The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 14 January 2007
John 2:1-11 [ English Standard Version , © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers ]
“1On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come." 5His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8And he said to them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast." So they took it. 9When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”
A Sermon for 2 Epiphany
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Both the prophets Joel and Amos declared that when the Messiah came there would be an abundance of wine (see Joel 3:18 and Amos 9:13). The prophets declared that the mountains would drip with sweet wine when God’s anointed king showed up, the same kind of wine we use in our celebration of Holy Communion.
It’s hard not to celebrate when there is an abundance of sweet wine. That’s what you’ll find if you ever participate in a Jewish Seder, or Passover celebration. Even if you tend towards the somber, it’s hard not to be rather happy after having enjoyed such a celebration with glass after glass of sweet kosher wine served throughout the meal. Everything about that meal has great significance. Small children ask questions about why Passover is different from any other night. Then everyone recalls God’s mighty act of deliverance when Israel was freed from Egyptian slavery. Let me tell you, a great time is had by all. But, I must warn you, if Jewish friends ever invite you to a Seder, you should plan on taking a taxi there and back or, at least, have a designated driver.
It’s kind of like that in John 2. But they are not celebrating the Passover when the Lord Jesus, God’s Messiah, shows up. They are having a wedding feast at the groom’s family home. All have eaten well and have enjoyed a lot of wine. Yet now there’s a problem. The wine is running out, and the party is far from over.
Jesus’ Jewish momma sizes up the dilemma and tells her boy about it. The implicit command is: “Fix it!” Of course, you can almost hear Jesus’ sigh. It’s kind of like a pastor being on vacation and showing up as a visitor at a congregation whose pastor suddenly calls in sick. So the congregation’s president stands up and says: “Is there a pastor in the house?” And the pastor’s spouse leans over and says: “Honey, you’ve got to help them out.” And the response is a look that says: “Great! It’s my first Sunday off in months, and I’m supposed to work.”
You notice that Mary doesn’t take no for an answer. Like all mothers, she’s used to being obeyed. In fact, she says to the servants, “Do whatever my son tells you.”
Now there are six jars for water to be used in washing according to the various Jewish purification rites. Each when full can hold up to 30 gallons of water. So Jesus tells the servants to fill them to the brim, and he says to draw some out and take it to the man in charge of the feast. When the guy tastes the wine, he says to the groom: “This stuff is incredible. Normally people serve the good wine first, and then as the people get sloshed, the hosts bring out the cheap stuff. But not you! You have saved the very best for last!” What a party!
WHEN IT’S NOT LOVE
I’m presently reading a disturbing novel entitled The Wrong Man from author John Katzenbach. It seems a bright young graduate student named Ashley has made the huge mistake of hooking up only once with a good looking but evil fellow named Michael. She had been drunk. She made a huge mistake. But now she could not get rid of the guy. He is obsessed beyond all reason.
Michael doesn’t just write her notes saying that she is his forever. Michael follows the guy that kisses Ashley at the doorstep after a first date, and Michael beats the guy nearly to death. In fact, Ashley is disappointed not to ever hear from the guy again, not knowing that he is comatose for two months and thereafter in a wheelchair.
Ashley keeps telling Michael to leave her alone. Her professor dad tries to talk sense to the guy, even offering him $5,000 to leave his daughter alone. Michael responds by anonymously accusing her father of plagiarism and even by rewriting another man’s doctoral dissertation to incriminate Ashley’s father. Then Michael messes with Ashley’s lawyer mother’s professional bank accounts and then anonymously accuses her of stealing from clients. Then Michael anonymously accuses Ashley’s mom’s partner, a high school coach, of the sexual harassment of a 15 year old student.
And the story goes on. It’s the 80s movie Fatal Attraction rewritten for the 21 st century. Michael is a very, very bad dude. Ashley should never, never have hooked up with a stranger just because she was drunk and he was cute.
But this is not just a story that anxious parents tell to keep their sweet daughters in line. In fact, it is a fictionalized account of a recurring nightmare for many young women and men in America. Not all obsessive people are merely in need of intensive therapy. There are some really evil people out there that look incredibly normal. They are not just the sick types that are guilty of date rape. They are the kind of people that have a lot in common with serial killers – criminally brilliant and lethal.
So when young people go out to party, they should always be with friends that will watch their back and vice versa. You never know when there is a predator out there.
WHEN IT IS LOVE
I’ve met a lot of couples over the years and have helped a lot of people get married. I’ve also listened to a lot of stories of married love gone wrong. In fact, I’ve lived that story, too. And it’s difficult to talk about. Invariably when I talk about this topic I end up offending some people, which is not my goal.
My goal is talk about the marriage God wants people to have, so that those that aren’t married will do some serious thinking about marriage. I also want those that are married to take an inventory of how things are going and what God wants for them, too.
Let me say it and get this part over quickly. Divorce is never God’s will for us, and most divorces could be prevented by being more careful about whom we marry. Once we are married – with the exception of abuse or infidelity – God wills us to stay married even if we have chosen to marry someone that does not share our faith. It would be ludicrous to suggest that both spouses being nominally Christians automatically makes for a good marriage. It would also be ludicrous to suggest that spouses that don’t share a common Christian faith could never have a good marriage. The evidence is not there.
But I also remember a conversation I had with a woman that I dated in my late 20s. She had previously been in a serious relationship with a very nice fellow that happened to be Jewish. Because she and I ran in the same circles, I had observed the relationship for about a year. It was clear that there was much love between them, but then she had broken it off before they got married. I asked her what happened.
She replied: “My mother told me how much she liked him, and what a fine young man he was. She said he would indeed make a good husband. But then she asked me what I would do about Christmas and Easter once I had children. My mother reminded me how much I loved all of the family activities they shared both at church and at home. She asked how I would handle it if my husband could not share in the same kind of spiritual and cultural joy as my own family always had experienced together.”
The young woman said: “My mother never told me not to marry him. She made me think about things, and I realized that I wanted someone that could share my faith with me.” So that was that. After some matchmaking by friends, she and I began to date. Of course, it was rather ironic that even though we both shared a common faith and many interests, the relationship never really clicked. She ended up marrying a fellow whose family background was closer to her own, and, at last report, all was still well with them.
I went on to a couple of more near misses and then to a relationship that would have been better if it had not become a marriage given a number of serious differences that should have been enough to discourage both of us. Alas, it is possible to love someone who is simply not right for you and for whom you also are not a match. Mutual attraction and even affection are not enough to make a marriage good or godly.
BEING DRAWN OUT
Now by this point you may be thoroughly confused saying that it was rather a leap, and maybe a bit of stream of consciousness, to move from Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding of Cana to talking about whom we marry. After all, shouldn’t we be talking about the wonder of His having turned 180 gallons of ordinary water into vintage wine?
Well, maybe it’s not so great a leap after all. For, in those days, momma and daddy would never have allowed a good Jewish girl to marry a non-Jewish boy and vice versa. How could you have a lot of good Jewish babies and raise them up in the faith if momma and daddy weren’t both God-fearing Jews? In fact, the great joy for those at the wedding of Cana was all wrapped up with God’s people keeping the faith and passing along the faith to the next generations that were going to come out of this new union.
Every Jew knew that the sexy Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) was a great celebration of God’s gift of sexuality to a husband and wife. Paraphrasing loosely, the groom in the poem says things like: “I can’t keep my eyes off of you. You have got to be my wife and move in with me like yesterday.” And she responds with equal enthusiasm.
But every good Jew also knew that the sexy Song of Songs was also about God’s great love for His people Israel. He was the great Lover, the great Husband of His people. So every Jewish wedding feast and every Jewish honeymoon was also a blissful reflection of the joyful relationship between the LORD and His people. Indeed Isaiah talked about a great future banquet that was coming for the LORD and His people (ch.25), and that later became part of the Christian story of the last things (Rev. 21).
So we can see that it is not a leap or even a stretch to say that the marriage relationship for both Jews and Christians is meant to be a sign of God’s faithfulness to His people. And the joy of the wedding feast or the wedding banquet or the wedding reception anticipates and reflects the joy God has in us and the joy He wants us to have in Him. So that even though Jesus really didn’t seem to go to the wedding at Cana thinking it would become a teachable moment (or even something that would preach), nevertheless that’s exactly what happened when His Momma prompted, pushed, and plain old insisted that her boy solve the case (or cases) of the missing wine.
He told the servants to fill the jars to the brim and then to draw some out and take it to the man in charge so that sweet wine would gush from the jars if not drip from the mountains. And if God’s only begotten Son could do that with water, imagine what He could do with husbands and wives that are acting as empty as a bunch of water jars and as joyless as a wedding feast that has run out of wine? Don’t you think the Lord Jesus who drew vintage wine from ordinary water jars could draw the equivalent of fine wine from Christian spouses that have, as the wedding liturgy says, discovered that “because of sin, our age-old rebellion, the gladness of marriage can be overcast and the gift of the family can become a burden” (Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 203)?
Don’t you believe that “God, who established marriage, continues still to bless it with his abundant and ever-present support” and that “we can be sustained in our weariness and have our joy restored” by Him (203)?
BE DRAWN OUT!
A folksy old friend of mine used to say about finding the right match: “If you want to hunt elephants, you need to go where the elephants are.” I know that’s not the most flattering picture especially for the most visual among us. But he was trying to say that you can’t find what you’re looking for if you’re looking in the wrong place. That’s exactly what that old girlfriend’s mother told her in a rather thoughtful and gentle way!
Our God is indeed the great Lover and Husband of His people. The heavenly Father sent His only begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary, to be both Messiah and Savior. On the cross, He gave His body and blood to free us from sin, death, and evil. He promised that everyone that believes and is baptized into His death and resurrection will share His eternal life and love. That is why at the Last Supper, He instituted the meal that would keep connecting us to His saving death and His real presence until, at last, we are gathered to the great wedding feast of the Lamb. Our God wants everyone to share in an eternity of joy and love! Marriage is meant to reflect and anticipate that life!
There is simply nothing more joyous and wonderful than when the wedding liturgy and the wedding banquet of a Christian couple are a piece of the same holy quilt. The Eucharist at the wedding gives way to the party afterwards and then to year after year of Eucharists and joyful celebrations that all anticipate the great joyful party yet to come when, at last, we are at home with God.
My sweet wife Laura and I love to repeat often the traditional English vows to one another complete with “for better or worse” and “plight thee my troth.” We always add some words to our vows. We say, “Until death parts us AND BEYOND” and always add at the end “And I have forsaken all others and WILL cleave only unto thee.”
We both know how miserable it is when, because of sin our age-old rebellion, the jars are empty. We both know how painful it is when all that’s there is the same old joyless water instead of the sweet wine of God’s great love reflected in the marriage. We both know how much it hurts to pray and work for things to be better only to find love not reciprocated. It is not what God wants for any of us. Who could want such misery?
It takes a miracle for water to become sweet wine. May the Holy Spirit fill each husband and each wife today and then draw us out and make of us the finest vintage!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
© Samuel D. Zumwalt
[An mp3 version may be accessed by clicking on the icon at the top right “This Week’s Message” page at www.stmatthewsch.org]