Psalm 36:5-10; John 2:1-11
One of the first social behaviours we’re taught as children is to say, “Thank you.” A baby hands us their cup, and we say, “Thank you,” as a model of behaviour. When we were children, and a friend would come over, we would be expected to walk them to the door and say, “Thank you for coming,” when they left, and they, in turn, were taught to say, “Thank you for having me.” We learn to acknowledge both the gift and the giver with thanks, whether the gift is a new car or a single flower, whether it is someone moving their car out of the way for us or just holding the door. Even if we don’t particularly like the gift, we’re still taught to say thank you. My mother-in-law, a teacher, used to teach her students how to write thank-you notes for things they didn’t actually want. “Dear Grandma, thank you for the red, wool birthday pajamas. That was very thoughtful. I will add them to the collection that I started with your first pair five years ago. Thanks again.” We hear a lot about cultivating an “attitude of gratitude,” and as we say in our Communion liturgy, it is indeed right, our duty and our joy, in all times and in all places, to offer thanks. That’s why we call it the Great Thanksgiving. Our lives are enriched when we say, “Thank you.”
There are a lot of things going on in our Gospel reading today: the metaphor of weddings and the church, the role of wine in our lives, the lesson that you should always listen to your mother, but thanks is definitely not one of them. As the story goes, Jesus saves a wedding party about to go sideways and ... nothing. He changes 180 gallons of water, approximately six fish tanks worth, into really good wine, and ... nothing. The steward comments on how good the wine is, and the bridegroom just takes it all in stride, but neither of them seem at all interested in finding the person who did it so that they can thank them. As a well-brought-up Canadian, I’m a little appalled at their lack of manners!
They don’t even take the effort to find out who made this all happen. They don’t seem moved to thank anybody, and I’m guessing they happily received the “thanks for inviting me, it was a great party,” comments misdirected to them. The only ones who seem to know that Jesus is responsible for this 180 gallons of wedding feast joy are Mary, who told him to do it, and the disciples. Everyone else seems happy to just take advantage of the wine, enjoy it, and carry on.
What’s interesting, though, is that this doesn’t seem to bother Jesus. He doesn’t announce that this miracle comes from God, he doesn’t demand any recognition or thanks, and later, he goes back to Cana to perform another sign from God. In fact, very seldom does anyone in any of the Gospels thank Jesus for the miracles he performs for them, whether that’s providing food or drink for a multitude, or healing someone of an illness. The Gospels relate the miracles, and in the next “scene,” as it were, people go on with their lives. No thanks or even acknowledgement of the great things God has done in their midst. And it keeps happening, over and over and over again. Gifts from God, received without thanks.
And yet God through Christ keeps giving them. I admit to threatening my children that if they don’t write thank-you notes to grandparents that they might not get anything on their next birthday. I know that I have contemplated not giving any more presents to people who haven’t thanked me for the first ones. I get tired of giving without thanks or even acknowledgment. But God doesn’t. One of the messages of our story this morning is that God blesses us, abundantly, without any need or expectation that we give thanks or that we even know who the giver is. Neither Jesus nor Mary corrected the steward, or even let on that it was Jesus who did it. They didn’t chastise the hosts for bad planning or for accepting thanks that wasn’t their due. They just wanted the people to have a good time and for the wedding feast to be a success.
This is what God’s grace looks like. Grace is God’s fundamental orientation towards us that comes from God’s desire that we are blessed. That we find our lives to be a joy and a renewal. That we receive the goodness of God’s creation without feeling that we owe anything in return for it. Grace is the unearned, unmerited good will of God towards us. We know that part - there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love, God just gives it. But there’s also the other half, that God expects nothing in return for it. If we live our entire lives enjoying the goodness of God’s blessings, and we never say thank you or we never even recognize or acknowledge that the good things in our lives come from God, I don’t think that bothers God. God is not in it to be thanked. Jesus didn’t change the water into wine in order to be thanked. He did it because he was able to provide something that they needed and didn’t have. As we like to say, giving was its own reward. God gifts us, graces us, because that’s who God is. Sorry to tell you, it has nothing to do with us. God doesn’t bless us because we’ve earned it, because we deserve it, or because we are super thankful for it. God’s grace isn’t about us. It’s about God being who God is––grace and love.
Of course, it also has everything to do with us. God graces us and blesses us because we need it, and because God loves us, and because God wants our lives to be a joy. Our Psalm for today proclaims this, “All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” This is grace! God provides all people with the blessings of God and invites everyone to feast and to delight, even when they have no idea where those blessings are coming from, even when they take it for granted.
Jesus blessed the community of Cana with wine, simply so that they might enjoy their time together. There was no expectation or unspoken rule that they thank God or somehow contribute in return. And it works the same way today. If you have come to church because you need to receive God’s blessing this morning, because you need some joy or light, but you’re feeling guilty because you’re one of “those people” who just comes to church but doesn’t contribute enough or at all, let go of that guilt. If you feel like you’re getting more than you’re giving, if you feel like you’re doing a bad job of saying thanks to God for all the blessings in your life you’ve received, or that what you’re doing is not enough, if you feel like sometimes you’re just taking God’s goodness for granted, let go of those feelings. Just take a breath, and let them go.
God does not demand or expect your thanks. God is going to keep on blessing you whether or not you have that “attitude of gratitude.” God is going to keep on sending moments of joy––even when we’re undeserving, even when we’re ungrateful, and, I would add, especially when we’re feeling those things because, as we know, it’s when we’re feeling undeserving and ungrateful that we need God’s grace the most. Regardless of whether or not you say thank you, God’s love for you is steadfast, God’s desire is that all people, including you, enjoy the feast of life.
This abundant, joy-filled gift of God, this grace––unmerited––is the glory of God, given to us through Jesus Christ, whether or not we say, “Thanks be to God.” Amen.