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Epiphany 2C Sermon
John 2:1-11
January
20, 2019

 

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John 2:1-11

The Wedding at Cana

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When 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 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.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

This is the story of the first of Jesus’ signs. Do you think it is strange that he chose to do it at a wedding? Or that it involved providing more wine for guests at the wedding banquet? Where and how would we expect Jesus to give us a sign of God’s glory? I have come to realize that signs of God’s presence often happen at times and in ways that can surprise us.
Of course, maybe we should have expected this sign to show up in this place and in this manner. Wedding banquets and marriages in general are symbols in the Bible of the relationship between God and God’s people. In our first lesson God calls the land, “Married” and relates God’s joy over his people to a bridegroom’s joy over his bride. And the wedding banquet is used in parables and songs as an image whereby we can know what God’s kingdom will be like when it comes in its fullness. It is definitely appropriate that Jesus performs this miracle at a wedding banquet, because nothing symbolizes the celebration and rejoicing over love and commitment as this does. And in Jesus’ day the wedding banquets went on for about a week! These people took this seriously! For folks that lived a short, difficult life, having the chance to attend such a party was a sure manifestation or epiphany of God’s presence with them – and that is what this church season is all about.

What about the use of the wine as part of this parable? Why is it so appropriate? First of all, you have to remember that in days before sanitation, having safe water to drink was not a sure thing. In many cultures boiling some kind of sugar water and then exposing it to some kind of yeast was a way to keep the bacteria out better than drawing water from a lake or river. Deep wells were at a premium, so other ways of refreshment were necessary. That is why farm workers, soldiers and other laborers have been paid partially in beer, wine or liquor over the years. It was literally true for many that, “You can’t drink the water.” But you can drink the wine!
On top of that, in Biblical times wine was a symbol of abundance. And when Jesus creates as much as 180 gallons of the stuff, the abundance theme really comes alive! And what about the quality of this wine that Jesus creates? Many people who make beer or wine will tell you that the fermentation part of the process is not their own doing. They are secondary actors in it, merely creating the right conditions for the yeast to eat the sugars, thus creating CO2 and alcohol. They also choose which yeast to pitch in accord with the style of drink they are making, but yeast exists in the air all around us. That is why you could press a bunch of apples, store the cider in a cool but open room, and in a short amount of time it is “hard”. It is a natural process and will occur whenever the conditions are right.

I wonder if this Chief Steward might possibly have been a full-blown sommelier, a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, normally working in fine restaurants who specializes in all aspects of wine service. Sommeliers help with food pairings and describing tasting notes – like the fruits, florals or oaky character some wines have, if they are balanced or fruit forward, complex or disjointed. They help you describe the mouthfeel, if it is silky, velvety, chalky, dusty, creamy, oily or even prickly. They have also helped to put words to the off flavors that may be experienced in some wines – like wet cardboard, vinegar, sticking plaster, barnyard, rotten egg, cabbage, gas or rot.

When the chief steward, or sommelier, tasted this wine which was not created by the traditional process but merely by Jesus filling up stone jars with water and telling them to drink a little, he must have been impressed by what he sampled! There was not wet cardboard, sticking plaster or rot at all. No off flavors that would have been excused this late in the week of the banquet. No, this was good stuff, maybe a little fruit forward, showing a complex oaky character that aging in a proper wood barrel would give. This was good wine, and an abundance of it, not only safe to drink, but pleasant to drink! Glory be to God!

Maybe what we should be most surprised at should not be the setting in which or the means by which Jesus shares this sign of God’s presence and glory, but the timing of it. When our expectations are of stale leftovers and the lower grade ingredients, God surprises us with something new, refreshing and wonderful! It was time for the barnyard tasting wine, but they got the smooth, velvety balanced stuff. Everyone got it, even those who may have seats of lower honor. There was so much that everyone would get plenty and they would have loads left over. When we least expect it, God points us to joy and glory in Jesus.

Last Sunday afternoon I tuned in to the Blue Jackets game just after they honored former player Rick Nash for his retirement. It was time for the national anthem, and singer Leo Welsh looked a little embarrassed standing next to the military honoree for the night. They introduced him, the crowd responded with their traditional, “LEO!!!” and instead of raising the microphone to his mouth, he raised an empty hand and kind of shrugged his shoulders – I found out the next morning that Leo had gone out onto the ice and forgot to take the microphone with him. He tried to quiet the crowd, and he started in with the anthem. A couple of lines into the song, you could hear a little bit of uniformity start to emerge in the crowd. A line or two later, the volume built, and by half-way through it, the crowd was fully into it, belting it out in unison and proud of it. I wasn’t there in person, but people I have talked to who were there say that it was one of those times when the hair on the back of your neck stood up in awe. They also said that until things came together, there was about 3 or 4 different keys being sung. It struck me that this was one of those signs like the wedding at Cana. At an unlikely time with unlikely circumstances, this anthem pointed to the unity that is possible, especially in challenging situations. Like our nation, people were singing in different keys and there seemed to be a lack of that one voice to lead them, but they were able to join together and participate in a sign of unity which can hopefully encourage some of the people there and who watched on television, replay, or who just heard about it, that it is possible for unity to come out of challenging situations – and when it does, it is inspirational!

Jesus made water into wine – good wine – when it was not expected: the wrong kind of wine in the wrong vessels at the wrong time. In so doing he pointed to the glorious presence of God with us. I believe this still happens – it happened at the hockey game, and it happens in and through the people, places and events of our lives when we least expect it. We know that this creation is not perfect, and we cling to the dream that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. shared of a world where, as he put it, “little black girls and little black boys will join hands with little white boys and little white girls as sisters and brothers.” It is not reality, but we cling to the vision of God as shared by Dr. King, and we trust that when we least expect it and in surprising ways, that dream and all of God’s vision will be fulfilled. May your lives be filled with signs of God’s abundant presence, and may those signs inspire you to rejoice in the gifts that God has given us! Amen!