Sermon delivered on Epiphany 2C, Sunday, January 17, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: Isaiah 62.1-5; Psalm 36.5-10; 1 Corinthians 12.1-11; John 2.1-11.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning we celebrate the joyous occasion of baptizing 3 new persons into the Body of Christ and receiving 5 new members, thanks be to God. And commensurate with this joyous occasion, it is appropriate that we look at what our lessons say about the basis of that joy.
There seems to be legitimate disagreement among interpreters about exactly who the speaker is in the first verse of our OT lesson. If the speaker is the prophet rather than God, it turns our lesson into quite a poignant and marvelous promise, one that we all get and hope for. Let me refresh your memory as I read verse 1 for you again:
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 (Isaiah 62.1).
Do you hear the desperate resolve in this? In its original context, the prophet has warned his people their worst nightmare is going to come true. They are going to be driven from their beloved land, the very land God promised them, because they have been unfaithful to the covenant God made with them through Abraham and Moses. In other words, they have not been the people God called them to be. Time and again we hear in Isaiah God promising to restore his people from exile and renew the land. But nothing seems to be happening, and we get that. We haven’t been exiled from our land, but there have been plenty of times in our lives that it seems God has abandoned us or is punishing us. I don’t need to provide examples. You all can fill in your own blanks. And that’s the point. Now, instead of being silent, the prophet confronts God, resolving not to be silent until God makes good on his promises. I suspect the prophet had God’s honor and reputation in mind as much as he did his own people’s future plight. When are you going to act on your promises, God? How many of us have asked God the same thing in the darkness of our exile and alienation from God?
And then we hear God’s astonishing and breathtaking answer. I am going to put new clothes on you, the clothes of royalty, because I am going to treat you like kings and queens! That is how much I love you. Others will see and be envious. They will want in on the action! No longer will you feel like a widow. No longer will you feel abandoned. No! You are to rejoice like newlyweds because I am sending my Messiah, my chosen one, to restore you and you will know beyond a shadow of doubt that you are mine! Rejoice, therefore, and celebrate! Drink the finest wines and eat the finest foods in anticipation of that time because you won’t believe how good it can be, a sentiment echoed in our psalm. Have you experienced this promise of God’s healing love and presence in your life? If you have, you know what the prophet says is true.
Now it’s a funny thing that our OT lesson ends with the exhortation to celebrate our restored relationship with God as newlyweds celebrate at a wedding banquet, a frequent biblical metaphor that describes the intimacy of the relationship between God and his people, because we read in our gospel lesson the wonderful story of Jesus at the wedding of Cana. For those of us who know Jesus and therefore know the true love God has for each of us that we just talked about, this story is not surprising at all. In fact, we expect things like this to happen when Jesus enters our lives. This is why I know Fr. Bowser loves Jesus so much. Any story that recounts how Jesus made between 120-180 gallons of the choicest wine is bound to capture his heart.
But what does John want us to learn from this story? There are several lessons that can be had, but first and foremost I think John wants us to focus on the extravagance of the “sign.” Note carefully that Jesus didn’t address a critical need in turning the water into wine. Sure, this would have been a social catastrophe for the hosting family if the wine had run out. But it wasn’t literally a matter of life and death. No one was desperately sick or suffering. In fact, Jesus even asked his mother what it had to do with him or her? His hour had not yet come. More about that in a moment. No. It seems that John wants us to see that in Jesus, God was answering the bold and persistent complaints of his people: When you are coming to rescue us? God’s answer? Here I am. Pay attention. Have open minds to consider new possibilities. Have ears to hear and eyes to see. Look at the abundance of the finest wine, and coming after the cheap stuff to boot! I’ve saved the best for last by coming to you myself in Jesus.
This makes us recall what John has told us in his prologue (John 1.1-18), that in Jesus’ fullness, the fullness of God the Father, we have received grace upon grace. In other words, the grace of God’s Law given to God’s people was being fully realized in Jesus the Messiah. Here in his first “sign,” John’s term for mighty acts of God’s power, we see the abundance of Jesus’ fullness. The wine that he made and that gladdens our hearts, like the Law of Moses, is simply a signpost or a road sign, that points us to the real deal, the ultimate goal: Jesus himself. The Law was given so that we could relearn to act like God’s true image-bearers again instead of acting like the sinful, proud, and self-serving chuckleheads we’ve acted like since the Fall. In other words, the Law is not some obnoxious thing we have to try to follow. It is our path to liberty, to real freedom, so that we can be fully human once again instead of cheap imitations.
And the wine that gladdens our hearts and makes us feel so good when we drink it? A mere foreshadowing of how we will feel constantly when the new heavens and earth are brought forth fully at Jesus’ second coming. Imagine an eternal buzz at its best without a hangover the next day. This is grace at its finest, folks, because we deserve none of it. But because we love and worship a God with an extravagant heart, we can have it nevertheless if we put our whole hope and trust in Jesus and act accordingly. This is what new creation is all about, both here and hereafter. Do you, will you, dare believe in such extravagance?
How do we know this? John gives us some clues. He starts by telling us the wedding happened on the third day. And what happened on the third day? Resurrection, the first fruits of God’s new creation shown to us. New bodily life. An end to death and sorrow. An end to sickness and suffering. The supreme answer to our desperate prayers, demanding of God that God will make good on his promises to rescue us. And what had to happen before the resurrection? Crucifixion, Jesus’ death to break the power of evil in God’s world and our lives, and to end our alienation and exile from God. This is the hour to which John refers. Jesus’ death and resurrection are John’s seventh—a number signifying completeness in Scripture—and ultimate “sign.” It takes great faith to believe that God’s glory is manifested in utter humiliation and that resurrection springs forth from death. But that’s exactly what John pronounces to us in his gospel and that for which this first sign at Cana serves as a signpost. Do you want to experience the extravagance of God? Then go the way of the cross and you will, says John.
Of course, Jesus’ death and resurrection is part of what baptism is all about. When we baptize John, Dorothea, and Ashley in a moment, we unite them with Jesus’ death so that they can be united with Jesus in his resurrection as well, thanks be to God! And as Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson, when they are baptized and join the body of Christ, the Church, as part of God’s reconstituted family around Jesus, they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit and receive gifts that will help them to make Jesus’ presence known in and through his people. God doesn’t leave anything to chance when he makes us his own, nor does he leave us abandoned in answer to our desperate prayers. If this is not reason for us to celebrate today and every Sunday, I don’t know what is, my beloved. As we remember our own baptism and renew our vows to help support and uphold our newly baptized, let us do so with relish (or even with pickles and onions and mayo), remembering the extravagant God who does more than turn water into wine. He turned us from being his enemies into being his adopted children and he turns our death into life. That really is Good News, the best news of all, now and for all eternity. Pass that extravagant wine at communion, please, and let the celebration begin, never to end. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.