May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.
“Signs, signs, everywhere are signs. Blocking out the scenery, making my mind' do this, don't do that can't you read the signs?” I am sure that the Five Man Electric Band didn't have the Gospel of John in mind when they wrote and performed that song back in 1971, but when I think of the story of Jesus turning water into wine and the six other miracles of Jesus that John reports, I often think of that classic rock song. Though there are many others found in the other three gospels, John only records 7 of Jesus' miracles – Jesus turning water into wine, healing the official's son, walking on water, feeding 5,000 people, healing the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, healing the man born blind, and raising Lazarus from the dead – and he is the only one of the four gospel writers that refers to these supernatural events as, “signs”. As a matter of fact, Jesus, in the other three gospels, refuses to give the Jews signs that he is the messiah. To be sure, Jesus himself never calls the healings and other miracles, “signs”, but as John's gospel has much more commentary from the author about who Jesus is, he feels it necessary to let his hearers know what he thinks of them.
And what he thinks of them is this: they are more than just opportunities for Jesus to show his divinity by defying the laws of nature; they are important actions which point us to something important about God, Jesus, and our relationship with God and Jesus! Much like our roads are filled with signs alerting us about speed limits, road conditions, directions and miles to the next city, John's gospel is filled with signs that alert us to something important. All of this background information, then, hopefully has you asking the question, “What possibly could such a weird and interesting story like Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding banquet point alert us about Jesus, God and our relationship with them?” I am glad that you asked!
This is the first public appearance of Jesus in John's gospel. It is also the first time we are introduced to Jesus' mother in it as well. She doesn't re-appear until the crucifixion, and we never hear her name mentioned; John merely calls her, “Jesus' mother.” John doesn't report any 40 day retreat to the wilderness after Jesus' baptism to be tempted by any devil. After he calls his disciples, Jesus is immediately thrust into the public eye when they all attend a wedding. In Jesus' day, weddings and the banquets that accompanied them lasted many days. People travelled from miles away on foot, so it was more than just a few hours. And it was a party – there was a lot of drinking and eating. Why would Jesus attend something like this? Because it was the culture; Life was hard, so when there was an opportunity to celebrate something, they would do it right. Extended family and friends got together for these celebrations and they partied, and they did it at the newly married couples' expense. And when the wine runs out before the party is to be over, it not only was embarrassing to the hosts, but it meant that the party was soon over. It would have been returning to their hardworking, difficult lives. When Jesus directs the servants to fill water jugs to the brim and take them to the wine steward, he blesses this gathering with good stuff to keep the celebration going. The married couple were relieved, the guests were glad, and the joyful spirit continued.
There is another aspect to this story that I did not until recently consider. I was reading in a commentary on this passage about how these wedding feasts of Jesus' day were not like receptions of our day. People were sat at tables based on their social status. Those of lower class were sat further away from the bride and groom and others who were better off in the social order sat up in front. And not only that, but those sat at higher seats had access to the better wine and food. The lower people would have drunk wine mixed with water and vinegar, much like was given to Jesus on a sponge as he hung from a cross. Could you imagine having two open bars at a wedding reception today – one with craft beers, top shelf liquors and good wine, the other with Bud Light, Boone's Farm and Wild Turkey? As long as the good wine held out, the upper class guests had it to drink, then they would be served lesser quality like the lower class.
Jesus does something really, really unique and special here in this scene. He provides an obscene amount of really good quality wine at a time when no one would have expected that there would be this kind of wine left so that all of the guests, no matter their social class or status, could experience the sweetness that is usually reserved for the more privileged of society. He miraculously conjures 120-180 gallons of top quality wine, conservatively estimated at $135,000, from water. In his first public appearance, Jesus enters a scene filled with barriers and limitations, labels and rationing, and points out to everyone around him how extravagant and abundant God's blessings are to those who receive him into their lives and relationships.
That is where this sign is pointing, my friends. On a road where we experience the want and rationing of everything from the basics needs of life like food, clothing, shelter, health care, education and the like, to things that are reserved for those who are in the upper classes – of which you can name a bunch, I am sure – Jesus points to abundance. When he changes this water into the wine of plenty, he not only blesses those attending that wedding feast at Cana of Galilee in so many ways, but he demonstrates how God works in our own culture today. He takes what is ordinary and makes it special, so that the sweet joy of life is experienced by all people no matter their standing in life, and it just keeps getting better and better when we think it should get staler and staler! Because of Jesus' presence, those who would never have the opportunity to experience the “good wine” of life, now have it!
In our second lesson Paul writes a letter to a fractured church in Corinth. They are fighting because some people, who either speak in or interpret un-recognizable sounds called, “glossolalia” or as we call it, “tongues” consider themselves to be better and more spirit filled than anyone else. When Paul lists spiritual gifts in this part of the letter, he puts the gifts of tongues last – in other words, they are no better than people who teach, preach, heal, perform miracles, etc. As a matter of fact, if a person is able to profess Jesus as Lord, that person has the gifts of the spirit. In Greek, these spiritual gifts are called, “Charismata” in plural, the singular being “Charisma”. When we here at Clinton Heights use God's gifts to make God known, we are being a charismatic church.
Now, charismatic has become identified with other attributes over the years – especially with churches who still speak in tongues. But according to Paul, using any of God's free gifts makes you charismatic. When we combine this message with the sign that Jesus makes in John 2, we cannot help but get excited about the life that we have in Jesus! It is a life where we not only experience goodness and joy in Jesus' presence (along with all of our Christian family) but it is a life where the spirit lives in us, directs our actions, and makes Christ known in us when we feed the hungry, clothe naked, give shelter to the homeless, and generally help those less fortunate through the outreach ministries we support. This is a life where the spirit is in us when we partner with our friends at Jacob's Porch to share the good news of Jesus on that college campus. This is a life where the spirit is in us when we do little things to love and encourage those around us in so many ways.
When we live charismatic lives, we ourselves become signs along the roadway, pointing others to the abundance of God's grace and mercy in their lives as well. We are a charismatic church because we take all of these things seriously when we gather to hear and share God's word and sacrament. We are also charismatic because our relationship doesn't end here in this place, but it forms and directs everything that we do this whole week. Thanks be to God for providing the abundant blessings for all to share, just like he did at that wedding in Cana. And thanks be to God for leading us to share that goodness in all that we do. Am en.