The Big Ask

listen to mp3 file of “The Big Ask”

John 2:1-11

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

As we lift our faces to the sky and give thanks for the California rain

(and hope and pray that this is abundance, enough, for thirsty land)

Another story about water…

You’ve heard about the water in Flint, Michigan?

After city residents and doctors have been complaining for months,

the state of Michigan is finally paying attention:

levels of lead in the municipal water supply are high enough

to poison the children of Flint.

I had one of those moments this week when the news got personal, and shook me.

There was an interview on NPR with Rochelle Riley, a columnist from Detroit.

SHAPIRO: Flint is a majority African-American city where, according to the census, 40 percent of people live below the poverty line. Do you think that played a role in the state’s response?

RILEY: Flint is …the can that gets kicked down the road. When the car company left and all the jobs left …they keep getting hard hit. And these are strong, resilient people who are trying their best to turn the city around. I did write in the column that I don’t think this problem would have been handled this way had it been Grand Rapids in Western Michigan or any of the other small towns that are predominantly white where their representatives hear them when they cry.


I was born in Grand Rapids, MI. I lived in that city as a child, and again in my 20s.  (My Mom’s side of the family is from West Michigan…)

I’m the kind of person whose representatives “hear me when I cry.”

The people of Flint?

They just get kicked down the road.

And that’s how it’s been, for a very long time.

There might be a news story like this that hit you square in the face this week, too. Hit a little close to home; reminded you of your privilege in life; made you mutter a prayer under your breath, “Lord, have mercy…”

There are so many news stories….so much wrong with the world,

Or maybe it’s the accumulation of grief and pain in your own life,

no news reports needed.

John’s Gospel begins: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Jesus comes to a broken and hurting world, now, and then.

Back then, they had the poor and the hungry,

and unclean water and injustice;

there were sick children,

and governments who won’t listen to people’s cries.

And in such a time and a place,

the wedding feast was a little relief from real life, a celebration.

It was such a high point in that culture

that the wedding was how you talked about heaven,

about your hopes for what things would be like if the world was made whole: the Great Banquet, the Wedding Feast,

when God would make this broken world whole again.

But the wedding scene doesn’t happen at the end of John’s Gospel. Instead, it’s the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

It’s the third day, and the mother of Jesus is invited. So are Jesus and his disciples, and they go, and their journey together begins with a party.

Until the wine runs out. And Mary leans over and says to Jesus, “They have no more wine.”

And Jesus says this strange thing: “What’s that to me? Or to you?”

Bible scholars debate all directions,

up down, and sideways,

about how to interpret what Jesus says to her.

Is this a cultural thing?

Was Mary out of line?

Was Jesus out of line?

Can God change God’s mind because of our requests?

But as far as I’m concerned, the important thing here is that Jesus’ response hits at something we are all really, deep down, afraid of.

If we are vulnerable with God, does God really care?

Is this really what God thinks of our requests? “What’s it to me?”

In her book on prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow, Anne Lamott worries about this.

When I pray, which I do many times a day, I pray for alot of things…I ask for help for this planet, and for her poor, and for the suffering people in my little galaxy…

I can be big in prayer and trust that God won’t mind if I pray for [my dying cat]…Is God going to say, “I’m sorry, we don’t have enough for the cat”? I don’t think so.

And yet, she knows that after those lists we pray to God, it’s not just about the things we ask for, the specific requests. She continues:

I can picture God saying: “Okay, Hon. I’ll be here when you’re done with your list.” The He goes back to knitting new forests or helping less pissy people until I hit rock bottom. And when I finally do, there may be hope….there’s freedom in hitting bottom…relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing…this is where restoration can begin…Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through…it’s the first great prayer.

Back at Cana, they are out of wine.

It’s a big thing for the wedding.

It’s a small thing in a very thirsty world.

And it’s Mary,

the first human ever to carry Jesus in her very body

(after all, what else is a Christian

but someone who carries Jesus with them?),

it’s Mary who is open, honest, vulnerable

with Jesus about what’s troubling her.

For Mary, in this moment, this is the Big Ask.

In the midst of the party, this is a devastating development.

There is no more wine.

Mary doesn’t propose the solution.

But she lays bare the problem.

And she pushes ahead. What are those words we hear at the end of so many prayers? “

Into your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy, through your Son, Jesus Christ our lord.

Mary pushes her concern into Jesus’ hands,

with confidence, and expectation…

despite what he says,

and tells the servants to do whatever he tells them.

And Jesus’ response to her?

It’s a bigger answer than the ask.

Water for making people clean, a basic need, a basic part of religious practice, the hum drum everyday of following God,

The water is not so much replaced as honored in this transformation into wine.

Water that was ordinary,

changed to gallons upon gallons of wine,

and not just anything,

but the good stuff.

It is more than enough.

The answer to Mary’s big ask is filled to overflowing.

It’s a huge miracle, but an oddly quiet one.

The steward never learns how this happened.

The guests continue their party.

But this is how Jesus reveals his glory to the disciples, and to his mother. They may not know what is coming,

but they see this glory:

that with Jesus, no request is too small or too great.

They might not know what it’s going to look like,

but somehow the ordinary of this world

is about to overflow with the grace and truth of God.

And maybe this is what Anne Lamott means when she talks about prayers for help as hitting rock bottom.

When we lay before God the list of things in the world, in our lives, that are troubling,

when we set them down with confidence in God’s hands and just let them be, God responds with transformation.

Friends, what will we ask? What is your prayer? It is too big or too small?

Where do you need help, for yourself, for the world, in your little galaxy of people, in our communities, in our church?

And can we ask with confidence,

not that there will be an answer of our own devising,

but that God has the world in hand?

And ask with confidence that God is working at transforming this world, beyond our wildest imaginings?

We can learn from Mary,

the first one of us who said, “yes” to Jesus,

Mary, at this wedding feast,

showing us  that we can lay our concerns open,

we can be confident that God will hear, and God will answer.

Because here, at the beginning of his ministry, is Jesus, showing his  glory: and the glory of God is abundant:

the needs of our thirsty world will be filled,

to overflowing, beyond our greatest imagining.

This is the promise of Jesus for us,

for our world,

for all of creation:

this world may be broken,

but Jesus has come to make all things new

and on the third day,

when we have come through the darkness

of the darkest Friday and Saturday,

on the third day we will have Easter,

we will know the joy of the Great Wedding Banquet,

and we will see the glory of God, in the face Jesus Christ.