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Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

Isaiah 62:1-5 Psalm 36:5-10 I Corinthians 12:1-11

John 2:1-11

Six silent, stone jars. Mute statues, witnesses to the miracles within. Jars nearly as big as we are, filled to the brim, with water became the sweetest and best wine. Poured out by the Lord of Life.

Six stones jars. Filled with about thirty gallons each - as much as 180 gallons of wine. Enough to keep the small village of Cana celebrating for a very long time. Enough to give the wine aisle at Kroger a run for its money. Enough to point to the generosity and outright audaciousness of God’s miraculous grace.

So what are we to make of it all? We, as informed modern people, what are we to make of it all? We are fact- oriented people, given to basing life on those tangible things, what can be touched, seen, tested and measured. We don’t readily embrace the intangibles like grace and glory, compassion and commitment. And most certainly, we don’t waste our time on the mysterious, the miraculous and the unexplainable. Instead, our minds become occupied with questions, such as whose wedding is it, and why Mary, Jesus and the disciples are there? How does Mary know that Jesus can and will do something to cover for this social faux pas? What does she really expect Jesus to do? How do the servants manage to fill such large jars with so much water so quickly, and why do they have to? If Jesus can turn water into wine, then why doesn’t Jesus save the servants that trouble and just fill the jars while he’s at it?

We generally avoid dealing with the issue of miracles because we believe that they are beyond our everyday experience. Miracles are out of our comfort zone, out of the boundaries of what we believe is really possible in the everyday world. But that is exactly what miracles are about: shattering our illusions of conventional explanations and expectations - confusing probabilities with possibilities, and turning our comfort zones into discovery zones.

The extraordinary extravagance of this miracle, just like the feeding of the five thousand, is at the very heart of what Jesus wants us to see in his actions. Jesus wants us to know the overflowing abundance of the gifts of God, and that they come in all shapes and sizes, all vessels and all vintages.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes that in struggling with the stories in Scripture, it isn’t that facts don’t matter, because they do. They just don’t matter as much as the stories themselves, and what the stories say about God, and the relationship between God and the people of God. In other words, even with our fact-oriented minds and hearts, we need to listen to the stories, and then let them come alive within us. She says “we should be like children listening to a bedtime story, we need to allow ourselves to take a front row seat, or better yet, crawl right inside one of the characters in the story and allow the story to become real within us”. And we need to allow ourselves to become real within the story – to find our role, our voice.

“You let the story come to life within you,” Taylor writes, “and then you decide on the basis of your own tears or laughter whether or not it is true. If you are in any doubt, watch other people who are listening to the story. Does it make them more –or- less human? Does it open them up or shut them down? Does the story increase their capacity for joy?” We do know that facts matter. But truth matters more. What truths are revealed to us in stories of Jesus celebrating with family and friends? Or stories of miracles of abundant provision? Or stories of compassion, connectedness, and commitment? Or stories of signs which point to much greater things, such as God’s grace and glory?

One of the questions posed earlier was why the servants have to be involved in the miracle at all. Why can’t Jesus just fill the empty jars with wine, instead of going through having the servants provide the water. To paraphrase Jesus, what does it have to do with the servants? What does it have to do with us? Because we are the servants, the hands and heart and feet of Christ. And that’s how we enter the story – by bringing to God something of ourselves and making our vessels available to God’s overflowing, extravagant grace.

It may not be that God, the creator of the universe, needs us to participate in turning water into wine, the ordinary into the extraordinary. But, it just may be that God, the lover of the people of God, wants us to participate. God wants to be in relationship with us, to nurture an intimate relationship with us. God desires to work through us and asks us to bring our gifts, our jars of water, to the table to be transformed. Like these servants, we make God’s glory present when we offer our water, our gifts, for ministry. As witnesses to where the water of life really does come from, it is through us that God’s glory and abundance are made present in this world. We are in relationship – even more miraculous, we are in partnership – with God.

We are in relationship with a compassionate God who not only creates but celebrates life with us. A God that comes to us in the flesh and the blood, the bread of the five thousand and the wine of the wedding, to comingle and conjoin with us. A God whose gracious gifts bring inner transformation to all vessels that are offered, whether jars of stone or even hearts of stone.

But surely God can do more to transform the world than to rely on humanity in all of our changing and limited ways. Are we that central to God’s involvement in and redemption of the world? Are we really that necessary or particularly effective mirrors of God’s glory? The answer is yes. God has become what we are so that we might become what God is. Incarnational in our love. Incarnational in our reflection of God’s glory. God made present not just in the flesh but in our flesh.

It is not coincidental that the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry is manifested at a wedding – a celebration of possibilities, of new life and new identity. The wedding is a metaphor for life itself: the joy, the commitment and companionship, the rhythms and rituals, the choices and purposes – all of which form who we are. There are wedding times of laughter, dancing and toasting. There are wedding times of serving, waiting and providing. And there are wedding times when the music winds down, and the wine and feasting of joy, energy and hope run out. And that is the time most of all when we bring our dirty, impure vessels of mere water to God to be transformed, used and even enjoyed. God helps us face the inadequacy of our offerings and to look deeper into their depths to discover – perhaps to our surprise – a bouquet of new wine.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes that the more our lives proceed, the more frequently we experience the miracle of the water of life being turned into new wine. “And that the more this happens, the more we realize something about that new wine. We begin to notice that it is not the sparkling and bubbly light wine of our early experience. Instead, the wine becomes mingled with the blood, sweat and tears of our growing and of God’s giving. Each new wine is richer, stronger, more powerful to our lips, and we learn to taste and savor the depth of that grace and glory. We learn that we are drinking the cup of wine of a God, the Lord of Hosts, who saves the best wine for last.”

Six large, stone jars. About our size. Receptive to their new life as vessels of new wine. Filled to the brim and overflowing with God’s glory. How much like these jars are we? How receptive are we to the gifts – the miracles – which lie within us? How consecrated, how set aside for holiness are our lives? And the servants? About the size and likeness of us. Receptive to God’s asking. Filled with the knowledge of where the water of life really comes from. How much like these servants are we? How willing are we to put ourselves in the service of God? How ready are we to ladle out that glorious new wine to all who show up, to all that come to participate?

Let us pray. Glorious God, we come to your table, and you consecrate us as vessels of your bread and your wine, your life-giving body and blood. Open our eyes to the waters that well up within us that are the signs and materials of your grace. Open our lips to the sweetness and richness of the miracles that are within us and around us. Open our hearts to your service, that we might offer to others the overflowing cup of your abundant love. We ask this in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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