Sunday, January 17, 2016

Party Time - Sermon for Epiphany 2C

John 2:1-11

Everybody loves a wedding!  Well, almost everybody! Weddings are usually joyous occasions. Not only do two people get joined together, but so do two families and all that goes with that. 

I’m not an expert on weddings, but I do have a bit of experience with them. First of all, I should mention my own wedding to Cheryl. It’s been awhile, but I do remember it. I’ve also been in a few weddings as a groomsman or an usher. I’ve also been a guest at weddings. Then, there are the weddings at which I’ve officiated, and I could tell a few stories about these weddings. 

I often tell a story at rehearsals about the bride who almost went up in flames. It was my third wedding, so I was still getting my bearings as an officiant. We had this free standing candelabra that we used for the unity candle. After the couple lit the candle, which was off to my right, they returned to the center of the chancel. The only problem was that the bride’s train got caught on the base of the candelabra. As she moved toward the center, the candelabra began to tip over, with all three candles ablaze. Fortunately the maid of honor and I both saw what was happening and we reached out and caught the flaming candelabra before it could light up the lace-covered-dress.  That would have been quite the disaster, but it has become for me an interesting wedding story.

Jesus once went to a wedding and he saved it from sure disaster. Just three days after his ordination to ministry, according to John, Jesus and his group of disciples got invited to a wedding in Cana, just a stone’s throw from his hometown of Nazareth. I should point out that Jesus’ mother also got an invitation to the wedding, so I’m thinking this was a family affair. Besides, when disaster was about to strike the wedding, Mary sprang into action. For some reason she felt she had some responsibility for its success. 

First century Jewish weddings were a bit different from modern ones. For one thing, they usually lasted a week, or at least for as long as the wine continued to flow. In this story either the host didn’t get the guest count correct or the guests drank more wine than expected. Whatever was the case, when Mary discovered that the wine supply was going to give out, she decided to intervene. She turned to her son and asked him to save the day. I don’t know how many days the feast had been going on when Jesus arrived, but Mary didn’t think it was time for the party to end. So she told Jesus to get busy and fix the problem!   

Now Jesus was just a guest. He didn’t have any responsibilities for the success or failure of the event. So he told his mother: “What business is this of ours?” This was the bridegroom’s problem, not his or his mother’s. But Mary didn’t listen. She had other plans. 

Jesus’ mother told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them. Jesus seemed reluctant to begin his public ministry. He needed some coaxing. He needed to be nudged, something mothers are often good at – sometimes fathers too! Karoline Lewis writes that “she sees something in her son. And it takes her initiative to move Jesus into ministry” (Lewis, John, p. 38).  Jesus doesn’t think his time had come. Mary thought differently. Mary was correct!

So with her nudging, Jesus acted. He told the servants to fill the six jars used for the rites of purification with water. He told them to fill the jars to the brim. Most likely each of those jars held twenty to thirty gallons of liquid. That’s a lot of wine. In fact 180 gallons of wine would fill about one thousand wine bottles. 

Then Jesus instructed the servants to take the water to the chief steward. When the steward tasted the water, he discovered that the water was now wine. Not only was it wine, it was really good wine. This wasn’t the cheap stuff that you save til the end when no one could tell the difference between good wine and cheap wine. No, this was prize winning wine. The steward was amazed and asked the bridegroom why he saved the best for last!

This, John says, was the first sign Jesus performed. Six more signs will follow, and each of these signs reveals something about Jesus’ identity. These signs reveal his glory, and the disciples believed in him.

This sign is an interesting one. It manifests his glory. The word for glory in Hebrew is kabod. In keeping with the season of Epiphany the word kabod is often used to speak of a visible manifestation of God’s presence. The prophet Ezekiel had a vision in which “the glory of the Lord rose up from the cherub to the threshold of the house; the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 10:4).  For John the presence of the Holy Spirit that indwelt Jesus was being unveiled to his disciples and to Mary. John wants us to see it as well. Yes, God is present with  and in Jesus!

If God is present with Jesus, and his glory is revealed in the sign of turning water into wine, what does that say about God? Karoline Lewis writes:

This is a sign of abundance and a sign of promise. It is a sign of abundance that manifests what grace upon grace tastes like. It tastes like the best wine, more than you could possibly want or drink, when you least expect it. It is a sign of promise, because the best is saved for last. (John, p. 39).  
What looks like a helping hand in the midst of a bad situation, becomes a sign of divine abundance. In fact, it reveals God’s extravagant abundance. This is an important word for us at this moment in history. The message we’re hearing all around us is one of scarcity. There’s not enough to go around, so I’m going to protect what is mine. But Jesus reveals that God provides us with abundant grace. The best – the resurrection – is saved for last. 

There’s something else going on here. I find it interesting that John would have Jesus’ glory revealed at a wedding. Right in the midst of an ordinary human event, the glory of God is revealed. In revealing this glory the people experience great joy. That tells me that God desires us to experience joy. This includes our experiences of God in worship.  As the opening hymn declares: “Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love!” 

Our Wednesday study group is reading my little book about our Disciple heritage. We were talking about the fact that Disciples have always emphasized the rational side of faith. We tend not to get too exuberant. We don’t emphasize religious experience. We like things done decently and in order. But unfortunately the flip side of this emphasis has meant that we don’t always experience the joy of faith. John Wesley spoke of his heart being “strangely warmed” by his encounter with God’s Spirit. On the day that the disciples saw the glory of God revealed in Jesus, their hearts were strangely warmed. They experienced joy in the Lord. That is, I believe God’s desire for us.

When we created our core values statement back in 2009, we discerned that God wanted us to experience a joyful spirituality. I think that’s what Jesus was revealing the day he turned water into wine so that party could continue. And Jesus didn’t give the guests the cheap stuff. He gave them the really good stuff. This wasn’t “Two Buck Chuck.” It was the two-hundred dollar a bottle kind of wine!  Such should be our life in the Spirit. To be in Christ is to experience God’s extravagant abundance, for the glory of God has been revealed!  Indeed, as Amos declared: 

 The time is surely coming, says the Lord,
    when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
    and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and all the hills shall flow with it.  (Amos 9:13).

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Epiphany 2C
January 17, 2016

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