The Second Sunday after Epiphany
John 2:1-11

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

Whenever we read about miracles in the New Testament, we need to remember an important fact: the purpose of reporting the miracle is never to convert the unbeliever (just as that wasn’t Jesus’ purpose in performing it). Rather, the purpose is to share between believers a reality of the faith that can only be conveyed through the symbols of miracle.

The purpose of this story in John’s gospel is not to prove that Jesus is capable of performing miracles; it is to confirm the power and presence of God in Jesus to those who already believe.

With that said, then, let’s not waste time worrying about the details of what Jesus did, but let’s look, instead, at the metaphors and images and symbols provided by John and ask how they can refresh and renew us in our maturing faith.

First, we can learn from the setting. The occasion of the miracle is not a deeply religious one. This is not the wedding (though a wedding itself, during Jesus’ day, was much more a civil and social event than a religious one) but the water is turned into wine at the very down-to-earth (occasionally rowdy) wedding feast or reception. The place of the miracle is not a place of power and authority (it isn’t, for instance, before the Sanhedrin or in the Temple), but a humble place, a simple home.

There is always the tendency to expect “great” things to happen on great occasions, and religious things to happen on religious occasions and in religious places. We want the spectacular in life to be heralded with trumpets and processions and all the appropriate pomp. And it’s nice and wonderful when circumstances make this possible. But, the problem this can create is that we lose sight of much of God’s grace (and even God’s greatness) when we only look for God’s presence at important moments and events.

With John’s report of the miracle at Cana, we are renewed with the reminder that God’s glory is manifest at the most intimate and private times. God doesn’t wait for crowds to gather and fanfare to sound. Jesus didn’t call for the bride and groom or the steward or anyone else and say, “Okay, watch this.” He simply worked a miracle of grace and kindness, just as God every day–abundantly–works miracles of grace and kindness, sometimes within our sight of vision (physical and spiritual sightedness), sometimes outside of it.

God doesn’t need a religious setting to work miracles. Certainly miracles can occur in our worship services and within prayer groups. But the truth of the matter is they occur far more frequently in stores and schools and offices and homes. If we don’t have eyes to see, or refuse to see them unless they take place at the right time at the right place – our right times and right places – then we’ll be blind to many of God’s miracles and we’ll miss many of God’s blessings.

Second, we can be challenged by the fact of Jesus’ presence at the feast. It’s often the case that we only see Jesus as the serious teacher or preacher, the stern judge or the contemplative at prayer. Sometimes we sing in hymns about Jesus as a friend or brother, but we rarely talk about him to non-believers or even among ourselves as someone any normal human being would want to spend time with—or have fun with. Or maybe we just don’t have that in our experience. Have you ever just had a good time with Jesus?

We can learn a lot about how we present Jesus to others (and, therefore, how we see Jesus ourselves) by talking with small children and seeing how they see Jesus. I’ve seen pictures children have drawn of God. Some show God with a thunderbolt in each hand, others show him with a big smile on his face, and a dog beside him. (That’s fun!) Some kids cower when they hear of God, or the name Jesus, and they start to whisper. You have to be quiet when you talk about God; you can’t laugh! While others can feel free enough to dance to the Sanctus &, I hope, can imagine getting down on the floor with Jesus for a wrestling match or a tickling contest. We learn a lot about ourselves from our kids.

And the importance of this story (this wedding story) is that it shows Jesus as a real human being. He was, you know. The kind of person who could enjoy the celebration and joy of a wedding feast. For not only does he go to party, it is the first place he takes his disciples. What the story can remind us of, forcefully, is that our faith isn’t comprised only of serious study and pious demeanor; our faith is good news and good times and should be shared and expressed with exhilaration and jubilation.

There is certainly time and a place for the serious and the profound in Christianity. Jesus took many opportunities to pray and teach. But there is also a place for the feasts and festivals. Jesus took time to attend the wedding feast. He took time to be refreshed and entertained. He knew there was “a time to laugh [as well as] a time to mourn.”

Finally, we can learn from the abundance of the act. Jesus and God are not stingy with God’s miracles. The wine was running out, but surely one water pot full of new wine would’ve been sufficient. John points out that the jars each held 20 or 30 gallons. Twenty gallons is a lot of wine! Even for Episcopalians! But Jesus doesn’t stop with enough or even with more than enough. God’s grace, God’s creative power, is never content with “enough.” We have not only been given life, we have been given abundant life. Or, at least, that is God’s desire.

As maturing Christians, as people still on the journey of faith, we need to set aside our reason and our logic when it comes to miracles—at least enough to step beyond what the world tells us we can properly “expect” to happen. It’s not fantasy to expect miracles from God greater than we can reasonably comprehend. (That’s what makes them miracles!) Over and over scripture tells us about the miraculous which breaks into history in the most ordinary events and for the most ordinary people.

Over and over newspapers and magazines tell us of miracles in the daily round of life. The world calls these “coincidences,” but we know them by another name, and we need to be wise enough and mature enough to call them by their right name and to deepen in our spirit enough to expect them and to look for them; in big things and little things; in our personal lives and our corporate lives; whether we’re starting a new job or a new congregation; whether we’re building a house for ourselves or a church building for our community. We need to learn to trust God and to trust one another. We need to put our faith in God and to make a place for God to work miracles in our lives. And if we will, God will. (And we ought to know that better than anybody—this congregation—with all the God stuff that has happened here, in this place, among us.

Miracles aren’t something we can hope to see once in a lifetime, or once in a decade, but once a day, or more. But until we’re ready to take God’s grace in the abundance with which God offers it, we won’t be able to see it or ready to experience the great miracles that are part of God’s promise to us. We need to use today’s lesson (and that thermometer over there) to renew within ourselves that sense of wonder and abundance that marks Christianity as a faith—and a promise.

The miracle at Cana is full of lessons for those who already believe. The steward observed that the good wine was saved for later. So it is with the Christian life. When we are just new to the Christian faith, even if we’ve been in church for a long time, we’re not ready to comprehend, fully, the depth of God’s love and grace and the mysterious, miraculous ways in which it is manifest.

We think we are. We think we know it all. I have a priest friend who says that new Christians (those who become Christians as adults) should be locked up for a year, because, in their zealous rage, they do more to drive people away from God than to bring them in. And it’s true, because as new Christians, and, likewise, with long-time church goers who don’t believe, we are like novice wine tasters, unable to appreciate a fine vintage.

But as we grow and learn to open ourselves to God, we are able to make those fine distinctions, able to separate what is good from what is great.

The miracle at Cana is a miracle for us not because, once, Jesus turned water into wine, but because it is a reminder that in all times and in all places, God turns the ordinary stuff of life into something fine and splendid. And once we understand that, once we’re able to see that, we can recognize, and appreciate, and marvel, and give thanks for the miracle that takes place right there at that table every time we are invited to gather for our wedding feast.

May we open our eyes to see the miracles that are there every day in our lives. May we open our hearts to feel and know the love and faithfulness and joy of an abundant God.
And may we give thanks, always, and praise to him from whom all blessings flow. The God of heaven and earth: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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