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"We're Better Together"


On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9When 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 10and 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.’ 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

(John 2:1-11, NRSV)

Weddings and wedding receptions are sometimes full of surprises. Not long after Colleen and I moved here, I performed my first wedding which was for Adena Lemkau. We attended the reception afterwards at Manhasset Bay Yacht Club. There I was sitting at my table, enjoying my salad, totally relaxed. Meanwhile, no one had bothered to tell me that I would be called forward to say grace. It’s not that ministers aren’t prepared to pray at the drop of a hat, for we are. I was just thrown for a loop when the band’s lead vocalist finished singing “Mustang Sally” and out of the blue called my name to come forward. I thought the drummer had fallen ill and this was my big break. Not so. Figuring out my role, I asked God’s blessing upon the couple and the gathering. After which the vocalist on the stage yelled out, “Put your hands together for the good reverend Jimmy,” and everybody applauded. This was a first for me, but I think I could get used to applause after every prayer.

If that same exuberant vocalist had led the band 2,000 years ago at the wedding reception in Cana, I bet Jesus would have gotten applause for his first miracle—turning water into wine. I’ve often wondered why Jesus’ mother, Mary, became so concerned when she heard that the party was about to run out of wine: Was she a close friend or perhaps even a family member? Was she embarrassed that Jesus showed up with five of his disciples and felt it was his fault that they were about to run dry? Or did Mary simply want to help the hosts save face, since hospitality was considered a sacred duty? Whatever prompted Mary to get involved, she knew Jesus could help.

She said to him, “They have no wine left.” She didn’t know what Jesus would do, but her response to him demonstrates her faith that Jesus will work things out one way or another. Immediately she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever Jesus tells you to do.” Glancing around, Jesus saw six stone water jars that held 20-30 gallons each. Water drawn from these jars was used for ceremonial hand and foot washing. Jesus asked the servants to fill the jars up to the top and then take some of the water to the wine steward. The servants did this and the wine steward could hardly contain his enthusiasm. Calling the groom over, the wine steward exclaimed, “The best wine is always served first. Then after the guests have had plenty, the other wine is served. But you have kept the best until last” (John 2:10, CEV).

The story of Jesus changing the water into wine overflows with symbolism. Some understand it as a foreshadowing of Christian Communion. According to Patricia de Jong, former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Berkley, California, Jesus’ first miracle also symbolizes the “…in-breaking of a new age…a new way of living together in community…In this story is placed the seed of the great vision of God for humanity--the new community…the making whole of that which is broken; the new unity which becomes ours as a birthright from God. Simply stated, Christianity is about the healing of brokenness through the founding of a new community…the Beloved Community” (The Beloved Community, 1/19/98).

Jesus took ordinary water and turned it into extraordinary wine. This miracle can happen in our everyday lives and in the life of our church. We gather as ordinary people, but through the miracle of God’s grace, together we can become something extraordinary. For we are not like any other group be it civic or social; we are a church. We are a Family of Faith hoping to build a beloved community.

One of the difficulties we face in building community is a willingness to be truly honest, open, and vulnerable with one another. Frederick Buechner writes, “…if we come to church right, we come to it more fully…ourselves, come with more of our humanness showing, than we are apt to come to most places…[Many times]…we come as strangers and exiles…because wherever it is that we truly belong, wherever it is that is truly home for us, we know in our hearts that we have somehow lost it and gotten lost. Something is missing from our lives that we cannot even name…We come here [to church] to find what we have lost” (Listening To Your Life, pp. 154-55).

What have we lost and what are we looking for? What do we hope to find here this morning? The list is long but near the top we will read—community, togetherness—for we are better together. Pastor and Professor Kennon Callahan contends that the search for community and togetherness can be found in our longing for roots, place, and belonging (Effective Church Leadership, p. 102). When I think about the North Shore of Long Island there is no question that many of us lack roots. Many of us have moved here from other places, separated from long-time friends and family. Many of us come from other churches, other denominations, and sometimes other religions. One way or another, we have all found our way to the Congregational Church of Manhasset (UCC). Our story has become part of this church’s story and vice versa. Whether we were baptized here as infants or found our way here later in life, we all hope to make the church a part of our extended family.

Undoubtedly, many of us came here looking for a sense of togetherness and a spiritual place to call home. Let us value and cherish one another in this holy place. For in this place we are blessed with the grace of togetherness, the miracle of community. We are better together. Our collective whole is greater than the sum of our parts. “Whether you call it synergy, teamwork, or something else, there is something special that happens when we work together towards a common goal” ( 2016/03/17/ the-whole-is-more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/).

Singer/songwriter, Jack Johnson, sums it up in three words when he sings, “We’re Better Together.” Jack Johnson the musician is not to be confused with Jack Johnson the boxer who “at the height of the Jim Crow era, became the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion from 1908-1915” ( wiki/Jack_Johnson_boxer).

Jack Johnson, the musician, grew up in Hawaii where he was a professional surfer for all of one week. It ended when he crashed, knocked out several teeth, and needed 150 stitches in his forehead. After that he began to take his music more seriously and we are the better for it.

Jack Johnson’s first hit was called “Better Together.”

It says in part:

Love is the answer at least for most of the questions in my heart 
Like why are we here? And where do we go? And how come it’s so hard? 
It’s not always easy and sometimes life can be deceiving 
I’ll tell you one thing, it’s always better when we’re together.

It’s a wonderful love song that I believe can also be applied to groups like our church where we strive to love one another, a place where we are better together. You can make up your own mind because I’m going to play the entire song for you now. You can follow along with the lyric sheet inserted in your order of worship. When the song ends, the sermon ends!

Better Together

There is no combination of words I could put on the back of a postcard 
And no song that I could sing but I can try for your heart 
And our dreams and they are made out of real things 
Like a shoebox of photographs with sepia-toned loving 
Love is the answer at least for most of the questions in my heart 
Like why are we here? And where do we go? And how come it’s so hard? 
It’s not always easy and sometimes life can be deceiving 
I’ll tell you one thing, it’s always better when we’re together 
It’s always better when we’re together 
We’ll look at the stars when we’re together 
It’s always better when we’re together 
It’s always better when we’re together 
And all of these moments just might find their way into my dreams tonight 
But I know that they’ll be gone when the morning light sings 
Or brings new things for tomorrow night you see 
That they’ll be gone too, too many things I have to do 
But if all of these dreams might find their way into my day to day scene 
I’d be under the impression I was somewhere in between 
With only two, just me and you, not so many things we got to do 
Or places we got to be we’ll sit beneath the mango tree now 
It’s always better when we’re together 
We’re somewhere in between together 
Well it’s always better when we’re together 
It’s always better when we’re together 
I believe in memories they look so pretty when I sleep 
And when I wake up you look so pretty sleeping next to me 
But there is not enough time 
And there is no song I could sing 
And there is no combination of words I could say 
But I will still tell you one thing 
We’re better together

(“Better Together” from the 2005 album In Between Dreams) AMEN.

Written by Rev. Jimmy Only

September 16, 2018

The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)


Gracious God, we ask you to bless those whom we love. Bless our families, and help us live together in harmony. Bless our friends, and help us to support them through difficult times. Bless those whom we love, and help us to always be true, faithful, and loyal to them. Bless those whom we love and from whom we are separated due to work, school, or other circumstance.

Thank you, O God, for giving us life and breath, for giving us homes and churches, for giving us new chances and new creation, for giving us the Spirit and Jesus through whom we pray. AMEN.

Portions of this prayer were adapted from William Barclay, A Barclay Prayer Book, pp. 274-275.

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