Monday, January 18, 2010

Sermon on John 2:1-11, for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, "

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. This second Sunday after Epiphany, as we continue the theme of Jesus’ revelation as God and man, we come to His first sign or miracle, at Cana in Galilee. In the Gospel reading Jesus turns water into wine, showing forth His glory and blessing marriage. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

We might find Jesus’ first miracle a little unexpected. What was the crisis? Of course not every miracle Jesus performed involved a crisis. But in other cases Jesus healed a sick person, cast out a demon, raised the dead, fed hungry crowds, etc. Often it was people who were ill or suffering that received Jesus’ miracles, and there was an obvious case of need. But Jesus’ first miracle was under somewhat different circumstances. No one was sick or dying, and no one was starving. In fact the wedding guests already had much to drink, and the hosts were running out of wine. The greatest crisis was that the celebration would be cut short, and the new bride and groom would be embarrassed by a major social faux pas, for running out of wine so soon. We might think this situation too ordinary and mundane to require Jesus’ intervention.

But lest the happiness of the guests be interrupted and the new couple be embarrassed, Mary shows sympathy and seeks Jesus’ help. She wants the help now! They have no more wine! It’s time for you to step in and fix the situation! It was good that she showed trust in Jesus to be able to help, but she wanted that help on her time. Jesus’ somewhat impersonal answer shows her that the timing of God’s help is His to decide, not ours. He said, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus repeatedly spoke of this “hour” that was not yet come, throughout John’s Gospel. He meant that the time for His glory to be fully revealed as the Son of God had not yet come. It was only when His time for betrayal, suffering, and death was upon Him that He announced that now the hour had come. So here it was still too soon for the full revelation of Jesus. It was not yet the moment for the full display of His help. But that didn’t mean He ignored this crisis, however great or small.

Don’t we often have the same mindset when we face a crisis? Doesn’t even need to be a crisis necessarily. Sometimes there’s just something that we desire strongly, and we determine to set the time of God’s required help. “God, I need it now! Now is the time to step in and fix the situation!” When a problem is in our focus, sometimes this can dominate all we see, and blind us to everything else. We feel the urgency pressing on us to act. Perhaps we’re loaded down with stress, trying to find a solution to our problem. There seems no logical answer, and we’re panicked for a way out. Maybe we’ve already exhausted all the possibilities we can muster, and still no solution has come. Our resources run short, our options have dwindled, or our estimation of the problem was too small. People that we’ve depended on proved unreliable and we’re caught in a bind. So we cry out in prayer: “God help me!” Maybe it’s not in our words, but it’s in our heart that we’re silently demanding for God to send an answer quick!

But Jesus reminds us that God will set the timing of His answer to prayer. He may not give us the answer we want or in our time frame, but God will act. And our concerns don’t always have to be life or death issues, as this miracle of the Wedding at Cana illustrates. Sometimes it’s our health or a matter of our life. Sometimes it’s a financial problem, or a work problem, or relationship problem. It’s easy to think that our prayers might be too small to be important to God. But we need to have the persistence of Mary to pursue God’s help, even when our requests may seem small. At the same time, we should learn from Jesus that the timing of God’s help isn’t the same as ours. We may become impatient and stressed about when and how God will answer our prayer. Sometimes just the passing of time will show that God will work things out in a better way than we planned or anticipated. Sometimes the crisis may grow to even greater proportions. But what doesn’t change is that God’s help is always available to us.

I found a wonderful quote about this in a 16th century sermon by the Lutheran preacher and hymn writer John Gerhard. He wrote: “If our prayer to God is to be acceptable and be heard, then of course we are not to prescribe the time and manner for help, especially in bodily needs. For here we hear from Christ that He has a specific hour, i.e., He has actually already in His heavenly counsel decreed when and how He will help us. We should patiently wait for that hour. However, to a certain degree one can glean from the story of this Gospel lesson what sort of an hour it will be. Mary thought that it was the right hour to help, while there was still a little wine left, so that the lack of wine would not yet be made known to all the guests. However, Christ shows in actuality what is the universal hour for help from God the Lord: When everything else has declined to a dead end, when human reason no longer knows how to come up with answers. Philo wrote a beautiful saying about this: “Where human help come to an end, there divine help comes to the rescue.” Truly the universal hour of God’s help is when we no longer have the answers or solutions, and everything’s left to God’s hands. Then divine help comes to the rescue.

This sense of patience and delayed answers for our prayers relates well to marriage. Just as two individuals wait for God’s answer to their prayers to find a lifelong mate. I know I often wondered when and how God would provide a wife for me, and often became impatient along the way. I couldn’t see God’s plan or timing, and couldn’t know the blessing that He would bring into my life through my wife Kristine. But the waiting was worth it, and God did answer my prayers, in the most unexpected way. But in His timing—not mine or ours!

And so big or small, however you measure the crisis at the wedding banquet in Cana, Jesus took this opportunity to perform a miracle and bless the bride and groom with a wedding gift no one would soon forget. He rescued them from their dilemma and in the process He revealed His glory and showed a first glimpse of His power as the Son of God. He used this, His first miracle, to give His blessing to marriage as a holy institution honored and pleasing to God. On many occasions He even used wedding celebrations to describe the kind of joy there should be for the church the bride to be joined to Jesus Himself, the groom.

As my pastor explained to us in our preparation for marriage, there is no other vocation or calling where two people will so closely live in the forgiveness of sins. All the challenges and blessings of a shared life together will put husband and wife in the constant need of God’s forgiveness. But they can also live with the constant joy of being forgiven and living together under God’s love and blessing. The command is given in Scripture for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and our wife is our nearest neighbor, so consequently she should be our dearest love. And vice versa for wives! It really should come as no surprise that Jesus so honored and blessed marriage, as it’s such a unique place for the working out of forgiveness and reconciliation and displaying the love that is a reflection of Jesus’ own sacrificial love for His church.

Yet greatest importance was the fact that this miracle showed forth who Jesus was. The result was more important than the bride and groom being saved from embarrassment—more important than guests having enough wine; even more important than His blessing of marriage. The most important result of this first sign, was that His glory was revealed and His disciples believed in Him. We’re to be drawn to Jesus in faith as we hear and learn of His miracles. And there’s something in God’s character that’s revealed when Jesus did this miracle. The master of the feast had no knowledge of the miracle that had transpired—but when he tasted the wine, he gave the objective evaluation that this was truly excellent wine! While most hosts served the good wine first, he thought that this host had saved the best wine until now. His astonishment verified the miracle as the genuine article. He didn’t know that it was Jesus, not the host of the wedding that saved the best for last.

Truly when Jesus’ glory is seen, we know and understand that God really does save the best for last. Though Jesus doesn’t always act in the hour that we hope or in the timing we desire, God’s plan is ultimately the best. We may not fully see it in our lifetime, but it will be evident in heaven. When Jesus put Mary off for a brief moment by saying, “My hour has not yet come”—there was the hint that something more momentous and more significant was to come. When that hour came, the hour of Jesus’ glorification as the Son of God—it certainly didn’t seem like God’s plan was shaping up exactly as planned. When the suffering and shame of the cross occurred, it seemed as though God’s plan had completely gone awry. People mockingly demanded of Jesus that He act now, and show a miracle by taking Himself off the cross. But He resisted. He stayed there. His hour had finally come. It was the hour for the glory of Jesus to be seen in the suffering and humility of the cross.

For Jesus was there on the cross preparing for us His most bountiful gifts that don’t run out, like all other earthly things. His death prepared for us the Sacrament of the Altar—the mystery of Christ’s body and blood, which we receive as His lasting covenant with us. Sunday after Sunday throughout nearly 2,000 years of Christendom, Christians have shared in the body and blood of Christ, yet this gift never runs out. Christ’s blood for the forgiveness of our sins is never exhausted. In contrast, while the wine at Cana was an enormous quantity, it’d eventually run out. It was a one-time miracle, creating a large quantity of wine for an earthly purpose. But Christ’s miraculous gifts of grace for a heavenly purpose, continue to be given, Sunday after Sunday, year after year. He’d prepared the best for last. His last and greatest miracle on earth was to rise from death to new life in a healed and superior body. This best gift He saves for last for us. After our deathbed we’ll cross over from death into His new and better life.

God faithfully continues to grant us rich supply throughout our lives until He returns. And when we reach heaven, we’ll find out that truly the best wine has been saved for last. All the delayed gratification, the unfulfilled hopes, the longing, and the great trials of patience that we endured in this life as we waited, will finally be satisfied with the joys of heaven. We may not have ended up with the things we wanted, but God will always supply something better. Just as the gifts that Christ has given us in overflowing abundance through His Holy Spirit and through His Word and Sacraments have sustained us through life. These have comforted us in times of trouble, and filled us up when we were lacking. Through faith we’ve believed in the promises of God, and look forward to the resurrection of the dead. Then, when we finally reach heaven, we’ll taste of the fine wine and rich food in heaven that Isaiah prophesies about, “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines” (Is. 25:6). The wine of Holy Communion is a heavenly foretaste of this feast to come; the heavenly feast where Christ is the groom and the church is His holy bride. When we reach heaven the wine won’t run out, and we will marvel like the master of the banquet, saying to God, “Truly, You have saved the best till now!”

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. What crisis led to Jesus’ first miracle? Why might this come as a surprise?

2. How does our impatience in prayer and in waiting for God’s help often express itself? Is persistence bad? Read Luke 18:1-8. How is persistence different from demanding the time and form of God’s answer to our prayers? (think about who should be in control). What does Jesus’ answer to Mary teach us about the timing of God’s help/answers to our prayers? When is the “universal hour of God’s help?”

3. How does marriage teach us about the blessings that God gives and the patience of waiting? What does Jesus use marriage to depict? Matthew 25:1-12; 9:14-17; 22:1-14; Eph. 5:22-33. How is marriage a place for practicing and living out forgiveness with a fellow Christian? How deep should our love be for our spouses if we’re called to love our neighbor as ourselves? Our spouse is our nearest neighbor, so they should be our dearest love.

4. What did the miracle show about Jesus and His character? How does God save the best for last? What was so significant about “the hour” that Jesus was waiting for? Cf. John 12:23ff; 13:1; 16:1; 17:1ff. What happened then, and how did it prepare “the best for last?”

5. How do Jesus’ last gifts prove the most enduring of all His miracles, and the best of His “wine?” How does God’s grace continue to pour out through your earthly life and beyond?

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