Sunday, January 20, 2013

John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus 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. 9 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 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.
     What would we do without them?  One day several years ago, I needed to go the main post office in Holyoke for a passport.  As I was coming home, I took a left on High Street.  The problem was, it wasn’t High St.  It was Maple St, and I was traveling in the wrong direction because I was distracted by other thoughts and didn’t see the street sign OR the one way sign on the corner.  The one sign I couldn’t miss though was the sight of all the cars coming straight at me!  
      The writer of John’s Gospel uses a series of seven signs to reveal something about us and God’s relationship with us.  But just as we can be distracted on the road and miss some important street signs, we are often too distracted by the things in our lives – both good and bad, to see signs of God’s presence around us or to even recognize our need for it.  A series of stories unique to the gospel of John serve to point us in the right direction.  The story of the wedding at Cana is the first sign we find there.
      In Jesus’ time, weddings were a HUGE event, much as they are now.  Except they lasted for a full week!  During that time, the bridegroom provided the guests with everything they needed for a joyous celebration – including an open bar!  Mary, Jesus and some of his disciples are guests at this wedding that is about end abruptly.  For the bridegroom to run out of wine would have been humiliating.  Wine was not only the normal beverage served at meals, it was also a symbol of joy and of God’s abundant blessings on the marriage.  Somehow, Mary discovers what is about to happen and turns to Jesus, the one person she knows can rectify the situation and save the bridegroom’s honor. 
     Although reluctant at first, Jesus comes through in an extraordinary way.  He instructs the servants to fill six of the stone jars normally used for purification and he transforms the water into wine.  We aren’t talking about the equivalent of a case of Boone’s Farm Apple wine here, but 120 – 180 gallons of the finest wine available - like the $200 dollar a bottle Bordeaux wine I saw online.  Despite the extravagance of it, this miracle seems rather anticlimactic in comparison to some of the miracles mentioned in the other Gospels. 
      There isn’t a whole lot of fanfare going on.  The guests do not know the extent of the miracle because their palates have been dulled after three days of celebration.  In addition, Jesus didn’t come from a line of wealthy people.  So it’s probably safe to assume that the bridegroom and his family wouldn’t  have been exposed to fine tastes, and therefore would not have been able to recognize or even appreciate the richness of such a wine.  The wine steward knew the quality, but he mistakenly attributed the wine’s appearance to the bridegroom.  Imagine his surprise when the steward sang his praises for saving the best wine for last!  Only the servants, Mary, and Jesus’ disciples know what’s happened.  The disciples belief is strengthened because of it.  But except for them, this “sign” seems to be almost unnoticed.
      Not so for the gospel writer’s readers though.  Familiar with the words of the prophets, the Jewish audience would recognize the lavish outpouring of wine as a sign of the Messiah - God’s incarnation present and active in the world.  Similarly, this story was significant to the Greek audience who had heard legends associating the presence of a deity with the image of flowing and abundant wine.  For them, this story offered supportive evidence of Jesus’ divinity.  It also offers a taste of God’s over-abundance – this wine was beyond what the bridegroom needed for the remainder of the celebration.  Some might even say it was wasted on people who couldn’t even appreciate its quality. 
      This story of water, poured into stone vessels and transformed into fine wine for the sake of undeserving people points to God’s extravagant grace poured out for all through Jesus.  It’s natural for us to try to put limits on God’s abundance and grace, especially in a culture that associates hard work with high reward.  This belief often crosses into our faith life too.  God’s unlimited and undeserved grace - it is inconceivable to us.  We work hard to earn God’s grace – to feel as if we deserve salvation.   Likewise, we often judge others according to our own moral codes and not by God’s grace.  In our self-righteousness and never-ending struggle to earn God’s love and secure own salvation, we shut out God and miss the signs of God’s deep and abiding love for us.  Despite our unbelief, God continues to reach out to us. 
      One way God demonstrates this abundant grace is through the waters of baptism, a sign of God’s presence in the church today.  Present in the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit transforms us and equips each of us with spiritual manifestations.  The flowing waters of baptism cannot be contained, but continue to flow out of us for the common good.  Wisdom, knowledge, faith and healing are visible signs of God’s presence in the world.   
      Sometimes, it is easier to see the signs of God’s spirit at work in the world.  This week, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.  And in this celebration, it is easy to see the Spirit’s work in his life as he worked to use non-violent means to bring about equality for those who had experienced so much injustice. 
      And it is easy to see signs of the spirit’s work in Mother Theresa, who gave of herself in service to the poor.    Signs of God’s abundant love are evident here too: in our worship, in our gift of hospitality, in the sharing of our faith, and in our willingness to serve one another and the community around us. 
      But it isn’t always so easy to the signs of God’s grace in the mundane places in our lives: in the parents who struggle to make ends meet and whose hearts break for their children; in the dead of winter; or in the brokenness of the world. 
      Sometimes, we even have trouble seeing the signs of the Holy Spirit in our lives and recognizing how we are being transformed into visible signs of God’s presence in the world.  I know it is for me.  Unfortunately, more often than not, I feel more like an obstacle than a visible sign of God’s presence.  Perhaps you do too. 
      One day several years ago, I expressed this thought to a close friend.  Two weeks later, I received a card from her.  Inside, I found a pin in the shape of a diamond.  It was yellow, like one of the road construction signs we often see on the highways.  Printed on it were the words, “God at work.”  She included a note in the card that said, “Every day, remember your baptism – let that be the sign of God’s work.  Even when you don’t see it or feel it, you have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and I see it in you.” 
      What a gift she gave to me.  That day, she was a sign of God’s presence in my life.  Although I had missed the signs; she pointed me back to God’s continuous work in my life and reminded me to trust in God’s promise.  I still have that pin.  It is on denim jacket as a reminder to look for the signs of God’s abundant love poured out for me, for you, and for the world. 

Signs, what would we do without them?????

Let us pray - Lord, you gave us the sign of water transformed into wine. Distracted by the party, drunk with other desires, we noticed not. So it is with your signs. You put them everywhere, make them large and small, plain and subtle, but we do not see them. And should we see them, we know not how to read them. But you are the Word made visible. Grant us the grace to see the signs of your handiwork, that we might know your healing power, your persistent grace, your undying love  incarnate in Jesus Christ and in those who follow his signs to eternal life by the grace of God. Amen.
NOTE:  The above prayer was written by Paul Bellan-Boyer and used with his permission for this sermon.  For more of his writings, see his Blog City Called Heaven.

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