Sunday, January 20, 2019
Second Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 2, Year C
Prayer of the Day
Lord God, source of every blessing, you showed forth your glory and led many to faith by the works of your Son, who brought gladness and salvation to his people. Transform us by the Spirit of his love, that we may find our life together in him, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 62:1-5 As bridegroom and bride rejoice, so shall God rejoice over you
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 There are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit
John 2:1-11 The wedding at Cana
Title: Drinking in the Signs
A while back, I was providing a monthly Eucharist for one of the local adult day centers run by Village Cares. (Sad to say the plague of high rents in our neighborhood has taken this valuable community recourse away just like too many businesses.) But back to happier times. Each month I would pack up my bag with all that was needed for celebrating and serving communion, grab my guitar and head to the center. For easy transport of wine, I would put it in one of those little half pint Poland Spring water bottles. One of the clients, Mike, was a good old Roman Catholic guy who lit up whenever he saw that communion was going to be served. And I could always get a smile out of him when I would take my Poland Spring water bottle out, poured the wine into the chalice, and say “He did it again. Water into wine.”
Water to wine. The first miracle. What was it all about? Was it just a party trick to dazzle his friends? Was he just making his mother happy, like a good son should? Some who feel a need to legitimize alcohol consumption will say “Look, Jesus made wine first. It must be okay.”
But this is John’s gospel. In this year of reading social-justice-minded, egalitarian-promoting Luke, we take a break today and read from John’s gospel. The gospel that is filled with signs. A miracle is not meant to amaze but rather point to something as signs are want to do. It’s not that things are “not what they appear to be.” But better put, in John’s gospel, things are usually way more than they appear to be. And this well-known story of the Wedding in Cana where Jesus performs his first miracle of turning water into wine is no different. One of the great things about a story with signs that point to a deeper meaning is that each time we come back to it, there is potential to enter the story in a new way, to see a new meaning, to gain a new insight, and new teaching. In the language of Epiphany, there is always the possibility of a new A-ha!
So, let’s dig into this story again. Or more appropriately put – let’s again drink from it. Re-enforcing what we have seen before. Maybe discovering something new.
Starting from the beginning, there is that opening clause: On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. On the third day. Perhaps you are asking: what happened on day one and two? Well, this three days is the second three day sequence that begins John’s account of the first days of Jesus earthly ministry. The first trio of days began with Jesus’ baptism, followed by a day where his first disciples leave John to follow Jesus, and that three days finishes with those disciples inviting brothers and friends to join in. One of those friends, Nathaniel – the wise guy, had been wowed when Jesus told him he had seen him sitting under fig tree before the two men had laid eyes on one another. To which Jesus replied – You think that was something, you will see greater things than this. And so now in just three days, on the second “third day” of Jesus’ public ministry, the third day of these new disciples following Jesus, they witness this first miracle, this profound sign. And, of course, Nathaniel and friends would see many more. Not just in their days with Jesus, but over the rest of their lives. And, they don’t know it know, but there is another three days coming that will really rock their world. On that third day the risen Jesus will really give them something celebrate.
Signs abound even now. It does not take long. Watch with the eyes of faith. See the wonders around you. In just a short time, bread and wine will be the very presence of Jesus as we are invited to share in a foretaste of that wedding feast that knows no end.
Another sign to draw our attention to is an oft overlooked detail in this story. Jesus doesn’t just say get any jugs and fill them with water. He says fill those with water and points to six stone jars that have been used for purification rites. I can’t read this without thinking about how much work and ritual, finger-pointing and book slamming goes into rants and commands to purify ourselves. And as a result, how much shame and condemnation people experience – in almost every faith. Never feeling like they are really pure enough, worthy enough, saved enough, claimed enough by God. Feelings such as these drive us to seek peace in self-righteousness, seek comfort in self-elevation over others. Adding to the age old chorus of “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that one.” Jesus is taking all our attempts at making ourselves pure and filling them with that which brings joy and merriment to the feast. Leave your guilt behind. You are made pure by God’s mercy and grace. Stop empty striving at what you cannot do for yourself and start rejoicing in what God has done and is doing for you.
John makes a point of reminding us that the servants who heard Jesus’ directions, carried out his orders, and brought the wine to the steward, knew exactly where this “best” wine came from. A sign that reminds us that the great mysteries of faith are not always in the possession of the leader, the higher ups, the office holders, or the experts. Revelations can be disclosed to anyone, anytime. And as countless stories attest, often to those judged lowly by earthly standards. Only when every member of the community shares their witness do we start to hear the whole story. Each voice is not just to be valued, but each is essential.
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul presents this beautifully using the sign of the body. Many parts, many tasks, many members, but one spirit that animates and informs it all. For one purpose are they brought together for the sake of the world. To be Jesus through all that we say and do. To be a sign ourselves
Now, you know that there must have been some great anxiety around this wine shortage. For those of you who have ever planned a wedding or a big event, there is a lot of attention to details so that, when the time comes, all will go smoothly, all will be satisfied, all will be…do I dare say…perfect. But, of course, it never is. It can’t be. We come up short. We are flawed. We fail. We are human. But in this wedding-saving miracle, we are reminded that Jesus gracefully fills in the gaps, mercifully saves us from our shortcomings, joyfully fills what is found to be empty in us.
Finally, we focus on that water. Simple, nothing special, every day, ever present water. Jesus takes what is common place, ordinary and makes it extraordinary. Hearing this story and thinking of this transformation on this weekend, I can’t help but think of the life and ministry of Dr. King – who the nation will honor tomorrow with a holiday. He was a man, flesh and blood, strengths and weaknesses, high points and low points, faith and doubts. But through wisdom, and trust, and courage, and love that he found in his faith in Jesus, the Spirit transformed him into someone extraordinary. Not for the sake of his own betterment, but for the sake of many who were oppressed, and even for the sake of the oppressors. His extraordinary insight was able to see that all – oppressed and oppressor, underserved and privileged, powerless and powerful – all were being poisoned and victimized by racism, hatred, prejudice, and discrimination. Like Isaiah, he could not keep silent, he could not rest until God’s vindication shone out like the dawn. A vindication that was meant for all people, all nations.
Again, using Paul’s body language to the church in Corinth, we are certainly not all given the gift of preaching and leading that so filled Dr. King. But we are part of the same body as he, and as other social reformers across the ages, and those who continue to work today. And whatever our gifts are, ordinary as they may be, the Spirit working in us makes them extraordinary, especially when they are joined together with others in the community of faith. Even Dr. King did not act alone.
Join the joy of the wedding feast that knows no end and seeing Jesus present and acting. Rejoicing in the life he that he invites us to drink. Trusting in the forgiveness and newness that he showers on us. Listening and learning from one another. Growing in our awareness of how he fills us to the brim. Comforted and challenged that he transforms our ordinary into the extraordinary. All so that this eternal celebration to which we are so graciously invited can be a source of joy and peace, light and life, through Jesus, the perfect sign of God’s love and mercy.
The Rev. Mark Erson,