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FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE DR. TODD B. JONES JANUARY 20, 2019 When Jesus Is Invited: Final Words ISAIAH 62:1-5 JOHN 2:1-12 There are all kinds of things that I dearly love about what I have been called to do with my life. I love to preach. Connie will tell you I love to preach more than I love to moderate Session meetings, or attend Long Range Planning Committees, or even staff meetings, as wonderful as our staff is. I love to do baptisms. I dearly love children, and I love to hold a baby in my arms and marvel at the miracle of life; how we start so helpless, and how we grow as Jesus grew. I even love to preside at funerals, and cannot tell you how many people, who were among my favorite and most treasured people in the life of this church, it has been my privilege to bury, because funerals give you a chance to talk about what you believe about the Gospel, about God, about life, and about death, about resurrection. When people are in pain, in shock, in grief and feeling a sense of loss, you speak a word of comfort and hope and promise. I also absolutely love to preside at weddings. I cannot begin to count how many wedding I have done in forty years of being a pastor, but I could start telling stories now about things that have happened at weddings, and I would still be going at one o’clock today, with one story that would follow another. I am thinking though today about a wedding in 2009 that was not just any wedding, but a family wedding. Some of you know Charlotte King. She grew up in this church, she went to Harpeth Hall, and then to Southern Methodist University. She met a fabulous young man, and the two of them got very active right away in the First Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Charlotte got married in 2009, and she asked her Uncle Todd if he would preside at her wedding. If you know Charlotte’s Dad Jim, you know Connie’s oldest brother does not leave things to chance, he is an organized, low-key, exceedingly careful guy about details, and he attends to details with the best of them. (Connie might say I am the exact opposite of Jim King when it comes to that quality! She does not always celebrate this about me, but it is a difference we share.) We were all staying downtown in a hotel, and the wedding was at this absolutely beautiful chapel that was part of an orphanage, designed by an architect named Fay Jones. Those of you who are architects, or students of architecture, know Fay Jones is probably the number one student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The chapel and downtown were about twenty minutes apart, so Jim arranged for buses to show up in order to pick up all the guests at the downtown hotel, to head out to the chapel for the wedding. The two of us were standing out in the street in our tuxedos, kind of laughing about everything, and the bus did not come. Then it did not come for a little bit more time, and even Jim King was getting a little bit nervous. When the bus showed up, the driver got out and said, “I don’t think I can drive anybody in my bus because the muffler is dragging on the back of the bus.” Somehow, through Jim’s ingenuity, we got a coat hanger, and the bus driver and Jim were out under the bus hooking up the coat hanger so that the muffler would not drag! Eventually, everybody got into the bus. We were barely going to make it on time, and the bus driver turned in the opposite direction onto the interstate. Again Jim might have been upset, he did not show it, but he walked up to the bus driver and said, “I think you were supposed to get on the north ramp, and you got on the south ramp.” It felt to me like it took us forever to get to the next exchange, in order to turn around, and to head back to the chapel for the wedding. Weddings are family events, and all weddings are events filled with intense feeling, but when it is your family, it is especially intense. Weddings are kind of like the rest of life: things do not always go like you plan for them to go. That is exactly what happened at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, which is a gem of an account offered only by John, and an account that is filled with powerful insights and packed with truth about Jesus. We are told that the mother of Jesus attended the wedding. We are not told her name, and when Jesus talks to her, He says, “Woman, what does the lack of wine have to do with you and me?” I don’t know what to make of this, but John does not make anything of it, he simply calls Mary “the mother of Jesus.” Jesus was also a guest at the wedding, and there is a Coptic Gospel that belongs to the Church in Egypt that adds a detail to this story that John does not include. It says that the bridegroom was the son of Mary’s sister, which makes the bridegroom Jesus’ first cousin. Nazareth is a half-day’s walk from Cana in Galilee, and they ran out of wine. Isn’t it interesting that what happened to them is a fear that is common to all of us? That somehow in the midst of life, there is not going to be enough, a fear of not having sufficient resources to celebrate in this particular occasion. There is a beautiful Rabbinical saying that: “Without wine there is no joy,” because hospitality was utterly central to what it meant to be a faithful Jew, and wine was an essential part of every Jewish meal. It was a part of the Passover feast. It becomes, for Jesus, one of the essentials of Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, where we give thanks to God. (This is proof that Jesus was not a Baptist!) So gathered at this wedding feast, and wedding feasts would typically last for seven days, John notes that on “the third day” they did not have enough wine. They ran short of something they thought was utterly essential to the success, the joy of the occasion. I think it is hard for people like us to relate to how running out of wine would have been a crisis for them. I remember hosting parties where we ran out of something, and we simply sent somebody off to the grocery store to buy more of it. Not so easy to do in first century Palestine, in Cana of Galilee! Last week I was in Spartanburg, South Carolina at First Presbyterian Church. My son Josh was being ordained an Elder in that church, and I did not want to miss the event. What I had not factored into the equation was that Ben, who is eleven, is the biggest and number one fan of a worship service that happens not at eleven, but at eight-forty-five, called “Morning Song.” I realized something I could do to help was to volunteer to go with Ben to Morning Song, so that Josh would not have to be the one to take Ben on that day, and then come back home and get the family and go to “Big Church,” as they call it. So Ben and I double-dipped last Sunday on worship, never a bad thing for a lifelong lover of Presbyterian worship to do! The preacher at the early service was different from the preacher at the eleven o’clock service. Her name is Christi Brown, she is in her late thirties, and I knew her when she was at Wofford College, before she went to Princeton Seminary. I think she has done a wonderful job in the church. What was different about the sermon was Christi held her iPad in her hand the whole time, and walked back and forth in front of people, and read the sermon from her iPad. At one point in the sermon (When I got over the iPad!), she started talking about herself, and about this common fear that we all share that somehow we are not enough. Christi shared how, as a teenager, she had struggled with an eating disorder. She said, “At one point I was always afraid that I wasn’t thin enough, that I wasn’t pretty enough, that I wasn’t smart enough, that I wasn’t popular enough.” Then she stopped, and she looked up from her iPad, and said, “Until the day came when Jesus said to me, ‘Enough is enough.’” She said, for her, the turning point in her life was recognizing that Jesus believed that she was enough, that Jesus delighted in her, as God the Father delighted in Jesus the Son on the occasion of His baptism. We all know what it means to be afraid that there is not going to be enough. And we all know what it means to be afraid that somehow we are not enough. I think this story, first and foremost, is sending exactly the opposite message to us straight from Jesus. Jesus here is addressing, not just some of our fears, but all of our fears. The stone jars that they had (They have one now in the basement of the Christian Church in Cana of Galilee.) were huge – twenty to thirty gallons apiece. And Jesus told the servants to fill them with water up to the very brim. This account is an account, not of scarcity, but of abundance; it is not an account of fear, but of faith. Wherever Jesus is, there is enough; indeed, there is more than enough! This is a story that John tells, the first “sign” he offers, that when Jesus is present, there is enough. In John 10:10, Jesus will say, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” That is the first thing that I want to suggest to you today: Wherever Jesus is present, in a home, in a life, in a workplace, in a church, there is enough. Indeed, there is the generous abundance of God at the very heart of this church’s life. The second thing I think John is trying to tell us in this powerful story is that wherever Jesus is present, there is great joy. Jesus came to the wedding feast because he wanted to share in the joy of the occasion. Sometimes I think we have exactly the opposite notion in our minds about Christians, because many Christians do not always exude the joy of Jesus in their lives. I remember once Josh and his friends at Davidson College referred to a certain person who I don’t even remember, as the “fun-slayer.” Wherever this person was, fun was out, and everything was going to be about what this person wanted. In John 15, Jesus says one of the most important things He says in the Gospel of John. It comes right at the end of His masterful metaphor about the vine and the branches. Jesus says, “These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy might be in you, and that your joy might be complete.” Maybe another way to translate the same Greek word: “…that your joy might be full.” I really believe this with all my heart, that if you really have a healthy relationship with God in Jesus Christ, no matter what the circumstances are in your life, you are going to be a source of joy to this world, beginning with the people you love the most. I have always believed that church needs to be about joy. It is why I was totally in favor of having the Nashville show filmed in this sanctuary in Season 1, Episode 8, even though some members of our church thought it was salacious that we would be host to such an event. When the producers talked about the storyline with me on the phone, when they were trying to “make the sale,” they said the story is this: “Hayden Panettiere, the star of the show, a budding country singer, falls for a boy from an old Nashville family, and his parents don’t approve. We’d like to have her show up in his church on a Sunday morning, and be asked, spontaneously, to sing in the youth choir.” I thought to myself, “Worship in our church, and a congregation that welcomes somebody slightly different from them?” For all the heartache that happens in the life of every church, this was an opportunity for an occasion of joy! You will recall that a few people thought it was a bad idea, but the day when it came time to fill the church to film it, the place was packed with church members. Lynn May brought her husband Jack, who is Jewish, and he sat in the congregation. Jack has been asked sometimes, “Are you Christian?” Jack says, “No, but I once played one on television!” Jack May knows that Jesus is about joy. I think of countless members in the life of this church who have given us joy, unquenchable joy, by their mere presence in our midst, so many of them are now with God. Some of you remember Andromedia Noel. She was one of the most joyful, gracious people I have ever known. I have a black and white photo of Andy from the nineteen thirties, in her Vanderbilt cheer-leading outfit, sitting on my desk. Every time I look at it, I smile and give thanks for the joy of her life. I do not know if he is back there today or not, but in the back pew, the very back pew, Ed Graham sits every Sunday morning at the eight-thirty service. Ed Graham worked for forty-plus years after Vanderbilt for the General Shoe Company. He was a Sigma Chi with Connie’s father, and is now in his mid-nineties. Ed Graham is a source of joy and delight that blesses everybody who is smart enough to get to know him. I discovered why the missions program with mission trips is so successful in the life of this church. A huge part of it is because of a guy by the name of Michael Baron. The first time I went to Jamaica I discovered Mike is not only deeply devoted, but pure fun! He knows how to get things done; he runs a construction company; but everything that Mike Baron does, he brings with it himself, and his incredible joy for Jesus. One of my favorite stories is a preacher story. I have told it before, I will probably tell it again. It is about Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who was a remarkable Baptist preacher in the nineteenth century in England, who suffered all of his life from what we would call today, clinical depression. Much like Abraham Lincoln, who was the wittiest president we have ever had, suffered terribly all his life from what they called melancholy. Jesus’ joy can live right alongside of heartbreak and sadness; they are cousins, because they are about what it means to live and feel life deeply. Spurgeon was talking to his preaching college about preaching about something important, which is heaven and hell. He said to the young men who were gathered, “When you preach to your people about heaven, look radiant, put a smile on your face, give to people a sense of the glory and the joy of heaven that awaits them! When you preach to your people about hell, well, most of your normal faces will do just fine.” Jesus said, “I have spoken these things that my joy might be in you, and that your joy might be complete.” Some of the things that I treasure most about the almost seventeen years I have been with you, is the joy that we have shared together in life, joy at weddings, joy at baptisms, joy on the golf course, joy on mission trips, and even joy in the face of heartache and death, because wherever Jesus is, there is His unquenchable joy. Finally, one last thing about this remarkable passage of scripture: Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, and Jesus everywhere, saves the best wine for last. The wine steward had no idea where this wine came from, but he knew good wine when he tasted it. Jesus always saves the best for last. To His mother he said, “Woman, my hour has not yet come.” He was speaking about His death. More than half of the passages in the Gospel of John are about the death of Jesus, because John realized that nothing was more beautiful, more profound, more moving, more exquisite, than the death of Jesus on the cross. The reason I want to make this point today is that I want you to know that that is true about this church. Jesus is Lord of this church, and Jesus, I promise you, is saving the best for you for last! Ed Graham wrote me a note last week, and he said, “I knew Dr. Vance, and Dr. Courtenay, and Dr. Bryant, and all of them were great ministers, but none of them are any better than you!” Do you think that is why I mentioned Ed today? I don’t think what he said is true for a minute, but Ed is so filled with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that he knows that God cares deeply about this church, and Jesus ever and always saves the best that He has to offer for last. This means that the next chapter in this church’s life, if we keep Jesus on the invitation list, is going to be even better than this wonderful chapter has been! I have said to many people, that what I am praying for, is that you fall head-over-heels in love with your new pastor, like some of you have with me. I want there to be an Ed Graham who can say at the end of their ministry that no one who served this church was as good! I want to be a kind of vague, warm, grateful memory that you have, of something special that we shared. But I really believe that Jesus always saves the best for last. I participated in an interment service recently for a very precious young man, who grew up in the life of this church, and who meant the world, not only to his parents, but to countless people who knew him. His parents asked me to read these words written at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I looked at a few sermons I have preached through the years on this text, because it comes up every three years, and I never want to say the same thing twice about a passage. In 2004, I ended my sermon, the first one I ever preached to you on this passage, with these same words. Lewis writes, “For us, this is the end of all stories, but for them, it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world had only been the cover and the title page. Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which only One on earth has read, and which goes on forever, and which every chapter is better than the one before.” That is my prayer for this church, for your family, and for your lives. That you would make sure that Jesus is at the very top of the invitation list, because His presence makes all the difference in the world. Joy Gregory writes television shows. Some of you remember the show Joan of Arcadia. Some of you like Madam Secretary, and is the head writer on Madam Secretary. Joy Gregory, I just learned, is a person of deep faith. Here is what she writes when somebody asked her, “What’s your image of God?” She said, “My fourteen-year-old daughter and I were watching a YouTube video of some men trying to free a young whale that was hopelessly trapped in nylon netting, and on the verge of death.” (I have actually seen that video on YouTube, and if you haven’t I urge you to look at it. It is only two minutes in length.) She goes on to write, “One man was working with a snorkel and a knife and a few friends on a very small boat. After trying unsuccessfully for several hours to free the whale, a courageous young man jumped out of the boat on top of this giant whale risking everything, and very courageously, finally cut the rope, and the whale was freed. It went off into the horizon, breaking the water over and over again, in the dance of pure joy. What if God is the patient snorkeler freeing us from all the things that tie us up, if only we would let him?” Let us keep Jesus at the very top of our invitation list in our lives and in this church, and freedom and joy is promised. AMEN.
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