Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Jan. 16, 2022

Posted by on Sun, Jan 16, 2022 in Epiphany, Sermons

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Jan. 16, 2022

Each gospel has a unique feel and set of strengths, but for me John is especially life-giving. For example, the others tell of Jesus calling disciples by saying “Follow me” in some way. John must have been writing for us visual learners, because here Jesus says, “Come and see!” We often know God through what we literally ‘see’ or experience. Come and see for yourselves — see who I am, what I’m about, witness what will happen and see God’s glory revealed. John speaks of Jesus’ signs (seven in all) rather than miracles or deeds of miraculous power as in the other gospels. A sign may not always be completely clear, but it points to something more than itself, of import reaching beyond that moment. A sign is made powerful by one’s response to it. Miracles (by definition) involve some suspension or transformation of the natural order of things, and signs can too. For John, upending the laws of nature is less important to Jesus’ message. Rather it’s that his acts show who he is, what he came to do, and what response it points us to or evokes. Today we heard “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

Why start the story of Jesus ministry (post-baptism) with him attending an inconsequential wedding where he becomes the life of the party! Or rather, provides for it. The first act of Jesus’ ministry in the other gospels is more Messiah-like; Matthew Mark and Luke include Jesus overcoming the devil’s temptations. Matthew starts with Jesus preaching to the crowds, known as the sermon on the mount. Mark tells of Jesus’ first act as casting out an unclean spirit, suggesting healing as his major focus. Luke combines these as Jesus preaches in the synagogue, reading from Isaiah about tending to the poor, the captive, the blind and oppressed. His next action in Luke is to heal a man of an evil spirit. 

For John — it’s the wedding and the wine; not the hard working Messiah the others start with, and yet that’s part of the message here. Jesus belongs there too, he was in fact invited. We make that invitation when we seek Gods blessing supported by the prayers and love of our community. Sadly Jesus’ invitation is frequently ‘lost in the mail’ these days. We’ve all heard of over-the-top weddings — where dresses may cost more than the new Tesla, and if you’re short on ideas or drama a Google search directs you to shows like Say Yes to the Dress, Bridezillas, Marriage or Mortgage?, Celebrity Dream Wedding, and even Bridalplasty (where the winner gets her whole dream wedding and her entire prenuptial plastic surgery wishlist paid for). Weddings in Jesus day were their own version of grand, inviting the whole community or town, and the wedding celebration itself lasting several days. Wine was part of this and to run out was far more than a mere embarrassment, it was a disaster and would forever tarnish or scar your reputation. Because wine was a symbol of salvation to the Jews, of transformation, blessing, celebration, and joy, to run out would be akin to feeling cursed. Wine in Jesus’ day was about half the alcohol it is today, and it was part of Jewish rituals and celebrations. Yes, there were surely alcoholics in biblical times, though the gospel’s lens on wine is about what it symbolizes and the rituals of the people. 

That day in Cana, the jars of wine ran empty, and Jesus’ mother tells him so. His response is like any young adult at a party with his mother and in front of his friends; what concern is that to you and me? She knows him well enough to give him the ‘Because I said so!’ look and walks away, telling the servers to do what he asks. His mother was right, as we often are, and Jesus saves the wedding from disaster. This was not like dumping box wine into better bottles — this wine from water really was the very best wine, and in lavish abundance! Some 180 gallons or about 1000 bottles, more than they could possibly need. While bread was necessary for life, wine was the extra something added to it, a sense of celebration beyond the ordinary. Like his call to Come and see! the transformation  of water to wine is an unspoken message that in the kingdom of God there is more than enough, no one must go thirsty or even settle for the poorer dregs. All who seek God’s grace are invited and may drink their fill.

In the Hebrew Scriptures wine is named as part of God’s promise of salvation; “Feasts are made for laughter; wine gladdens life” (Ecclesiastes 10:19) and from Isaiah, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines…”(25:6) It is part of mourning too, and used to dull pain, as offered to Jesus on the cross. More powerfully, Jesus making wine in absurd abundance at that wedding points to his last days when the bread and the wine become what he says to do “in remembrance” of him. It heralds the response we make today in our shared Communion. That’s part of the sign; that his coming is about lavish abundance, invites us to be a responsive and loving community drawn together, be it in mourning or in celebration, and receiving blessing and joy.

No, it isn’t that followers of Jesus, then or now, get an easy carefree life where all goes well and we live in comfortable luxury, nor that we are free from suffering, loss, and grief. Jesus’ extravagant transformation of water into so much wine is a sign that even into our fears and woes and pain is the grace of his presence, sustaining us when we fall apart, showing us glimpses of joy even in our worst days. His promise is that nothing can destroy his love for us, his bond with us, and not even death has power over his gift of life. From Isaiah we just heard, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate … for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. …and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (62:3-5)

In Jesus the ‘plain water’ of ordinary life can be transformed into something extraordinary. As we welcome him in we are transformed, be it in tiny steps or great moments of eye-opening awe. I love hearing both kinds of stories from you too, and lately it is in seeing a sign that surprises or makes clear God’s presence, and your response is reverence and astonishment. Other times it is in numerous small ways, as when I hear how very blessed someone feels being held in our prayers, how relieved and thankful people are to be able to ask for prayers. They don’t feel so isolated or adrift because someone from St. Michael’s sent a note or made a call or popped up online. In this community of Christ there is a grounding so profound that instead of holding so tightly to our anxieties, fears, and even pandemic pummeling, we can reach out to share them, to find his hand in each other, and be drawn into his ever widening embrace.

Preparing to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. tomorrow led me to listen for his vision in our readings this week. This gospel is about life abundant in the kingdom of God—for all of us. In Jesus, there is more than enough for everyone to drink their fill. That too was Dr. King’s message, and his hope that we might find our way to live together in such community. We all still have some work to do. In Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Address to the Nation on January 6, 2022 he said, “We must revive our relationship with each other as children of the God who made us all, and therefore as brothers, sisters, siblings, as the human family of God.” Then he quoted the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said, “If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” It may sound like I’ve wandered off the topic of Jesus changing water into wine at the wedding feast. Possibly. Yet what a transformation it would be for all people to celebrate together, even with the innumerable differences our world of acronyms can come up with! For what could be more a sign of God’s kingdom than love poured so lavishly and shared by all? For like the wine at that wedding in Cana, there is more than enough to go around.

© 2022 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

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