Sermon for January 17, 2016

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

January 17, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  John 2:1-11

Sermon Theme:  “You Weren’t Baptized in Vinegar!”

(Sources:  Anderson’s Cycle C Preacher’s Workbook; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 26, Part 1, Series C; original ideas; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Online puns by Jesus; Nelson’s Three-in-One)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Weddings take an awful amount of money and an awful amount of time and work to put on, especially for the Bride’s family.  I know, because I have two daughters and we had wedding feasts for both.  For my oldest daughter, we had champagne for the fun-lovers and “fake” champagne (sparkling fruit juice without alcohol) for the non-drinkers like me.

Fortunately for my pocket book, the consumption of sparkling wine lasted only for one evening, quite unlike the wedding at Cana in our sermon text.  In Jesus’ day, Jewish weddings were elaborate affairs which lasted for nearly a week, during which time the guests were provided with food and drink.  Our text says, “On the third day,” which we take to mean the third day of the marriage celebration.

Our text also says that the wine Jesus created out of water consisted of six stone jars, holding 20 or 30 gallons each.  At most, we’re talking about 180 gallons of wine.  If the guests, made up of the entire community, drank 180 gallons of wine the first three days, and 180 gallons the last three days, that would have been a total of 360 gallons of alcoholic fruit juice for the week.  I got off cheap compared to that.

There are really two levels of this story of the miracle of changing water into wine, — the actual, literal level and the symbolic level, and they were both intended.  Often, however, readers don’t discern the symbolic level.

In the actual level of the story, Mary, Jesus, and His disciples are invited to a marriage at Cana, not far from Nazareth.  During the third day of the feast, the wine played out and Mary went to Jesus with this problem, no doubt believing that her Son was capable of performing miracles.  Yet, Jesus reacted by saying something strange, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.”  His mother then tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do.

Although Jesus seemed to have refused His mother’s request, He goes on to tell the servants to fill the jars with water, and He turns the water into wine.  Later, the Master of the Feast tastes the transformed water and declares it the best wine ever!

The literal level of the story suggests that Jesus approves of joy and fun and celebration in the daily lives of His people, and this fact is especially important considering it was the very first miracle our Savior performed.  The Apostle Paul emphasized the importance of joy in the life of a Christian in Philippians 4:4.

I am reminded of a story told by a pastor about a member of his church whose name was Herb.  The pastor never doubted Herb’s faith, but he never saw the joy of the Lord in Herb’s words or in his demeanor.  Folks in his church said Herb could bring gloom and doom to a room more quickly than anyone else they knew.  The pastor remarked that Herb always acted as though he had been baptized in vinegar; if you look like you were baptized in vinegar, Jesus may not claim you!

I think it was no accident Jesus’ first miracle happened at the joyful occasion of a wedding.  John tells us in the text this miracle helped to reveal the Lord’s glory.  Happy Christians do the same thing!

Simeon “Stylites” who died in 460 A.D. was the first of a number of so-called “pillar saints.”  At first, Simeon fled the world to live with other monks in a monastery, then he left the monastery to live alone in the wilderness.  Finally, he decided in his zeal for contemplating God he would live alone on top of a natural stone pillar, nine feet high.  He spent the last years of his life living on top of a pillar of rock 54 feet high, silent and alone.

As commendable as Simeon’s devotion to God might me, it was a huge contrast to his Savior’s manner of living.  Jesus had moments of withdrawal for prayer and meditation, but He was soon back in the midst of life again, very comfortable and happy celebrating a wedding with down-to-earth folks.

Jesus performed this miracle among ordinary people in the small insignificant village of Cana.  Also, on the literal level, the story affirms the great importance of marriage in the lives of God’s children, marriage being so important it was celebrated for nearly a week.  The decline of the importance of marriage in recent times is not a Godly thing!

Even if those were the only messages we got from the story, and we did not notice the symbolic meaning, that would be sufficient in itself.

But there is another level of meaning, just as valid as the literal one, the symbolic meaning of the events recorded by John, the symbolism of the Feast.  I need to point out that John is the only gospel writer who records the marriage feast.  The other gospel writers record the Passover Feast, that is, the Last Supper, but not the wedding feast, and John, while telling about the marriage in Cana does no mention the Passover Feast.

While the two feasts are different, they both point beyond themselves to the Marriage Feast in Heaven which has no end.  Both the Lord’s Supper and the marriage feast at Cana are signs which point beyond themselves to the eternal feast of heaven.  We often sing about that feast as we will after while when we sing “This is the Feast.”

The Passover Feast took place just before the crucifixion, but it was essentially a happy feast.  The marriage feast at Cana was truly joyous.  The wedding feast comes at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and the Last Supper comes at the end of His ministry.  The two feasts are similar in that they point to the all-sufficiency of Jesus and His offering of Himself on the cross, and they both point the way to the Marriage Feast which has no end.

Wine is a symbol of the goodness of life, and the “good” wine judged by the Master of the Feast is a sign of Jesus and His gospel.  The old wine, Judaism, had become encrusted with multiple layers of human tradition and legalism.  The new wine (Jesus) tastes better because it is filled with God’s Spirit.

Most people are bothered by Jesus’ response to His mother’s request for more wine, when He says, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.”  Calling her “woman” was not the bothersome part, as he didn’t say that in a demeaning manner.  Why would He say, “My hour has not yet come”?  Maybe He meant, ‘I’m not ready to reveal that I am the Messiah by performing a miracle,’ but that’s not a totally satisfactory answer.

Recent scholars see His response as a pun, an idea in keeping with His habit of using word play.  They say the pun is lost in the English translation, but it would be a pun like saying “whine,” w-h-i-n-e, for “wine,” w-i-n-e.”

In Aramaic, which Jesus and his disciples and the folks in Cana would have spoken, the Aramaic word for “wine” and the Aramaic word for “lamb” are very similar in sound.  We go from Aramaic to Greek to English.  Prior to this text, John the Baptist had said, pointing to Jesus, “Look, there is the Lamb of God.”

In responding to His mother’s pronouncement, “They have no wine,” Jesus intentionally and punningly took it as, “They have no lamb.”  So He said, “My hour has not yet come,” that is, ‘my time to show myself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ has not come yet.  Mary, who knew her son well, would have deliberately ignored his intended pun.

Well, it’s an interesting interpretation and it’s certainly consistent with the meaning of the symbolic level of the story.

To be sure, filling the six stone jars was a sign that the old covenant was coming to fulfillment in the new.  Changing water into wine was a sign that the coming Messiah was here. And Jesus’ words to Mary were a sign of His time to come.  John later wrote in the Book of Revelation, chapter 19, verse 9:  “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.’  And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.’”

Baptism was your invitation to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, which some day you will celebrate.  In the meantime, just remember, you weren’t baptized in vinegar!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.