Sermon – Epiphany 2 – "The First Of His Signs" – John 2:1-11 – 1/17/10

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If you've moved here from a big city like Boston or New York, you know that life is different here than in the big city. But even life in a small town like Waterville is much different than life in a village, like Cana. In Waterville, it's not uncommon to see people you know at the grocery store or the post office. But in a village, everyone knows everyone and everyone's life is connected to everyone else's life. When a baby is born, the whole village celebrates. When someone dies, the whole village mourns. When there's a wedding, the whole village attends.

A typical Middle Eastern village wedding would take place in the cool of the evening. The bride and groom would wear crowns on their heads. After the ceremony, the couple would be led through the streets of the village with a canopy held over their heads, torches blazing, music playing and lots of singing and dancing. The parade would wind through every street in the village to bear witness to the whole community that the bride had a new name and out of two families, one new family had been created. The whole village looked forward to a wedding because it was a time of great celebration and joy for everyone.

It might have been just such a village wedding that the prophet Isaiah had in mind in our Old Testament reading for this morning. "For Zion's sake I WILL NOT KEEP SILENT, and for Jerusalem's sake I WILL NOT BE QUITE, until her righteousness goes forth AS BRIGHTNESS, and her salvation as a BURNING TORCH. The nations shall see your righteousness 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." It sure sounds like Isaiah is describing a typical village wedding where the Lord God is celebrating the joyous new life of a very special bride and groom.

Once the newly weds arrived at their home, the reception would begin. The reception was hosted by the newly weds and it would be for the whole village. It would last up to seven days.

It was into this happy time that Jesus was invited to join. And He did. I don't know what you're image of Jesus is, but He loved to participate and share in the happiness and joy of others. He never counted it a crime to be happy. It's okay, if you want, to picture Jesus dancing the polka and doing the 'chicken dance' and the 'macherena' along with everyone else.

Obviously, a lot of planning and preparation went into putting together a weeklong reception. Having enough food and drink on hand was essential. Sometime later, Jesus would tell a parable about a man who had invited his village to his wedding reception and had slaughtered the necessary number of animals for food. But a lot of folks in his village decided they were more interested in other things and didn't attend. This was not only a terrible insult to the bride and groom, but what are you going to do with all that meat that's been slaughtered in a day before refrigeration allowed you to make leftovers for weeks to come?

Here, at this wedding reception in the village of Cana in Galilee, the problem is just the opposite. The couple underestimated the amount of wine they would need, and they ran out. Which could have easily been perceived as an insult to the village by the groom and bride who were trying to skimp on the reception.

Mary sees the problem and said to Jesus, "They have no wine." Was she simply sharing an observation with Jesus? It seems like it was probably more than that. Jesus sure thinks that she's expecting Him to do something for the sake of the bride and groom. And the servants are all gathered around Mary waiting for her to tell them what they should do. Maybe she had some responsibility for making sure that the food and drink were all taken care of.

Jesus' response to His mother bothers us a bit. "Woman, what does this have to do with me?" Literally, "what am I to you?" Let's understand Jesus' words this way. He was beginning the work for which He came into the world. From this point on, His relationship with His mother would have to change from what it had been. Sometime later, Mary and her other sons would come to Jesus to take Him home. When His disciples told Jesus that His mother and brothers were here, Jesus said, "who is my mother, who are my brothers?" And pointed to the crowd gathered around Him saying, "These are my mother and brothers." Things were definitely changing.

He said to her, "My hour has not yet come." We'll come back to this in a minute. "His mother said to the servants, 'do whatever he tells you.'"

Let's stop right here for a minute, because this touches us right where we live. How many times has the wine run out for us? Of course, we're not talking about wedding banquets here. We have responsibilities to oversee, big ones and little ones. Others have their expectations of us. Sometimes, the time runs out or the energy or the patience or the love runs out. Sometimes, it feels like there's nothing left inside and all the hope we had is gone. Just like the time the wine ran out in Cana.

Where do you turn when the wine runs out? Mary turned to Jesus. And she didn't tell Him what He should do. She simply laid her problem on His lap. And before He even answered her, she told the servants, "Do whatever He tells you." Whatever His response might be, it would be the right one. He will supply all of your needs. "From His fullness we have all received grace upon grace." (John 1:16). Blessing upon blessing like the waves breaking on the seashore, one after another for a long as you can remember for as long as you can dream.

"Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons." John wants to be sure that we understand that these water jars did not contain drinking water. The water in those jars was for washing. The Jewish law was that every male must wash before every meal. It was definitely more of a ceremonial thing than a sanitary thing. Before the meal, the men would line up at the stone jars and servants would pour water over their wrists and hands and they would be ceremonially clean.

Sometime later, the Pharisees would spot Jesus' disciples eating but not washing like this and they would ask Him in so many words, 'what kind of Rabbi are you that you don't make your disciples wash like everyone else does?' And Jesus would deliver a POWERFUL SERMON about what makes a person unclean and what cleanses a person from their uncleanness and makes the pure.

Here, He delivers a POWERFUL MIRACLE.

He said, "'fill the jars with water.' And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, 'Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.'"

What must the servants have been thinking? "Why on earth would he be concerned about having enough wash water in the jars at a time like this?" And then, "why on earth does He want us to take wash water to the master of the feast?" But of course, as John tells us, "the water had become wine."

What's shocking about all of this is that the 'master of the feast' doesn't recognize that a miracle has just taken place. He thinks that the groom has arranged the whole thing to happen this way. So, whereas the bridal party was on the verge of being terribly embarrassed in front of the whole village, now they are lavishly praised in front of all their guests. "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."

But His disciples saw something else. They saw a miracle. And His disciples believed in Jesus. As so should we.

John says, "This, the first of His signs…" Matthew, Mark and Luke call these things 'miracles.' But John calls them "signs." And when John says that this is the FIRST of His signs, he means that there's more to follow. At the end of His gospel, John writes, "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30-13).

Signs point beyond themselves. No one sees a sign pointing to Waterville and thinks that the sign is Waterville. This miracle is not about just about water turned into wine, or even that Jesus was able to do this. It's a miracle, that's for sure. Don't deny it. Because you'll never get what the sign is pointing to if you deny the miracle. But don't stop at the miracle. You've got to see what it's pointing to.

This episode in Cana is all about being clean and purification and not just ceremonially or symbolically, but really clean, really pure. We are all unclean. We are all soiled with sin. The sin that we do is just the surface dirt. And even that's just a sign that points beyond itself. We're dirty on the surface because, as we all confessed, "we are BY NATURE sinful and UNCLEAN." All the outward purification in the world is just superficial and ceremonial unless there is a real deep cleansing of the heart. A radical transformation of the human heart from "by nature sinful and unclean" to "by redemption holy and righteous and pure." That's a transformation as radical as water changed into wine. That is what this sign in Cana points to. Jesus has come to purify us of our sin.

So just what did Jesus mean when He said to His mother, "My hour has not yet come"? Here's a phrase that's repeated four more times in John's gospel. His brothers tell Jesus He should go to Jerusalem for the festival. But Jesus says, "my hour has not yet come." On two occasions, while He was teaching at the temple, the authorities wanted to arrest Him, "but no one laid a hand on him because his hour had not yet come." (John 7:6,8,30; 8:20).

Just what hour is He referring to? Interestingly, as soon as Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He begins to sing a different tune. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus begins His high priestly prayer saying, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you." "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?' But for this purpose I have come to this hour." (John 12:23, 17:1).

The hour that had come was the sixth hour when Pontius Pilate handed Him over to be crucified, and the ninth hour when the heavenly bridegroom breathed His last on the cross. Those stone jars at the wedding in Cana? They were just signs too. They pointed to Jesus Christ, who is the stone jar which holds the liquid that purifies us. His precious blood is poured from His body and it cleanses us from all of our sins and purifies us of all unrighteousness.

This village gathers together every Sunday to celebrate the wedding feast that the wedding in Cana only pointed to. Here, the blood of Christ is poured out from His body and onto our lips and it purifies us. And we are amazed that He has saved the best for last. FOR US. And even this wedding feast is a sign, a foretaste of the feast to come.

Our hour has not yet come. It will. But because His hour has come, we may face our hour with confidence and peace. For what could have been our hour of great shame has become our hour to receive the lavish praise of God the Father. And with our purified body and soul, He will invite us to join with Him in the celebration of the wedding feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which lasts forever, where the wine never runs out and the joy never ends.

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