Sermon, January 20, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 2nd chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord. 


1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4 And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 


The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.



Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Well, the decorating committee has taken down all the pretty Christmas things.  The paraments and banners are green again.  The holidays are definitely over.  Ordinary time is here.


We call the “green season” ordinary time, not because it isn’t a special holiday, although it isn’t.  We call it ordinary because it is numbered, or ordered.


The good news for us today is that Jesus comes to us in ordinary times.  Jesus blesses ordinary times and ordinary things and transforms them with grace.


There is a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin who was paraphrasing St. Augustine.  He says, “We hear of the conversion of the water into wine at the marriage of Cana, as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”


Today, God is using some ordinary water and transforming it before our very eyes.  God is using this ordinary water combined with the Word to welcome new children into the family of faith and promise them salvation.  Today, like the disciples at the wedding, we get to celebrate God’s love as we welcome new members and celebrate their baptism day. 


The wedding at Cana was an ordinary Jewish wedding.  It was so ordinary that the gospel writer doesn’t even bother to mention the names of the couple or their families. 


Weddings held symbolic importance for the Jewish people.  Marriage was often used to describe the relationship between God and the people.  Just as our reading from Isaiah says, "...as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”


We think weddings and receptions are ridiculously expensive now, and they are.  But our weddings have nothing on the Jewish wedding celebrations in New Testament times.  


In those days, weddings lasted a week.  The whole town was invited to the party.  The hosts were expected to keep the party going with food and drink the whole week.  Running out of wine would have ended the celebration early and the unhappy guests probably would have left.  


Hospitality was extremely important in that culture.  Running out of wine would have been a major social embarrassment.  It would have been the story that everyone told about that couple for the rest of their lives.  


Cana was a small town.  It was so small that Bible scholars aren’t even sure where it was. If you have ever lived in one, you know how things are in small towns.  This would have been the topic of conversation at every wedding in town for years and years. 


Everyone would be snickering about it. “Remember how they ran out of wine after only three days at Dave and Carolyn’s wedding? Everyone went home early.  I sure hope this couple isn’t embarrassed like that...” 


Wine had a different meaning for them, too.  Wine was a symbol of God’s abundance and blessings. 


Back then, people of all ages drank wine just like we drink tea or pop or coffee.  Thomas and Charles Welch didn't develop the process to make “unfermented wine” until 1869, so grape juice as we know it did not exist back then.   


The gospel of John is full of symbolism and this story is no exception. Jesus and his family and disciples were at a wedding party in Cana.  They had been there a while already, and it was the third day.  


We of course, remember that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.  So when, John tells us it was the third day, we know something important is going to happen.


The mother of Jesus was there.  Her presence is also a signal that something important is going to happen.  Jesus protested to her that his hour had not yet come.  He used that expression to refer to his time of suffering and death. Mary was there then, too.


I love the interaction between Mary and Jesus in this scene.  She tells him the wine has run out. He says that isn’t their concern. After all, it isn’t their party.  She tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. 


It is kind of like a mom asking her son to play the piano for their dinner guests.  The child protests that they aren’t there for a recital.  The mom hands the child the music book and pretty soon everyone is singing along. She knows he is going to do it even when he protests. 


The servants had six stone jars there.  Six is the biblical number of incompleteness.  God created the world in six days, but creation was not complete until God rested and gave us the Sabbath day.  


The six jars were large - 20-30 gallons a piece.  They were used for the rites of purification.  These rites consisted of hand washing and bathing.  They were prescribed by the law and required before religious activities.  There were varieties of reasons that someone might need to either wash their hands or take a full bath.  


Because they are used for the purification rites, the jars full of water are symbolic of God's Law. 


The Law is good.  It is a gift from God.  It gives us information about how the world works and helps us make decisions about how we should live.  If we all follow it, we will live well.  The law promotes justice and order in society. Many of the psalms celebrate and praise the gift of the law. 


The Law has another purpose besides promoting justice and order.  The law convicts us.  The law shows our sin.  The law shows us that we never, ever, can keep it perfectly. We all fall short of obedience. 


Jesus does not get rid of the Law for us.  He does not tell the servants to empty the water and break the jars used for ritual purification.  He does something new.


Jesus transforms the Law.  He fulfills it himself.  He makes something new.  He changes the water into wine. He makes it into something that is a sign of God’s blessings for us.  He transforms something ordinary and gives us grace.  


It isn’t just a little bit of grace either.  He makes one hundred eighty gallons of wine. More than enough for the wedding feast. There is enough wine there that the bride and groom could toast the joy of their marriage every day and every night for the rest of their lives.  


Not just the cheap stuff, either.  No cheap grace here.  This is the best wine ever.  


Interestingly, it is the servants who know what Jesus did. The steward didn’t know and the bridegroom had no idea.  Neither did the party guests.  The servants and the disciples are the only ones who know who Jesus really is. 


We are the servants and disciples in this story.  Jesus comes to us in our ordinary times.  Our ordinary times may be work or school or family time or even a party. 


Our ordinary times are the times when we are just trying to get along and do what we are supposed to be doing. Our ordinary times may be going all right. 


Or maybe not. They could be the times when the law seems to convict us.  Our ordinary times may be the times when, as hard as we try, we just can’t seem to do what we need to do. 


No matter what they are like, Jesus comes to us in ordinary times and ordinary things.  Through his love, he transforms the law that convicts us, into abundant grace.  Grace enough for us to celebrate every day and every night.  Grace enough for everyone. Amen.