2nd Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 2:1-11 Sermon
January 14, 2007
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
423 “O Sing All Ye Lands”
51 “Earth Has Many A Noble City”
56 “O One With God The Father”
198 “Saviour Again To Thy Dear Name We Raise”
A TASTE OF PERFECTION
TEXT (vs. 9-11) “…and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise 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.”
Some years ago, there was a sitcom on TV called “I Married Joan.” It starred Joan Davis and Jim Backus—you’d probably know Jim Backus more for his role as Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island, or the cartoon voice of Mr. Magoo. This rather short-lived sitcom was on the air before that time.
The story line involved a younger, childless married couple. Jim Backus played a judge, and his wife played by Joan Davis was a stay-at-home type of person. Every episode seemed to revolve around the wacky, sometimes slap-stick antics of this couple, especially Joan.
One episode I remember, was one where Joan had their evening supper all planned out. She had purchased two Rock Cornish game hens—you know, those little tiny chickens you see in the supermarket, which was just enough for the two of them. She had some soup cooking, and some other items.
Around three o’clock in the afternoon, her husband telephones her and tells her that he’s invited two guests for supper. How was she going to make this meal stretch for two more? She adds some water to the soup, and decides she’d make some stuffing for the birds. Then she takes a bicycle pump and inflates the hens a bit, and makes them bigger so she can fit more stuffing inside of them.
But then her husband calls her again, with two more guests. And she attempts to stretch things further. Finally after several more phone calls, and enough additional supper guests to qualify for a full-blown dinner party, she has inflated those two Rock Cornish game hens with the bicycle pump to be the size of two small turkeys, and she has added enough water to the soup to make it more like dishwater.
The climax came when her two little hens exploded all over the place and she was left with one big mess. Of course she’s standing crying in the kitchen, not knowing what to do. Here she is with an impromptu dinner party on her hands with very important people, and all she’s got is a pot full of dishwater soup and a couple small chickens which now look like deflated footballs. She had tried her best to make do with what she had, and it turned out to be a dismal failure.
As we look at our text for today, we see that there is a party going on—a rather large party to be exact. It was a wedding feast, and it was taking place in the town of Cana of Galilee. Wedding feasts were major gala events in the lives of the people. They lasted for days. There was a lot of food, and a lot 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.
Why would this be? 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.
Let’s take a good look at this situation. Jesus was there as were his disciples. From all outward appearances, they weren’t any different than the rest of the guests. For all intents and purposes, Jesus didn’t stand out as being someone special or noteworthy. He was there, hanging out with the people and having a good time. The only thing people might have noticed was that he wouldn’t have over-indulged in the food and alcohol; but that in and of itself wouldn’t have singled him out as being odd, or that he was someone special.
Mary, Jesus’ mother was there too. I believe that it is quite likely that Mary was a close relative of the groom. She was perhaps helping with the celebration, probably acting as the hostess for the party. So when the wine ran out, she was more than just a little concerned about it. This would be a bad reflection not only on her and the groom, but the entire family. She couldn’t give the impression that God wasn’t going to bless this marriage because of her family’s miscalculation and error. She needed help, and she needed it fast!
Who could help her out in this situation? She went to the only person she knew could help, and that was her son Jesus. Even though she knew that he was God’s only Son, she most likely wasn’t sure whether he either could or would help with this dilemma. But she had to ask anyway.
Jesus’ response to her is almost puzzling in a way. In verse 4 of our text, we read: “’Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My time has not yet come.’”
First of all, Jesus addresses her in a very formal way. “Dear woman” is not the way children addressed their parents. You would have almost expected him to say, “Aw mum,” but he didn’t.
Secondly, he asks “Why do you involve me?” Isn’t that almost like he’s saying, “Hey, this running out of wine thing wasn’t my blunder. I didn’t make this mistake. I’m only a guest at this party. Why should I do anything about it?”
And thirdly, Jesus says that his time had not yet come. What time was “his time?” When would it be “his time?” Was there a special time when he could help out in this situation? How long would they have to wait?
Well, here’s the answer to all those questions. When Mary came to Jesus for help, she didn’t come to him like a normal mother would come to her son. If she had, she would have said something like, “Hey Jesus, why don’t you and your friends go down to the liquor store and pick up some more wine.”
Mary approaches Jesus because he is true God. She came forward in faith looking for a miracle to alleviate this situation. And because she approached him in this manner, he responds with the more formal address of “dear woman.”
And then what follows is more understandable. When he says, “Why do you involve me?” we need to understand the reason Jesus came to this earth in the first place. He didn’t come to be the little old wine maker, or to work some hocus-pocus to keep the party rolling. He came to save the people from their sins, and to be the Saviour of the world. And Mary knew this.
When Jesus says that his time had not yet come, we need only look at Mark 1, 15. Jesus begins his ministry after John the Baptist was put into prison, and says: “The time has come…The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The wedding feast at Cana of Galilee wasn’t the time or the place for Jesus to begin his actual ministry, and he wasn’t going to put on the proverbial “dog and pony show” to amuse or awe the people gathered there. For him to do so would not have served his more noble purpose of ministry, and thus showing himself to be the promised Messiah. He was an invited guest at this wedding, and he had no desire to be anything more than that.
Mary had no doubt that Jesus would help out, although she probably wasn’t sure how he was going to do that. So she simply instructs the servants there to do whatever Jesus told them to do, and left it at that.
What Jesus does then is almost beyond belief. He spots six stone jars which hold about thirty gallons each. He tells the servants to fill them to the brim with water.
These jars are noteworthy. If we look at Mark 7, 4 we can see what the Jewish tradition was, and why they had these jars handy. We read: “When they come from the market-place they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles, and dining couches.” Interestingly enough, the word “wash” in this verse is the Greek word “baptize.”
In any event, these jars weren’t even used for drinking water. They were used strictly for the water used in the Jewish ceremonial washing or baptizing. This second-rate water would be the water Jesus would use to work his first miracle, the changing of water into wine.
The people of Jesus’ day certainly knew their wine. It was probably the most common beverage. Despite what the temperance people would like to think, wine in the Bible had alcoholic content. In Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, some accused the Apostles of having “too much wine” when they spoke in tongues—they reckoned that they were drunk. There are other places in the Bible that clearly indicate wine was an alcoholic drink.
Wine was a safe drink for them. It wouldn’t make them sick like polluted water would. The alcohol killed any nasty bacteria that would have been present in other drinks.
So yes, the people definitely knew their wine. The cheap wine, often made in substandard and non-sterile vats, would attract strains of wild yeast, which would make the wine bitter or sour. But the good expensive wine was made under optimal conditions by people who knew their trade well. An excellent glass of wine was duly noted and appreciated by the people, with everyone being a wine aficionado in their own right.
The master of ceremonies at the wedding feast recognized this wine as being of superior taste and quality. In fact, he makes the comment that people usually bring out the cheap and inferior stuff later on in the celebration when they reckon people are too inebriated to really care. But he is surprised when Jesus’ wine is served, indicating that they saved the best for last. What do you think he would have thought if he knew that this excellent wine he was enjoying was made from the substandard washing up water stored in those stone jars?
In our text for today, there are two very valuable lessons to be learned. First, we see Jesus for who he really is. He is indeed true God, and therefore has the power and ability to do anything. Mary knew this when she approached Jesus in the first place. She came to him in faith.
Jesus worked this first miracle of his in a very quiet, inconspicuous, and unceremonious way. The only people at that massive wedding feast who actually knew what he did were Mary his mother, the servants who filled the jars with water, and his disciples. He didn’t make a public spectacle of himself.
But this did serve a great purpose indeed. Verse 11 of our text for today says, “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.” This of course was his primary purpose for the miracle.
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.
In my story at the beginning, I recounted the humorous antics of Joan Davis when she tried to water down her soup and use a bicycle pump to expand her two little Rock Cornish game hens to feed her unexpected dinner party. Of course she met with disaster.
It wasn’t until a neighbor came by that Joan got some help. The neighbor helped her transform the mess she had into something new and different, which I believe was a type of chicken stew. Joan couldn’t see beyond what she had; she needed someone else’s help.
Mary saw that too. But Mary didn’t try to water down the wine make it stretch. Instead she went to Jesus, who she knew would help. We need to remember that too. We can’t transform ourselves or make ourselves holy. Only Jesus can do that.
Remember I said that this text taught two valuable lessons. I’ve only given you one of them. Here’s the other.
This wedding feast was a happy event. It was fun. Jesus was there, obviously enjoying himself. His disciples were also enjoying themselves. They were having fun.
Jesus could have taken a different approach by saying, “Oh well, the wine’s gone, the party’s over, too bad, so sad; well, see ya!” He didn’t need to make more wine and keep the party going, but he did.
Jesus doesn’t mind if we have fun. In fact, he wants us to enjoy life. He doesn’t mind if we socialize, or go to parties, or laugh, or play games. In fact, he doesn’t mind if we consume alcohol, so long as we don’t overindulge—that’s the important thing.
I’ve known many Christians in my life who have somehow gotten the idea that a Christian lifestyle is somber and staid and stoic and basically Puritanical. And I have come to the conclusion that if some of these people were to crack a smile, their face would break.
Our text for today tells about Jesus and his disciples enjoying themselves at a big party. Even though this was the site of his first miracle, and as serious as his mission was, everyone still had a good time.
During this life, may we always keep ourselves focused upon Jesus. Remember who he is and why he came. Remember what he has done in our lives.
But may we also not forget to enjoy ourselves along the way. Have a good time. Do things that we enjoy. Take time for recreation. Have fun. Be happy.