Religion, and Christianity in particular, is not seen in too good a light these days. The statistics are not good. Every census reveals that more and more people are in the “nones” category, as in no religion, thank you very much.
We may want to blame the pandemic. We may want to blame people. Perhaps we, Christians, shoulder some of the blame? Perhaps we do things that make a lot of non-Christians look at Christianity and say “no thanks, we don’t want your dirty water.”
Perhaps we are too “stuffy,” for lack of a better word? Let’s be honest, some of us don’t seem like much fun to be around. We can come across as mean and angry. I used to visit a gentleman connected with our congregation who would tell me to never use humour in preaching because Jesus never used humour. He was not much fun to be around. Nor was he a gentle man.
Perhaps we are hypocritical and self-centred. A friend of mine put out a blog post at the end of last year lamenting the many public Christian leaders that had moral failures come to light in 2020. We can all think of Christians who used their positions in churches for money, sex, or power. People see things like that and say “we don’t want your dirty water.”
Perhaps we are just not good. Just recently the world watched the Capitol building in Washington being stormed. The world saw the political signs, white supremest symbols, and a big banner declaring “Jesus saves” all together in one place. More dirty water.
Two stories about Jesus from John 2 will help. Here is the first:
The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”John 2:1-10 (NLT)
“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”
But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.
When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”
According to John this is the first miracle of Jesus. Now if you were Jesus, what would you choose to do for your first miracle? I think I would find the person with the worst health and fix them up. But not Jesus. He turns water into wine to keep a party going. And he uses stone jars meant for religious use. The very first miracle is surprisingly irreligious. It would be a bit like using our communion cups as shot glasses. That is perhaps taking it a bit too far, but it is in the right direction.
Why would Jesus do this? Bible scholars point out that the miracle is a signal about what is about to happen in and through Jesus. The covenant of marriage at this marriage celebration is pointing to the New Covenant in Jesus, and this is worthy of a huge celebration.
While this is no doubt correct, I also think that Jesus turned water into wine because that is the kind of thing Jesus does. He was just being himself. We get so technical in our study of Jesus and his words we can forget just how approachable and down-to-earth he was. People who would not feel comfortable in churches in our day felt comfortable being with Jesus. Jesus was like a breath of fresh air. Are we?
There is a bit of fun, when Jesus takes something set aside for religious use, and uses it to keep the party going. Relationship with God is not a stuffy thing. Do we make it seem like it is?
Here is the second story from John 2 that will help us:
It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”John 2:13-17 (NLT)
Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”
Perhaps we are surprised at the anger of Jesus? We should be more surprised at what was happening at the Temple. Except, of course, that we are not. People were doing then what people often do; making it about themselves. The very place where people were to focus on God, became a place where people were focussing on themselves and what they could get out of it.
Yes, money needed to be changed, and yes, animals needed to be bought, especially for travellers coming from a great distance, but the location was all wrong. They had turned the area meant for non-Jewish visitors to be able to worship into a marketplace. It seems to be a human thing to take every opportunity to make it about ourselves, our people, our opportunity for gain.
This kind of thing still happens in our day, when people take ministries meant to help people connect people with God, and instead use them to get money, sex, or power. One wonders what tables Jesus would turn in our day.
Jesus displayed a zeal for what is right, what is good, a desire to see God’s intentions honoured. Do we?
When we look at these two stories together we find they call us to a good balance. From the miracle of turning water into wine we learn that we might be taking ourselves, and our religion, too seriously. From Jesus driving out the money changers we learn that we might not be taking God seriously enough.
We find here, not a call to be more religious, to appease a God that is always frowning or scowling, but a call to be more in step with God who smiles on us. We may be guilty of causing people to think that God is always frowning on us and humourless, or that God just does not matter.
If people are not interested in Christianity in our day, maybe it is because our expression of Christianity is just not that great. We make it too stuffy. Perhaps we are taking ourselves, and religion itself, too seriously. Maybe we just need to lighten up. Or we make it too self-centered, using religion for our own advantage. What should be about God ends up being about us. Maybe we need to smarten up.
The solution is to focus on Jesus. When we focus on Jesus we won’t be stuffy or self-centred. If people don’t want our dirty water, maybe we should ask Jesus to turn it into wine.