Holy Bartenders

I really value and respect a good bartender.  They remember your name.  They remember your drink.  They can keep a dozen orders going all at the same time and the best ones can manage it all with great aplomb.  All of this is in addition to the work they do listening, offering advice and generally caring about the people they serve. It’s not a stretch to say the best bartenders are holy.

No, not like this:

More like this:photo-small

With that in mind here is a condensed version of my most recent sermon.


I have a lot of respect for people who change careers and reinvent themselves.  Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I weren’t a priest.  Let’s face it, seminary training doesn’t really prepare you with many other marketable skills.  I can’t fix a car or write a legal brief.  I don’t know how to start an IV or create a comprehensive lessons plan to teach 4th graders about history.  But there is one job that I think could be an easy fit.  I could become a bartender.

Think about it… What skills does a bartender need?  Well, you have to be good with people.  You have to listen to their problems and sometimes offer them advice.  I can do that.  You have to be organized and able to multitask.  I can do that.  You have to be able to diffuse conflict or even settle an argument.  I can do that too.  And when it comes to actually serving drinks, well it just so happens I know a little bit about beer.

All this overlap might explain why so many bartenders feel like they often wind up doing the work of a priest.  They deal with people who are lonely, sad or upset on a daily basis.  Any bartender worth their salt knows how to listen as a patron unburdens themselves after a tough day.  How many times have they had to hear a confession or offer advice on how to try and save a relationship?   I would bet that more than a few have even stopped a person from hurting themselves or someone else.  It’s fair to say that a barkeep has the chance to do some holy work if they are so inclined.

The overlap between priests and bartenders isn’t new.  In fact, in today’s Gospel Reading we find that Jesus himself might have helped blur the line between the two professions when he turned water into wine.  Let me set the scene.   We find Jesus as a guest at a wedding when the unthinkable happens.  The wine runs out.  Now wine was extremely important in Jesus’ time.  Why?  First because drinking water could make you sick.  Wine was a much safer choice, thus an essential part of everyday life.  Of course given what I see from some of your Facebook posts, not much has changed.

But wine was also important for religious purposes.  This was particularly true when it came to weddings.  Not only did it play an important role when it came to enhancing the guests’ enjoyment, wine also had great religious significance.  It was seen as a sign of G-D’s blessing.  To run out of wine then would not simply leave you with disappointed guests… it was a serious faux pas.

It is in such scandalous circumstances that we find Jesus today.  The wedding is in full swing yet the wine has run out.  Yet Jesus barely seems to notice.  Indeed, it is only after some prodding from his mother that he gets involved.  And so it is that rather reluctantly Jesus steps up to the task and enables both the good times and the blessings to continue to flow.

That’s all very nice but what does it mean?  Jesus doesn’t say.  In fact, the only thing that Jesus is clear about is that it is not yet his time to go public in his role as the Messiah.  Indeed, apart from his mother, a few of the servants and later, his disciples, no one seemed to know what occurred.  So apart from the demonstration of Jesus’ miraculous power, what, if anything does it mean for us today?

Let’s start with the fact that Jesus’s first miracle was both largely anonymous and devoid of any overtly religious trappings.  Think about it.  He never makes a show out of what he was doing nor does he appear to take any credit for it.  Moreover, he never invokes the name of G-D nor does he even do so much as bless the water.  So what’s the point?

Perhaps what Jesus is trying to show us is that miracles can happen regardless of whether or not we recognize them.  G-D acts in our lives, not just in obvious ways or through obvious people like priests… G-D also acts through mundane or even the profane circumstances or people.

Unfortunately, when this happens, we, just like the steward in the Gospel, tend to miss the fact that a miracle just occurred.  When Jesus’ wine is brought to him, he tastes just how wonderful it is but has no idea where it has come from. He mistakes it as a sign that the groom has mistakenly kept the best wine until late in the game.  Not once does he even suspect that the wine is a sign of G-D’s presence and blessing.

How often do we miss out on seeing what G-D is doing for us because it comes, not in church or from a priest or from reading the Bible but just in the course of daily life?  Maybe the whole point of this water into wine thing is to help us see that miracles happen all the time. G-D moves among us and intervenes in our lives in the most unexpected ways.  Yet we are too wrapped up in the problems of the moment or in trying to get through the day to even notice.  If we were just more open to that sacred possibility, how many more times might we find that the hand of G-D has touched us… helping us get through a crisis or deal with a problem or perhaps even helping find a respite of joy?

The truth is that G-D works just as much through the caring shown by a cop or a teacher or our dry cleaner as G-D does through the church.  Yet we are far more likely to give thanks to G-D when that blessing comes through our priest as opposed to our bartender.  Maybe the whole point of the Miracle at Cana is that we shouldn’t be so quick to make that judgment.  Jesus takes ordinary water and turns it into wine.   In the same way G-D takes ordinary people and makes them instruments of healing and blessing.  The question is that when these miracles happen, will we take them as a happy coincidence or will we recognize them for what they truly are?

The good news is that either way G-D will continue to reach out and bless your life.  The worst that can happen is that you enjoy that blessing unaware and go on with your day.  Yet how much more meaningful might those blessings be if we saw the hand of G-D at work when they happened?

When the guests drank the wine at Cana, there is no doubt they enjoyed it.  It was the good stuff after all.   But imagine if they knew where it came from?  Imagine if they knew just how truly special it was?  That wine would have done much more than brighten their day… it would have changed their lives because they would have known that G-D was in their midst and was there blessing them.

Now think about your life.  Think about times in which someone, especially someone unexpected, touched your life and blessed you when you needed it most.  That was G-D at work. Yet like the steward at the wedding, you probably didn’t know it.   But what if you did?  What if you saw that act of kindness or compassion for what it truly was- a blessing?  How much more joy and hope might you find if you remembered that G-D is not limited to sacred places or people?   Such preconceptions only limit our lives, but they cannot limit G-D.  And in the end, the blessing we need might come not from our priest but from a nurse, a mechanic, a crossing guard or even from our bartender.