Not My Time
Isaiah 62:1-5; John 2:1-11
It is really very strange, this story. As John tells this story, it is the first of the signs whereby the glory of the Christ is revealed to people. In that respect, this is a story that is shot full of the divinity of Christ the miracle worker, the one who draws all to himself in the marvelous signs that he does. But it is strange; despite the fact that St. John sees this as a story of Christ's divinity, I find this story shot full of humanity. This is a very human, wonderful story.
It is the story, first of all, of Jesus the party goer. That is about as human as it gets, isn't it? Jesus, the party goer. As much as you think we Americans in the twentieth century know how to throw a wedding, we do not hold a candle to the way they l did it in Galilee in the first century. One of the reasons the Galileans in the first century were so good at throwing great parties around weddings is because there is a sense in which weddings were more important to them than they are to us. Understand me now. Try to imagine what it would have been like to live in the household of a tradesman in a subsistence economy in the first century in a poor part of the world. Everything about life in this time was incredibly daily for these people. There is no electricity. There is no running water. Everything about the life of the household has to be done for today and done again for tomorrow. There is no going to the grocery store and stocking up on a week's groceries. In the morning, traditionally, one of the women of the household would put a stone jar on her head, and she would go to the well at the center of the city and draw water for the family's needs for the day. Every day of the world the women would gather at the well and draw water. They would stop at the market place and buy the foodstuffs needed for that day because nothing kept. There was no refrigeration; you bought what you needed each day. Everything was daily in this culture. In a daily culture, weddings were one of the few things that were about the future.
Think about our lives. Our lives are full of future stuff. Doesn't everyone have a calendar and isn't it always full? Sometimes I wonder how I get anything done today because I am so busy writing things on my calendar to do some other day. Ours is a society that continually pushes us into tomorrow. We are planning tomorrow. We are scheduling for this week, next week, the week after, next month, next fall and what we are going to do, and we are writing it down on our calendars. We are planning, dreaming and scheming about life. We are a scheming culture. I think it would be safe to say there is not a soul in worship in this house today who does not have some schemes and plans for the rest of this month. We are a tomorrow culture, a future-oriented culture.
For the Galileans in the first century there was only today. There was only this daily culture. Nobody had a day-timer telling them what they were going to do in the spring of '98. Nobody did. It was all about today—except weddings. Weddings were the time when the little villages and the wonderful societies in those villages said, "There is tomorrow. There is a future for our village. There is a future for our family. There is tomorrow." So weddings were great occasions when everyone in the whole village celebrated and wedding parties did not last a day or two as they do in our culture. They lasted about a week. The whole village was involved, and it was grandest thing that ever happened in the village.
Jesus was a party-goer in this story. He was there for the wedding and that did not mean for the day. It probably meant for the week. Oh, it is so human. According to the story, before the week was out, before all the parties were done, before the marriage was done the wine gave out. Whatever you may think about the product, the story says that Jesus found six jars—each holding twenty to thirty gallons—and he had them filled to the brim. He made wine out of it all. That is a lot. That is a big party. It is a human story, a very human story.
But there is another dimension to the humanness of this story. Did you notice the dialogue in the middle of the story that took place between Jesus and his mother? The story says that the wine gave out and Jesus' mother goes to him and pleads with him. She tells him there is a problem here and that the people are in trouble and they will be humiliated and embarrassed because the wine is gone. And what does Jesus say to her? Did you hear it?
He said, "What concern is that to you and me? It is not our problem and it is not my time." That is a bit of a paraphrase, friends, but not much. John has Jesus saying, "My hour has not yet come." In the broad theology of John's Gospel, this notion of "the hour" is, of course, the hour of the cross. But in the immediate context of the day and in the hearing of Mary, what must she have thought when Jesus said, "What concern is it to us? It is not my time. It is not my hour."
Someone was in trouble. The host at the wedding was about to be humiliated and Jesus' immediate response was: not now, it's not our problem, it's not my time. My, that is a human response, isn't it? We have all said that, all felt that. It is about as human as it can be. We do not know—John does not tell us—what took place after this little dialogue other than that the next thing we know, Jesus is turning the water into wine. I would ask you this morning what might the world have been like if the man, the human being, Jesus of Nazareth had stuck with his initial human response to the problem and said, "It is not my problem and it is not my time."? Did you ever think about that? St. John says that the turning of the water into wine was the first great declaration, the first great sign of Christ's glory. What if the man Jesus had stuck with his original feeling? It is not my problem, it is not my time.
What if there had been no water changed into wine that day and what if the next day when the leper was beside the road, Jesus had said, "It is not my problem and it is not my time"? And the next day and the next day, what if all of his life he had said, "It is not my problem and it is not my time"? That is unimaginable, isn't it? Something miraculous happens when somebody moves past the feeling that "it is not my problem and it's not my time" and gets involved. It has made all the difference in our lives that Jesus got past that feeling.
Let me tell another story, a story closer to our own time, a story appropriate to this holiday weekend. In the mid 1950s, Martin Luther King wrapped up his course work for his Ph.D. and took his first job. Has anybody been there? You wrap up the course work, you take your first job, your dissertation is not done yet, and you think you'll have time to write it next year. Martin Luther King left graduate school and took a job as a pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama, in the mid 50s. He was the father of a young family. He had just begun his pastorate. Not long after he went to Montgomery, Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. A meeting was held in the African-American community in Montgomery, and they asked who was going to lead the charge, who was going to lead the boycott. All the other pastors and all the other influential leaders of the African-American community were smart enough to know that this looked like a risky business. They decided to get the new kid on the block the charge. The new preacher. Martin Luther King had every reason in the world to say, "It is not the right time for me. I have a young family. I have a dissertation to write. I have a congregation that does not know me or trust me yet. If I start out at the head of this enterprise, what will that do to my relationship to my congregation? It is not a good time. It is not the right time. It is not my time. It will not work. I have all these reasons why. This is not the time for me to be pushed out in front of a dangerous enterprise. " I wonder what happened that moved this human being from "not my time" to "yes."
Those are the stories. That question about what happens in people's lives when they begin to say "yes" instead of "it is not my time." I think about us. I think about our congregation. I think about our situation right now at this particular time of the history of this congregation. Everyone here has been given, by a previous generation, the gift of this place. Nobody here built this church. All of us have used it. We have the privilege of being the generation that is called upon to restore, equip and prepare it for other generations in another century. That is a wonderful and inspirational task, I am thankful to be a part of it. I also know that the central purpose of the church is not the maintenance of buildings. Even in a large and complex and busy church like ours, the purpose of the church can be summarized easily in a single sentence. The purpose of the church is to help people know God and to experience Jesus Christ in their lives.
How are you doing with that? The knowing of God? The experiencing of Jesus Christ in your life? I think for most of us, if we are having trouble there, if we are not as deeply enriched spiritually in knowing God and experiencing Jesus Christ as we'd like to be, I suspect the problem is that our calendars are too full. I suspect the problem is that—like Jesus or Martin—we are saying it is not the right time, it is a bad time, I'm too busy now, my career is just getting started, the semester is just beginning, my family needs me, it is not the right time to be involved. But I say to you that we come to know God and experience Jesus Christ in our lives in the living and the doing of the work of faith in the church. People sitting on the side-lines do not experience God and Jesus Christ. We know God, and we experience Jesus Christ when our hands are dirty, when our lives and our time are involved in the witness and ministry of Christ.
I ask you today, will we simply become a great building or will we be a great congregation? Will we be a great congregation where people are learning to know God and to experience Jesus Christ and are we spreading that love abroad in the land?
A long time ago, in a little village called Canna, a man from a neighboring village, a man named Jesus, was confronted with the needs of a neighbor and his initial reaction was that it was not his problem, but the world has been forever different because he got past that first reaction. Four decades ago, in our own land, a man named Martin, even though it was not the right time, even though he had other responsibilities, even though it was risky for him, said "yes." In our time and in our place, God is asking us to be the people who come to know God, to experience Jesus Christ and to share that love abroad in our community. We are all too busy, we all have our calendars full, and we all have too much to do. Will we say, "It is not my time," or will we hear the call of Jesus Christ to be the congregation that we are called to be in this age?
Carl L. Schenck