The lectionary Gospel text this Sunday is John 2.1-11 where Jesus turns a whole lot of water into a whole lot of shockingly fine wine— apparently when you crash a wedding party with 12 bachelors in tow that’s a handy sort of skill to have up your sleeve. We call it “the miracle at Cana,” but that’s not how John himself would’ve put it. Jesus, in John’s Gospel, doesn’t do miracles. He does signs. And he does just seven of them— all of them, they’re pointers to his passion.
In response to his worried mother’s request (Do something, Jesus! They’ve run out of wine!) Jesus responds “Woman, what concern is that of mine? My hour has not yet come.”
What’s interesting in his response, I believe— and John Wesley backs me up, is that Jesus doesn’t come to us determined to do everything good thing we bring to him.
Jesus’ clear priority here at the outset of the Gospel is his mission, his “hour,” what he’ll tell Nicodemus in the next chapter: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
It’s not the stuff of a sermon, but one practical takeaway from this for us is this:
As Christ’s Church, neither are we called to do everything good thing that comes our way.
If Jesus had a passion for his passion and prioritized everything else to it, then Jesus’ followers have a primary passion for the promise given by his passion— what we call grace— and, over everything else, we prioritize inviting others into that promise of grace.
This is as shocking perhaps as Jesus seeming to backtalk his mom, for most churches are passionate about a good many things. Just read all our announcements in the church bulletin this weekend.
To a large extent, churches are killing themselves to keep on life support all the good things that have ever come their way, and the victim of all this work is the Gospel.
But, as friend of the podcast Jason Byassee quips in his new book:
“great organizations don’t do lots of different things about which they’re passionate; great organizations focus on one big thing and are relentless about pursuing it.”
For the Church, our ONE BIG THING is connecting new people to the promise of his grace— evangelism. Rather than one activity or committee among many or a line in a budget, evangelism is the lens through which we assess all our other ministries. Growing churches singularly and unapologetically elevate evangelism. It’s the mission that causes us to ask about all other good things “Is that our concern?”
Just as all of his “signs” in the Gospel of John are in service to his passion, every other ministry of the Church is in service to our mission to connect people to his grace. Thus, we ask ourselves “How are our mission and justice ministries engaging new people and helping them to connect to Christ?” and we ask “How is our children’s program connecting parents to grace and our youth program reaching new youth who not Christ?” Ditto, our worship.
As Jason Byassee says:
“Jesus never says to his disciples ‘Okay, let’s do a bible study on Isaiah.’ No, he sends them out two-by-two to proclaim him. Mature faith is marked by connecting people to Christ. Indeed it is a sin not to do this. Restaurants, coffee shops, universities, vacation spots— none of them sit back and just wait for people to come to them. They go after people. Surely, the gospel of grace is infinitely more valuable.”
Such singular focus requires relentless effort to keep it a priority, for as Sunday’s reading shows, there will never be a time when there are not other good things for us to do. Sometimes the most faithful ‘yes’ to the message of grace is to say ‘no’ to other good things.