Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Upending, Unending Feast

First Lutheran Church, Salol, MN
January 17, 2016
Epiphany 2
John 2:1-11

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Once there was a pastor who was paying a visit on an elderly woman in his parish.   This woman had a reputation for expressing strong opinions and not being afraid to criticize the pastor—but, to her credit, she didn’t do that behind the pastor’s back, but spoke to him directly, sharing her concerns with him, face to face.

“One of the things I have against you, Pastor,” the woman began to say, “is that I hear you like to have a glass of wine now and then…and you don’t preach about the evils of drinking.”

The pastor, who’d heard this complaint from her before, smiled and said:  “Well, Edna, have you forgotten that even our dear Lord Jesus turned water into wine at the Wedding in Cana?”

….to which Edna replied:  “No I haven’t forgotten that….and, to be honest, that’s one of the things I have against Jesus, too!”

This is but one of many jokes that have been told about Jesus’ first miracle here in the 2nd chapter of St John.

I think that telling jokes is one of the ways we deal with serious things we don’t fully understand.  

The miracles of Jesus, frankly, baffle us.   We don’t know what exactly to make of them—and that may be especially the case with this one, the miracle of water into wine at the Wedding in Cana.
In this miracle, Jesus doesn’t save anyone’s life or heal their illness or restore their sight.  

Turning water into wine seems more like an illusion, some sleight-of-hand, a parlor-trick.

Which of course couldn’t be further from the truth!....especially as we pay attention closely to the language St John uses here, when he calls this NOT a “miracle” but a “sign.”   “Jesus did this, the first of his signs in Cana of Galilee….”

For John the key word is “sign,” not “miracle”…because while a miracle can become an end in itself—stopping us dead in our tracks….

…a sign keeps us moving….because a sign points ahead to something else, some bigger reality, some fresher, more transforming insight--a revelation--in this season we might say, an epiphany.

If this is a sign, not a parlor trick, to what does this sign point?

Let me suggest three startling realities to which this sign points.

First, Jesus’ turning water to wine, especially the way it’s told here with such an economy of language, points us to all the ways God works among us in hidden ways—away from the spotlight, behind the scenes, in the daily-ness  of life.

I picture this Jewish wedding in Cana as a panoramic, week-long party, a play being acted out on a huge stage, with the bride and the groom and their friends and family members all in the spotlight….
….while behind the scenes, tucked into the background, another drama is silently unfolding.  

Someone had miscalculated, apparently.   The wedding guests had hit the wine a little too hard, too early in this multi-day wedding reception.   As the celebration was going on full-tilt, the wedding host draws aside the bridegroom and breaks the awful news to him:  “the wine is giving out.”

This week-long celebration could come to a screeching halt, long before anyone anticipated!

The wedding host speaks quietly to the groom who, for some 
reason passes it on to Mary who in turn passes it on to Jesus.   Then Jesus—behind the scenes, mind you!—asks the servants (the “wait staff”) to fill six large jars with water and take some of this “water” to the wedding host who is utterly baffled by where this luscious,new wine came from so late in the game.

We know, of course, because we’re the readers of John’s gospel, twenty centuries after the fact.  We know what’s going on here, only because we have the benefit of centuries of hindsight.

But on that day in Cana of Galilee, with the exception of Jesus’ circle of disciples, no one knew just what had happened.  All they realized was that the wine kept flowing and the celebration continued, to the joy of the bride and groom and to the delight of those who loved them.

“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee….” And although down through the ages the whole world has come to know what happened here, on the day it happened, in Cana of Galilee, only handful of folks—Jesus’ closest followers—believed he had done something amazing.

But God is always doing that sort of thing. 

God is always at work, even when we are unaware, clueless….and that’s a sign worth paying attention to.   You and I have already experienced God’s power today, just by getting up, raising us from our slumbers on this bitterly cold morning, making sure our cars started (!),  finding our way here to this holy place, because we’ve learned that God shows up here, often when we least expect it.

There’s a second thing this sign points to, though, and that is signaled by the magnitude of what Jesus did here. 

Jesus does a wonder involving both quantity and quality here. 
If you do the math, you quickly calculate that Jesus produced not just a tidy little batch of wine but somewhere between 700 and 1,000 gallons of the stuff--just like that.

Jesus didn’t produce just enough wine for the bridegroom to save face and the revelers to keep on partying.   No, he produces enough wine to satisfy not just the wedding guests—but to slake the thirst of the whole town and beyond.

But isn’t that just like God?   God is always going overboard, lavishing good things upon his precious people.   That’s because God knows how to give gifts in only one way:  with an open hand--abundantly, lavishly, unsparingly. 

The sheer magnitude of this unexpected gift of wine is matched by its quality and flavor.

And the quality of these six large jars of wine defied the logic of how first century Jewish wedding hosts normally functioned:  serve the good wine first, then when everyone’s senses are a bit impaired, bring on the cheap wine, when no one will notice the difference.

No, Jesus provides the most and the best of the wine at the end of this wedding.  Isn’t that just like God—to surprise us with more than we could have imagined and better than we ever deserved.   

“You have kept the good wine until now,” the wedding host muses, not really realizing he was tasting not a chardonnay but a sign that pointed beyond itself, pointed ahead, to what God was about to do in this Jesus the mysterious wedding guest.

And this brings us to the third and greatest reality here.   This sign points us and everyone with eyes to see to what God was about to do—not just on that day in Cana of Galilee—but in all the days yet to come…as God prepared to fulfill all the old ways in the advent of God’s new way, in Jesus Christ.

Those six stone water-jars, you see, represented an ancient, passing-away age that focused on us trying to wash away our sin, extract our impurity, remove our uncleanness—really a never-ending task, when you think about it.

But Jesus beheld in those six stone water jars the raw materials for the New Creation.   Jesus boldly determined, in one single act, to sweep aside the old and make way for the new.  

It was scandalous for Jesus to commandeer these sacred vessels of the old age, in order to inaugurate God’s new age….as the six water containers were filled to overflowing with the soul-gladdening, face-brightening wine of God’s Kingdom, bursting into this old, dying world.

But really, how can we miss, dear friends, the connection to the wine that we still share, the cup of the new covenant that conveys to us, indeed allows us to receive into our dying bodies the life-giving blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ?

If it were up to us to wash away our own sin, every day, there’d never be enough soap and water to get the job done.  We’d never get anything else done!

That’s why God came to us in Jesus Christ to take care of sin, once and for all on the Cross, and to open up God’s new creation on Easter morning.   And that’s the greatest reality to which this sign points—God’s “once and for all” sin-forgiving, death-defying, future-opening saving work in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God says to us, in effect:   put down your soap and water.   Come to a party instead—my own beloved Son’s Party, the heavenly bridegroom’s Wedding Feast that knows no end.

And make sure, please make sure to invite all your friends and neighbors to this Wedding Feast that will last forever!

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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