Sunday, January 17, 2016

More Than Water Into Wine

January 18, 2016 – The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
© 2016 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
Why bother getting married in the church? I always ask that question whenever I first meet with a couple for premarital counseling. Why bother getting married in the church? It’s a lot of hassle. We have rules about no photography during the service and where flowers can and can’t go. We tell you when you are allowed to show up and where you have to stand. No matter how new and unique your love feels, we don’t allow you to write your own vows. Perhaps worst of all, we make you meet with a priest at least four times to talk about who you are and how your marriage will come together. Really, it’s quite a pain to get married in the church.

And, if the church isn’t enough trouble, all the other details are just as bad. Brides and grooms quickly learn the “joy” of navigating parents and in-laws. There’s the guest list and the rehearsal dinner and the reception. What will the invitations look like? Is the wedding dress traditional enough? In preparing for a wedding, there is always a battle of wills. So I always tell couples that, at some point in the process, they will look at each other and wonder whether they should just elope. They think I’m kidding, but, by the time it’s all over, they look at me and smile and say, “Yeah, we thought about it.”

I say that to couples as a sort of warning—words of caution to let them know that, at times, they will wonder whether all of the work is really worth it. Of course, you will be just as married if you forge your union on the steps of the courthouse as if you exchange your vows in front of the altar. In the eyes of the state and the church and even God, the end result is exactly the same. But there’s a reason we go to all of that trouble, and I urge couples to keep that in mind. There’s a reason that, for all of human history, wedding haves been a pretty big deal. It’s because, when you’re standing there, promising to be with someone for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for the rest of your life, it’s the kind of life-defining promise that you want to share with your family and four-hundred of your closest friends.

Weddings have always been a big deal. Even before human beings accepted that love has anything to do with it, we’ve always put a lot of effort and money into weddings. They are a showcase of wealth and a display of status because it is believed that the nature of the celebration will say something about the nature of the union. (Why else would we tell brides that rain on their wedding day is good luck except to convince them that it isn’t a bad omen?) It’s as true today as it was true back in Jesus’ time. And it was true all the way back when the Old Testament was being written. Marriage is a remarkable thing, and the ceremonies and celebrations that accompany it are similarly remarkable. That’s why God often chose the image of a marriage and the setting of a wedding feast to describe his relationship with his people.

“You shall be called My Delight Is in Her,” the prophet Isaiah wrote, “and your land Married…for the Lord delights in you…For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” To a people in need of redemption, God promises to take them as his bride. To a people wandering in exile, God promises to bring them home and rejoice over them just as a bridegroom delights in his bride. That shall happen, the Lord promises. On that day, God’s people “shall no more be termed Forsaken” because then God will finally take them in a bond that cannot be broken.

It’s a beautiful image and a beautiful promise. It’s one worth holding on to—worth incorporating into your own understanding of who God is and what God promises for you and the rest of his people. Today’s gospel lesson shows me that that image was at the center of John’s faith, and I believe that, in the story of Jesus, John saw those promises being fulfilled.

It is no accident that John locates Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding feast. Notice how he begins the story: “On the third day.” As Christians, we know that the third day is important. On the third day, God reveals something worth seeing. John wants to be sure that we recognize that the miracle in Cana is bigger than just water-into-wine. It’s a statement about who God is and what our hope should be.

At the wedding feast, Jesus’ mother pointed out that the wine had run out. It was a disaster. Not only did it mean that the party would come crashing to a halt, but it also meant that the marital union itself was in jeopardy. This was a terrible sign. It was a sign that their lives together would be plagued by want and inadequacy. Maybe they wouldn’t be able to have children. Maybe their crops would fail. Maybe they would be poor and destitute. No one knew, of course, but the lack of wine was a clear indication that trouble lay ahead.

So Mary asked Jesus do something. “Woman,” he said to her in words typical of that era, “what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.” In other words, this isn’t our business. Leave well enough alone. Sometimes the wine just runs out. But Mary was insistent. “Do whatever he tells you,” she said to the servants. Mary knew what her son was capable of, but Jesus was reluctant. And I think that Jesus was reluctant because he didn’t want people to think that he was in the wedding business. God had sent him to earth to do something truly amazing. Water into wine felt more like a party trick than a Messianic revelation. But maybe not. Maybe there was more in this opportunity than merely providing for a party.

“Fill those jars with water,” Jesus said to the servants, pointing to six stone jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. If we’re going to do this, let’s go all the way. That’s one hundred eighty gallons. It’s over nine-hundred bottles of wine. It’s enormous. It borders on unfathomable. It’s more wine than any ancient small-town Palestinian wedding party would ever need. Jesus wasn’t just making sure that the wine didn’t run out. He was revealing something about what God intended to do through his ministry. He was showing that, in himself, God’s provision would never run dry.

And it wasn’t just a tidal wave of cheap stuff. This was good wine—better wine than had first been served. Why? Because, at God’s great wedding banquet, only the very best will be provided. And, in Jesus Christ, God’s people find themselves at that ultimate banqueting table—where the provision is never exhausted and the blessings are never surpassed.

In this gospel story, we are supposed to see that Jesus was sent to earth to fulfill God’s long-awaited promises. God had promised centuries earlier that he would one day take his people as his bride—that someday they would no longer be known as “Forsaken” but instead would be called “My Delight is in Her.” But when would that happen? When would God finally come and claim his bride for himself? When would the Builder at last rejoice over his people as a bridegroom delights in his bride? Now. In Jesus, the answer is now. Because of him, we do not have to wait any longer. Our hour has come. The time when God will accept us as his beloved is upon us. Our journey of waiting and longing and hoping is complete. The time when God will bestow upon us his endless and unsurpassed blessings is now.

On the third day, God raised his son from the dead to reveal that his promise of unbreakable love was complete. On the third day, Jesus revealed his true glory at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. And, when the disciples saw it, they believed in him because, in the sign that Jesus performed, they saw what God was doing in the world. They saw more than a wedding gift. They saw fulfillment. Can you see it? You, too, are invited to the wedding feast. Can you see what Jesus has done? Can you see that God’s promise to love us forever is now complete?

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