2 Epiphany Proper C2
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 2:1-11 Sermon
January 17, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
52 "As With Gladness Men Of Old"
55 "Songs Of Thankfulness And Praise"
301 "Lord Who At Cana's Wedding Feast"
---- "In Haiti There Is Anguish"
328 "Hail To The Lord's Anointed"
CELEBRATION IN THE MIDST OF TRAGEDY
TEXT (vs. 9-11) "...and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, 'Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.' This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him."
Haiti. It's a topic that's been on everybody's mind this past week, and I'm sure that I'm only one of many pastors to mention this subject from the pulpit. The massive earthquake that hit Haiti, and the capitol city of Port Au Prince measured an unbelievable 7.0 on the Richter Scale, making it one of the worst earthquakes in the Western Hemisphere. Even 14 of the 33 aftershocks of the quake measured between 5.0 and 5.9 on the Richter Scale. The United Nations has stated that this is the worst disaster that they have ever had to face.
Locally, we have had to look at some very disturbing pictures on the front page of the Journal-Star. All of the TV news services have aired even more disturbing footage. It is estimated that the death toll is upwards of 200,000 people, which would be like taking Columbus, Grand Island, Kearney, and Hastings and wiping them completely off the face of the map. Things are that bad.
Haiti is considered one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the entire world, which is hard to imagine. There are no building codes in force there, so many of the structures were very poorly built, some even on top of one another. So when the earthquake hit, they collapsed like a house of cards, killing an untold number of people and trapping many more alive.
Even under normal conditions, the medical facilities and hospitals in Port Au Prince are not very good. Before the earthquake hit, they didn't know how they would handle a disaster situation. And now after the earthquake, a number of the hospitals were destroyed, taxing the remaining facilities way beyond their limit.
There are many aspects of this whole disaster that I won't mention, simply because they are way too disturbing, and far too gruesome. The things I have heard described by the people who are on the scene are way beyond what I could even imagine. Whatever horrible thing you could imagine, you could probably multiply it by ten, and still not come close to the horrific and shocking scene you'll find in Haiti. It's just that bad.
This morning I've included with your bulletin an insert that was sent to me by Church World Service, which is an organization that we support. Church World Service is the organization that operates the CROP Walks we have each year in Seward, as well as across the country. They have promised that 100% of every dollar given for Haitian relief will go there, and nothing is taken for administrative costs. Church World Service has been in Haiti since 1964, so they have the means to provide a lot of on-the-spot relief.
Otherwise, numerous other church and charitable organizations have stepped up to the plate as well. The Red Cross, World Vision, the Salvation Army, and about every other church related organization is helping in whatever way they can. And as far as the United States government is concerned, the military and other important resources have been mobilized and are there to help. The response of the people has been overwhelming, but still more is needed.
In preparing today's sermon, I looked at the Scripture readings assigned for today; and quite frankly, I was tempted to find something a bit more appropriate to the current situation in Haiti. Today's Gospel reading is the account of Jesus at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus and his mother and his disciples are at a celebration feast! And what a celebration it was too. Those parties frequently lasted for days. There was lots of food, lots of wine, and people having a lot of fun. If you can remember the last wedding reception you attended, and then think of it lasting several days, you can imagine what kind of a party this was.
The biggest problem at this party was the fact that they ran out of wine! It was expected that the host of the feast would provide enough food and drink so that none of the guests were left wanting for anything.
For the host (which would have been the groom and his family) to run out of anything, especially the wine, it was more than just a social faux paus, or an unfortunate miscalculation by the groom. This was taken as a sign that God was not going to bless the marriage, or maybe putting it into the vernacular, the marriage was jinxed. Of course this was just meaningless superstition; but they did cite a Biblical reason for it too.
If we look at Proverbs 3:9-10 we can get an explanation: "Honor the lord with your wealth, with the first-fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats brim over with new wine."
For them to run out of wine was an indication to them that the Lord had not blessed them, and that they had not been properly honoring the Lord in their lives. So, it was not simply an embarrassment to run out of wine in those days. Plenty of free flowing wine was a symbol of God's blessing. But of course we know that the success or failure of a marriage isn't based upon such things. Marriages are not built upon how much wine is available at the wedding reception. For somebody to blame a failed marriage because there wasn't enough wine, is what we would call a "false cause."
You might chuckle at this. But people tend to think in terms of false causes all the time. One of the worst I've heard publicly is the comment TV Evangelist Pat Robertson made this past week. He was sitting next to his co-host Kristi on his 700 Club program. Here is a transcript of exactly what he said: "And you know, Kristi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, you know, Napoleon the Third and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.' True story. And so the devil said, 'O.K., it's a deal.' " Robertson then went on to cite the various disasters that have plagued Haiti, and the extreme poverty, and other problems. He then compares that to the Dominican Republic, which shares the other half of the island of Hispaniola, who has been enjoying prosperity. So Robertson reckons that this "pact with the devil" stuff must be true.
So what was Robertson's "true story" he was referring to? Well, it's one of those questionable pieces of folklore that's been around for awhile. The theory is that Haitian voodoo priests sacrificed a pig and drank its blood in 1791 in order to secure Satan's aid in defeating the French. In return, the priests are said to have promised Haiti to Satan for the next 200 years. But even if this were factual, Satan's hold on Haiti should have expired in 1991.
The historical part of all this, is that the Haitians did in fact defeat the French in 1804. It was a slavery revolt, and the slaves won, securing their freedom. And Haiti became the first western nation to have an all-black government, something that was unthinkable back in 1804.
But for Robertson to say such a thing in the wake of a tragedy like this is unthinkable. He reckons that it is a "blessing in disguise," and that it will force people to recognize who God really is, and turn from their heathen ways. Pat Robertson sincerely believes that this is God's way of pronouncing judgment on a nation that sold themselves to the devil, 219 years ago.
But this is not God's judgment. God has a special day in which the whole world will be judged. In Matthew 26:11 Jesus says, "The poor you will always have with you..." And indeed, throughout the Bible, the poor are mentioned frequently. Jesus also says in Luke 21:11, "There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven." The poor and natural disasters are facts of life that we have to endure. It's part of living in a sinful and fallen world. But we can't go around telling people that God is pronouncing judgment on them because of what some voodoo priest did over 200 years ago, any more than we can blame a failed marriage on not having enough wine at the wedding reception. That's not the way God works.
In our text for today, Jesus does his first miracle, which is to change water into wine. He spots six stone jars which hold about thirty gallons each. He tells the servants to fill them to the brim with water.
We need to note that these jars weren't even used for drinking water. They were used strictly for the water used in washing things, and in no way fit to drink. This second-rate water would be the water Jesus would use to work his first miracle, the changing of water into wine.
We can look at ourselves as those stone jars, full of substandard water, and not really fit for much of anything. But when Jesus comes into our lives, he works an astounding miracle. He cleanses us and transforms us into a new creation, people who are holy and acceptable to God and fit for his kingdom.
Through faith, Jesus changes each and every one of us from sinners into saints. We can't transform ourselves or make ourselves into something we are not. Without Jesus, that water would have remained in the state it was, sitting in those stone jars. The water couldn't change itself into wine.
But the Holy Spirit has given us that faith in Jesus our Saviour, and by God's grace we are indeed changed. Our sins and impurities have been washed away and removed.
And so, we are a new creation of God. We have been transformed for a purpose. The new life we have received is now a life which is to reflect God's blessings to others. We are no longer sinful vessels, but instruments of God's love and grace.
The common denominator between the disaster in Haiti and the wedding at Cana in Galilee is Jesus Christ himself. Jesus was at Cana back then just as he is in Haiti right now. It might be hard to realize that when we look at the destruction, and the mayhem, and the poverty, and the suffering. But when you consider the number of Christians who are there right now helping out, and those Christians who have donated money and clothing and food, and those Christians who are in prayer about the situation, then yes, we know Christ is there too. He's counting on people like you and me to respond out of Christian love for others.
In Cana, there was a celebration. In Haiti, there is tragedy. When Jesus attended that wedding, the world was no stranger to tragedy. Not only were there natural disasters, but there were wars, and sicknesses, and those who were poor, and those who were hungry. It's the same way today. Throughout the world, there will be tears of sorrow and tears of joy flowing at the same time. It's a fact of life that we see every day.
As Christians we celebrate our new life in Christ all the time. We do it in church, we do it in our homes, and we do it wherever we go. Certainly we have those times in our lives when we don't feel much like celebrating. But the forgiveness of sins we have through faith in Christ will always bring joy to our hearts.
When we have a close relationship with Jesus, then it is something we can share with others. Helping somebody out is always good and proper, but it is with a purpose. People need to know what has motivated us to do the things we do. That motivation comes out of a thankful heart for what Jesus did for us. He came down from heaven, took on human flesh, and sacrificed himself on our behalf so that through faith, we might have eternal life. This eternal blessing is what motivates us to share the faith we have with others who are hurting.
Pat Robertson did say something right however. He said that all this might be a blessing in disguise. That blessing comes through Christians the likes of you and me as we respond in whatever way we can.
In closing, consider the words recorded by the prophet Isaiah in chapter 58 verses 10-12 and 14: "10 ...if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. 14 ...then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of the LORD has spoken."
In Haiti, There Is Anguish
A hymn of dedication for those suffering in Haiti from the recent earthquake.
Tune: ST. CHRISTOPHER (SBH 482: "Beneath the Cross of Jesus")
1. In Haiti, there is anguish
That seems too much to bear;
A land so used to sorrow now
Knows even more despair.
From city streets, the cries of grief
Rise up to hills above;
In all the sorrow, pain and death,
Where are you, God of love?
2. A woman sifts through rubble,
A man has lost his home,
A hungry, orphaned toddler sobs,
For she is now alone.
Where are you, Lord, when thousands die-
The rich, the poorest poor?
Were you the very first to cry
For all that is no more?
3. O God, you love your children;
You hear each lifted prayer!
May all who suffer in that land
Know you are present there.
In moments of compassion shown,
In simple acts of grace,
May those in pain find healing balm,
And know your love's embrace.
4. Where are you in the anguish?
Lord, may we hear anew
That anywhere your world cries out,
You're there-- and suffering, too.
And may we see, in others' pain,
The cross we're called to bear;
Send out your church in Jesus' name
To pray, to serve, to share.
Text: Copyright © 2010 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved. Carolyn visited Haiti on a mission trip when she was a Lebanon Valley College student. Permission is given for use by those who support Church World Service.