2 Epiphany—Year C
January 17, 2016
Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
One Saturday afternoon I’m home from college listening to music in my room with my neighbor and great friend David, when my father who has just returned from a wedding at church walks in and says: “Boys, the bubbly was knee deep!”
The same could be said about the wedding in Cana of Galilee—The wine was knee deep, but only after Jesus steps in and saves the host from the shame of running out of wine before he runs out of guests.
At first glance this is a weird story. After all, as children of the enlightenment we are taught that the universe is a closed system of absolute laws, so that not even God can break in, rendering God functionally powerless and thus useless in our daily lives. With this kind of impotent god we don’t have to worry about being accountable to anyone beyond ourselves, which means we are free to go to war or watch pornography or judge our neighbor any time we choose.
The other night at our discussion of a book on retirement we were talking about what we might want to do when we retire in 5 or 10 years—move near the children or stay in our home, take up a hobby or do volunteer work—but as Christians who believe we don’t live in a closed universe we also have to ask, not just what do I want to do, but what does God want me to be doing for his kingdom with the last years of my life.
I’m not my own god, but I was bought with a price and called to take up my cross—which looks like death to the world but is life and peace to those who are living into their salvation. Of course we’ll only ask what God is calling me to do at retirement, if the church has formed us in the habit of asking this question when we were 30, 40, and 50 years old.
So the interesting thing about this story for me is not that water becomes wine, since wine producers do that wonderfully well in Napa Valley, California and Bordeaux, France. What Jesus is showing us is the nature of the God of Israel—for remember, we look at what Jesus does to learn what God does and what God wants done.
We see throughout the gospels that Jesus goes toward those who suffer—as he says, he came not for the well but for the sick, not the morally perfect but for the sinners, in order to heal their suffering!
Remember the paralyzed man whose friends can’t get him close enough to Jesus because of the crowd so they go on the roof, dig a hole, and let the guy down on his stretcher right in front of Jesus. And there Jesus tells the man to get up and walk and that his sins have been forgiven: this man is relieved of both his spiritual and physical suffering. This is a sign that God cares about such people that most of the world has forgotten, and that God cares about both physical and mental suffering.
John calls what Jesus does at the wedding in Cana his first sign. Not his first miracle or work of power but his first sign.
What is it a sign of?
We could ask the same question of the time Jesus feeds the 5000 on the hillside. Put the two together and we see Jesus Christ nourishes the world with bread and wine, two staples of first century life–bread to strengthen the body and wine to gladden the heart. And at the Last Supper the bread and wine are signs of his body and blood offered on the cross for the healing of the world.
Every Eucharist is a taste of the abundance of God present in Jesus Christ, an abundance to free us from our fears and free us for sharing that abundance with the world. Jesus the Messiah embodies the faithfulness of God to Israel, so that we might in the power of Christ’s Spirit embody the faithfulness of Jesus to the world.
In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
As a freshman at the University of Georgia I was haunted by that verse. I had everything a person could ever want, yet I was oddly depressed. I first heard this verse from Campus Crusade for Christ, and it struck me as a call from God to live a life beyond animal needs, intellectual challenges, and the illusion that I would never die.
The enlightenment project to scrub God and mystery from our lives robs the world of depth and color so that we see everything in 50 shades of gray, instead of in the rainbow colors seen by those touched by Christ.
My father requested that at his funeral white wine be served, a request the church was happy to honor as a sign that death does not diminish the abundance of God.
Jesus of course was accused of being a drunk and hanging around those who drank to excess and it was also the attack made on the disciples on the day of Pentecost when they started dancing and singing in ecstatic languages because their hearts could not contain the joy caused by the return of the crucified and risen Jesus into their community through the Holy Spirit.
I mean what did you do last year when Malcolm Butler stepped in front of that pass on the goal line securing the Super bowl for the Patriots: you just sat in your seat looking flat and dead—No!, you jumped up and screamed and yelled—and you were still talking about it when you got to work the next day.
They said to Peter, “These people are drunk on new wine!”
To which Peter responds, it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning, they aren’t drunk—yet.
They are filled with the Spirit of God which empowers them to give their lives to the purposes of God.
Saint Paul picks this up when he says,
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Martin Luther King gave his gifts for the common good. You and I care called to do the same.
This is why it is never enough to find a church that meets my needs.
We must be the church that forms us into a people willing to be used by the Spirit for the good of others, like offering joy to those whose lives have run dry.
We are like the servants at the wedding to whom Mary says, “Do whatever he tells you.” They did nothing more than fill empty jars with water, yet sometimes that’s all our God requires to give a sign of New Creation.