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Sermon for Epiphany II

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ January 17th, 2011

Sermon on St. John 2:1-11

Epiphany II

+ Jesu Juva +

And at Cana, Wedding guest, In Thy Godhead manifest

– TLH 134.2

Last week’s Gospel Lesson (Lk 2:41-52) gave us Jesus’ first recorded public words of the supposedly “lost” boy Jesus: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Today’s Gospel Lesson gives us Jesus’ first sign or miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding reception that almost went bad. From an Epiphany in words to an Epiphany in action, today we confess, “And at Cana, Wedding guest, In Thy Godhead manifest.”

It began with a joyous event: a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Weddings in Jesus’ day were massive feasts for the entire village. A wedding party could last an entire week, put everything else in the town on hold, and be the most important local event of the entire year. Somewhat parallel to our modern customs, there were many folkways and mores attached to the ancient village wedding. A contract between families, cut by mutual agreement over a sip of wine. A betrothal period, maybe about one year in length, when the bride prepared the home for the couple. And then the arrival of the groom, the procession to the wedding hall, and a grand feast. To neglect the invitation was to send a message that you did not want to be a part of the village. To accept the invitation was a show of friendship and loyalty. One friend of mine, for instance, who got married in Greece a few years ago was surprised to learn that the couple was expected to invite the entire town and to give a gift to every wedding guest! Some of these Eastern customs seem to be a little “over the top” to our American ears, but they are important for us to understand the magnitude of the disaster almost befell this wedding.

As part of the wedding celebration, wine was served as the drink of joy. Wine said that the groom was present, the bride was ready, and the entire town was going to rejoice in their marriage. The bride’s family was responsible to make sure there was enough wine for everyone. They had vineyards just outside town, plenty of servants, and about a year to plan for the supply of wine. The wine steward, parallel to the modern bartender, was responsible for the amount of fun had at the feast. Serve the good wine first, when the pallet is sensitive. Serve the Cabernet, the Merlot, and the twelve-year-old Special Reserve from the Greek Isles. Then, when the pallet is dull, break out the $5.99 a bottle generic reds and whites with a screw-on cap. Then everyone will have just the right amount of fun. Too much fun? The neighbors might call the cops. Not enough fun? The wedding will flop and no one will ever hire the steward again. Again, everything was at stake for those who sponsored or worked at the wedding. When this wedding ran out of wine, it ran out of joy. And of what value is a wedding feast without joy?

Enter Jesus of Nazareth. He ordered the kitchen staff to fill the jars to the brim and to take some to the master of the feast. Just think of the dynamics that converge here. Mary, the Mother of our Lord and the icon of obedience, was in a panic. The steward’s reputation and job were on the line. Jesus was giving orders, but they must have been perplexing to everyone who heard them. Why refill the jars with water, Jesus? And why take it to the master of the feast? And didn’t You hear what your mother just told You? But Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He was saving the entire village from social disaster. The master of the feast tipped the glass to his lips and tasted a $300 per bottle vintage with a crisp flavor, a full body, and a good finish. He was impressed that they had supposedly saved the good wine until now. And so it was as Jesus saved rescued a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee.

What does this mean?

There’s much to be said in this story about marriage. By their presence at this wedding, Mary, Jesus, and His disciples remind us that marriage is God’s gift to this creation. It is the way God, among other things, repopulates the world, offers companionship and pleasure to man, and orders our lives according to His image. Jesus did not take on earthly bride, but He approved of marriage and had a lot to say about marriage. This stands in contrast to the false teaching of the Roman Church that marriage is generally not permitted for priests. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that “[T]he ordained ministers of the Latin Church . . . are normally chosen from among men of faith who lived a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’” (para 1579). While they permit a few exceptions here and there, it is also of note that “a man who has already received [ordination] can no longer marry” (para 1580), and priests promoted to bishop are only chosen from among the celibates. Indeed, one may choose to remain celibate, but it must not be forced on clergy. Even St. Peter himself, supposedly the first Pope, was married. So we rejoice in marriage as God’s first and best gift to mankind.

There’s much to be said here about authority. Did you notice the chain of command in this story? Mary mentioned the wine issue to Jesus, her obedient Son. As His mother, she had authority over Jesus according to His human nature. He seemed to distance Himself from her, addressing her as “Woman.” After all, He had authority over her and over all creation according to His Divine nature. As we learned last Sunday, Mary’s Little Boy was growing up. Mary turned to the servants and gave them orders. She was exercising her authority over them, although St. John doesn’t say how it was established. Jesus, in turn, gave the servants orders regarding the water pots. In sum, here we see the Fourth Commandment in motion. So let us rejoice and ever believe that the authority vested in the office of parent – yes, the authority you have to bring your children to church and Sunday School; to raise them in wisdom, stature, and favor; and maybe to give them orders on their own wedding day, if you so dare – is the highest authority on earth.

There’s much to be said about wine as God’s gift, rather than God’s curse, on creation. The miracle of turning water into wine says that wine is good for this creation, yes, good enough for sacramental use when Christ, as our Groom, is banqueting us on Sunday morning. This stands in contrast to the false teaching in the world that alcohol should be banned and the false teaching in the church grape juice and other substitutes should be used for the Lord’s Supper. In the world, the prohibition against alcohol overlooks the reality that the abuse of alcohol, not its use, is the problem. In the church, the use of grape juice and other oddities in place of wine in effect reverses the miracle at Cana. Jesus turned water into wine, the old into the new, the lesser into the greater. Those who used anything but wine for the Lord’s Supper, in addition to denying the Lord’s sacramental presence, are going backwards by replacing the drink of joy (wine) with something inferior (the lesser), quite literally watering down the Sacrament! Rather, let us rejoice in God’s gift of the fruit of the vine, and especially its salutary use in the Lord’s Supper.

While any one of these themes – marriage, authority, and good wine – would make a good sermon or even a good book, I think these aspects of the story are secondary. They are “minor characters” we meet along the way. More important, I believe, are the major characters that John presents in his own, unique way; “little epiphanies,” rooted in numbers, that add up to “God in man made manifest.”

The talk of the third day is a little epiphany. Did you notice that time reference as you listened to the Gospel Lesson this morning? If you have a chance to read John chapter 1 this week at home, you’ll read where John the Baptist declares Jesus to be the Lamb of God, the One who takes away the sins of the world (1:29, 36). This miracle happened on the third day after Jesus was declared to be the Lamb of God. See how the Lamb and the third day point ahead to Jesus’ death and resurrection! The identity of Jesus as the Lamb says that He is the One appointed by God to die for the sins of the world, to go the slaughter as the Innocent One who dies for the guilty, and to stand before His shearers as a silent sheep. Yes, the Lamb of God is One who takes your sin into His body, who suffers all that you by your sin have deserved, and who pays the bloody price for all that you, by your own fault, have merited. At the same time, the reference to the third day points ahead to Jesus’ resurrection on the third day. The third day is the day of life, the day in Genesis when God created living things, plants and such with a regular cycle of death and life. In the NT, the third day is the day of new life in the risen Christ; the great, triumphal day that Jesus rose from the dead, trampled death under foot, and ushered in a new creation.

The talk of six jars is an epiphany. Six is one short of a perfect seven. We think once again of the creation account in Genesis 1–2, a story which John has in mind and re-writes, especially in the early portion of His Gospel. In His first creation, God made all that exists in six days. But the story was not complete until He rested on the seventh day, a day that was hallowed in the OT for worship, prayer, and sacrifice. And so there were six jars, just one short of the number of creation, of Sabbath, and of God’s pronouncement that everything was very good. But Jesus came to this wedding and to this earth to complete the work of re-creating. He came to turn the water of our life into wine, to re-create us in His image through Holy Baptism, and to replace the old with the new. Nothing is left incomplete when Jesus finishes His Divine course in John’s Gospel. He fulfills all that was promised in the OT, establishes a new Sabbath (Sunday) through His resurrection, and says that you and I are very good because we stand before God with clean hands and a pure heart.

Finally, the reference to Jesus’ first sign is a little epiphany. This is the first of five signs in John’s Gospel, those miracles that point to an even greater reality than themselves; those signs that say God is made manifest in Jesus of Nazareth. Changing water into wine was first. And they only get better from here. He healed the nobleman’s son (chapter 4). He fed 5,000 with a few loaves and fish (chapter 6). He healed the man born blind (chapter 9). He raised Lazarus from the dead (chapters 11–12). So from the wine to the nobleman’s son to the feeding of the multitude to the man born blind to the raising of Lazarus, Jesus manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him. It’s a whole series of signs and epiphanies that shape our own Epiphany season, isn’t it? Here is a marvelous progression that says that God has come to earth in this Jesus. And He brings Light and Life to you and me.

In one prominent cathedral in New York City, the following words are engraved on the floor near the baptismal font: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” Whoever decided to engrave these words from today’s Gospel Lesson in front of a baptismal font understood what St. John was preaching to us this morning. As the wedding at Cana was the first of Jesus’ signs, so Holy Baptism is His first sign among us. Baptism is a sacramental miracle, an even greater sign than turning water into wine. These words inscribed near this font remind us that Jesus is still manifesting Himself to us every time we gather around font, pulpit, and altar. And He gives us voice to sing, “Anthems be to Thee addressed, God in man made manifest” (TLH 134). INJ. Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church

Bayside, NY

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