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Sermon for Sunday 16 January 2022

First Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5

1For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. 2The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. 3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4You 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. 5For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

Psalm 128

1Happy are they all who fear the Lord, and who follow in his ways! 2You shall eat the fruit of your labor; happiness and prosperity shall be yours. 3Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children like olive shoots round about your table. 4The man who fears the Lord shall thus indeed be blessed. 5The Lord bless you from Zion, and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. 6May you live to see your children’s children; may peace be upon Israel.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Gospel: John 2:1-11

1On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

A Wedding Planner’s Worse Nightmare

If we were to make a list of jobs that require the ability to quickly think on your feet and handle extreme levels of stress, which jobs would you add to the list?  At the top of my list would be occupations like fighter pilots, first responders, emergency room health care professional and maybe even teachers.  However, until I stopped to consider this list and our gospel reading for today, I don’t think I’ve ever thought of wedding planners as part of this group.  But think about it, wedding planners juggle lots and lots of details while also managing the emotions of the wedding party.  Their job is to create the perfect day for the bride and groom.  All things considered, that’s a huge responsibility.

When issues arise at the last minute, the wedding planner is the one called on to do whatever it takes to rectify the situation.  For example, the DJ doesn’t show up for the reception.  What do you do?  One enterprising wedding planner hooked up her iPhone to a laptop and served as DJ so the reception could go on as planned.

Another wedding planner discovered, at the last minute, that the church had scheduled a funeral at the same time as the wedding.  She needed to keep the wedding guests out of the church for about an hour.  Fortunately, she spotted an ice cream truck down the block and convinced the owner to park the truck at the church and serve ice cream to the waiting guests.  Everyone assumed this was part of the wedding entertainment.  The guests had a great time, and no one guessed that they were being distracted from a scheduling mistake.  Being good at handling stress is a must, if you plan on being a good wedding planner.

Our gospel reading for this morning is a story we all know well and is about a wedding planner faced with a crisis.  Jesus, His mother Mary, and His disciples are attending a wedding in Cana.  In that culture, wedding parties lasted for days.  At some point during the festivities, the hosting family ran out of wine.  Jesus lived in a culture that valued hospitality and community.  No wine meant no more wedding celebration, which would be humiliating for the bride and groom’s families.  Mary must have heard whispers about the lack of wine, so she took the problem to Jesus.

“They have no more wine,” Mary tells Jesus.  Jesus answered, “Woman, why do you involve me?  My hour has not yet come.”  Undeterred by Jesus’ response, Mary simply forces the issue by telling the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”  For one, this passage is a great example of what I would call mom-power.  Mothers have that unique power to talk their kids into doing their bidding.  Mary didn’t ask Jesus directly to do anything.  She didn’t demand.  She just presented the problem to Him in such a way that He couldn’t say, “No.”  That’s what I call mom-power.

It goes without saying that Jesus has the power to do miracles.  He could have produced gallons of wine in the blink of an eye.  But that’s not what He chose to do.  Instead, He decided to involve others to rectify the situation.  This situation reminds me of an unusual story that appeared on CNN last year.  In March 2020, a small Italian town experienced a seeming miracle.  A local winery in the town had a valve fail on its bottling line.

The pressure created by the leaky valve forced wine into the area water pipes, causing red wine to flow out of the water faucets in about 20 homes surrounding the winery.  The wine flowed for about three hours, until workmen were able to fix the leaky valve.  The manager at the winery said the malfunction was appreciated by many of their customers.  In fact, some of them were bottling some of the wine for later use.

Can you imagine wine pouring out of your kitchen faucet?  Jesus could have provided wine for every household in town.  But if you read through the Bible, God often asks ordinary people to assist in His work.  God often chooses to partner with us to do His miracles.  But God chooses those who trust Him.  It always requires an attitude of trust, an act of faith, to partner with God in doing His work.  So, Jesus asks the servants to fill six stone ceremonial water jars to the very brim.  

He then instructs the servants to, “draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”  Can you imagine what was going through the minds of those poor servants?  They were witnesses to the entire event.  They knew what they had put into the stone jars and yet the obeyed and took the water, now turned to wine, to the master of the feast.  The master of the banquet was essentially the wedding planner.  He was facing public humiliation and loss of credibility if he didn’t come through fast.  Those servants showed some tremendous trust when they obeyed Jesus and took the host a dipper full of wine.

Imagine the master of the banquet’s surprise when he tasted the wine the servants brought him!  He didn’t know Jesus had performed a miracle.  He called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”  For the untrusting, it’s easy to look at Jesus’ first miracle and think it’s just an impressive party trick.  

For those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus’ power, we might as well end this passage with the words, “And they all lived happily ever after.  The End.”  But for the believer, the last line of our Bible passage reads, “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”  Think about that statement.  This miracle, His first miracle, revealed His glory and caused His disciples to believe in Him.  This, therefore, makes this an important miracle and one we need to look at further.

Dr. Stephen Arterburn, a nationally known psychiatrist, was raised in a very strict Christian home.  His parents absolutely forbid the use of alcohol in their home.  When Stephen asked them to explain Jesus’ first miracle, Stephen’s dad replied, “Well, if He had known how many problems alcohol would cause, He never would have done that.”  This miracle can be hard to explain, I know many churches in the U.S. have traditionally taken a hard stance against alcohol.  Generally speaking, the Lutheran church doesn’t see things that way.  So let’s set that aspect of this story aside for now. 

Instead, we need to understand that this, in reality, has little to do with the wedding.  It isn’t strictly about the wine, although that is an aspect to consider.  What we do need to recognize is that God is not a showman.  He isn’t desperate for our attention.  So, the miracles we read about in the Bible aren’t just special effects to impress us.  Miracles are meant to show us the nature and priorities of God.  Every time we read about a miracle in the Bible, we need to ask ourselves, “What does this tell me about the nature and priorities of God?”

That said, the first thing this story tells us about God is that in Jesus, God is doing a new thing.Notice in the Bible that every time God speaks to a person, it’s a stretching event, a challenging event.  It’s demanding because God is always calling people to a new life.  A new identity.  A new challenge.  Read through the Bible.  What happened in the lives of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, Esther, Joseph, David, the list is lengthy.  Each one of them was called away from a comfortable life and predictable future to follow God to new lands, to take on new challenges.  And God expects the people who follow Him to grow, to change, to rise to new challenges, to make sacrifices as needed all for His calling.

Certainly, the on-going COVID-19 pandemic has presented all of us with some challenges that we would just as soon forget.  We’ve added new terms to our vocabulary such as “social distancing.”  We’ve learned new ways to accomplish our work.  Some businesses sent their employees home.  Restaurants, stores, and schools have radically altered how they continue to do business.  We’ve all come to understand the stress and depression associated with looking at the same four walls every day.  We’ve learned that one way of dealing with a challenging situation is get down in the dumps and resentful.  Or, we find other, better, ways to deal with the situation.

I read about a husband-and-wife team who rose to the occasion and did just that—they found a better way.  When they got bored staring at those same four walls every day, this couple created a website called WindowSwap.  WindowSwap allowed users to upload photos or video of the view outside their window.  Then, when they get bored with the view from their home, they could click through photos or video of other people’s views from around the world.  

The woman who co-created WindowSwap said, “My husband and I were growing bored with the view from our window—so we created a place on the Internet where you can open a new window somewhere else in the world!”  In Jesus, God opened a “new window” so we could see His nature in a new way.  In Jesus, God is doing a new thing.  The second thing we can learn from this miracle is that in Jesus, God is doing an abundantthing.

Why is it so important to understand that our God is a God of abundance?  It’s certainly not to justify the prosperity gospel, the health-and-wealth idol worship found in many American churches.  In Jesus, we see that God’s generosity flows from His love for us.  God’s abundant love frees us to live fearlessly, expectantly, and most importantly, generously.  Generosity is another area where God calls us into partnership with Him.  God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others.  Dale Schroeder was a carpenter from Iowa who lived to be a blessing to others.  He worked at the same company for 67 years and Dale was known for being hard-working, humble, and frugal.

After Dale Schroeder’s death in 2005, Steve Nielsen revealed that Schroeder had saved up nearly $3 million in his lifetime, and he had left all his money to pay for small-town Iowa kids to go to college.  In all, Dale Schroeder’s fortune sent 33 kids to college.  None of those kids could have afforded a college education on their own.  But today, they are doctors, lawyers, therapists, and teachers.  According to Steve Nielsen, Dale Schroeder had just one condition for accepting the money.  “All we ask is that you pay it forward,” reports Nielsen.  “You can’t pay it back, because Dale is gone, but you can remember him, and you can emulate him.”

That’s what we do when we give generously to the needs of others: we pay it forward and emulate our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Jesus is God in flesh, both fully divine and fully human, so His miracles point to the nature and priorities of God.  In this Bible passage, we learn that God is both doing a new thing and God is doing an abundant thing.  And thankfully there’s one more thing we can learn from this passage, in Jesus, God is doing a grace thing.  Grace—unconditional, unearned love—is hidden all throughout this Bible passage.  And it’s particularly on display in the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine.

Wine, in the Bible, often symbolizes God’s provision and blessings and security.  But it also represents so much more.  You see, Jesus’ first miracle and His last meal have something in common.  Just before Jesus was arrested and crucified, He had a final meal with His disciples.  After the meal, He took bread, gave thanks to God and broke it.  He then gave it to His disciples and said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  He then took the cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”  God in the flesh didn’t come here to save a wedding party from disaster.  He came to give His life on the cross to save us from our sins and restore us to the Father.

It’s like a story that was reported by the Catholic News Agency in 2020.  It was about a group of Nazi officers in September 1943 who were inspecting a shipment of ammunition that had arrived in Rome.  Somehow, some of the ammunition in the shipment exploded in the box, killing one of the Nazi soldiers.  It was a random accident; in reality, no one was to blame.  But the Nazi soldiers decided to use this opportunity to strike fear into the hearts of the local citizens.

They rounded up 22 men from this tiny Roman village.  Then, one of the officers approached a local policeman named Salvo, and told him that all of the men would be shot unless he found the man who had sabotaged the ammunition.  Salvo began questioning each of the men, but they all professed their innocence.  The Nazi officer ordered the men to begin digging a mass grave.  Salvo tried to comfort the men who were facing certain death in spite of their innocence.  But then, Salvo did something more, something quite extraordinary.  He approached the Nazi officer and “confessed” that he was the one who had sabotaged the ammunition.  He was, of course, innocent of any crime, yet he willingly chose to sacrifice himself to save those 22 men.  That same evening, Salvo was executed by a Nazi firing squad.  

For his sacrifice, Italy recognized Salvo’s selfless act by posthumously awarding him the country’s highest military honor, the Gold Medal of Military Valor.  Jesus’ first miracle wasn’t for show.  It was to show us that His coming, His life and His death was for our sake, that God was doing a new thing, an abundant thing, and a grace filled thing.  His battered body and the wine of the Eucharist are constant reminders of Christ’s selfless act of love for us.  When we open ourselves up to God and allow God to work through us, we too will see the new things, the abundant things, and the grace-filled things God wants to do through us.


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