SERMON: Sacraments are Everywhere

I actually did preach this last Sunday, at Third Lutheran Church in Rhinebeck, New York. This is the text of my sermon, and a video should be posted online this week sometime.

Second Sunday of Epiphany / Lectionary 2 (Year C)

  • Isaiah 62:1–5
  • Psalm 36:5–10
  • 1 Corinthians 12:1–11
  • John 2:1–11

1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When 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 10 and 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.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1–11 ESV)

Today’s reading finds Jesus at a party. Almost as an afterthought. “On the third day…” our reading begins, there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and Mary, the mother of Jesus was there. She isn’t named in John’s Gospel, but we know who she is. And she’s been invited. Maybe she is a relative, a distant relation to the bride or the groom — in the ancient world, weddings were communal affairs, and in most villages and city neighborhoods, people were all kin, all somehow related to each other, since most marriages throughout history were arranged by families. Cousin marriage was, for most of human history, the most common thing in the world. It was how we sustained kinship ties. It was how we made families and communities.

So, it makes sense that her son Jesus would be invited too.

Inviting the disciples, however, makes less sense. They were Jesus’ ragtag followers, a band of ne’er-do-wells, people who — in John’s gospel — saw Jesus walk by and just knew they’d encountered the Messiah. And couldn’t wait to tell others, to invite them to meet the savior of Israel.

These are unwashed folks, rabble, fishermen, the followers of that crazy prophet John the Baptist, the kind of people who are likely to show up at parties, corning guests and launching into crazy conversations about … well, you that kinds of things those people talk about. No need to go into details here.

But this is a wedding, a big feast, a community celebration, and it would have been the height of rude to tell anyone they were not invited — that isn’t how wedding feasts worked back then. So The Jesus Show, complete with his entourage, arrives.

I like the Jesus we get here in this story. He’s minding his own business when his mother tells them the wine has run out. A scandal, this exhaustion of wine, something no decent party should allow. It’s the kind of thing that will ruin a family’s reputation, the all of a town for years to come.

“They couldn’t even set aside enough wine for a party…”

“They have no wine.” That’s what she tells Jesus.

And his response is almost petulant. Almost angry. Almost disrespectful, even. “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” So what, he says, what business is it of mine that they failed to plan properly, that they don’t have enough to meet the expectations of anyone giving as large a party as this?

And his mother, like any good mother, ignores him, and simply tells the servants to do as her son commands.

This is what it means that God is incarnate, that God became human, one of us, in our midst, surrendering to the limits of flesh and blood and bone. God is present, in our midst, not just suffering, not just weeping, but laughing and celebrating and taking joy in the the simple things of life together, of love, marriage, birth and a day’s work well done.

In his somewhat fatalistic contemplation of human life, of sin and virtue and good and evil, King Solomon writes in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that Go has given him, for this is his lot. (Ecclesiastes 6:18)

and

Go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in [death], to which you are going. (Ecclesiastes 9:7–10)

In other words: eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. This, for Solomon, is a virtue. It’s also something St. Paul vehemently warns the church in Corinth against. But I’ll leave that for another day. Because we are, in fact, looking at eating, and drinking, and being merry, and being human, and having God in our midst.

The master of the ceremony was impressed that this wine — which had been water when first poured into those giant clay jugs — was the “good wine,” saved for last. This was a party, to which God had been invited, for which God rather begrudgingly provided some of the victuals. I suspect there was a fair amount of drunkenness — this was the good wine, after all, saved for last, and already a fair number of those celebrating were drinking themselves under the table.

That too is human. And here too is God.

But Jesus also says, “My hour is not yet come.”

We don’t have the Lord’s Supper in John’s Gospel. Instead, we get this odd ritual of foot washing — something Jesus tells his disciples he must do, and they must also do, if they are to have any portion of him. We’re squeamish, like Peter, and we don’t do this foot washing as a regular ritual — and perhaps we should.

But John’s gospel knows there is a supper. Knows there is bread and wine and betrayal. Here, Jesus provides wine for a party — provides wine — saying his hour has not yet come. Later, in chapter six of John’s gospel, crowds having heard of experienced the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 come looking for Jesus because they hunger, because they want bread. And it is response to this hunger that Jesus tells them, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes me shall not thirst.”

“I am the living bread that came down from haven,” Jesus says. “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Supper, the table, communion — everywhere.

This wine at Cana is a foretaste of the feast to come, a reminder that in the simple things of life, in our very human existence, God is here, at work, blessing us and being with us and showing us who and what we are. Simple, sinful, wonderful, miserable human beings. Found, claimed, redeemed. Because he abides in us, and we in him. Nothing we do is so debased, so awful, so miserable, so horrific, or so banal that God does not share in it, is not part of it. At the same time, nothing we do is so virtuous, so noble, so pure, that it is not tainted by our sinful natures.

We come to this table, to eat and drink with joyous hearts. And we go off to do the work God has given us. Because we know that God is with us. In all of it. And that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves, an eternal kingdom, life everlasting. God is with us. Always.

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