Sunday, January 20, 2013

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 128
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee; and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.

There are a number of shows on the television that focus on that special day when a man marries a woman, the wedding day. These shows often spotlight the party that comes after the ceremony, and put most of the attention on the bride. Some of the shows make the brides seem selfish and self-centered. I get frustrated by those women who think it is ‘all about me’ or who make their wedding day a coronation of sorts. They’ve lost the true purpose of the day, which is to bring together two people, two families, into one.

These brides, or bridezillas as some appear, insist everything is perfect, and perfect means exactly as they want it to be. They have an image in their mind, and even though the image they have is sometimes impossible or ridiculously expensive, they are going to make it happen no matter what. Sometimes their wishes are terribly uncomfortable for others; they don’t take into account the needs of others as they plan. In some cases, they even say it doesn’t matter. “It is my day, who cares what they need.” There are others who try to please everyone and in the process make it a nightmare for the staff and for the guests.

I worked as a mobile disc jockey for a number of years, and I went to many weddings. Most of them were delightful events, from what I could see. Of course, I was involved in a very small part of the day, so if there were issues with food or venue or with the wedding, I never knew. But I often knew when it was a difficult day because the problems would flow into the party time. I remember one particular occasion when the bride and the mother of the bride were at odds about everything, including the music. The bride gave me a list of songs she wanted played, and I did my best to have those songs available. I was playing some of them when the mother of the bride came to complain. “You need to play music for the older folk.” I promised that I would present a balanced selection to give everyone a chance to dance and enjoy themselves.

I finished a brief set of the bride’s music and then began playing a few songs that would make the older folk happy, when the bride came to complain. “I gave you a list of music to play. Stick to it.” I explained that her mother wanted to hear something for the older folk. “This is my party,” she said. The minute I turned back to the bride’s music, the mother complained again. The party was no fun for anyone because the two women refused to let go and let me do my job. The guests were uncomfortable because they were at odds, apparently over more than just the music. The worst part is that they made themselves miserable. If they had just enjoyed themselves rather than worried about every detail, the party would have been a success.

We don’t really know much about weddings in the days of Jesus. We do know that they were large affairs that lasted for days. Hospitality was extremely important, and if they failed to live up to the expectations of the guests, they would be dishonored. Empty wine casks would have been disastrous.

We don’t know what relationship Mary had to the hosts, but she was close enough to know there was a problem. She wanted to help, and she knew that her son Jesus could help. She knew that God was an intimate and abiding part of His life and she had no doubt that Jesus could do something. She had seen the hand of God at work in Jesus life: angels announced His coming and warned His parents of danger. She saw the miraculous signs that accompanied Him. He was knowledgeable and wise about the things of God. She remembered all these things and treasured them in her heart. She knew that He was kind and generous and that He would not allow the family to be shamed.

She didn’t push Him, she simply said, “Do whatever He tells you.” He didn’t need to do anything. He didn’t need to answer the call. This was not His problem and He could have simply ignored the request. However, He told the servants to fill the jars. This could have been enough. People could have had water to drink. It was important for the host to provide the people with something to quench their thirst as they continued to celebrate. But Jesus knew that the problem was not about quenching the thirst of the guests, it was about protecting the honor of the hosts. Water was not enough.

Once the jars were filled, Jesus told them to take some to the steward. The steward was very surprised to find that the host had kept the good wine for last. The party had already lasted some time and the guests were already drunk, they would not have known the difference. The gift was Jesus exceedingly generous; it may have been excessive. At least we would think so. In our day, good guests know when it is time to leave. Imagine how hard it would be to get them to go if an excellent wine is flowing so freely! Yet, in their day hospitality was very important; the host was expected to be generous.

God is exceedingly generous, even when the difficulties we face are our own fault. Take, for instance, the exiles who were returning to Jerusalem in today’s Old Testament lesson. Perhaps they didn’t make Jerusalem a ruin, but it was their rejection of God that allowed the foreign armies to destroy it and take them into exile. They saw the consequences of their own disobedience to God. Yet, God would not allow Jerusalem to be desolate. He would not rest until the city was restored and the people prosperous again. He would give His people and their city a new name.

Hephzibah means, “My delight is in her.” Beulah means “Married.” The relationship between God and His people was meant to be deep and intimate, like a marriage. God delights in His people and He is faithful, even when we are not. Isaiah encourages the people and tells them that Jerusalem will be vindicated and restored. She will be like a crown of beauty or a royal jewel in the hand of the King. God will rejoice over her. The restoration that God has promised will be like a bridegroom marrying a bride. The relationship between God and His people is not that of a far off famous powerful person, but like a family: intimate, close, real.

It is not so surprising, then, that a wedding was the place where Jesus performed His first sign. Here, at a wedding, Jesus reveals the exceedingly generous nature of the relationship between God and His people: the good wine is overflowing and the people are rejoicing.

The miracle that Jesus performed at Cana was very personal. As a matter of fact, the only ones who knew what happened were Jesus, Mary, the servants who filled the jars with water and the disciples. Even the steward was left out; he was surprised when the good wine was held until the guests were already drunk. The bride and groom and their families may have never even known how the problem was solved. God does not do miraculous things for fame or glory. He does what He does out of love for His people.

That’s the kind of life He calls us to live. We don’t have to make a grand gesture or do something that will bring fame or power. He calls us to do what He means for each of us to do and He gifts us with everything we need to do it. Jesus’ first miracle was a behind the scenes gift of mercy. He gave the family the wine they needed to continue the wedding banquet. Few people even knew it happened. The same is true of the gifts He has given for you: intimate, personal, real. God’s grace was given for you: every one of you. God’s lovingkindness that was manifest in Jesus Christ is for each individual child of God. He was given for YOU.

And while this gift is personal, it is given to make you part of the body of Christ. He has been given for you so that you might be one with Him. We are joined together by faith and by the Holy Spirit. We share in His Spirit not for our own sakes but for the sake of others. And we need one another. We can’t do it all alone. Paul writes, “Now there are diversities of gifts.” He lists nine gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues.” We are each given a portion of these gifts, in good measure, to be used in acts of mercy and grace.

This first big sign seems somewhat insignificant, especially when you consider the other signs of Jesus as found in the book of John. Jesus heals the official’s son, a paralyzed man, and a man born blind. He walks on water and raises Lazarus from the dead. He feeds five thousand people. How is God glorified by a bunch of drunk partiers? We might find we are asking the same question about the work we are called to do in this world. “How will you be glorified by this?” we might ask. “It seems so mundane and unimportant.” But God is merciful in ways that we do not understand. He just asks us to be obedient and to respond to the needs that come our way.

The psalmist writes, “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine, In the innermost parts of thy house; Thy children like olive plants, Round about thy table.” We are His wife, and we are given to the world to be fruitful, to provide God’s grace to the world. We are meant to use the gifts we’ve been given to meet the needs of our neighbors. I might be given one gift, and you another, but together God will use us to bring peace and joy to the world. God’s Spirit works in and through each of us.

Jesus could have done nothing for the host at the wedding banquet, but He was exceedingly generous. We don’t have to do anything, either, but when we’ve been given such a great gift, how can we not let God’s generosity flow through our own lives? It might seem unimportant. It might not seem like the right time. But we never know how God might use us in a miraculous way, turning water into wine for the sake of someone’s honor.

Why does honor matter when there are so many in the world who are suffering? Why did God put so much importance on the honor of the family at the wedding in Cana? To honor someone is to value them and God values His people. Our gifts are not meant to make us famous or powerful. God gives us gifts because He values His creation, this means all men, including those who reject God’s word today. He wants them to be restored to Him. He loves them enough to be merciful, to return the home, to make their world beautiful again. He values them and wants them to know peace. So He calls us to use our gifts in a way that will show them His mercy so that they will see His glory and believe.

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