Come and Dine, Epiphany 2(C) – 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. How many weddings have you been to in your life? Can you remember what all those brides wore, the music that was played, the songs you danced to at the reception? Whether you enjoy weddings or dread them, they make an impression. You can recall details of a wedding many years after they happen. How the light caught her eyes. How the champagne tasted. Who caught the bouquet. It’s not just any day. It’s a day that strives for goodwill, for abundance and joy. Despite the fact that every wedding is a cliché — how could it be otherwise? — and despite the army of wedding professionals waiting to capitalize on your special day, a wedding remains the basic metaphor we have for things turning out right in the end.

Which is exactly why this wedding, with its water-to-wine miracle, marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of John. John is setting the scene for everything that comes after, and telling us what he thinks life as a follower of Jesus is really about. As Marcus Borg writes in his book titled simply Jesus, “The story of Jesus is about a wedding. And more: it is a wedding at which the wine never runs out. More: it is a wedding at which the best wine is saved for last.”

John is an odd duck. He clearly thinks this is a very important story for understanding who Jesus is, and yet this is a story that occurs only in his Gospel. The other Gospels make no mention of Jesus turning water into wine. Our lectionary runs in a 3-year cycle — one year each for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John doesn’t get a year to himself: instead we get little bits and pieces of John in each of the three years. Where Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell variations of the same basic story about Jesus, John goes off in his own direction. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are more narrative, sticking to the facts of Jesus’ life and inserting Jesus’ teaching as it was preserved in early manuscripts. John is different: more interpretive and intellectual.  John wants to show us not just what Jesus says and does, but what Jesus means. And what Jesus means is life, joy, abundance, and peace. John is convinced that the Christian life is meant to be a comedy, not a tragedy. Despite how dark things might seem out there in the world, despite the fact that the path to life will lead Jesus — and us — through death, despite all of this: things will turn out right in the end. God is in control, leading us to light and life in Jesus.

John drops a hint about the meaning of Jesus in the way he begins the Cana story: “On the third day.” Important things happen in the Bible on the third day — most notably Jesus’ resurrection. In the same way that the first line of the first chapter of John, “In the beginning was the Word,” calls to mind the beginning of everything in the book of Genesis, “on the third day” points to the climax and resolution of Jesus’ story. On the third day is life, and that is where we are called to live.

Then John goes on to tell us about a wedding. Marriage as a metaphor for the union of God and humankind runs throughout the Bible.  In the passage from Isaiah that we heard today, God is the bridegroom joined in union to God’s people Israel:

“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

A wedding in the ancient world was an unparalleled feast. Celebrations continued for days on end. For the poor people Jesus grew up among, a wedding meant a pause from seemingly endless labor and a chance to eat and drink abundant food and wine, in stark contrast to the meager rations that made up their typical daily fare.  The life that God intends for us is a life where there is enough: an abundance that springs from God’s own abundance.

But God intends more for us than mere sustenance. There should be enough wine, and it should be good wine, the finest wine. The marriage supper God invites us to is meant to bring us pleasure and joy. The life God intends for us is one filled with beauty and contentment and all good things. It is a lie to think of pleasure as immoral. As we see at this wedding feast where Jesus reveals himself, the day of banquet and feasting is also the day of reconciliation, joy, and peace. Only when there is enough to go around, plenty to be shared freely, can old resentments be washed away and new companionship begin to grow.

Despite John’s tendency to show us the otherworldly, mysterious and ethereal side of Jesus, this miracle makes a strong case that the Christian life is grounded in simple, daily pleasures like good food and wine: following Jesus is more about earth than heaven. God became incarnate not to pull us out of our bodies and into heaven, but rather to bring heaven down to us, to bring the peace and abundance that is God’s intention for all people and places into every corner of human life.  We are blessed with this feast at the Eucharistic table week-by-week and day-by-day, blessed with enough and more left over to share. And in our joy we are called to go out into God’s world and share God’s invitation: the table is set for all! Come and dine.

Download the sermon for Epiphany 2C.

Written by The Rev. Jason Cox

The Rev. Jason Cox has served as associate rector for Youth Ministries at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., since 2011. Prior to working at St. Columba’s, he directed the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, a year-long service and discernment program for young adults, in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Before ordination, he served as an intern in the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, working with homeless clients in a transitional housing facility on L.A.’s skid row

The Epiphany: Jesus’ hour, 2 Epiphany (C) – 2013

January 20, 2013

Isaiah 62:1-2; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

In this charming and exhilarating story, Jesus is the protagonist but says very little – only three short sentences – yet the whole story is filled with the light of his Epiphany.

The account unfolds before us as images instead of narration. A wedding celebration is taking place and, as was the custom, the wedding is part of a feast. This is obviously a well-to-do family, perhaps the leading family in Cana, a small Galilean village. The first things the writer tells us is that Jesus’ mother is present at this joyous affair. Mary must have been a good friend of the bride’s family, and since the feast is given by the bride’s father, she is an invited guest; later, the bridegroom will take the new bride away from her family and she will belong to his family from then on. So here we are presented with the picture of a wealthy family entertaining the people of the village together with some special friends such as Mary of Nazareth from another village. As a result, the father must have invited Mary’s son also, already on his way to becoming famous in the vicinity. But not quite yet. Jesus comes to the feast together with the new friends he has very recently called to himself, the group that will come to be known as his disciples.

The party must have been unfolding with much good cheer since they quickly ran out of wine. And now something very strange is recorded. The hosts run out of wine, but it is the mother of Jesus who goes to her own son and reports this: “They have run out of wine.” She doesn’t ask for anything, but the “do something about it” seems to be implied, because Jesus understands much more than she says. “Why should that concerns us?” Jesus asks her. More specifically, he asks, “Why should it concern you and me?” And then his next sentence reveals that his mother indeed is not just informing him; she is asking much more of him than just giving a report on the state of the feast. For he says, “My hour has not yet come.” These words, to those of us who know the story and have read John’s gospel, bring chills up and down the spine. “My hour has not yet come.” This sentence, in various forms and on different occasions, will be repeated by the writer John six more times, each one rising in drama until the last one leads to his death. “My hour has now come.”

Why does he say, “My hour has not yet come,” to his mother at this time? What has she already seen in her son that makes her sure that he can affect the production of wine? What happened during the previous 30 years that made this expectation for her, his mother, natural? This child of hers who had arrived under such dramatic predictions and such heavenly presences, had chosen to stay with the family for a very long time, as children did in those years. But now something is changing and she knows it. John doesn’t mention anything about Jesus’ birth in his gospel, so when he records the words of this event, we are beginning to assume that the mother does know something that shall soon be revealed to the rest of us.

She doesn’t take Jesus’ words to her as a no. She goes to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” This Scene Number Two in the wedding drama is just as baffling as Jesus’ words have been. His words are: “My time has not yet come.” Her words are: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus up to then does not act as if the hour for his self-revelation has come. How does his mother suspect that the hour is indeed at hand? Jesus is so connected to his Father in heaven that he ignores his earthly mother in this instance. He waits for God, not Mary, to reveal this hour.

Apparently, the answer from above is also yes. The time for the first sign of who he really is has arrived. He says to the servants to fill with water the large jars that stand at the entrance of the house ready for the household’s purification rituals. It is clear that these jars are used only for water. The servants must have thought: What is he doing? Is he going to fool the guests somehow? But who are we to question important guests? So they do as they are told.

And now the peculiar play continues. Scene Number Three. It must have taken quite a bit of time to fill the jars up. After all, they had no running water; they had to go to the well to draw it, and that’s a lengthy process. When the jars are full, the servants hear the next step in the drama that is unfolding. Jesus tells them: “Now draw some out of the jars and take it to the chief steward,” the man who is responsible for the approval and serving of the wine. The servants must be mystified. They know that the jars contain water, but now they see that the water has color; it looks different from what they had drawn from the well. What is going on here? We had better wait for the steward to discover it, they think. No need for us to get into trouble.

In the ritual manner of the wine steward, the man takes the beaker and tastes the liquid. His eyes must have shown his surprise. This is good stuff, we can hear him saying while looking at the servants as if they are somehow responsible.

Scene Number Four. He goes to the host and offers a mild criticism. The man has served at many feasts and banquets and knows his wine. He tells the host: you have saved the best for the last. This is not done. First you offer the best wine and then, when they are too drunk to notice, you offer the inferior wine; that’s how it’s done. You have reversed a time-honored tradition. We are not told what the host thought or said.

The scene ends there. We are left to fill in the blanks. What John tells us is that the disciples – newly chosen, newly called – believed in Jesus as a result of this Epiphany. What John emphasizes is that this is the first sign that reveals that God’s presence is unhindered within Jesus: This is his glory. On an ordinary day when two young people are married, as they have done through the ages, a young man from Nazareth reveals that he has creative powers that can affect even nature. An Epiphany for us and for him. An uncovering that allows light to shine into a long creative process. An uncovering that shows us that his hour has come.

This is not magic. This is the true connection to the Creator. Every Epiphany is a moment of creation, even for us. Let us allow the Light to shine for us and through us to lead us to reveal God’s power to the weak, God’s love for the neglected, God’s mercy for all us, sinners.

Above all, let us pray for an Epiphany that reveals to us who Jesus Christ really is.

 

— Katerina Whitley lives and writes in Louisville, Ky. She is a retreat leader and the author of five biblical books and a Greek cookbook. 

Seeking unbreakable connections, 2 Epiphany (C) – 2010

January 17, 2010

Isaiah 62:1-2; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

In seeking to discover the value of today’s gospel, anyone fortunate enough to have attended a wedding in a small, rural community has a leg up on those who have not. At such rituals, sometimes paralleled in ethnic urban environments, one finds that the power of the liturgical meaning of the actual wedding is underscored by an exuberant celebration that follows.

After the commitment of vows, day-long events continue the celebration. This involves nearly everyone in the community, is replete with beverages including those of the adult-only variety, lots of food, dancing, and other kinds of merry-making for all ages – an extended family doing what they do best.

Surely such weddings reflect conditions in Biblical times, the kind of weddings Jesus attended, including the one at Cana of Galilee. A whole village, a days-long celebration, lots of food and dancing and storytelling and reminiscing – and much wine to drink.

But what must have begun as an ordinary wedding at Cana resulted in anything but an ordinary action. We heard today an account of Jesus’ earliest miracle. St. John calls it a sign. That makes this a perfect lesson for Epiphany, because it manifests, shows forth, what God is for us. The reason for John’s telling the story is not to make a big deal about a miracle, but to point to the reality of who Jesus was and who we can be as a result.

All of John’s stories about Jesus point beyond themselves to reveal the character and nature of God. John used the story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana of Galilee to reveal something much deeper and broader than any simple miracle could ever convey. In the midst of an ordinary celebration, Jesus did something so remarkable that we are forced to think about who we are and who God is – forced to reflect on the mysteries of Christ and reexamine our lives, digging deep into our souls to discover what God wants for us and from us.

We can’t miss the obvious fact that this is a miracle about abundance and extravagance. We hear about an enormous amount of wine – twenty to thirty gallons per jar for six jars – way too much and by any standard extravagant. A clear example of the grace God bestows on us, in such abundance, beyond anything we should ever expect or could ever deserve. It’s a message that God wants us to celebrate life, to enjoy the company of one another as companions engaged in this great adventure called life.

This is also obviously a miracle of transformation and new possibilities. In Cana, Jesus made it possible for the wine of celebration to continue flowing. This reminds us of a central symbol of our faith: Jesus providing for us the wine of a whole new creation that continues to sustain us. Recounting the story of Jesus changing water into wine was John’s way of showing that he had come to do nothing less than transform the common into the holy.

In Christ we learn about the power of God to:

• transform the incomplete into the whole
• transform the weaker into the stronger
• transform the ordinary into the precious
• transform the despised into the beloved
• transform the tasteless into that which give joy to the heart
• transform what we are into what we can become

How well this transformation takes place depends on our connectedness with God. And that connectedness depends on our connectedness with Jesus, in whom we see the human face of God.

The unity between Christ and human kind has been explained in scripture through the example of marriage. In today’s Old Testament lesson, for example, we heard the prophet Isaiah use the wedding metaphor to describe God’s redemption of Israel. In this passage the prophet refers to a time when Jews would return to Jerusalem after the exile, the eventual creation of a new Jerusalem from the one that had been destroyed.

Isaiah encouraged the people with stirring words:

“You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.”

In the New Testament, wedding metaphors are used to exemplify the relationship of God with the people of God. We are encouraged to better understand our relationship with the unseen God by examining the nature of love between two people in an ideal marriage. In this way, we can better know the love that God intends for a relationship with us – the very children of God.

We are bid to examine the best kind of love in marriage and see the giving away of self, in extravagance like the abundance of wine at Cana, as a something that can lead to new possibilities – that can produce in each of us a genuine transformation from the tendency toward human selfishness into gracious, loving Christ-like-ness.

Today’s gospel story about a miracle at a wedding celebration can help lead us to a renewed life in Christ. We can better learn how to share the unlimited gifts God offers us. We can better learn how to celebrate the joys of human community and the union we can have with God, one that will sustain us through our journeys of faith.

May it be our prayer today that Christ will more closely unite not only with the whole church but specifically with each congregation and each individual. In such a prayer we will seek an unbreakable connection of mutual love – love that not only will show us clearly what God is like but also will lead us to the fullness of Christ. We will seek in our hearts and souls to enter into the new, abundant life of our Lord Christ.

 

— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of “John E. Hines: Granite on Fire” (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife, Toni, in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.

Behold, I am doing a new thing, 2 Epiphany (C) – 2007

January 14, 2007

Isaiah 62:1-2; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

There is something almost mystical about the beginning of a new year. It is exactly what Epiphany calls forth – with the coming of Light, with the announcing of the coming Kingdom of God, and the revealing of the well-beloved Son at his baptism, we enter into a new year, a new season of hope. All will be different, we pray, and this will be a better year than the last. God only knows how desperately we need this hope in our troubled world; last year was a tragic year for so many people caught in the misery of war and of poverty. So much has gone wrong. But even with this awareness, we human beings cling to hope. We always think the new must be better than the old, and we enter each new year hoping.

For many it starts with a kind of partying that reveals only desperation. For others it comes quietly, maybe in regretful loneliness; for those of us who delight in God’s steadfast love, as today’s chosen psalm affirms, we prefer to study and pray, to savor the season of Epiphany with its many-layered meanings.

The Gospel of John is quite different from the synoptics, and there is something absolutely fitting in the story he chooses to tell of the first sign that ushers in the public ministry of Jesus. It happens at a marriage feast. So many hopeful firsts come together in this story.

Of course a marriage is the beginning of a new life for the couple. Some very special guests have been invited: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her firstborn son, Jesus, who has assembled a group of followers. It is the beginning of a ministry that will change the course of history. But no one knows this at the time of the wedding celebration. The first hint of it will come during a peasant wedding party in a peasant village. The kingdom of God is at hand.

Creative energy surges through this story, like the energy of new hope that greets the beginning of each new year. Nature’s process of the cultivation and fruition of the vine is abbreviated through the creative power of the One who has been here from the beginning, as John says so eloquently in the prologue to his gospel: “All things came into being through him, and without him no one thing came into being.” Every sign that John recounts in his gospel is explained by this one statement. So Jesus turns the water into wine and the word goes out that this particular guest is not ordinary.

On many occasions throughout his intense, short ministry, Jesus will try to avoid the use of miracles; at the beginning of this occasion he does resist his mother’s insistence that he do something about the lack of wine. We cannot know what caused him to change his mind, to show that “his time has come” at least in partially revealing his glory. The only ones at the wedding feast made aware of his tremendous interference with nature are the servants and the small group of disciples. They are the ones who matter now. “Jesus did this, the first of his sings in Cana of Galilee and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” From now on they will stay with him through both the glory and the pain, and later, they will remember, they will understand, and they will proclaim the kingdom which they witnessed being ushered with this sign.

Years later, the apostle Paul will try to interpret miracles as gifts of the Spirit to the hard-headed Corinthians. He makes it quite clear that nothing of value happens to the faithful community without the power and intervention of the Holy Spirit. In today’s epistle he says clearly: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The common good: looking at today’s story told by St. John we may wonder, What is the common good in turning water into wine in a particular home in an obscure peasant village?

There may be no definitive answer to this question, but there is a truth that shines through, a reality that makes the hope for this new year beginning for us even more significant.

Jesus did enjoy life and wanted others to enjoy it to the fullest also. He is not a gloomy guide but a joyful friend. He tells us in fact, “This is who I am; follow me.” There is goodness in life and in the meaningful occasions of our lives. We all have emerged from a season of companionship with family and friends, a season of feasting and music. As we enter into this new year of our lives, let us remember that the Lord of life contributed to the joy of a wedding feast, blessing it with his presence and blessing nature with his gift of abundance.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing.” May everything that is new and good and whole be revealed to us in this season of Epiphany as a gift of the Spirit so that our joy may be complete.

 

— Katerina K. Whitley is an author and retreat reader. For more on her books and presentations, visit http://www.katerinawhitley.net or e-mail katewhitley@charter.net.