There is a myth about relationships between baby birds and their mothers. The popular notion is that mother birds, motivated by some “tough love” instinct, push their babies out of the nest to force them to learn how to fly. Baby birds do end up falling out of their nests. Often, hungrier siblings push each other out of the nest in a competition for food. Nature can be pretty cutthroat. Based on what I could find out, however, most mother birds do not do push their babies out of the nest. There is a tendency for us to believe this myth, though. Like all good myths, this one has elements of truth behind it. Some parents hold out a favorite toy or a treat in order to entice their children to take their first steps. Parent birds may hold food out to their young outside of the nest to entice them to leave their twiggy bed and learn how to spread their wings. Mother birds also know that their babies will someday fly, and must learn to fly for their own safety, and so they do encourage their young. These baby birds lack the confidence that comes with experience, and so they may be afraid to take that first tumble.
In today’s gospel lesson, John recounts the first of Jesus’ signs. Reading it, I wonder if Jesus felt like his mother pushed him out of the nest. Jesus’ mother notices that the wine has run out, and she mentions this fact to Jesus. Jesus is an invited guest at this celebration, not the host. His response to his mother, while abrupt, seems perfectly logical: “What business is that of ours? It isn’t my time.” Jesus’ mother seems to realize something in this moment about her son that not even Jesus is prepared to admit – his time has come. He is ready to leave the nest, so to speak. He is ready to fly.
I am curious about Jesus’ reluctance here. When the call for action comes to him, he hesitates. Why is this? What are some reasons that we hesitate when we are called on to do something? One reason might be because we are just not interested in doing whatever it is that we have been asked to do. The task at hand might seem completely irrelevant to us, and so our disconnection from the task prevents us from embracing it. That does not seem to be the case here with Jesus. He is at the wedding. He seems to be having a good time. I imagine he would want to continue to celebration, which included sharing in the food and drink provided at the banquet. So it is not that Jesus is disinterested.
We also tend to shy away from tasks that we do not feel we are prepared to handle. When we think responsibly about accepting tasks that have been presented to us, we ask ourselves if we are the best person for the job, if we can complete the job, if we can do it well. We might fear that we will wade into the area of responsibility and realize all too quickly that we are out of our depth. We might find ourselves swept away by the undertow, unable to swim, or even tread water. Perhaps this is what Jesus is feeling. He knows who he is. He knows why he is here. Maybe he just does not feel ready to handle the responsibility of his life or his call.
We may scoff at this idea. Jesus is the Son of God. Is it even possible that he could feel unprepared to do what he was sent here to do? I believe the answer is yes. Jesus was fully human, just like us. He experienced everything we experience. All of us have experienced that feeling that we get when we believe we are inadequately equipped to handle a challenge or task before us. The feeling of not being ready yet. We scoff because we, like Jesus’ mother, know who Jesus is and what Jesus is capable of. We know what Jesus will accomplish. Yet something makes him hesitate.
You and I may hesitate at different times in our lives, too. We may hear the call to action, the call to do something that requires us to take our faith and give it arms and legs, and we may waver. We may ask ourselves, “Am I good enough? Am I ready? Can I do it?” A fear of failure may compel us to take a pass, and we might think, “God will call someone more qualified, more talented, more ready.” Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth addresses this issue. “To each of you,” he wrote, “is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” One translation of this verse reads, “The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others” (1Co 12:7 CEV). When the time comes for God to call us to act, we will be ready. We each receive at least one gift. The Holy Spirit has already given us the gift that we need to accomplish the task that God calls us to undertake. Individually, we can accomplish great things. However, not all the responsibility can fall on one person, or even on a small group of people. We all need to be using our gifts. When we work together, the full array of God’s glorious provision is on full display.
We may not be convinced. I know there have been times in my life where I have felt unprepared to do what I believed God was calling me to do. When I first started working in the church, I was the last guy you would want anywhere near tools. The pastor I worked with had been a general contractor in his former life. His idea of ministry and mission always involved a hammer and a nail. Not too long after I started, I found myself in the most unfamiliar places: on ladders putting up drywall, on rooftops laying shingles (oh, did I mention I have a fear of heights, too?). I was out of my comfort zone, but God was with me, and the Holy Spirit was equipping me every step of the way. All I needed to do was show up; God did the rest. It turned out that Jesus was ready to perform that miraculous sign at the wedding in Cana. When God calls us to act, we discover that no matter how we feel, the Holy Spirit ensures that we are ready, too.
And I believe that is one of the reasons all of us are here this morning. To be reminded that we have work, ministry, and mission to do; to be assured and encouraged that we can do it; and to see that we do not work alone. A few years ago, I was having a conversation with several people about what the church was like. I shared with this group an image that reminds me of the church. I told them that to me, the church was like an aircraft carrier. It is a place where Jesus articulates and communicates his mission to his people. Those people, pilots according to this illustration, leave the carrier equipped to carry out the mission at hand. They return to the carrier to be refueled, updated, and sent out again. This is my image and vision for the church – a place where we come to be equipped and encouraged, to be reminded of our shared mission and ministry, and sent out to accomplish great things for the glory of God.
Jesus’ first sign was to turn water into wine. This miracle revealed God’s abundance and the glorious extravagance of life in God’s kingdom. It is a fitting miracle to include in the same Gospel that records Jesus declaring that he has come so that we may have life, “and have it abundantly” (v. 10). Jesus calls us as individuals and as a community to perform signs in his name that give life and share God’s abundant grace and mercy. The Holy Spirit is with us, and God gives us everything we need. Although we might not always feel equipped or prepared to help with Family Promise or the Winter Shelter, although we might not feel equipped or prepared to be a Stephen Minister, although we might not feel equipped to teach Sunday school or lead a Bible study, if God calls us, we will be ready. Our time has come, even if Jesus has to push us out of the nest to show us we can fly.