Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (January 14, 2007)
“Plenty of Wine” (John 2:1-11)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever been to a party or to a gathering that was a real drag? The conversation is boring. The food stinks. All there is to drink is water. There's nothing very entertaining about it. It's no fun at all. You nudge your spouse and give her the look that says, “Let's get out of here. This is excruciating.” Everything is falling flat for the guests, and the hosts are extremely embarrassed.

No Wine

That may have been how the guests felt in that wedding feast described in today's Gospel. There was no wine. Why? What happened? We aren't told. Marriage feasts in those days often lasted up to a week. Did they run out after only a few days? The bridegroom evidently forgot this detail. He's the one who would have been in charge of this. You can just imagine the new bride at the head table, grumbling and seething that her new husband already has blown it, and they haven't even been married for a week.

Wine was a necessary part of a first century Jewish wedding reception. It warms the heart. It loosens the tongue for convivial conversation. Psalm 104 says that God gives “wine to gladden the heart of man.” This is not a defense of drunkenness. But used properly, wine is certainly a part of God's good creation that adds to the good cheer of a special occasion. And at this particular feast under consideration, it would have been shameful in the eyes of the guests and the community to run out of wine.

In the Bible, the joy of heaven is often compared to a marriage feast with all kinds of wine and food. For example, Isaiah 25 says, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine...and he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever.” (Isaiah 25:6-8) And in the book of Revelation, the angel says to St. John, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:9) All who are baptized in Christ and who trust in his saving death and resurrection have a seat prepared for them at that feast of eternal joy.

But in spite of the fact that we are God's forgiven children, that joy somehow eludes us on this side of the veil. The little details of our lives create big problems for us. We are all too aware of the ways in which we have fallen short of God's holy Law. We don't feel very joyful. It seems as though our Christian life has “fallen flat.” We know we should be joyful because we are Christians. But that only makes us feel worse. It's like a vicious cycle. I discovered this about myself a few years ago. I found myself feeling blue at Christmas time. And I felt guilty about this. I thought to myself, “It's Christ's birthday, and you are Christian, and you are a pastor, for Pete's sake. Why don't you feel more joyful?” I came to realize that I was having a taste of that seasonal depression that is so common around these parts. But feeling guilty about being a Christian who isn't joyful is like being in an airplane in an out of control downward spiral, almost impossible to pull out of. And for someone with a mild case of the blues, I can only imagine what it must be like for someone with serious clinical depression.

Also, this account of the wedding at Cana is sometimes used to talk about how Jesus sanctions and blesses marriage by his presence at this wedding in Cana. This is certainly one way you can look at this text. But that's not much encouragement to those who have been single for most of their life...and not by choice. Nor is it much encouragement for those who have had difficult divorces or who are in challenging marriages right now. Loneliness, pain, grief, and anger keep joy far away from their hearts.

Jesus turned water into wine there at Cana. St. John writes that in so doing, Jesus “manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” Don't you wish Jesus would manifest a little bit of his glory in your life? It would sure be a lot easier to believe in him if we could just see something like that with our own water turning into wine.

Plenty of Wine

But Jesus didn't come just to be a miracle worker. In fact, the word used here is “sign.” This was the first of his “signs” that pointed to him as the Messiah. His public ministry as the Messiah began at his baptism in the Jordan River. After that, he immediately entered into battle with Satan in the wilderness and withstood his temptations. And in this, the first of his “signs,” he showed the world his first steps toward setting up the Messianic Kingdom, which the prophets describe as a rich feast “with well-aged wine”...or as a place where “the mountains shall drip sweet wine” (Joel 3:18)...or as in the words of today's Introit, “He welcomes me to his banqueting table, and his banner over me is love” (Song 2:4)... “They feast on the abundance of your house and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” (Psalm 36:8) In other words, that eternal feast in heaven will be one of celebration and joy. The end of all things has come, including death and sorrow and grief and pain. We will then be face to face in the eternal presence of God.

So Jesus turns water into wine at this wedding. In a sense, he takes the place of the bridegroom at Cana, the one who should have provided the wine. And in so doing, Jesus foreshadows how he is the Bridegroom of the Church who provides for us, who cares for us, who gives his life for us, who welcomes us to his banqueting table, and who gives us a foretaste of the day when the wine of his love and joy will flow unceasingly.

Notice, too, when this “sign” occurred. St. John says it was on the third day...perhaps the third day after the events previously described or the third day of the wedding feast. But something else happened on another “third day.” On the third day after the one on which he died for the sins of the world, Jesus the Messiah rose to life again, manifesting his glorious power over death and hell so that you and I can have a place a place at that eternal, joyous feast.

And Jesus does indeed manifest his glory among us today. The same Lord who turns water into wine also delivers his body with bread and his blood with wine. The same Word of the Lord that turns water into wine also forgives you of all your sin. Like Israel in Isaiah's day, you may feel like your name is “Desolate” and “Forsaken.” (Isaiah 62:4) But you are a member of God's Holy Church by Baptism and by faith. By God's grace, he names his Church, “My Delight is in Her.” (Isaiah 62:4) Therefore, the Lord delights in you. “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5) When you know and believe that God loves you and rejoices over you as his baptized, forgiven child, then you, too, can be joyful regardless of all those things that try to drain your joy from you.

The bridegroom of Cana forgot about the details. There was not enough wine. They ran out. But the Bridegroom of the Church stepped in and showed that he cares about all the little details of our life. Mary informed him about the situation, and Jesus could have said, “Mom, it's just wine. It's not a big deal. They'll survive. Soon I'll begin healing people of leprosy, making the lame to walk and the deaf to hear. Soon I'll begin casting demons out of people. Those are the things that really matter. But don't bother me about this.” But that's not what happened. He chose as his first miracle to turn water into wine at a wedding feast. In this way, Jesus shows us that not only does he forgive us and give us eternal life, but he truly does care about everyday things, like marriage, family, food and drink, family celebrations. Don't think that you can't come to Jesus in prayer over these issues. You can. He cares about them, even as you do. He gives us our daily bread and then blesses us with his gracious presence, even as he blessed that young couple in Cana. And when he is present with his forgiving grace, he takes our guilt and shame away and replaces them with the wine of his joy. In this way, he manifests his glory among us...and by grace, we believe in him.


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