Sermon for Epiphany II
Isaiah 621-5 Psalms 36:5-10 I Corinthians 12:1-11 John 2:1-11
The pastor, Father Joe, goes to see his parishioner, Fred, who is ninety-four. Fred wants to marry Ethel, who is eighty-one. Father Joe asks, “Do you love Ethel?” There is a long pause as Fred screws up his face in concentration, thinks a little longer, and finally says, “I suppose so.” Fr. Joe, not entirely convinced probes a little more. “Well, is she a good Christian woman?” Fred replies, “I don’t actually know.” Fr. Joe is surprised and still puzzled. So, he decides to go for the oldest reason in the book for marriage. “Well, is Ethel rich?” Fred replies, “Nope, she hasn’t got a penny.” Fr. Joe, amazed, says, “So why exactly do you want to get married?” And Fred replies, “Because she can see to drive at night.”
Reasons are often hidden. The reasons for a marriage are sometimes much less obvious than we realize. And the reason for this miracle at the start of Jesus’ ministry is much less obvious than we realize. The social occasion was very serious s and very significant. Yet the signs it announces – the life of the world who can take the mundane and redeem it – is actually the real reason.
A first-century wedding is a massive community affair. A good wedding could go on for several days. If the wine gives out early, then social humiliation will follow. The mother of Jesus is not going to let that happen. So, Jesus performs the first “sign” – as John calls it a miracle. The accounts of miracles in John’s Gospel are fewer than the Synoptic Gospels. In fact, there are only seven recorded miracles in John. This particular miracle marked as the first one of the ministry of Jesus is very important.
The miracle has sacramental overtones: water will be turned into wine, as wine is turned into the blood at the Eucharist. On one level, it is the celebration of hospitality and inclusivity; at another level, it is the anticipation of the Church community gathered around the wine at the Eucharist and discovering that Jesus has made it so much more.
The dramatic manifestation of the power of God is the dominant theme in the readings for this day. The Gospel calls attention to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The account of the miracle at the wedding in Cana, according to the Gospel of John is the first of Jesus’ signs, when he revealed his glory. The Epistle reading calls attention to the manifestation of God through the gifts of the Spirit. In Isaiah, the brightness of a vindicated Jerusalem reveals God’s grace. Psalm 36 is a hymn of praise for God’s steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and judgment, the on in whose light “we see light.”
Weddings are accidents waiting to happen. Something almost always goes wrong at the service of holy matrimony. Something is going wrong at this wedding in Cana of Galilee.
In those days, the bride and groom celebrated the marriage not with a honeymoon, but with a seven-day wedding feast at the groom’s house. This celebration is in trouble, because the wine is giving out before the party is over. The situation constitutes a crisis for the family who shoulders the responsibility of hospitality. It is the mother of Jesus who notices. She provides the leadership for this miraculous sign by observing the difficulty and taking action to help. Jesus hovers in the background as one who also had been invited and seems content to keep his distance at first. When his mother tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says, Jesus performs one of the most understated mighty acts, “Fill the jars with water….Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” The best wine is now served to keep the party going. The servants know what has happened, the steward is amazed, and the disciples believe in Jesus. How is that for a happy ending? Everyone seems to sense that the joyous feast has been saved.
Sometimes the church has forgotten that our Lord once attended a wedding feast and said yes to gladness and joy. Prompted by his earthly mother, Jesus turned water into wine to point us to his heavenly Father, a God who loves to hear the laughter of celebrating people. Sometimes the church has forgotten to live the joy of such a revelation.
God doesn’t want our religion to be too holy to be happy in. Throughout his life and his ministry, Jesus celebrated people – people getting married, people being healed of disease and deformity, people enjoying meals together. He carried a spirit of celebration with him wherever he went as he proclaimed a God of mercy and peace and joy. This joyous feast at Cana is still a sign to the church that we are to rejoice in the people of God and to toast the world with the amazing good news of grace.
David Steele, a Christian pastor and author, refers to this spirit of celebration as “Cana-Grace,” the knack for throwing parties that combine food, decorations, music and laughter to create an atmosphere of welcome, well-being, and love. Just like Jesus, Steele learned this grace from his mother and thanked God for this gift of celebration times in his ministry. He even coined a beatitude: “Blessed is the pastor whose church has a real tenor or plumber. But doubly blessed is the pastor whose congregation knows Cana-Grace.” Our joy overflows from knowing our God.
The church needs to remember how the mother of Jesus swung into action to keep a party going in Cana and how her son determined that it was time after all for the water to be turned into wine, all so a wedding feast could continue. What a way for Jesus to begin his public ministry in John’s Gospel.
It is called Cana Grace, and it is worth a miracle because it manifests the glory of God – the very God who wants even now for the community of faith to be a celebration of people. Brothers and sisters in Christ eating barbeque on the back porch and laughing until the sun goes down. Sisters and brothers in Christ remembering those who have gone before us in the Holy Ghost Weenie Roast each All Hallow’s Eve. All of us celebrating the lives of those we love and worship with. Give thanks to everyone in our parish family who has the knack for throwing a party. We certainly show so much Cana Grace here at Grace! What a way to begin and continue a ministry!
Jesus was on a mission to save the world, the greatest mission in the history of humanity. Yet, he took time to attend a wedding and take part in the festivities. We may be tempted to think we shouldn’t take time out from our “important” work for social occasions. But maybe the social occasions are a part of our mission. Jesus valued this wedding because it involved people and Jesus came to be with people. We can often accomplish our mission in times of celebration with others. We can bring balance to our lives by bringing Jesus into times of pleasure as well as times of work.
Weddings in Jesus’ day were week-long festivals. Banquets would be prepared for many guests, and the week would be spent celebrating the new life of the married couple. Often, the whole town was invited and everybody would come – it was considered an insult to refuse the invitation to a wedding. To accommodate so many people, careful planning had to take place. To run out of wine was more than embarrassing – it broke the unwritten laws of hospitality. Jesus was responding to a heartfelt need.
Mary was probably wasn’t asking Jesus to perform a miracle, she was simply hoping that her son would solve this major problem and find some wine. Tradition says that Joseph, Mary’s husband, was dead, so she probably was used to asking for Jesus’ help in certain situations. Jesus’ answer to Mary is difficult to understand, but maybe that is the point. Although Mary didn’t understand what Jesus was going to do, she trusted him to do what is right. Those who believe in Jesus but run into situations we can’t understand must continue to trust that Jesus will work it all out in the best way.
When we were discussing this passage at Vestry meeting, it became obvious to us that we may be called to do something like the servants. The jars had to be made ready and the water transported to fill them. We may be called to do something – like getting rid of some of our “stuff” – emotional baggage - that makes it hard for Jesus to fill us – to use us. What is it that fills us so that we may be used? I don’t think it is consuming wine – but perhaps it could be - Sunday worship, daily devotions, holy reading, praise music, prayer. Once we empty ourselves, we see there is more room for God. Each act of faith we accomplish adds more and more water to our jars – to ourselves. If we are to be used by God…..we must be ready!! At one point in my prayer life, I used…Love me, help me, fill me, use me, as a prayer. Love me, help me, fill me, use me……that can be your prayer too. Amen.