Sermon and Worship Service Archive
One More Trip To The Sav-Mor
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Trinity Church in the City of Boston
The Rev. Morgan S. Allen
January 16, 2022
II Epiphany, John 2:1-11
Come Holy Spirit, and enkindle in the hearts of your faithful, the fire of your Love. Amen.
Thumbing drips of condensation on his water glass, the young man sits at a round table vested in “Very Peri,” Pantone 17-3938. That afternoon, the betrothed leaned place cards against the hurricanes centering each reception table, and he lifts the heavy, purple stock from its accumulating phalanx of balled napkins and cocktail spears. Marked in the upper-righthand corner with a hand-calligraphed “18,” the bride’s family sat him with his mother and three of his former classmates, the latter triumvirate living out the lees of Bachelor Years. Their old friendships had crackled with glad reminiscence during the rehearsal supper, but the sharp pulse of hangovers and the wedding preacher’s mouth full of whitened teeth have left them dulled and quiet now. Tonight, they adjust their ties … swipe through scores … eat cubes of cheese.
Returning to the place card, he reads the letter-pressed print: “Thank you for joining us on our most special night! We chose this ‘inquisitive and intriguing’ mauve as our wedding tone because it ‘displays a carefree confidence and a daring curiosity that animates our creative spirit … [‘Color of the Year’ for 2022,] Very Peri helps us embrace [the] landscape of possibilities, opening us up to a new vision as we [write together] our lives … Very Peri places the future ahead in a new light.”[i]
A wedding tone, he thinks to himself. Shut. The. Front. Door.
With an exhale he holds in his cheeks and upper lip, the cover band calls to the mother of the bride and begins picking through “Brown Eyed Girl.” After a practiced protest, the mom steps out of her heels and swaggers onto the dancefloor. Holding up lengths of her long dress, she shows a PG-rated groove that earns a smattering of applause.
A waiter approaches his table with something bubbling in plastic flutes. “Good evening, ma’am … gentlemen. May I interest you in a sparkling water?”
“Friend, do you have anything a little stronger,” he asks, “wine … whiskey … maybe some lightly-flavored rubbing alcohol?” His chums chuckle politely.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t. To tell the truth,” the server confides, “we’ve run out of wine.”
Looking around to be sure no one sees him making friendly with the guests, the waiter indulges the evening’s gossip: “So the bride is my first cousin on my dad’s side. Our dads are two of three, and their one sister got remarried last year to a guy who runs a side-hustle event business.”
With rising animation and quickening voice, the server continues: “Turns out, my uncle just stiffed the new brother-in-law after an argument over the prosecco. When our aunt heard, she went and hid in the passenger seat of the rented box truck, crying and screaming humiliations, her starched bangs falling in her face. Her new husband finally climbed into the cab with her, and then they took off – with the rest of the booze still in the back of the truck! Now all we’ve got left are these fancy waters and the two cans of Coors Light my old man crammed into his pockets. Word is my cuz doesn’t know, yet, but – man – when she does … I feel sorry for her.”
His mother had cheerlead’d the whole weekend with exclamations panted into his ear – “Ohhh, she’s so proud!” … “Ummm, what a beautiful gown!” … “I thought the priest had a very determined way about him.” Now turning to the waiter, she speaks definitively, with the air of one who has brought life into the world and raised infants into human adults: “I’m so sorry to hear about all the trouble with your family. Weddings sometimes bring out the worst of us, even from the best of us. But don’t worry.”
Reaching into her purse for her checkbook, she continues, “My son and his friends are going to run to the Sav-Mor around the corner and restock this situation.”
“We’re gonna do what?” he reacts, his compatriots raising their eyebrows in shared incredulity.
“They’ve run out of wine,” she responds coldly, without looking up from her purse.
He leans in harder: “Mother, this is not your problem. This is not my problem. This is not our problem. Why do you always do this? Let’s just go – I’m ready anyway.”
Unrattled, she smiles calmly, her kind eyes flashing warmth and depth. “You know, I will have a sparkling water, thank you.” Receiving her napkin and bubbly flute, she sets a light hand on the server’s forearm: “I hope you will not have to share that unfortunate story again. If anyone asks for a drink, tell them that the reception has been a great success – as it certainly has been – and reassure them that you will be back soon with more wine.”
“Now, son … boys – is there anything more that would be helpful to say at this time?”
“No, I guess not,” he sighs in surrender. Standing and adjusting his collar, he signals his tablemates and addresses the waiter: “Hold tight, guy, and we’ll be back with more wine … and a fifth of Blanton’s for this table, if you don’t mind.”
In a commotion of suit coats and cell phones, he says finally, “Alright, alright, fellas: we got Mama’s check; let’s roll.”
For the Lord of sea and sky and for most of us, those years around 30 are distinctly difficult. During that season, some childhood friends will have married and started families … and, looking from the outside-in, they seem so established in their adulthood: competently folding that stroller, packing sandwiches and snacks for the airplane, affirming the deli clerk by name.[ii] Other friends will be nose-deep into careers, impressive ones in finance or law – or honorable ones, in social work or schools … and, looking from the outside-in, they seem so successful and fulfilled. Still other friends will be knocking around, boomeranging back to their parents’ refrigerator for long stretches, working sometimes and other times not so much … yet, looking from the outside, in, they seem so at ease, righteously relieved from all the rat-race pressures.
And seeing all this as we do, we cannot quite locate ourselves in the universe. We seem to fit somewhere between everyone and not with anyone or any discernable purpose. With three or seven toes in each archetype, we feel intensely all the ways that we are out-of-place … off-track… behind-schedule.
Thereby, the young man of this Gospel story does not envy the particulars of the marrying couple’s trajectory or spite the particulars of their sommelier’s snafu. Rather:
-he finds belittling their fulfillment easier than grappling his own, unrealized vocation;
-he finds denigrating their earnestness a convenient excuse for postponing his call to empathize;
-he finds diminishing their joy more satisfying than pursuing meaning and purpose in his own life.
Given this self-centeredness, before the “miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee”[iii] offers any sign of Jesus’ divinity, the story reinforces Mary’s strength and maternal authority. No matter Jesus’ age or trajectory, Mary can see what he fails to recognize in himself and in this vulnerable moment. She still has something important to teach her boy about Grace and graciousness.
Saying to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” Mary directs Jesus by a willful and public triangulation that she knows he hears. Parenting, she speaks on Jesus’ behalf and presumes his obedience. Accordingly, both Jesus and the servants do just as they are told. Only then the miracle occurs. Not the parlor magic of turning water-into-wine, but the transformational power of Jesus’ loyalty, humility, and generosity.
Yes, for the chief steward the wine signals the bridegroom’s good taste and munificence, and the events may well mark for Mary a new season of long-ago promises’ fulfillment – the promise of the angel Gabriel: “the child to be born is holy;” and her own, attendant promise: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be.”[iv] For us readers who know how the story ends, the wedding scene witnesses the young man’s truest identity – that he is the messiah, the son of God, come to save us from ourselves. And if we, like the disciples, intend to “[believe] in him,” then Cana calls us to the model of his compassion.[v]
Of these charges to belief and discipleship, note that John’s phrasing does not indicate a cause followed by an effect. That is, the concluding sentence of this morning’s appointment does not contain a “therefore” necessarily doing the work for us. Rather, the Evangelist scripts the narration with commas and the coordinating conjunction “and,” conveying an assemblage of facts, not a syllogism: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” … comma, comma, and, and.[vi]
While these events may well signal something mysterious and wonderful underway, the disciples must choose to believe in such a glorious possibility and choose to pursue that Divine dream – Jesus cannot oblige their hope or compel their labor for Beloved Community. As Mary models for Jesus, the living Christ can model faithfulness for his disciples – even presume the best in them and their responsiveness – but they must choose to inaugurate God’s Loving reign.
So, too for us: we must choose, choose to believe in God’s glorious hope, and choose to accept the daily consequence of our lives and action, in moments both grand and granular.
Therefore, whether in our opposition to anti-Black racism as our nation remembers the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, this weekend … or in our hopeful toil to seed God’s Beloved Community at Trinity Church and in the city of Boston … we must not imagine that the height of our aspirations exempts us from the urgency and necessity for everyday empathy and compassion. As households, as neighbors, and as a parish family, we must resist belittling one another, resist all those pithy denigrations and cheap commiserations that distract us from the fulfillment we ache to achieve in ourselves and establish in the world. Especially in this season of hyper-reactivity, when all of us endure anxieties and disappointments – one after another, again and again and again during this pandemic – let us, in the models of Mary and Jesus, endeavor nothing less than the transformational power of loyalty, humility, generosity … and, if need be, one more trip to the Sav-Mor.
ii I am not a fan of The Commercials These Days… but the Dr. Rick, “We can’t keep you from turning into your parents” series from Progressive Insurance hits the nail on the head. I mean, you’re dadgum right I pack sandwiches and snacks for the plane! Airport food is ridiculously overpriced and mostly gross. PRO TIP: freeze in a Ziploc baggie those sea-salt-chocolate-covered-caramel things from Costco (or Whole Foods, if you’re fancy), and use them like ice cubes in your carry-on. This will keep your mayo-and-Durkee-based sandwiches safe to eat, and keep a delicious dessert ready and at-hand – blammo!
iii From “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage” in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 423. “Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.”
iv Luke 1:35, 38. Though I knowingly muddle Luke with John, I believe the spirit of the observation hits the mark.
v John 2:11b.
vi John 2:11a.