There’s a plane going down over the desert with only three parachutes on board. There are four people onboard, the smartest man in the world, a wealthy businesswoman, an old pastor, and a student. The businesswoman says, “The world needs me for my business skills.” Grabs the first parachute pack, and jumps. The smartest man in the world says, “People need me for my intelligence.” Grabs a pack, and jumps. The old pastor says, “I have lived a long and happy life. You take the last chute.” The student says, “Don’t worry. There are enough chutes for both of us. The smartest man in the world just grabbed my backpack.” Wasn’t quite smart enough.
We all want to get the most out of life. But this is like saying I have expensive taste. We all have expensive taste. We all want to get the most out of life. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to want to have more, be more, love more, act better, think better, do better, have more friends, fewer regrets, happier relationships or marriage. You’re darn right I want the most out of life. Where do I sign up? You sign up with the one who can turn 150 gallons of water into 150 gallons of the world’s finest wine—ever! It’s a pretty good recruiting tool, isn’t it?!
That’s John’s point in making this Jesus’ first sign or miracle. You want the most, you want the best, you want abundant life, here’s the man. Your life can go from plain water to tasty wine. I’m not making a pitch for us to become wine drinkers. Alcoholism takes away life. But wine has qualities water doesn’t. It’s symbolic, right?
And of course this miracle doesn’t just happen anywhere. It occurs during a wedding. And these weddings weren’t like our weddings: several hours and your done. This is several days and everyone comes, including Jesus’ disciples. When I officiate a wedding, there’s a part in the introduction when I say, “And at Cana in Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth made the wedding feast a sign of God’s reign of love.” It’s a feast. It’s more than regular life. It’s abundant life. This is the kind of life we seek when we say we want to get the most out of life.
You know, I remember when I was ten years old when we went to visit my dad’s family in Columbus, Ohio. They actually didn’t live in Columbus, on the outskirts, at least back then. I can remember our car turning down a gravel road, thinking wow, what kind of place are we going to. I remember the station wagon, meeting the railroad track set on a small rise (it seemed
higher to me than it was) and having to drive up and over it, and then seeing this group of homes and large yards that I was told all belonged to different members of his extended family, for a long time. I met Aunt Jerry and Uncle John, Bub, Peach, Orpha, Johnny Jean. No, they weren’t all wearing overalls with a wheat stalk between their teeth, and playing banjo on the front porch. Boy, did my brothers and I have a great time there. I remember trying to eat stuffed bell peppers. Yuck. And hearing about a relative who chewed light bulbs. I don’t remember seeing him actually doing it, though. I remember hearing the song Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings played a lot.
So many great memories of family, and a world, a week or whatever amount of time we spent there that was so much more than my regular life. This was what weddings were like back in Jesus’ day. They were more like family reunions. They would take place in the fall when all the harvesting was done and the night air was cooler and you could stay up and the family and friends and the town would be together, eating, drinking, playing games, talking. The best stuff in life! Abundant life.
You know what’s hard to figure out, which one you’re living. I mean it’s not hard all the time. Sometimes you’re having a tough day or month or year and it’s obvious that what you’re going the most of out of life is the stuff you want to get the least of from life. The thing is, living with Christ in abundance is an option. The problem is which option do you choose.
A Facebook friend recently posted that she and her husband had just dropped off their 14-year-old daughter at a boarding school in Wisconsin. They’re from down here. Her post’s status, the caption for the picture, was “No tears,” meaning she wasn’t going to cry about leaving her daughter 1500 miles away. For her, the right move at this time was to refuse to cry about this separation as it happened. Is Christ in the tears or is Christ in the refusal to shed tears?
Now of course someone can say both, or as we like to say, to each her own. But I’m not buying it. I’m concerned. I’ll call it austerity of the heart. We’re becoming emotionally austere. Or perhaps we’re flatlining our feelings. We’re reducing the number of them that mean something, leaving anger the number one feeling we are (overly) in touch with, while discarding and disengaging with others, such as sadness and joy. We’re compressed and anxious because we’re not celebrating or sorrowing when we’re supposed to be. We don’t make time for them or the occasions for them or the reasons for
them. When your first-born (or any born) child moves five states away at the age of 14, you are supposed to cry. That’s why we have tears. That’s straight from God’s mouth to your ears. It’s not all about computers and the younger generations, either. I know there has been a decline in memorial services for loved ones. We cremate but don’t commemorate.
And being entertained isn’t the same thing as experiencing joy. Sit-coms are not joy givers. They’re funny and entertaining but they’re not family or friends, though one famous sit-com was called Friends, which had a huge amount of joyful family-like time together. What we wanted they had. We lived joyfully, abundantly through them. But it’s not the same thing.
There’s a famous scene in David’s life, at least famous for those who know a lot about his life. He has built a special building for the ark of the covenant, the gold laden special box in which the Ten Commandments were placed. The whole country would come to watch the journey of the ark to David’s tabernacle. Priest upon priest and Levite upon Levite all dressed in their most glorious raiment would solemnly walk in front of the ark. Dozens and dozens of elders, tribal and family leaders in their richest clothes would follow behind. But there in the front of all of it was David, king of Israel! He takes off his crown and he removes his royal robes. He wears only a linen ephod. Basically, fancy underwear. And David danced the whole time leading this most noble and regal procession. He danced until the sweat poured off his face and body. He danced for love of God, for thanksgiving for his blessings. He danced because he felt it all deeply, the power of God’s love for him but also for his people Israel who had been set free as slaves and now their God would have his own resting place. For David, it wasn’t enough to be walking calmly in this great historical moment. Enough wasn’t enough. He wanted to express to the Lord how overwhelmed he was by God’s abundant blessings and life given to him.
Now David was made fun of by his wife for undressing and dancing in front of his people. His wife was the former king, Saul’s daughter, Michal. She couldn’t feel the immense joy of that incredible moment.
We don’t want to be emotionally austere. We want to get our full emotional life back up and beating. The abundant life is not an austere life. It’s full-bodied. It’s filled with laughter. It comes with tears. It’s built on deeper relationships.
The truth is of course that Christ’s abundant life isn’t about once in a lifetime or once in a kingdom’s experience. God’s gift of abundant life
comes in little packages. We find it by opening small boxes. Those who will find Christ’s abundance will find it set on a table, while driving their car, hearing their daughter or son tell them a story, giving thanks to their partner for the meal he or she cooked, coming home after a hard day of work, seeing a favorite star in the sky, praying the Lord’s prayer, reading scripture slow enough to let the Spirit speak peace, and in a thousand other ways the seeking heart and mind find.
I met someone recently who had a pretty good grasp of this, especially for being younger. On one of the plane trips we took this past Christmas break, I sat next to a young man, mid-twenties. He was going to finish his studies to be a lawyer. I told him about my friend Howie who had become a lawyer, worked at the guardian ad litem office of Chicago for years (guardian ad litem is the state organization that advocates for children), then opened his private practice to handle the estates of adult disabled children left on their own by deceased parents. I told him that my friend Howie was one of those truly good guys who as a lawyer had also made a sizable living.
What was great about my fellow passenger was that after about every sentence or two he would say, “Wow.” He must have said it twenty times during the flight. Wow to this thing and wow to the next thing I said. He might have been in real trouble if he were sitting next to someone who would take over and really let the monologue go because I really believed he thought what I was saying was, well, wow. Of course, he could have been saying it because he wouldn’t quite hear what I was saying as we both had to repeat things. Our ears were clogged obviously from the flight. But it worked. It felt great. A stranger telling him a story about another stranger and he said wow.
I bet Jesus listened with wows. I bet he heard people with an approving mind. We don’t want to be someone who knows it all already. We want to let people’s lives and stories sink in, give us a new possibility, charm us out of our old world and way of seeing something, and into something broader and bigger.
Be a great companion. As Christ broke breads with others, and shared his life, let yourself share your life and others theirs. Our one life isn’t abundant on its own. Join with others. Learn to be committed to more than just yourself. God pours abundance into us by pouring people into our lives. Find a way to see when enough isn’t enough, that just enough isn’t good enough. See where you’re living thin in the spirit and ask the Lord to enrich
your spiritual life. Realize you want to make a new contribution somewhere, and pursue it. Awaken your need to be inspired and not merely entertained. Let go of living a passionless life for Christ or others. Instead, get dedicated to putting yourself in God’s hands for good use.
The Lord’s abundant goodness will fill you with joy as you accomplish abundantly far more than you imagined.
Can the church say Amen?