Posted by: jmdenham | April 9, 2012

Water Into Wine, Wine Into Ministry

Yes, Jesus turned water into wine.  It’s a pretty cool miracle.  And yes, Jesus is at parties of some kind in so many stories in Luke it’s fair to ask how Jesus ever got anything done.  These are the interesting tidbits of Scripture that intrigue me.

Partially because of my experience over the last couple days.

I went to a wedding rehearsal dinner on Friday and then performed a wedding in the evening the next day.  As I told a friend, the couple themselves were pretty spiritual people, but many of their friends were the fringe kind of Christians.  By that I mean that they are pretty solidly good people, people who would take a bullet for a friend and help someone in need and who like to have fun, but also people whose spiritual beliefs end at “I believe in God and Jesus was cool too I guess.”

So there I was at the wedding rehearsal and the wedding, the chaplain at a pretty non-religious event.  At the rehearsal dinner, for the first 30 minutes I was the weird chaplain in the room who was like that pastor who doesn’t drink, doesn’t curse, lives a tight life, and generally doesn’t have fun.  At least that is how I was treated.  (Okay, so you’re right, they were close!)  So of course I find myself with 30 people and loads of alcohol.  At the wedding, similar, just more people and lots of dancing (you know us Church of Christers- we don’t even let visions of sugarplums dance in our heads, let alone ourselves at a party).  But here’s where things took an interesting turn.  As I had a beer or glass of wine at those events (after the wedding of course), people’s perceptions of a minister changed.  Many of the people at the rehearsal dinner, even though who most distanced themselves from faith, brought me into their circles of conversation, and most asked about what chaplaincy was like and some even started sharing about their own experiences of health issues or hospitalizations.  One guy shared about his life going away from his family and entering the new world of a big city.  One young woman talked to me for 20 minutes about her own story of faith, while drinking a mixed alcoholic drink of course.  And another talked to me about the life of partying that she seemed to be stuck in, where I got to encourage without high on my horse judgment.  It was as though I was turning water into wine with these people and becoming more accepted and welcomed, simply because I shared a little (I had two beers at the rehearsal dinner, I will be honest).  It wasn’t simply that I was turning water into wine simply to be accepted or that I was turning water into wine for fun, but that it became a moment for me to minister to them in small ways and reflect back a life where faith was cool and not so tight.

And the same thing happened at the wedding, although instead I had two glasses of good red wine- I can’t help but take in good red wine!  After the wedding, when I had sat down with some folks who then were seeing the chaplain, the minister, drink with them, I became their minister.  One couple talked to me about their difficulty getting into a rhythm for going to church and felt distant and perhaps unfaithful.  I got to offer them acceptance, not to make them feel good, but to encourage them to keep trying and not fall away completely.  One guy told me about his family and his frustration with his father not allowing anyone to enjoy themselves and how Jesus actually seemed like a guy who encouraged people to have fun but to have fun well and to have fun for the purpose of community.  Another young woman shared about her father’s illness.  In all of these situations, none of those people would have shared if I would have kept myself distant.  As I see it, as a Christian we live differently, but not so differently that our lives look burdensome and bitter, but rather so different that they are joyful and life giving.  In these wedding situations over the weekend, in showing a life that was different but a humanity that was common, I was able to do more pastoral care and ministry than on most nights of the rest of my life.  By the way, just in case you were thinking it, not one of these people I mentioned were drunk at the time of the ministry, so they weren’t just in a drunken stupor able to be talked into any conversation- rather the conversations were all voluntarily started by those people.

There are obviously limits to this.  Moderation matters.  Caution is helpful.  I can’t just drink every night or go to parties all the time, but at certain points in my life, I can point to moments where the common humanity and a typical activity for most people may actually be the most Christian thing I can do, or may be the best way to glorify God in those situations.  That’s Jesus weeping right?  Or Jesus attending a dinner with the tax collector Levi?  Or simply Jesus actually becoming human.  In that sense I, and any others for that matter, get to turn wine into a ministry situation every now and again.  That truly is a blessing.  It at least was worth it last weekend.

Perhaps you have had moments like this too.  Maybe it wasn’t drinking but a time you shared with some non-Christian how hard a particular thing was (like being a Christian, or fighting certain behaviors).  How did God work through you in that time?  If you don’t agree or have a different stategy, then share with me why, and I would love your feedback.

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