Second Sunday after Epiphany, 2019, January 20, 2019
Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Chinook and Naselle Lutheran Churches, WA
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are in the season of Epiphany. Epiphany means revelation, and specifically something being revealed by or about God. An epiphany is a “Eureka!” moment, when you realize something big that changes the way you see the world. And so, the Gospel readings in the time after Epiphany tend to deal with revelations of who Jesus is and what his ministry is all about. On Epiphany itself, we hear about God revealing the coming of Jesus to the Magi through the star. In Jesus’ baptism, we hear of the Spirit coming down like a dove, and a voice from heaven calling Jesus the Beloved Son. And today, we read John’s account of Jesus’ first act of public ministry, his miracle at the wedding of Cana, in which Jesus was revealed as something more than just another wandering rabbi.
So Jesus goes to this wedding, and something TERRIBLE occurs: they run out of wine! Now, weddings in the Middle East are BIG BUSINESS. The parties can go on for DAYS, and food and drink are supposed to flow freely. If the bridegroom didn’t provide enough hospitality, he would be shamed in the community. Everyone would talk about it for decades to come. It would have been a nightmare. But Jesus and his mother Mary were there, and Mary knew darn good and well Jesus could fix this. And he does: he turns water into wine, into really good wine. The party is saved, and so is the bridegroom’s reputation! Yay!
To our ears, it’s a weird little story, because why is this party special enough to rate a miracle from Jesus? And why is this the first public act of Jesus’ ministry? Like, if I were planning my first public act as pastor of a new church, providing refreshments at someone else’s wedding reception wouldn’t be what I’d choose, I’m just saying. But every story included in the Gospels is included because it’s important, because it tells us something about Jesus or about the life of faith. And this passage is specifically picked for the season of Epiphany because it reveals something about who Jesus is.
First, abundance is one of the themes of the Gospel of John. Each Gospel has its own perspective on what traits of Jesus should be emphasized, and one of the things the Gospel of John emphasizes about Jesus is that life in Jesus brings abundance. As Jesus says in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Or as John 1:16 puts it, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” If you ever read through the Gospel of John, notice how Jesus provides: wine here, bread and fish at the feeding of the 5,000 with twelve baskets left over after everyone had eaten their fill, so much fish for the Disciples in John chapter 21 that they couldn’t haul all of them in, healing and forgiveness whenever anyone needs them. Any spiritual or physical need that Jesus encounters, he provides for it, abundantly. Things overflow, or are given beyond any rational hope or expectation. Like here: the party’s already been going on long enough for the wine to run out. Jesus provides somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of wine. That’s the equivalent of somewhere between 600 and 900 bottles of wine. And not just two buck chuck, either; this is the really good stuff.
So what this tells us about Jesus, besides the fact that he has good taste in wine, is that when Jesus provides he really provides. In a world in which there is scarcity, Jesus provides abundance. So often in the world, people run out of things they need. People go hungry, or cold, or thirsty; people can’t afford to pay for healthare; people struggle to pay rent, or go homeless; people are one paycheck away from disaster; people are afraid of losing what they have. But our God is a God of abundance. God does not measure out grace by the teaspoonful, demanding we prove ourselves worthy and grateful for every drop. God’s love overflows like wine at a really good party, more than we need, simply because we need it. Because that’s the kind of God that God is: God loves abundantly. God gives abundantly. God wants us to have abundant lives.
But still: why a party? Why a wedding banquet, specifically? We don’t tend to associate parties—particularly ones with lots of wine—with God, but they did back in Bible days. Specifically, contrary to our modern imagery of people sitting on clouds and strumming harps, the most common metaphor for heaven in the Bible is a party. God’s coming kingdom is repeatedly described, throughout the Bible, as a feast, a banquet filled with rich foods and well-aged wines. It’s not some sort of ethereal unworldly place for souls to float around in. It’s an earthy, joy-filled, feast, like the best holiday dinner you ever had except better, because all the impurities, all the bad things that creep in to mar even the best earthly experience, will be gone. There will be no fighting or hurt feelings, because every petty or selfish or scared or hateful bit of us will be healed, and we will all love and understand one another. There will be food that tastes better than anything you’ve ever imagined, and nobody will have to worry about calories or allergies or balancing their blood sugar, or anything else. For those who drink, there will be the best wine you can imagine, only nobody will have to worry about addiction or hangovers. For those who don’t drink, there will be other awesome things.
This is how the Bible describes God’s kingdom: a vast and great party, a banquet, with every good thing you can imagine overflowing, and all bad things destroyed or healed or purified. It’s no accident that in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the first thing the father does when his son returns is throw a huge party. Think back to the Garden of Eden. The thing that made it paradise was that it was a garden filled to overflowing with every good thing. Our God is a God of abundance. Our God is a God who rejoices. Our God is a God whose love and mercy overflow. That’s just how God rolls.
So why, then, is the world the way it is? Why is there scarcity? Why is there suffering? And the answer is sin. Sin warps people, and sin warps the universe. In Genesis, we’re told that things like weeds and rocky soil and all the things that make life hard are a result of sin contaminating things. And even then, God’s creation keeps providing, but we do not use that provision wisely. Every year, enough food is produced to feed everybody, but people go hungry because there aren’t good roads to transport that food on, or because they can’t afford to buy it, or because stores throw out food they can’t sell, or because violence destroys their livelihood. If we as a planet sat down and decided we were going to ensure that nobody went hungry, we could do it. We could solve the problem of hunger. It is human sinfulness, not God’s gifts, that cause hunger. And yet, even in the midst of human sinfulness, God is at work to provide. Even as people do things that add to the pain and suffering in the world, God inspires others to work for the good of all. There are countries in the world that cut their rate of hunger in half between 2000 and 2015. It took a lot of hard work on the part of a lot of people at the local, national, and international level, but they did it. And I firmly believe that God was working in their midst, inspiring them and leading them and bringing them together to help more and more people receive the gifts of God’s abundant creation.
It’s really easy to look at the world and think that there is no redeeming it. That there is too much violence, too much hunger, too much conflict. It’s easy to look at the world and think that there just isn’t enough to go around, so we need to fight for ourselves and our families even if it means depriving others of things they need. But that is not the way God created the world to work. Our God is a God of abundance, who showers all of creation with love and every good thing. Our God is a God who created the world to be a great feast, a banquet, a wedding party, with more than enough for all. The question is, can we see that? Can we see all the gifts God has given us, and give thanks for them? Or will we let ourselves get hypnotized by all the bad things?
May we all feel God’s abundance in our lives, and may we respond in gratitude to share that abundance with all God’s creation.