Finding Our Purpose

John 2:1-11    On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.


Bloomsburg, the town where we lived for 20 years, is a small town – with all the good and bad qualities that go along with that.  One of the funny things I noticed, that I consider a small town quirk, is that when a new restaurant opened in town, everyone in town flocked to it – everyone.  In a small town, there is only one novel thing happening at a time, so everyone is paying attention to it.  And a new restaurant – well that was about as exciting as it gets.  Kim and I learned to hold back and wait awhile before trying out a new place.  Check our excitement, exercise patience, and just wait for the crowds to dwindle after everyone had their curiosity satisfied.

I worked in restaurants for a while when I was in graduate school; I learned a little bit about the business during that time.  One of the terms I learned was the “soft opening.”  Sometimes an establishment will have what they call a soft opening before a grand opening.  A soft opening might be a friends and family night, where guests are invited for a trial run, to test out the equipment and the staff.  Or it could be just quietly opening for business without any advertising and fanfare.  The point is to ensure that if things go wrong the impact will not be too great, because not too many people will notice. 

By the way, I don’t know if you could pull off a soft opening in Bloomsburg, because if something new is going on, everyone is noticing it.  Huber Heights may be a little like a small town in the same way.  I think of how people have been watching and discussing the progress on the new Panera opening this week up on Troy Pike. 

So just thinking all week about the wedding at Cana, I began to wonder:  Is this sort of like a soft opening for Jesus?

On first read, it kind of looks that way.  According to John, it is the first miracle he performs – or the first sign, as John calls them.  And he does it at a private party where he is simply a guest – not the main attraction.  And he does what he does quietly and behind the scenes. 

They go to the wedding – Jesus, his disciples, and his mother – as guests.  The wine runs out, which I don’t think rates as a world-class catastrophe.  Nowhere near the level of a tsunami or drought.  No lives will be lost for a shortage of wine.  It may be regretful but surely not a real crisis.  And yet, Jesus’ first miracle is to make more wine.

All the evidence combined might suggest that it was something like a soft opening for Jesus – except for one thing.  John thought it was worthy of inclusion in his gospel as our introduction to Jesus the Christ.  And he frames it in powerful language –

It happened on the third day.

My hour has not yet come.

And it revealed his glory.

The story has surprised readers more than most stories of Jesus’ ministry, and we need to take it seriously.  Creating wine out of water is the world’s introduction to the Savior of the world.  Therefore, it must say something about his purpose.

I have had a lot of conversations about purpose lately.  It has been a significant part of the session’s work during the last year, and it has also become a part of the conversation at the presbytery level, in the Leadership Council on which I serve.  We are in deep discernment about our purpose – as a congregation, as a presbytery, as the Church of Jesus Christ.  It is time for us to talk about purpose – because, frankly, the church of the last century, in its comfortable complacency, has all but lost its sense of purpose.

The 20th century was, by and large, a pretty good time for the church in America.  Attendance was great; growth was great.  The church held a place of honor in the American culture, just by virtue of being the church.  Many people came to church because that was what you were supposed to do.  And people would notice.

There was the baby boom, and church nurseries and Sunday school classrooms were filled to overflowing.  The pews were crammed with worship-goers.  Do you remember the days when the ushers had to actually help you find a place to sit?

Offering plates were full because the church was full.  We didn’t really have to think too much about our purpose.  But obviously things have changed.  And in a certain way, maybe that change is a good thing.

Because if we aren’t thinking about our purpose, if we don’t know what our purpose is, we are surely not fulfilling it.

There is no doubt that Jesus had a purpose when he began his ministry in Galilee.  We hear it in a variety of ways in the four gospels.  He came to give us power to become children of God. He came to save us from our sins and to bring in the kingdom of God, to lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things. 

The miracle at Cana certainly says something about his purpose – and I will say more about this later.  But the thing we struggle with is not so much Jesus’s purpose as the church’s purpose.

The gospels tell us that the church’s purpose, in the broadest sense, is to make disciples for Jesus Christ.  There is not one way to do this any more than there is one kind of disciple.  It is the task of every congregation to discern their particular purpose in their particular location.

It was more than 15 years ago that this church went through the process of writing a mission statement.  The statement is thoughtful, carefully crafted, and says much to us about our beliefs, our vision, and our mission.  To some degree, it has guided this congregation over the years, but it has not been enough.

Now we are taking the next step.  We are establishing a statement of our purpose, which attempts to do these things:

It tells us what we aspire to.  A purpose statement is not just a bullet list of what we do; it’s much more.  It perceives what we hold to be most valuable and then puts that value before us as an ideal.  We will probably not fulfill our purpose statement completely, but we will hold it out as a reminder every day of what we are all about.

It gives us something to share with others.  Please understand me – a purpose statement is not a marketing slogan.  It is primarily for internal use.  But it gives us one very important thing: Our purpose statement gives us tools, words to use when we talk to others about our church and why it matters to us.

One of the hardest questions for church people to answer is the question of why.  Why do you come here?  Why is it an important part of your life?  Why might it be of value to someone else?  It can be very hard to answer the why questions about something that has always been a part of your life, such that you don’t even have to think about why you do it.  Why is not terribly important to insiders.  But it is very important to those standing outside.  It is the question that becomes most important when we are standing at the gap between the church and the community, and we are trying to build a bridge. 

Many of us have struggled to find answers to the why question.  But the purpose statement gives us words with which to begin.  And it gives us one more thing –

It captures who and where we are at this particular time, but we are not going to carve it on the cornerstone of our building.  A congregation’s purpose may change, because the congregation and the community may change.  There may come a time when our purpose statement no longer helps us to live and grow as faithful disciples.  It will be necessary to revisit our purpose in a few years time and see if it still resonates, or whether it is time to discern anew, with enthusiasm and trust that God will lead us.

So, you may be wondering, what is our purpose statement?  It is this:

Our purpose is to be Christians growing in faith by caring, connecting, and serving community. 

In the next few weeks we will begin to break down and unpack this statement, to understand and explore the ways everything we do serves our purpose. 

Jesus understood his purpose, and everything he did served that purpose – yes, even making wine.  He went to a wedding feast, a celebration of the union of two people, and he provided the wine – the best wine.  A lot of it.  He filled their cups to overflowing with joy and life.  We don’t have to work too hard to see that the kingdom of God Jesus brings to us, the reconciliation he offers between the world and God, is a joyful celebration.  Out of his love for us his life is poured out as a libation.  He asks us to continue the celebration in his name. 

There’s a word we don’t use often enough about church: Celebration.  Let it be the place we start as we begin to find our purpose.