2 Epiphany Proper C2                          
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 2:1-11 Sermon                                                
January 20, 2013

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
WOV 654 "Alleluia, Song Of Gladness"
TLH 116 "To The Name Of Our Salvation"
TLH 350 "Jesus The Very Thought Of Thee"
TLH 47 "Saviour Again To Thy Dear Name We Raise"


TEXT (vs. 9-11)  “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.”

            This morning, I’m going to introduce you to a man by the name of Thomas Bramwell Welch.  He was born in England in the year 1825.  When he was nine years old, his family immigrated to the United States, settling in Watertown, New York.

            Young Thomas was a very bright and gifted person, and he was serious about his religion.  When he was 17 years old in 1843, a new holiness-type splinter church formed in Utica, New York.  This group had two very strong positions.  They were against:  (1) the "manufacturing, buying, selling, or using intoxicating liquors", and (2) "slaveholding, buying, or selling" of slaves.

            Young Thomas was an abolitionist, and vehemently opposed slavery; therefore this group of holiness Christians appealed to him very much.  Throughout his late teens, he was active in the Underground Railroad that transported escaped slaves from the southern parts of the United States into Canada.  Many other members of his church body were also active in this Underground Railroad.

            Because of his religious conviction, Thomas attended Gouverneur Seminary, and was ordained at the age of 19.  The then served two parishes:  one in Westchester County, New York, and then one in Herkimer County, New York.

            During his time in the ministry, there was one particular problem he encountered.  The Book of Discipline of this new church group had the following requirement:  “unfermented wine only should be used at the sacrament.”  And some years later, they further defined this by saying, “in all cases the pure juice of the grape be used in the celebration of the Lord's Supper.”

            Thomas was himself a prohibitionist and didn’t drink alcoholic beverages, so this requirement wasn’t a personal issue with him.  The problem was with the grapes themselves.  Once the juice had been squeezed from the grapes, the sugars in the fruit began to ferment almost immediately.  Both Thomas and other pastors shared this frustration.

            Thomas didn’t last too long in the ministry because he developed a condition with his voice that prevented him from being an effective pastor.  So he went back to school, this time studying medicine.  He became a medical doctor, and later specialized in dentistry.        

            Following a one-year stay in Minnesota, he relocated to Vineland, New Jersey where he continued to work on the grape fermentation issue.  Finally in 1856, he developed a method of pasteurizing grape juice to stop the fermentation, thereby making it non-alcoholic.  He called the product, “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine.”  He then set about the task of persuading churches to adopt this non-alcoholic “wine” for use in their Communion services.

            Thomas continued to be a successful dentist, and was joined by his son Charles in later years.  They founded the Welch’s Dental Supply Company, and produced the unfermented grape juice as a sideline.  However, the industry continued to grow; and in 1893, Charles turned his attention full-time to the new Welch’s Grape Juice Company.  And that’s the beginning of the Welch’s Grape Juice we know today.

            I know this is a rather lengthy story, but I wanted to share it with you to make a very important point.  The non-alcoholic grape juice we know today that we find on the shelf of virtually every supermarket in the country was virtually unknown until 1856.  And even then, it took years of research and development to make it happen.

            Today, our Gospel lesson is the account of Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee.  This is Jesus’ first miracle!  And do you realize that there are people out there who vehemently contend that Jesus turned water into grape juice?  I’m not joking, there are people who not only believe that, but will literally retranslate the Bible to support that notion!  They argue this point by asserting, “Well, Jesus would NEVER have consumed any alcohol!”   Never?  That’s not what the Bible says, but that is something of which they have convinced themselves based upon their own notions.

            As we look at our Gospel Lesson for today, 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.

            So here is where 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 potable, or 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.

            The master of ceremonies had no idea of what had happened.  Verse 10 of our Gospel Lesson tells us a lot here:  “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.”  Does that sound like the master of ceremonies is talking about plain grape juice?  I hardly think so.

            The people who use the “grape juice” argument make a distinction that the Bible doesn’t make.  They say that the phrase “new wine” means something that is non-alcoholic.  However, the Bible in no way supports that.  Looking at Hosea chapter 4, verses 10-11 we read:  “They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the prostitute, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the Lord to cherish prostitution, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding.”  I don’t think that unfermented grape juice has the power to take away understanding.

            Then we can move to the New Testament, to the account of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, where the Apostles were speaking in tongues.  We first read verses 12-13:  “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”  And just so there’s no confusion, Peter further explains this in verse 15: “For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.” 

            From all Biblical evidence, we must conclude that new wine was indeed an alcoholic beverage.  I don’t think we can argue otherwise.

            As far as Jesus consuming alcohol is concerned, we look at what he himself said in Luke chapter 7, verses 33-34: “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”  So not only did Jesus consume wine with an alcohol content, many people witnessed him doing so.  John the Baptist took the Nazirite vow and abstained from alcohol.  But Christ did not.  He explicitly says that he came “eating and drinking.” Because of this, others accused him of being a drunkard.

            When it comes to our freedom as Christians, the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 gives us a good rule of thumb in verse 12:  “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything.”  In other words, things have to be done in moderation.  The consumption of alcohol is not the problem, but drunkenness and alcoholism are.  It’s just like food is not a problem, but gluttony is.  There are many areas where we have freedom in various things that aren’t problems in and of themselves unless they are overdone.  Virtually everything is subject to abuse.  And that’s where our common sense has to come into play.

            We certainly would agree that alcohol has caused many problems.  And as well-meaning as prohibitionists might be, abstaining from alcohol is one of those areas where our conscience cannot be bound.  We absolutely cannot say “thus saith the Lord” in areas where he has not spoken.  Adding things to God’s Word is just simply wrong.  If you want to abstain from drinking alcohol, that’s fine; but it is your decision and choice to do so. 

            As we look again at our Gospel lesson for today, remember how miraculous all of this was.  Those stone jars contained water that wasn’t fit to drink.  In fact, people would have objected even drinking water from those vessels, regardless of how clean it might have been.

            But Jesus takes that water in those vessels, and turns it into the best wine anybody has ever tasted.  What a demonstration that is of how God can change things! 

            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.

            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 always brings joy to our hearts.

            I have always found it interesting how people regard their relationship with their Saviour.  When times are tough, when things aren’t going well, when there is tragedy, or heartache, or sickness, or trouble, you’ll find Christians engaged in fervent prayer.  They will plead for help, as they should.  And we can always take comfort in knowing that whatever happens in our lives, Jesus understands and cares.  We are assured over and over again how much our God loves us.  And we are always assured of how important our relationship is as we are reminded that God knows the number of hairs on our head, that he knows even the birds in the air and clothes the lilies of the field.  He knows all about us and we are a very important part of his creation.

            But we need to remember that Jesus is the perfect guest for all occasions.  He wants to also be a part of those happy and joyful times in our lives.  He wants to celebrate with us, rejoice with us, and assure us that when we’re joyful, he shares that joy right along with us.  There’s nothing God would rather do more than to continually bless our lives.  He doesn’t want to burden us with unnecessary cares; no, he wants us to be free creatures and not under the bondage of the law.  He wants us to enjoy our lives on this earth.

            Thomas Bramwell Welch was a man who loved his Lord.  Unfortunately, he placed himself under an unnecessary burden.  He had become convinced that the consumption of any alcohol under any circumstances was wrong and sinful.  So he labored under this delusion and developed the pasteurization process to prevent grape juice from fermenting.  In effect, he developed a process to prevent wine making, to prevent something that naturally occurs with the juice from grapes.

            Don’t get me wrong, I love the result.  I enjoy drinking grape juice, and I often have it in my refrigerator.  It is not only high in antioxidants, but it is rich in vitamins.  It’s great stuff, and I’m thankful that Thomas Welch made it happen.  I’m just sorry that he had to labor under a deluded idea of the Bible to make it happen.

            In the night in which our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed, at that Passover meal he celebrated with his disciples, Jesus took the cup, which contained wine.  It was Passover wine, prepared according to Jewish law.  It was not unfermented grape juice either.  It was real wine, much the same as we use when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper here at our church.  And right on the label, it says that it is kosher for Passover. 

            Jesus took the bread and said “This is my body.”  He took the cup of wine and said “This is my blood.”  He said this is given for you, especially for you for the forgiveness of sins.  His true body and blood are given to you in, under, and with these elements.  He wants to join physically with you through his true body and blood, as well as spiritually.  He wants to be a part of your life in all areas and at all times.  He is your constant partner in life.

            Jesus came so you could be free from the burden of the law, and live a life of joy, hope, and thanksgiving.  He came so that through faith alone you will be saved and share in the eternal banquet of your heavenly home, and live in constant companionship with your God, whose love for you never ceases.