Second Sunday After Epiphany

Pastor Anke Deibler

  • Isaiah 62:1-5
  • Psalm 36:5-10
  • 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
  • John 2:1-11

Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

          The way John tells the gospel story, Jesus turning water into wine is the first of miracles and also the first really public thing Jesus does in his ministry. So far, he has been baptized and called the first couple of disciples. The wedding at Cana is the first time Jesus does something very public, so it really is the launch of his public ministry.

          When we tell this story, we always talk about the miracle of turning water into wine. John, however, does not call it a miracle. He calls it a “sign”. Jesus’ action is supposed to point at something. Today I want to look at the meaning of this sign. What is it pointing at? What are we supposed to learn from it?

          The first thing that leaps out is that this is a really joyful event. So many other miracles and sign happen when people are in crisis: hungry, ill, in trouble, or dead. Here, the setting is one of the happiest events in life: a wedding. I really love this glimpse into Jesus’ personal life; he has friends and is going to a wedding to party. The Jesus we meet today is a happy, joyful, celebrating Jesus.

           However, a crisis does develop when the wine runs out. Village weddings were a huge affair back then, often lasting more than just one day. The hosts reputation was on the line in how well they provided for the guests. Not having enough wine was scandalous. They would never live this down.

          Keep in mind that in those days before refrigeration or pasteurization, wine was the safest thing to drink. It was safer than water. Running out of wine meant that people would be thirsty. Not a good thing at a wedding celebration.

          After being alerted to the situation by his mom, Jesus comes to the rescue. The way he does it is curious and significant.

          Jesus tells the servants to fill six large stone jars with water. These jars are used to hold water for purification purposes. These jars held the water people needed to purify themselves. This isn’t about washing their hands before dinner; this is a religious thing. People were always afraid of not being worthy in the eyes of God. They were always afraid to come before God because God is so holy and people are not. In an effort to make themselves acceptable to God, people would wash themselves in certain ceremonial ways. That’s what the water in the stone jars was for.

          Now Jesus uses these same jars and fills them with wine. He is repurposing the jars. Instead of holding liquid for purification, they now hold liquid for celebration.

          I believe that the sign Jesus is performing in Cana is meant to point to the fact that our relationship with God has dramatically changed through Jesus Christ. We no longer need to worry about being holy enough, good enough, clean enough for God. We no longer need to go through complicated ritual washings before we can come before God. We no longer need to fear an angry, judgmental God. We no longer need those jars.

          Instead, Jesus invites us to celebrate with God. Jesus brings joy. Jesus brings abundance. Jesus opens the way to a very different relationship with God. All people can freely approach God and relish a relationship with their loving creator.

          What a contrast to the way things were before Jesus Christ!

          In fact, a perfect image for this contrast is the comparison between John the Baptist and Jesus. John is called the last great prophet of the Old Testament age. He is preaching out in the desert, he fasts and wear rough clothing, and he calls everyone to repent and be baptized because the wrath of God is about to be unleashed with unquenchable fire.

          Jesus, in contrast, hangs out with friends, goes to a wedding party, and produces gallons of wine to keep the party going. In doing so, he repurposes the stone jars: From vessels for water for purification rites motivated by the fear of God, he turns them into vessels for wine and celebration.

          The very first public thing Jesus does in John’s gospel account is to say: Forget fear of God, forget being unworthy, forget the rites connected with that. God has come in the word made flesh, and that word made flesh invites you to a joyful celebration. Drink the wine of salvation and rejoice! Welcome to the kingdom!

          Jesus performs this sign rather quietly on the side. It sounds like not too many people noticed what had happened. But they certainly notice the result of this sign when this much better wine is shared and the party continues. Thanks to Jesus’ sign, that party can go on for quite a while, because the amount of wine he produces is incredible.

          I have tried to give us an idea for the volume of wine by bringing some water today. Sorry, no wine in these jars. Researchers estimate that each of those stone jars held about 20-30 gallons. Here are 30 gallons of water. Jesus turned six times as much into wine! Someone calculated that poured into standard-sized wine bottles, that would be 1,000 bottles of wine.

          What an abundance! Jesus really blessed those people at the wedding. And even if the people didn’t know what miraculous sign made this happen and who had been the source of all that, they would certainly realize, appreciate, and rejoice in the abundance.

          Jesus has not stopped inviting people into the celebration of his presence. And he has not stopped providing abundance to his people. One good example of this abundance is mentioned in our reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today.

          Paul is highlighting just how many gifts are present among the people of the congregation in Corinth. God has blessed each and every member of that church with gifts. In baptism, the Holy Spirit was poured out over them. They were given faith and some ways to express that faith.

          By turning the water in the purification jars into wine, Jesus showed that every child of God is worthy before God and that everything in God’s world is sacred; nothing God has made is profane or needs purification.

          Through the spirit, God invites every single person to come closer, to come to the wedding, to rejoice in the presence of God in Jesus Christ, and relish the gifts God granted them. These gifts make it possible for people to live out their faith, to return thanks to God, to praise Jesus in daily life.

          Everyone here has gifts. What might they be? Here are some examples.: faith, service, leadership, preaching, praying, administration, evangelizing, writing poetry or prose, fixing things, teaching, music, hospitality, landscaping, building, visioning, mediating, cleaning, cooking, hugging, spreading joy, visiting, helping, being encouraging, reading, technological know-how, compassion, hope, ____.

          There is much, much more, but you get the idea. There is an amazing abundance of gifts among us. Just as Jesus poured a huge amount of wine into the party at Cana, so has Jesus poured a huge amount of wine into our church.

          We have been invited to the celebration in Jesus’ presence. Here at God’s table, we drink the wine of salvation. The wine of joy is coursing through our veins. That joy finds expression in the way we use our gifts here and in the world.

          Most people at the wedding had no idea that Jesus had been behind the abundance of wine. Likewise, most people we encounter will have no idea about the source of our joy, our hope, our love, our compassion, our willingness to help. But they will notice the results, and that will give them joy.

          The sign Jesus is holding up in today’s gospel story says this: God loves you the way you are; you are holy and blessed with holy gifts; come and celebrate Jesus’ presence and be filled with joy and hope; and then go back into your daily lives and use your holy gifts to bless other people. People out there long for hope for celebration; you can show them where to find it: At the table with Jesus. Amen.

 

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