Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 17, 2016
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s so easy to get lost in the interesting theological ins and outs of a passage when you prepare a sermon. This week I went down several fascinating rabbit holes before stepping back and seeing the really great news of this gospel.
For instance I played with the challenge of being transformed that we all face every day in our lives—playing off of the way that Jesus changed water into wine. I dallied with the interaction between the mother of Jesus (who is never named in this gospel, by the way!) and Jesus himself—the “knowing” of Mary and the reluctance of her Son.
I danced a while with the fact that this miracle is the first of seven signs in John’s gospel that point to Jesus as the Son of God. And I ended up playing with the feeling that this story is really a resurrection story. It’s an allegory of the Kingdom of God, when on the third day, we are resurrected, and life is changed, not ended—much like those vats of ordinary water became cases and cases of the most complex and delicious and sensually satisfying wine ever known on the planet.
But then came the step back, and the long look. Here’s what jumped out.
The Wedding at Cana is the first episode in this gospel where Jesus is revealed to the wider world and works his first miracle. And what’s it about? It’s about God’s abundant, overflowing, flagrant compassion for us and generosity with us. And it happens at a party.
You know, it’s interesting that Jesus’ public ministry in Mark’s gospel begins with an exorcism. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus begins by going among the people preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, teaching in the synagogues, and curing illnesses.
But not in John. John starts with a feast at a celebration of joy: a wedding.
Now, we are all familiar with feasting. We’ve just concluded weeks of feasting, starting way back at Thanksgiving time and going through Christmas and New Years. For many of us the feasting will continue on Superbowl Sunday, right?
The best feasts we celebrate are filled to overflowing with wonderful, rich food and plenty to drink. They leave us stuffed—but in a very good way. The best feasts also include lots of people we love. Children, parents, other relatives. Good friends we haven’t seen for a while. Feasts imply and enhance community.
Rolf Jacobsen, who is a professor at Luther Seminary in Minnesota, reflected this week in a podcast [“Sermon Brainwave” at www.workingpreacher.org, podcast for January 17, 2016] that the best feasts “tend what’s human in a person in a culture where people easily get dehumanized.” [Ibid.] They remind us of who we are. They give us opportunities to touch again the cultural and religious truths that give us meaning.
He told a story about a feast that was particularly meaningful to him. When he was in high school he contracted a cancer that eventually resulted in the loss of his legs. And while he was very, very sick a good family friend came to town and took him and his folks out for a lovely feast, where they could forget the clouds over them for just a few hours, and touch again what brought them joy. [Ibid.]
And once I heard that story, what immediately came to mind was a time in my life about 12 years ago. I was attending a conference in Washington D.C., and took an afternoon to go visit my college roommate, Linda, in northern Virginia. She had been fighting with endometrial cancer for about 5 or 6 years then. She was weak but she was a fighter, as she was trying hard to stay alive to see her son grow up.
It turns out that there was a pastoral emergency in my previous parish that day, and it required me to be on the phone doing some serious counseling. And while I was sitting in her dining room, on the phone, Linda fixed me tea. She brought the whole thing to me on a beautiful tray. Tea, teapot, sugar. Cookies on the side. A cloth napkin. And a little flower, too.
Here was my sick and dying friend taking care of me by bringing me a feast at a time when I was stressed. It’s something that I will never forget. It was such a gift to me, and I think it was such a gift to her. It was something she did out of love and care. It was a way to recall and revisit our common humanity that got damped down at that time in her life, when medical needs often trumped the human gifts of joy and love and celebration. It was her chance to serve instead of being served.
And I bet each one of us here today can recall a very special feast that spoke to us of a deeper connection we share—a connection through Christ and a connection that taps into the generosity and abundant love and joy of God.
So this is the bigger gospel message today, I think. Jesus, once he realized it was time to come out of the closet (so to speak), responded with a miracle and a metaphor of God’s love and forgiveness and provision for us.
Generous. Overflowing. Abundant. Without end. The best there is. An event to help a community celebrate.
John’s gospel reminds us that “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. [John 1:16] And this story is one more instance of that grace pouring out endlessly like all that rich red wine tumbling out of those vats.
And so I want to end by reminding us to be a provider of feasting for others—to take human connection to someone who may really need it. How might we be there for someone this week so as to speak volumes to them about God’s crazy, unending love for them? And how might we give thanks for the times that we’ve been on the receiving end?
After all, we are God’s hands in the world.