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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany 1/17

          For me, it doesn’t happen so much in the planning of weddings where the reception is elsewhere and the church is only used for the actual ceremony, but in planning funerals, in many cases, one of the biggest concerns is…the fear of running out of food at the funeral lunch.  The family of the deceased worries about it, the ladies who work the funerals worry about it because it can be a little difficult to predict how many people will be there and you want there to be enough and yet when you think about it, it’s really not that big a deal.  If you ran out, people would understand…I think?  They could go home and eat after all.  But it’s a matter of hospitality and a desire on the part of the family to be gracious hosts and to honor and thank those who have come. 

          That’s as close as I can come to understanding the situation surrounding the miracle at Cana where Jesus changes water to wine at the wedding.  In John’s gospel this is the first of Jesus’ miracles or signs as John calls them, the first indication of who Jesus is and while we only get this story once every three years in the lectionary it is identified as one of the classic stories of the season of Epiphany, you perhaps have noted or will note that it is mentioned as part of the Proper Preface for Epiphany which is part of the communion liturgy.

          Changing the water into wine is a miracle that is familiar and which does have a prominent place in the tradition, but it is a little different from other miracles of Jesus in that the only thing accomplished by what Jesus does is that the host avoids the embarrassment of running out.  No one is healed of any ailment or disease, no great storm is calmed; you might compare it to Jesus’ feeding miracles but even there you are talking about food which is a necessity where wine is something nice, but I don’t think you can call it a necessity.

          In John’s gospel the miraculous things that Jesus does are called signs.  What these signs do is to show the power of God present in Jesus.  Through the signs Jesus’ glory is made known and his mission as the Son of God is made known (which is what the season of Epiphany is about; Jesus’ identity being made known).  Calling them signs though, highlights the fact that there’s more going on than the act itself.  Signs need to be interpreted because they don’t all do the same thing or have the same function and with a lot of the signs we deal with in life we learn pretty early and easily how to do this interpretation.  We learn that some signs tell you where you are (street signs or business signs), some tell you what to do (stop signs), some provide boundaries or limits (speed limit signs), some don’t tell you where you are but they point you to someplace else (Ishpeming, 7 miles; you’re not in Ishpeming yet, but the sign tells you that’s where you’re headed). 

          There are other things that signs do but in John the signs are probably most like the final example I gave in that these signs point you to something else. In the case of water turned to wine, as you try to understand it that means you have to avoid getting distracted by questions like, “Is Jesus being rude to his mother here?” which really doesn’t have much to do with anything and instead focus on the more important question of what this act points to. 

In general terms, what all the signs in John do is to point to Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God or another way to say that is that the signs are intended to reveal the divine nature of Jesus, that he is more than just another prophet or teacher.  And this is where I think it gets interesting.  What this miracle or sign mostly has to do with is joy and abundance.  Power is revealed too; Jesus is seen to have unusual powers, but that power is used in the service of joy and abundance.  I think that’s remarkable!  The first divine quality revealed in Jesus doesn’t have to do with healing power or power over nature or power to bring life out of death.  Jesus’ first act of power, his first sign has to do with joy and abundance!  The first thing revealed about Jesus as divine doesn’t have to do with obedience to him or even awe and wonder at the mystery of it all; it has to do with joy.

The gospel message is a message of joy.  Jesus is a source of joy in our life.  Our faith is a source of joy.  Do we think of it that way though?  Our churches should be places of joy, but are they?  Or do we find faith and church and our relationship with Jesus to be more of a grim duty that we face every day or every week? 

Let me clarify here though; this talk about joy and abundance doesn’t mean happy church that takes the cross out of Christianity and the sermons amount to motivational pep talks.  It doesn’t mean that you should expect sappy, sugary, happy stories out of me every week.  It doesn’t mean you should expect peppy, schlocky praise music to replace the hymns and choir anthems.  What we’re talking about here is a deeper sense of joy that acknowledges the reality of sin and evil but which won’t allow it to define existence.  What we’re talking about is not joy that’s just a thin, surface covering but joy that might best be contrasted with anxiety because another way to think about what Jesus does in this miracle is to see that he eases the anxiety of the bridegroom and the guests and Jesus’ mother, and the steward, everybody.

Is the church a place of joy, or is it a place of anxiety?  I would hope that it’s a place of joy, real joy at least some of the time but I also know that it can be a place of anxiety as we become anxious about matters involving money, anxious about matters of sex and sexuality, anxious about attendance, anxious about who’s holier than who, who’s in and who’s out, anxious about all manner of things and as Walter Brueggemann said when he stood right here a couple of years ago, “People in a state of anxiety have no time for the common good.”  No time for the common good…

Paul mentions the common good in today’s second lesson.  In this portion of the letter to the Corinthians he’s talking about gifts of the Spirit, various ways to act and to serve and in verse 7 he says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  When you read any of Paul’s letters you have to kind of read between the lines to try and figure out what was going on, what prompted him to write what he did.  In this case it seems that there must have been some dissention in the ranks concerning whose gifts and abilities were more important.  That would be a source of anxiety wouldn’t it? 

Paul must have heard that not much was happening in that community because they were too busy bickering about who was better than who with some feeling superior, some feeling inferior so he tries to assure them that they all are important, that they’ve all been given gifts and one is no more important than the other.  What is important is the common good, and when people are anxious about rank and status, the common good is not being served.  That’s what Paul was trying to get across to the people of Corinth.  He doesn’t say so in so many words, but when people are anxious about rank and status or anything else, joy is not going to be present in the community either in part because in anxiety people are not going to notice God’s activity in making all things new.

That’s something else that this first sign of Jesus points to.  It’s a sign of the move from old to new that Jesus would enact everywhere and which he continues to enact.  In anxiety though, it’s harder to see the newness.  Some who experienced the water turned into wine could only interpret it in old ways assuming that the wine was hidden away somewhere and for some inexplicable reason the bridegroom had been holding out on it.  But the disciples saw how good it was and how much there was and they saw that something was going on, that this was indeed something new, something wonderfully new and they believed.  They might not have known what they believed at that point, but they believed in the possibility of something new and they believed in the joy present in that possibility.  They couldn’t have fully understood it, but somehow they knew that Jesus was the source of that new possibility, that somehow he was a source of joy that pointed to something way beyond gallons of new wine.

Rev. Warren Geier

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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