Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Text: John 2:1-11 (NRSV)
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (verse 11).

Wine and a sign

When travelling in unfamiliar territory, signs are very important. They tell us which way to go, how to get to the next destination, which train to catch, and what road to take.

Signs also give a deeper meaning to something you are looking at. You go to a lookout to take in the magnificent sight. But this view becomes even more meaningful when there is a sign that points out what some of the landmarks are that you are gazing at Ė what is that hill, or that group of buildings, or the name of that river.

A lack of signs can cause a lot of problems. Iím sure you have become frustrated as I have, when you want to find out what street you are travelling on, or where to turn off, or in what direction a particular town is located and there are no signs.

Sometimes there are signs but you canít understand them. When Miriam and I were in the Netherlands and we wanted to buy a train ticket from a vending machine we were at a loss how to make it work because the signs were only in Dutch. We couldnít even make an intelligent guess because the Dutch language is so different.

Signs give information though sometimes that information is of dubious value.
A sign above a Laundromat washing machine:
Automatic washing machines. Please remove all your clothes when the light goes out.
A sign in an office block: Toilet out of order. Please use floor below.
On a leaflet: If you cannot read this, this leaflet will tell you where to get glasses.
A sign on the back of a toilet door: I'd live life in the fast lane, but I am married to a speed bump.
A sign above a small hand bell: Ring bell for maid service. If no answer, do it yourself!
On a plumberís truck: We repair what your husband fixed.
In a veterinarian's waiting room: Be back in 5 minutes. Sit! Stay!
On a tow truck: We don't charge an arm and a leg. We want tows.
Finally, on a church signboard some very good advice:
God answers knee mail.

The gospel reading today is about a sign. Jesus had just supplied a wedding with the best wine by turning water into wine. John finished saying, "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee".

Without a doubt this miracle of Jesus is strange. There is no life and death situation here like the many miracles Jesus did when he raised the dead back to life, healed the incurably sick or assured a sinner of forgiveness. In fact, this miracle at the wedding of Cana has a bit of a fairy-tale flavour about it. The host had planned the wedding down to the last detail so that everything would go as smoothly as humanly possible.

Everyone was having a good time at a wedding. But even the best laid plans can go wrong. For some reason there wasnít enough wine. This was a crisis. (A good fairy-tale has to have a crisis). The apparent stinginess of the host will be remembered forever in the village. A thing like this ruins reputations and the host would be ridiculed and made fun off for a long time to come. So you see, the fact that the wine had run out at this wedding was no trivial matter; it really was a big deal. This was a major catering blunder.

Jesus, like a fairy-tale hero, saves the day. He orders the water jars to be filled with water but contents of the water jars was poured out into the glasses of the guest, it came out as red wine Ė the most beautiful red wine that anyone had ever tasted. And this was not just another round of drinks for everyone and that was it. Jesus turned 600 litres of water into wine. Thatís a lot of wine even for a wedding celebration that lasted a week, as they tended to do in those days. And itís especially a lot of wine seeing that Jesus provides it only after the original supply of wine has run out! This additional wine was enough to make the wedding a very merry occasion indeed. And like a true fairy-tale everyone lived happily ever after.

So whatís this all about? This story recorded in John 2 is not a fairy-tale; it is an event from the real life person, Jesus of Nazareth. When John writes he doesnít want us to get all bogged down in the miracle itself. He doesnít want us to analyse every detail. He doesnít want us to get caught up all kinds of questions about
why did Jesus make so much wine,
did the guests find out that Jesus changed water into wine or were the disciples the only ones who knew what had happened,
how did the bridegroom feel when the best wine comes out only after everyone had already had their fill?
We might even ask why John bothered to record this miracle. None of the other gospel writers did.

When John records a miracle he doesnít use the word miracle Ė instead he calls them "signs". For John, Jesusí miracles are signs which pointed to something else. I think he is saying to us, "Donít get all wrapped up in the miracle itself, if you do, youíll miss the point. The miracle is a sign pointing out something special about Jesus".
For example, when Jesus fed 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and some fish he spoke at great lengths about how he was the Bread of Life and anyone who eats of him will live forever.
After Jesus healed a blind man we hear the man tell those who doubted that Jesus was from God.
Before he brought dead Lazarus back to life he told Martha: "I am the resurrection and the Life". Do you see? For John, the miracles are not just supernatural events Ė they are "signs" that highlighted a deeper truth about Jesus.

Signs give us information. The miracle tells us that Jesus had supernatural power, but for John the miracle is a sign pointing to something far more important.
This sign teaches us, reveals to us, something about Jesusí divine nature as well as the unique relationship between him and his heavenly Father. Jesus isnít just a bloke from the back blocks of Nazareth who could dazzle a crowd with his spectacular powers. This sign points us to the glory of Jesus. He is the one John talks about when says in chapter one,
"In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him. The Word was the source of life. (John 1:1,3)
Jesus is "Word made flesh". He is God who has comes to earth to become a human.

John writes about these signs in his Gospel so that we might believe and have faith. After the miracle at the wedding, we are told that "his disciples put their faith in him". Near the end of his Gospel John wrote,
"In his disciples' presence Jesus performed many other miracles which are not written down in this book. But these have been written in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through your faith in him you may have life" (John 20:30,31).

In other words, he has written down these miracles with the specific purpose of pointing us to Jesus as our Saviour. He isnít interested in writing a history about Jesus, or telling us what a wonderful person Jesus was to help the bride and groom at Cana, or dazzling us with a display of supernatural tricks.
These miracles are retold so that we might believe that Jesus is our Saviour, that he is truly God, and that through him and only through him is there the possibility that we might have forgiveness and eternal life.

For John the miracles are signs of the new age and the new kingdom that Jesus is bringing. The old is being replaced by the new. He comes offering new wine, new water, new life and more than enough for everyone! He comes to fill up and overflow, to bridge the aching gap in our lives, to knock down the walls which separate us, to repair what is broken down, to make new. He has come to fill a need.

Look around and you will see people claiming to be happy, wrapping their lives around anything they can think of, chasing false values.
Look around and you will see tired faces, fear filled eyes, an emptiness inside when their dreams centred on material things have suddenly blown away like a morning mist.
Look into your hearts and see the barrenness that comes when priorities get all messed up, when work becomes your master and it just eats away at you because of its constant demands.
Look into your hearts and see how anger, greed, selfishness, immorality and impatience are becoming more and more a part of your life.
Look into your hearts and see the pain, the grief, the depression, the stress, and the anxiety that too often overwhelm you.
Look into your hearts and see the broken promises, the failed relationships, the quick judgements about other people, the lack of patience in trying to get to understand someone and the effort it is to welcome a stranger.

If the gospel writer John was standing here this morning instead of me, he would say with some excitement, "Thatís what this wedding at Cana story is all about. Like a good sign, it is pointing you in the right direction. It points you to Jesus Ė in him we can find answers and when our hearts are overwhelmed with the sadness and troubles of this world, he offers you the new wine that gives peace and joy -
the peace and joy that comes from a renewed commitment to God;
the peace and joy that comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven and that there is life beyond the grave;
the peace and joy that comes from knowing that God is ready and willing to be our refuge and strength in every time of trouble.

When tomorrowís emptiness returns, we can drink of the new wine that he offers. He will keep on offering it as long as we need it Ė until that day we enter the eternal wedding feast in heaven.

A sign is only a piece of wood or metal if no one reads it. For a sign to be of any value it must be read and acted upon. The sign John gives us in his gospel reveals the glory of Jesus. The sign calls you to faith and trust in the one who can deal with even the most mundane of human problems like the amount of wine at a wedding, like the problems in your life.

A final thought - our lives are signs of Godís presence. God grant that others may see our lives as signposts pointing to Jesus and that through us they may have life in his name.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
18th January, 2004

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