This thing just got real

January 17, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
2nd Sunday after Epiphany 
Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

(Gospel text is provided at the bottom of this post)

When I was preparing for today’s sermon, I wondered why this miracle story is included as part of the Epiphany narrative. Now, I realize that it’s the first miracle presented in John’s gospel. It’s also a popular story about Jesus changing water into wine, so it’s got that going for it!  IMG_5142We like the idea that Jesus was the one who pulled-off this miracle so that the wedding celebration could continue… the ultimate party guest, providing more wine; even BETTER wine, for what would have been a multi-day festivity.

But there’s something very different going on here. This miracle is the act that propelled Jesus into the spotlight. This was the moment of broader revelation – the Epiphany moment – in John’s gospel. The brevity of the story-telling masks the magnitude of what has happened – perhaps not to its earliest audiences – but certainly to us today.

The story begins by telling us that Jesus and his disciples are at a wedding in Cana and that Jesus’ mother is there, too. When she learns that the wine has run-out, she tells Jesus. Now, his response seems to imply that she’s expecting him to do something about the situation. He says “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 

Wow, that’s a little harsh. And I’d guess that most of you mothers in the congregation are a little insulted by this reply, if you’re still listening at all. But, Jesus’ mother doesn’t seem bothered by it. She simply turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Again, this seems like an innocent comment until you start working out the magnitude of what’s about to be asked of these servants.  Now, remember, the party’s been going on for a while, most likely for several days, and the servants have been on-duty this whole time. The wine has run out, so they’re probably thinking the celebration is almost over, which means they can finally get some rest. But then it says:

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each [able to hold] twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to (the servants), “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.

clay-potsTo give you some perspective on size, this stone pitcher you see here, when filled to the brim, holds 2 gallons of water. So, that means that the stone jars the servants were told to fill were 10 to 15 times this size, and they had to fill 6 of them. What’s more, the water source in the arid, ancient land of Cana, was a lot more work than turning on a faucet in the sacristy.

So, with this in mind, the simple phrase by Jesus: “Fill the jars with water” isn’t so simple after all. Yet, through this act, Jesus is about to reveal who he is. This act marks the beginning of his message in John’s gospel.

After the servants filled the six stone jars with water – to the brim – we are told:

(Jesus) said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it… the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew)…

You bet your life they knew! They’re the ones who did the heavy lifting – literally! They are the ones who listened and responded to what Jesus asked of them. They didn’t know what the result would be, but they were responsive to his command, nonetheless.

So, just as it was pretty miraculous for the three wise-men of Matthew’s Epiphany story to respond and follow a distant star, to an unknown place, to pay homage to an unfamiliar child-messiah, we see here, in John’s gospel a similar miracle – when the servants at the wedding respond to Jesus’ call to them.kariye-water-into-wine-c-osseman

And for Jesus, it’s the first moment of revelation of what he is intended to do – revealing himself not just to his disciples, but to outsiders. He is transforming the water of purification which is from the law of Moses, into the wine of the Eucharist –the grace and truth that comes through Christ – the sign of the new covenant with God.

This is the first manifestation of what was conveyed in the opening verses of John’s Gospel. We remember the familiar phrase “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” But less memorable is how the prologue ends. It proclaims:

The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (Jn 1:17-18)    

So, although Jesus initially says “my hour has not yet come,” as it turns out, this didn’t prevent him from beginning the work he came to do. This miracle wasn’t about providing libations for a wedding feast. This miracle was the moment that Jesus showed himself more fully for who he is as the revealer of God.

But, remember, he didn’t do it alone. He first was encouraged by his mother – someone who believed in him and her belief help propel him to reveal God to others. He had servants that responded and filled the jars with water. But even with both of these, without Jesus’ own tangible action of saying “Fill the jars with water” none of it would have happened. And once it did, there was no going back.

It reminds me of the first time I served as Celebrant of Holy Eucharist as an ordained priest. It was right here at Christ Church almost three years ago. I had been ordained the day before, so along with many of you, my parents, siblings, and Alice were also in the congregation. After the service was over, Alice said that when she saw and heard me give the Opening Acclamation at the beginning of the service, she thought to herself, “This thing just got real.” (Not her exact words, but you get the idea.)1040410_10200658926348315_394186880_o

Now, I’m not elevating my ordination to the level of changing water into wine, miraculous as it may seem – but when Jesus took this step of changing water into wine, in much the same way, for him and those around him, “This thing just got real.”

So, as we think about this story now, how does it speak to us today? What makes it real for us today?

First: Although she seems to be dismissed, Jesus’ mother actually plays an important role in this story. She shows confidence in Jesus, even though he seems hesitant. Her belief in him helped motivate him to take that next step. She also paved the way for others to help by asking the servants to do what he says. So, if you have someone in your life that sees your gifts, encourages you, and helps you reach your dreams, keep them around and listen to them.

Second: Let’s remember that although the water-to-wine thing seemed instantaneous, in reality there’s some pretty heavy-lifting involved. This reminds us that most of the God-revealing things we do aren’t Lone-Ranger acts. The servants were a vital part of this miracle because they heard the call and responded.

To use our current context as an example, when I think about what it takes to pull off a Sunday at Christ Church, with four worship services, Sunday school for all ages, refreshments, Path to Shine, ESL, and so much more, there are literally dozens of people involved in making it happen. The same is true with every ministry of this church. And it is through these things, and your heavy-lifting, that we collectively reveal God in the world.

Third: We see in this miracle that Jesus is transforming “what was” to “what’s next.” Through this transformation Jesus is using something that was integral to the earlier tradition, the water of purification. He then re-imagines its potential; its promise; to bring forth something new. The law came through Moses, grace and truth comes through Jesus – God made flesh; the revealer of God to the whole world.

So as we move through these first weeks of a new year, consider these things:

  1. Who is my encourager and am I listening to them so I can more fully live into what God is calling me to do right now?
  2. When I’m overwhelmed by the demands of life, how might I invite others to help me carry my load?
  3. What water in my life is ready to be transformed into new wine?

When we do these things, I believe that we can feel God’s love more deeply, and that God’s grace is revealed more fully in the world.



Gospel Text:

        On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (Jn 2:1-11)

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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