Sermon: Of Weddings, Wine, Delight, the Glory of God, and Belief
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Isaiah 62.1-5; Psalm 36.5-10; I Corinthians 12.1-11; John 2.1-11
Today is the second Sunday of the Epiphany Season. Let’s revisit the definition of “epiphany”: first, Epiphany is a church festival observed on January 6th “in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles”; second, epiphany means “an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being’; and third, “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epiphany). It is reasonable to expect the readings for each Sunday of Epiphany to provide us with some manifestation, discovery, realization, or disclosure associated with the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Last Sunday, we focused on water and the voice of God at Jesus’ baptism. Today, our focus is on Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine – which took place at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.
Marriage is a time of celebration and delight! Relatives and friends witness two people who consent to live in a covenant of marriage in which they pledge to love, comfort, honor, and care for one another while forsaking all others and being faithful to one another for as long as they live. It is no wonder that Israel’s relationship with God is frequently depicted in terms of a marriage covenant. In the book of Hosea, we see how Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, a marriage beset by Gomer’s infidelity, is used to depict Israel’s lack of fidelity. Israel chose to worship Canaanite deities; she forsook her covenant relationship with God and worshipped foreign idols.
In Isaiah we are confronted by a situation in which some Israelites who have been in captivity are permitted to return to Jerusalem. The city lies in devastation. The people are also devastated; they are in the depths of despair. But God’s word, a message of hope and love, comes through Isaiah:
For Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch . . . and you shall be called by a new name . . . You shall no longer 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 . . . as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you (Isaiah 62.1-5; NRSV).
Given their repentance, God reaffirms the covenant relationship and assures the people of God’s delight and rejoicing over Jerusalem.
We only read the second half of Psalm 36. In its entirety, the psalmist compares the wicked with the righteous. While the wicked have “no fear of God . . . flatter themselves in their own eyes . . . [and] have ceased to act wisely and do good,” the righteous experience and enjoy God’s love and righteousness. The righteous “feast upon the abundance of God’s house” and “drink from the river of God’s delights.” The psalmist closes this hymn with these words: “For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light. Continue your loving-kindness to whose who know you, and your favor to those who are true of heart,” or as we might also put that, “those who are pure of heart” (Psalm 36.5-10; NRSV). Those who are righteous, who are pure in heart, drink from the river of God’s delights, from the well of life while experiencing God’s light in their lives. They live in hope and promise of seeing God, for as Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5.8; NRSV). Our God not only delights in the righteous, but grants that they drink from the river of God’s delights.
We now come to John’s account of the wedding in Cana of Galilee. John tells us the mother of Jesus was present, as well as Jesus and the disciples who had also been invited. A close reading of the previous chapter indicates the disciples at this time included Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and one other who is unnamed. The wedding celebration was going well, but a problem arose – they ran out of wine. This would have been a real embarrassment for the bridegroom; it would have resulted in his dishonor. Mary told Jesus, “They have no wine.” Jesus replied, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.” In other places, John refers to Jesus’ hour as the crucifixion. Mary did not argue or object – she merely told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2.3-5; NRSV). John then tells us six stone water jars used in Jewish purification rites were present. Each jar could hold 20 to 30 gallons of water. The jars stood empty; the servants may have used the water for washing the guests’ feet upon their arrival. Jesus told the servants to fill the jars, then to draw some out and take it to the chief steward. The water had become wine, and not just any wine – it was excellent wine – 120 to 180 gallons of wine! Upon drinking, the chief steward called the bridegroom and exclaimed, “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” (John 2.10; NRSV). Just as an aside here, some Christians content that wine in the New Testament always refers to grape juice, as opposed to a fermented beverage. We don’t get drunk on grape juice! This was good wine – wine in abundance! The people drank from the river of God’s delights!
Our reading closes with these words: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2.11; NRSV). The disciples present were newly called; they were still learning who Jesus was and what he was about. The disciples were probably scratching their heads and wondering – Could it be true; might he be the Messiah? In transforming water into wine, Christ’s glory was made manifest. Given this epiphany, the disciples believed!
What can we take away from our consideration of these scriptures?
First, our God is a faithful God who invites us into covenant and takes delight when we accept the invitation. Yet God grants us the freedom to choose whether we enter into covenant or go our own way. If we so desire, as the psalmist reminds us, “we can flatter ourselves in our own eyes and cease to do good.” We can reject God’s love, insist on our own way, and use others for our own advantage. We can erect barriers that divide us; we can tear down bridges which unite us.
Second, God would have us feast upon the abundance of God’s house and drink from the river of God’s delights. We see this abundance, yea, even extravagance, in Jesus’ transformation of water into wine – as much as 180 gallons for the guests of a wedding in Galilee.
Third, feasting upon the abundance of God’s house and drinking from the river of God’s delights includes our life in the Spirit. As St. Paul tells us, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Paul tells the Church of Corinth that, concerning spiritual gifts, he does not want them to be uninformed. I think the Church of Corinth was involved in spiritual oneupsmanship! Look at the way I can prophesy! Can you believe it? Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth that although there are varieties of spiritual gifts, there is one Spirit; that although there are varieties of services, we all serve one Lord and Savior; that although there are various activities, the same God activates them all. It is the same Spirit working in us – it is not really about us, but about the Spirit! We are called to oneness in the Spirit. Given the abundance of God’s house and the river of God’s delights, there is more than enough for all of us.
Every Sunday, we are invited to God’s table – to that heavenly feast. Let us graciously accept the invitation and drink freely from the river of God’s delight. Jesus does not serve Thunderbird, Ripple, or Boone’s Farm. As with the wedding in Cana of Galilee, Jesus offers us the very best! Drink and be delighted! Drink and believe!