children before the children do so for themselves. Mom’s hold their faith. They spoon feed them before the concept of utensils makes sense to a toddler. They are their child’s first voice, speaking their need and their joy. And in a culmination moment, mothers nudge and the child discovers they can soar on their own.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you nudgy mom’s out there… you aunts and surrogates and women of strength who biologically or without that need of DNA, shape and nurture and nudge another generation – we pray for you and with you today as you are leaders of life in so many ways. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating Mother’s Day as an official holiday to celebrate mothers on the second Sunday in May. You, more or less, have experienced the approach to this day in recent decades as buying a card for mom, going out for brunch and, praise the Lord, coming to worship. But its origins are much more rooted in a spirit of revolution – challenging mothers to use their grit, passion, and determination to start a revolution of peace – to nudge our world to be more than we’ve been. Anna Jarvis was credited with starting the official holiday. She pushed for it in honor of her own mother who had given her life as a peace activist caring for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. She said, “Who has done more for you than anyone in the world but your mother?” It was a day to honor them but also a day to act for peace and challenge injustice. Jarvis later protested and picketed what Mother’s Day had become feeling it had gone too soft and sweet. This was scandalous. And even before this time, another revolutionary woman named Julia Ward Howe offered what she called a Mother’s Day Proclamation. Howe was a grieved activist, tired of war. After living through the bloodshed of the Civil War herself, she called for a revolution. She called the revolution: Mother’s Day! Here was her proclamation:
“Women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before! Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Let us meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let us then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God!”1
She so believed in the power of mothers and strong women so much that she pushed for the 4th of July to be re-branded and called Mother’s Day. This day was to be a revolution! Now… drift back further yet… much further actually to a wedding reception in Cana of Galilee where another nudgey mother starts a revolution. We’ll call her Mary but John never does. He calls her the mother of Jesus or the mother of our Lord and only mentions her twice in his Gospel. The second time, and last, she’s at the foot of a cross bearing the body of her son. The first time at this wedding reception. The story is told early in John’s Gospel.
The prologue is complete. The disciples have been chosen. The witness of John the baptizer has been made. Nathaniel has been introduced. The groundwork for understanding has been laid. Now, John moves into what is called the Book of Signs which provides the main narrative for the revealing of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus the Christ. The first sign takes place at this wedding and its known most generally for the jokes associated with the whole water to wine bit.2
I’ve received many-a-card over time with a water-to-wine joke. Here’s one: A priest gets stopped for speeding. The officer smells alcohol on the priest’s breath and sees an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car. “Sir, have you been drinking?” asks the officer. “Just water,” replies the priest. Skeptical, the officer asks, “Then why do I smell wine?” Without missing a beat the priest looks down at the bottle and exclaims, “Good Lord! He’s done it again!” In reality, the story of this first sign of Jesus sets the tone for the movement of the narrative. A wedding in Palestine was a huge deal. The festivities would last several days… a huge celebration and lots of feasting. I read this week that the average wedding in the US today costs about $27,000. Average. This wedding in Cana would have carried a significant investment too. Mary is sharing in the fun… several scholars even claiming that she might have had some familial connection to the wedding, especially as she’s asserting herself into the beverage situation at the party. Wine was a staple. Failure of provisions would have been a problem, for hospitality in the East is a sacred duty. Running out of wine at a wedding celebration was a huge party foul and would have been terribly humiliating for the bride and the bridegroom. And Mary’s been tending bar… she’s paying attention anyway and recognizes that we’re approaching a situation. So she turns to her son whom she has full confidence in. “Son, we’re looking at a possible sitch here. The wine’s getting pretty thin.” We miss a lot of the tone here so people have speculated as to the spirit of this conversation. The Message version offers a bit of an edge in Jesus’ response: “Is that any of our business, Mother – yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.”
Now I know we all have had different experiences with our mothers. I’m guessing a strong number of us have had a similar moment with our mom’s. “I’m not ready, mom. Don’t push me. Don’t make me do it. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” Anybody have diving board flash backs or stage fright moments? But moms believe and many see the importance of the nudge from the nest to show their children not just the fact that they can do it, but they can soar. “Don’t push me!” Jesus says. The text says, “She went ahead anyway.” Mary pushed. This was sort of the “Pull it together, son.” “Snap out of it, son.” “Focus.”
At my baseball games in high school, I could always hear my mother’s voice above the crowd when I’d come to bat. “Focus!” she would yell. I’d be in the batter’s box and she’d yell, “Focus!” and I’d turn to look her way and then “Strike one!” I’m not really sure why she would yell that. I think I am a fairly focused person. I suppose it was her way of saying, “Clear your head of all the negative self-talk about fear of the curve ball or about the pressure of the game situation and focus on the moment, trusting all of the practice and instruction and training and instinct to do what needs to be done.” Focus! It’s your time. Mary tells the wait staff as she walks away, “Do whatever he says.” And Jesus starts thinking it through. Some have called this the scandal of divine reluctance. Why drag your feet, Jesus? And he starts weighing his options. “Hey, this isn’t my problem.” He moves through that to a question, “Is the liquor store still open?” What are my options here? On deeper level, he knows his hour is coming. Soon, all would know who he was and what he was bringing to the world. Is this the moment?
Sometimes it’s not your time. Sometimes it is but, for whatever reason, you haven’t accepted that reality. How do you know when it’s time? Poet Wendell Berry said, “No time is a time to go so [therefore] any time is.” When are we ever fully ready? When are you going to get married? When are you going to have kids? When are you going to take that new job? When are you going to start that business? When are you going to take that leadership role at the church? When are you going to kick the habit for good? When are you going to run that marathon? When are you going to extend that invitation? Sometimes you need a nudge. And Mary says, “Son, you’re thirty years old. You uniquely bear the image of God. If not now, when?” It’s time and Jesus makes a move. A mother starts a revolution that would change the world. It starts in a humble home in Cana with a little wine dilemma.
Jesus gets to work. His newly formed disciple team is with him. The wait staff is on board to give whatever he says a shot. There were six water pots sitting there which the Jews used for ritual washings. They would hold twenty to thirty gallons of water. “Okay,” Jesus says, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. “Pour a glass and take it to the host…” or the “steward” as the text calls him. Steward literally means – “the arranger of the drinking.” Put that on a business card. Of course, as the story is told, the arranger of the drinking stops the party… the DJ screeches the vinyl to a stop. The arranger says, “Look, I’m sorry to stop the party but I’ve just got to say, there’s a new flow of wine and its dynamite. The family has outdone themselves and saved the best stuff for the end. And, word has it that there’s about 180 gallons of the stuff so… cheers!” And the DJ kicks back in with Prince’s “Tonight I’m gonna party like its 1999.” The party continues. Jesus preserves the dignity of another family so that years later, people aren’t saying, “Man, remember Bill and Jane’s wedding where they ran out of wine?” but instead, “Bill and Jane’s wedding feast was epic.”
Some write this off as insignificant and a waste of Jesus’ influence. Who cares about this event in the grand scheme of salvation. But… the text says about his newly formed team of disciples, “This was their first glimpse of his glory. They believed in him.” And, Jesus never counted it a crime to be happy and celebrate. There are some religious people who shed a gloom wherever they go. They are suspicious of all joy and happiness. To them, religion is a thing of black clothes, the lowered voice, and bitter beer face. But the gospel is a feast that God prepares and invites us to. We quickly recite the Psalm 34, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” but quickly follow with a sentiment of ‘but not that good.” Since the protestant reformation we’ve dropped this as just a turn of phrase. What we seem to promote is this: “Intellectually comprehend and understand that the Lord is good.” The reality, however, is that God is best experienced through all of our senses and should be celebrated. We were part of a beautiful wedding yesterday and the reception last night was fun and a genuine celebration of love. After the toasts and cake cutting and special father/bride dances and saying our “Good Nights” to the wedding party – Carrie and I were making our way to the exit. But… as we began to leave the Bride and Groom were taking to the dance floor and the DJ launched the Cupid Shuffle and Carrie and I looked at each other with that knowing look after 17 years together: “Why not?” So we’re back out on the floor with the wedding party (to the right to the right…). Jesus said in Matthew 9, “When you’re celebrating a wedding, you don’t skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!” Taste and see. The Eucharist is symbolic, yes, but it also becomes part of us. Eucharist literally translates in the Greek as “Thank you.” When we hit the Lord’s Table, it is okay to have a spirit that says, “Wow – Jesus, our host, saved the best bread and drink for me so that I might taste and see. Thank you!” The Gospel life is a balance of gratitude in celebration of God’s goodness and determined effort to make Christ known to the world. Both are important and fuel the other.
Even in this tangible joy moment with Jesus, there must have been symbolism in this party at Cana. The Gospel writer, John, never offered an insignificant detail. 180 gallons of wine at the end of the party is pretty excessive. There was more than enough. The jars were not only filled to the brim but overflowing in abundance. The jars were used for the Jewish purification rights. The water needed for right living under the law was now new wine, overflowing with more than enough for everyone. New wine. New covenant. The celebration was now available to everyone, including you and me. The Hebrew Scriptures used food and drink to maintain boundaries. Jesus used food and drink to bridge barriers and demolish distinctions. Gospel faith is not about conforming to a standard; it is about being transformed into something new. And the life of Jesus is constantly demonstrating life from death, new paths emerging from dead-ends, a reinvigorated celebration from a party that seemed to be on its final glass of wine.
We have a mother to thank for knowing when a nudge of her son was just what was needed to change the world. A revolution began. Jesus soared. And that revolution is ours to continue. On this Mother’s Day, let us not only honor and celebrate the women in our lives who have shaped us, but let us honor the spirit of the origin of this day – that women may continue to rise in the strength that is uniquely theirs, nudging the world toward a revolution of peace, justice, and the joy of tasting and seeing that God is so good.
1 Quote pulled from a blog offering of Glennon Doyle Melton’s Momastery. http://momastery.com/blog/2016/05/06/heres-to-the-mamas/. The previous Mother’s Day historical notes were found via Wikipedia for each person named.
2 Exegetical support came from William Barclay’s commentary on the Gospel of John (Volume 1) and John Shelby Spong’s, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.