Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 16, 2022
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana is more than a magic trick. It is more than an emergency catering service Jesus provided. St. John calls it a sign.
I’ve been paying more attention to signs lately. You see, my youngest recently completed driver’s ed, and since he has recently had good driving habits drilled into him, he notices all my bad ones. So the other day I may not have come to a totally complete stop at a stop sign. I mostly stopped. But a rolling stop wasn’t good enough for my son. “Nice stop, dad,” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. They warned us parents at the driver’s ed orientation that our students would point out our bad habits, and they were right!
Just as us long time drivers have a tendency to develop bad habits, habits that come from overconfidence, habits that have us rolling through stop signs, however slowly, so too do we sometimes roll right past this sign given to us in scripture this morning. I’m going to suggest today that we don’t roll past it too quickly, thinking we already know what this story is about. I’m going to suggest that we come to a full stop, that we take a close look at this sign.
First of all, I think it is very interesting that we find Jesus and his blessed mother at a wedding. So far in John’s gospel we’ve had the prologue, then Jesus is baptized, then he calls some disciples. And the very next thing he does – before he does any teaching, any ministry, any healing or forgiving – the very next thing he does is go to a wedding! Jesus and his mother, Mary, go to celebrate the blessed union of a bride and a groom.
This is a detail that I think we roll past too quickly sometimes, but it is significant. Jesus’ third public appearance in John, right after his baptism and his calling of the disciples, is to attend a wedding. This shows that Jesus and his blessed mother saw marriage as something worthy of support and celebration. This is important for the church to stop and notice. Of course, the church should be a place where singleness is affirmed as a calling for some. It should be a place where the divorced find forgiveness and compassion and mercy and widows and widowers find love and care and community, but alongside all of this, marriage is to be supported and encouraged and celebrated by the church. It is especially important for young people to hear that marriage is not merely a piece of paper or merely a lifestyle choice or a social construct. It is woven right into the fabric of creation! It is a holy estate that is established and sustained by God. It can be difficult at times, but it is worth the effort. It is beautiful, and only becomes more beautiful with time. Jesus and Mary found marriage worthy of their support and celebration, and we should too.
This is important to stop and notice for its own sake, but it also is important to notice the context of the wedding for another reason. Over and over again in scripture, the relationship between God and his people is described using the metaphor of a husband and wife, with God as the bridegroom and his people as his bride. The lectionary reminds us of this this morning by giving us one example from Isaiah. As we heard in our first reading, God says to his people Israel: “You shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
There is this long history of the relationship between God and his people being described as that of a marriage, with God as the groom and his people Israel as his bride. And although this particular example paints a beautiful picture of this relationship, anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Old Testament knows that this marriage between God the groom and Israel his bride wasn’t always smooth sailing! There was one catastrophe after another!
It just so happens that at this wedding being attended by Jesus and his blessed mother, a major catastrophe is about to take place. Mary seems to have noticed it first. “They have no wine,” she pointed out. To have run out of wine this early in the wedding celebration would have been a disaster for the couple. It was expected that the couple and their respective families would provide enough wine for the duration of the celebration. It was a way of honoring their guests and gladdening their hearts. To run out of wine would have brought shame upon this couple and their families. Running out of wine would have brought the celebration to a screeching halt. Some would even have interpreted it as a bad omen on their marriage, that it was doomed to fail.
And so when Jesus had those six stone jars filled with water, and when he turned that water into wine – and not cheap or average wine, but the best wine – he wasn’t just doing a magic trick. He wasn’t just providing emergency catering. He was doing so much more! He was saving this couple and their families from shame. He was turning their shame into glory! They went from being almost ruined to being toasted as gracious and generous hosts! Jesus was rescuing this couple and their families from what they lacked, turning it into an abundance – not just an abundance of wine, but an abundance of joy.
This is what the prophets said the Messiah would do! He would bring a feast of rich foods and well-aged wines strained clear. He would deliver his people out of their shame. He would rescue and redeem the relationship between God the groom and his people, his bride. God’s bride, Israel, was running out of things all the time. They ran out of patience with God, they ran out of obedience to his commands, they ran out of faith in him. Sometimes they plain ran out on God altogether, jumping in bed with other gods! But when the Messiah came, the prophets said, the relationship would be restored and the wedding feast would continue.
Jesus wouldn’t ultimately accomplish this by turning water into wine, which is probably why he was reluctant at first to heed his blessed mother’s request. He would ultimately do it when his hour had come by dying and rising again. But this miracle of turning water into wine was a sign. And this sign points to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the one God promised to send so that the relationship would be restored and the wedding feast could continue.
Signs are something that are supposed to provoke a reaction in us. We dare not roll past them or lazily ignore them. Signs demand a response. And the response of the disciples is instructive. St. John tells us: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
As we stop and look at this sign, we are being invited to respond the same way the disciples did. We are invited to see this sign and believe. And here is what you are being invited to believe: God has come to you in Christ to turn your shame into glory. God has come to you in Christ to save you from whatever emptiness you are experiencing, filling you up instead with an abundance of joy. God has come to you in Christ so that just as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so shall God rejoice over you. God has come to you in Christ so that whatever is broken or lacking in your relationship with him would be restored, and the wedding feast would continue – both now and forever.
See this sign today. Come to a complete stop at it and take it all in. See the glory of Christ revealed, and believe in him.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church