Sermon January 16, 2022

Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

The Gospel: John 2:1-11

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.

The Sermon

Mother knows best. It is kind of funny, how Jesus’ mother put her nose into business that wasn’t really hers. Jesus was right when he pointed out that the wine supply was neither his nor her concern. The bridegroom or his family should have made sure that there was enough; it was their problem.

At the same time, she saved the day. Without her intervention the party would have come to an untimely end. Wine was important and to run out only halfway through the week-long celebration would have brought shame over the family for quite a while. And Jesus’ mother did have some boundaries. She put her request to Jesus, and then left it up to him to act, or not. So things turned out okay.

Obviously, this gospel passage is set in a different time and different culture. Hospitality and providing for guests was a matter of honor and pride, more so than today, but I think one of the underlying issues is the same, namely where was people’s focus then and where is our focus now. The wedding would have ended had the wine really run out. But the wine was only one aspect of the celebration. There was still the fellowship, the food, the music, and maybe some other form of entertainment.

Yet, had the party really ended, the focus would have been not on the abundance that was still there, but on the lack of one thing. A sense of scarcity would have won over the actual abundance. When we hit low points in our lives, the question is on what we decide to focus. Is it what’s missing, all the stuff that goes wrong, or is it all the blessings that are still there.

We are all tired of Covid. Every other conversation circles around the fact that our lives are so disrupted and all the things we are missing. And they are. The loss of lives and the grief are real; so are financial concerns and uncertainties about the future.

At the same time, that is not all there is. When we look at our situation here in Bergen County, we still live in a very comfortable environment. There is food in the supermarkets, we have roofs over our heads and when we need medical attention we know where to go. All this we may take for granted, but we shouldn’t. It is actually something to be grateful for.

The other thing that strikes me about this gospel is that God’s abundance is not always clearly visible. The guests of the party kept celebrating with gallons and gallons of wine. I doubt that they were even thinking about where it all came from. They most likely figured that the family planned really well for this event. There were just the servants who filled the water jars; some disciples are mentioned who after witnessing the transformation believed in Jesus. I am not sure that the family realized what had happened. Overall, this sign went rather unnoticed, meaning God’s abundance and generosity went unnoticed, which is a shame because this sign was so over the top.
It was an excessive miracle. 120 gallons of wine was a lot, even for a multiple day celebration. This was the first but not the last time that Jesus went overboard with a miracle.

But signs and miracles were never about the obvious. Today there was plenty of wine, but the sign was not about the wine and the party. Rather, they revealed something about Jesus. Other miracles, like the feeding of the 5000 were not about a lot of fish and bread, they too, revealed something about Jesus. Any healing wasn’t about the healing itself.

All signs and miracles point in some way to God. They point to God’s generosity and abundance, to God’s love and care, to God’s involvement in our lives. The wine was a first demonstration of God’s abundant generosity. It showed his ability to fill our needs – in today’s gospel he maintained the family’s honor and kept the party going. It showed God’s power to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary – water into wine.

With all that we are at the heart of how God works in this world. There is the abundance, the filling of needs, the transformational power, but also the element of surprise. Who would have thought that God would do such thing?
As a result, Jesus’ disciples believed in him. The question is, do we? I don’t mean whether we literally believe that real water was turned into real wine, but do we believe in the possibilities described not only in the gospel, but in all of scripture: the possibility of God’s abundance and power of transformation. And how sharp are we in noticing God’s rich blessings around us, how we are gifted by God, and are we able to see that, at our lowest or highest points, God is working in our lives?

In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah spoke about the possibility of transformation as well. I always wonder how the people then heard the words of Isaiah. They were devastated by war. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed, people were deported and then four decades later they were allowed to come back, only to find the city still in rubbles.

In this situation we hear from Isaiah about God’s power to transform even the worst circumstances. Both, the gospel and Isaiah just don’t sound realistic. And yet, God works with us, his flawed humanity. We may not always see how God provides for us. We do not know what God is going to do to turn our circumstances around. And we cannot predict what we might have to do to be a part of the solution, like the servants were part of it when they filled all these water jars.

Nonetheless, God is here, providing abundantly, meeting our needs and transforming our lives. Sometimes we see it and sometimes we don’t. Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.