Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sermon for Epiphany II
St. John’s – Moultrie, GA
January 17, 2010

This morning’s Gospel lesson brings us to one of the miracles of Jesus that is only found in John’s Gospel. Actually, since it is only found in John’s Gospel, and since John doesn’t use the word that is normally translated “miracle” in his record, I’ll use the word that more aptly describes the event – the changing of water into wine was the first ‘sign’ of Jesus in John’s Gospel. In fact, the first half of John’s Gospel has been described by commentators as the Book of Signs with the latter half of the Gospel known as the Book of Glory. Keep in mind though, these signs point to the Glory of God which finds its culmination in the cross where God’s reign finds its ultimate glory in the final defeat of sin and Satan. John mentions that this is the first of the signs of Jesus, but he doesn’t use a word in Greek that would imply the first in a list, but rather uses a word that stands out and is packed with meaning. John uses the word arke, which literally means ‘beginning.’ The reason I say that word would be packed with meaning is that is the second word that John uses to begin his Gospel, and it is how Moses began the book of Genesis – In the beginning - en arke.

As with all of the signs in John’s Gospel, we as hearers of the story after the fact must come to recognize that there is far more below the surface than simply the miracle for the miracle’s sake. Certainly one remarkable aspect of Jesus’ ministry was his ability to do remarkable things, miraculously heal the sick, give sight to the blind, restore palsied limbs to those who were lame, cure the deaf, and raise to life those who were both literally and figuratively dead. Yes, that is an attribute of our Lord’s divinity, and one that is enough for many to make them believers. But, for John and the seven signs that he records, there are hints of much greater magnitude below the surface, and I will touch on a few of those this morning.

Our text opens in a seemingly non-descript fashion with John stating that, “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there.” If we unpack that statement just a bit there is more there than meets the eye. This “third day” event immediately follows another sequence of three days in chapter 1. After the prologue which we heard several times throughout the Christmas Season, we hear of the ministry of John the Baptist. On the first day we have the discourse between John and the priests and Levites where they ask him if he is the Christ and he tells them that he is not, but that One is coming after him, the latchet of his shoes he is not worthy to unloose. The next day John sees Jesus walking toward him and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” The day following, the third day, John is standing with two of his disciples and declares to them, “Behold the Lamb of God.” With those words, the two disciples left John, and began to follow Jesus. Within a three day span, we have John make a declaration about who he was, and who he was not, and alludes to someone who is yet to come. The very next day he makes a declarative statement about who Jesus is, and what he has come to do. On the third day, it’s almost as if he realizes his hour has come, and it is time for him to decrease so that Jesus might increase. He lets his disciples go so that they might follow the One that they have all been waiting for. This third day would be the beginning of a new journey as disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.

It is not coincidental that our passage this morning begins with a reference to the third day because the sign that John records on this third day at a wedding in Cana of Galilee is only a shadow of one that will come 3 years later – the third day which we call Easter Sunday.

John also mentions that Jesus’ mother was there. You’ll note here that John doesn’t say that Mary was there, and in the dialogue which follows between Jesus and his mother, there appears to be a tone of disrespect, one that appears condescending. When Mary comes to Jesus to inform him that they are out of wine, Jesus responds by referring to his mother as ‘woman.’ In that culture, that was not a term of inferiority or disrespect. That title would have been normal and common, and thus only strikes us as odd because I can only imagine the reaction I would have gotten from my mother if I had referred to her as woman – it would not have been pretty!

Many have speculated that one of the reasons that they ran out of wine was because Jesus was bidden to come to the wedding, perhaps out of courtesy, and thus is brings several other unexpected guests as well in the form of his new disciples, Andrew, Simon, Philip, and Nathanael as we heard about in the preceding passage. Of course this is mere speculation because as we discussed in our class before Christmas on John’s Gospel, our author here is not necessarily concerned with chronology as he is with Christology. The story behind the story is what he’s after.

One of the wonderful themes throughout the Gospels is the grace displayed by Mary, and this story is no different. It’s no wonder that the church has placed such a tremendous amount of honor and respect for the Mother of God because of the humility that surrounds her throughout the biblical record. Even though Jesus says to her that His hour has not yet come, she still places complete belief and trust in her son and turns the situation completely over to him. Mary tells the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you.” She has no idea if Jesus is going to do anything or if he does what it might look like. She doesn’t concern herself with those details. For me, that is the hardest thing to do. How do I simply let go and rest in the comfort that God is in control? I would suspect that I’m not alone in that statement.

Jesus then directs the servants to fill the six stone jugs that were there for the rites of purification to the brim with water. I can see a major theological point to here regarding the presence of those jugs, and John’s attention to detail in mentioning them. We can see those jugs as a representation of the Old Covenant, the Law given by God through Moses and it still has significance and meaning. We don’t know how much water was still in the jugs, but we do know that Jesus commands that they be filled with water. In the very next chapter we will hear of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman and her quest for Living Water. When the water of the New Covenant that Jesus gives fills up the containers of the Old Covenant, something miraculous occurs. A change takes place, and does so with a difference.

When the steward is commanded to draw from the jug and taste, he discovers wine that he didn’t know where it had come from. He is so shocked that he rushes to the bridegroom, and compliments him on the quality. He says to him, “Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.”

The steward declares that the wine that he has apparently saved for last is good wine. In Greek there are multiple words which give the connotation of “good,” and I don’t want to push this correlation too far, but I believe that it’s no mistake that the same word here is the same word that Jesus uses in John chapter 10 when he speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd. It’s no coincidence that the Good Shepherd would produce Good Wine. That which emanates from His very being is Good. It’ also no accident that when the Good Shepherd, the Word made Flesh who spoke all of Creation into being would declare that it was kalos – it was good, no, it was Very Good!

Our passage closes with the phrase that this first sign of Jesus accomplished two important points – that it manifested forth His glory, and that his disciples believed on him. Everything that we do should be for the very same reason – that our actions might manifest forth the glory of God, and that we and others should believe on Him. A key point of St. Augustine’s theology of the charity and Great Commandment is that everything that we do in love should be to help others love God more and more each day of their lives. Our Lord desires that we love others in such a fashion that they might be drawn deeper into love and union with God. In turn this love is directed outward toward our neighbors, and creates a cycle that repeats back upon itself.

I will readily admit that this is the difficult work of discipleship. It is work that cannot be accomplished save the grace of Almighty God. On our own, this is an absolute impossibility. However, as our Lord declares, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” How would our lives look like if we lived this every day? What would our families look like if we dared to try this? What would our nation become if we took on this risk?

I don’t really know, but I’m sure the results would eclipse my wildest imaginations, and I don’t know about you, but I’d love to find out!

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