May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.
How many weddings have you been to in your life?
Can you remember anything about all of those weddings?
Whether you enjoy weddings or dread them, they make an impression.
Many can recall details of a wedding many years after they happen.
(Unless its your own!!)
A wedding is not just any day.
It’s a day that strives for goodwill, for abundance and joy.
Even though weddings can be sort of cliché:
And every wedding has its mishaps:
And there’s an army of wedding “professionals”
Waiting to capitalize on a special day:
A wedding remains the basic metaphor we have for things turning out right in the end.
Which is exactly why this wedding:
with its water-to-wine miracle:
marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of John.
John is setting the scene for everything that comes after,
and telling us what he thinks life as a follower of Jesus is really about.
Marcus Borg: A biblical scholar writes that:
“The story of Jesus is about a wedding.
And more: it is a wedding at which the wine never runs out.
More: it is a wedding at which the best wine is saved for last.”
John: the writer of this Gospel: is kind of an odd duck.
He clearly thinks this is a very important story for understanding who Jesus is,
and yet this is a story that occurs only in his Gospel.
The other Gospels make no mention of Jesus turning water into wine.
Our lectionary runs in a 3-year cycle — one year each for Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
John doesn’t get a year to himself:
instead we get little bits and pieces of John in each of the three years.
Where Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell variations of the same basic story about Jesus,
John goes off in his own direction.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke are more narrative,
That’s why Matthew and Luke give us those cuddly Christmas stories.
John is different:
His Gospel is more interpretive and intellectual.
Remember how John’s Gospel begins his Christmas story?
“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John wants to show us not just what Jesus says and does:
but what Jesus means.
And what Jesus means is life, joy, abundance, and peace.
John is convinced that the Christian life is meant to be a comedy, not a tragedy.
Despite how dark things might seem out there in the world,
Despite the fact that the path to life will lead Jesus — and us — through death,
despite all of this: things will turn out right in the end.
God is in control, leading us to light and life in Jesus.
John drops a hint about the meaning of Jesus in the way he begins the Cana story:
“On the third day.”
Important things happen in the Bible on the third day —
Most importantly: Jesus was resurrected on the third day.
In the same way that the first line of the first chapter of John,
“In the beginning was the Word,”
calls to mind the beginning of everything in the book of Genesis,
“on the third day” points to the climax and resolution of Jesus’ story.
On the third day is life, and that is where we are called to live.
Then John goes on to tell us about a wedding.
Marriage as a metaphor for the union of God and humankind runs throughout the Bible.
In the passage from Isaiah that we heard today,
God is the bridegroom joined in union to God’s people Israel:
“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
A wedding in the ancient world was the biggest feast.
Celebrations continued for days on end.
For the poor people Jesus grew up among,
a wedding meant a pause from seemingly endless labor:
a chance to eat and drink abundant food and wine:
rather than the meager rations that made up their typical daily fare.
Again: The story of Jesus is a wedding story.
The life that God intends for us is a life where there is enough:
An abundance that springs from God’s abundance.
Like an ancient days long wedding feast.
But God intends more for us than mere sustenance.
There should be enough wine, and it should be good wine, the finest wine.
The marriage supper God invites us to is meant to bring us pleasure and joy.
The life God intends for us is one filled with beauty and contentment and all good things.
As we see at this wedding feast where Jesus reveals himself,
the day of banquet and feasting is also the day of reconciliation, joy, and peace.
Only when there is enough to go around,
plenty to be shared freely,
can old resentments be washed away and new companionship begin to grow.
Despite John’s tendency to show us the otherworldly and mysterious side of Jesus,
this miracle makes a strong case that the Christian life is grounded in simple:
daily pleasures like good food and wine:
and that following Jesus is more about EARTH than heaven.
God became incarnate not to pull us out of our bodies and into heaven,
but to bring heaven down to us,
to bring the peace and abundance that is God’s intention for all people and places into every corner of human life.
We are blessed with this feast at the Eucharistic table week-by-week and day-by-day,
blessed with enough and more left over to share.
And in our joy we are called to go out into God’s world and share God’s invitation:
At the Wedding banquet, where everyone is invited.
Every so often:
A modern day prophet:
Makes the news,
Crying that Jesus is coming back soon.
And throughout church history:
Generations of people have been anticipating the Second coming.
In fact, after Jesus’ death and resurrection:
His followers thought that his return to earth was imminent.
Even Saint Paul thought that Jesus was going to return in his generation.
Yet here we are:
2,000 years later:
And still awaiting the coming of our Lord.
The Church continues to be filled with these expectations:
Not unlike those who listened to John the Baptist in today’s Gospel:
Wondering if the coming of the Messiah is soon.
Humans have this kind of longing:
For someone to come and deliver us from all that is wrong with the world.
And so it’s easy to see why the people gathered around John the Baptist:
And mistook him for being the long-awaited Messiah.
He was a great preacher:
Boldly proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God:
Warning people to repent of their sins in preparation.
And the people had such a longing:
For the redeemer to arrive.
On this day:
The first Sunday after Epiphany:
We are like the people in the Gospel reading:
Filled with expectation:
With questions burning in our hearts:
still waiting for the Messiah to return.
And It seems weird:
Because we just celebrated Christmas.
We were waiting in advent:
We celebrated the birth of the baby:
We saw the Wise Spies come and visit him:
And now suddenly, Jesus is a thirty year old man:
And we’re here in Church talking about waiting for Jesus to come again.
It’s kind of jolting.
But we do, indeed long for and wait for this coming of Christ:
Regardless of what season it is in the church:
Because it’s part of the Christian life.
And this longing is especially true In light of all of the pain that we’re seeing in the
When turning on the news shows us division,
Yet even in all of that pain:
We remember that Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire.
That the Holy Spirit comes not only to bring comfort:
But to empower us to carry out the work of the Lord in a world that is desperate
God’s beloved Son has already won the victory for us:
We only have to learn to walk in that victory:
As we face all the challenges that lay ahead.
It helps to keep in mind that the world has always faced great adversity.
Throughout history: every generation was convinced it was the end.
That’s why there’s been so many prophets:
Claiming that the end is near.
No generation has lived that hasn’t witnessed great social upheaval:
Indescribable suffering, or unthinkable disasters.
Yet the world continues to spin, history rolls on:
and the Church must learn to rise to the occasion and proclaim that God’s love
knows no boundaries.
But here’s another weird thing about today:
This no boundaries approach seems strange in light of Today’s gospel reading:
Where we hear that Jesus will separate the wheat from the chaff.
That the wheat will be gathered,
But the chaff will burn with unquenchable fire.
What does this mean for a God whose love knows no boundaries?
What separates the wheat from the chaff?
I think it’s fear.
When we allow fear to rule our decisions:
We give into irrational thinking and actions.
Fear tells us to shut others out.
To deny mercy:
And to hoard our resources.
Fear compels us to distrust our neighbors.
Fear allows us to think that the world is worse than ever before:
And that there is no hope for a better tomorrow:
Fear makes us believe that God is distant, or even dead.
If we give in to fear:
It becomes our prison:
Preventing us from living our lives to the fullest.
If we give into fear: we allow our lives to burn up like the chaff:
Rather than be fulfilled and birthed into bread like the wheat.
Those who have been empowered by the Holy Spirit have nothing to fear.
As Scripture reminds us:
“If Christ is for us, who can be against us?”
Fear tells us that God isn’t big enough.
But Jesus’ story proves fear wrong.
The one God calls beloved:
Conquered fear on the cross.
All out of perfect love.
The perfect love that casts out all fear:
Where love is perfected a little more in us:
Each time we face a fearful situation:
And declare God’s victory over all.
The love that gives us power over fear, is rooted in Jesus.
Just as God is well pleased with the Son:
So too is God pleased with all his children who put their trust in Him.
This is the central message of baptism:
The old being has been buried with Christ in baptism:
And the new creation has been resurrected.
No trial or tribulation we may face can separate us from the love of God.
Not even fear.
But fear can get in the way of our being able to see that love:
To feel it:
To believe it.
Thus says the Lord, in today’s reading from Isaiah:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name:
You are mine.
God speaks to each of us:
Just as he spoke to Jesus on his baptismal day:
When fire and water come:
I will be with you.
When it gets cold and painful:
I will be with you.
When life seems more work than joy:
More struggle than peace: I will never abandon you.
And I need YOU to be my presence for others in this way.
It will be a hard path at times,
But do not fear:
I will be with you.
Jesus has come into the world to separate the wheat from the chaff
To set us free from fear:
And he WILL come again as promised.
Until that day comes:
Let us continue to manifest God’s love for all creation:
In the perfect love that casts out fear:
THIS is the beginning.
This is the “Ah-ha” moment
This moment of Epiphany--
Which we celebrate and read about today is where the work of Christ in the world truly begins.
We know the word “Epiphany”
It has been brought into our modern language,
and is often used to describe a “Sudden Insight”: “ah-Ha!”
And the word Epiphany in secular usage,
is also used to describe a rare occurrence.
More specifically, it was originally used to describe a rare insight or occurrence through the Divine.
In other words, an epiphany is not supposed to be an every day normal event,
But a spectacular insight:
An insight through the Divine.
An insight that God gives to us to share.
An insight that has the potential to change everything.
It’s no mistake, then, that Epiphany is the name of the Church holiday that we celebrate today.
Because today, we celebrate the moment where everything changes.
Where God brings humanity the first profound insight,
And this insight is no normal every day event, but an extremely rare occurrence.
The Gospel reading today is no stranger to us.
We know the story about Jesus’ birth,
and we know that three wise men visit the Christ child.
But that visitation is much more than three wise men merely visiting Jesus.
This visitation is an Epiphany.
It’s a rare occurrence that changes everything, and everyone present.
One of the most rare occurrences in this story is the wisemen themselves.
We often think of the wisemen as great kings--
gentle kind men who welcome the Christ child and bring great gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
But reading Matthew’s story closely, it’s clear that the wisemen are actually SPIES.
King Herod (the bad guy) sends them in search of Jesus:
To tell Herod where Jesus is.
So that Herod can ultimately kill Jesus.
These “wise” spies, head off on a journey, and it ends in a great Epiphany.
They see the Christ Child, and they are transformed and changed.
Just SEEING the tiny baby,
who cannot yet walk or talk,
they are overwhelmed and suddenly know how truly special he is.
They end up leaving Bethlehem by another road.
They are changed:
Changed so profoundly that they will not return to Herod.
They will not tell Herod where Jesus is.
Because they have experienced what they now know:
to be a rare insight through the Divine.
And not merely an insight:
They have actually EXPERIENCED the Divine—They have seen God.
The Transformation of the Wisemen isn’t the only rare occurrence that the tiny Christ child brings.
Even the stars stop moving.
The star that leads the wisemen to Jesus is suspended in one spot--
Over the place where the Christ child sleeps.
Wrap your head around that:
The stars stop moving.
Truly a rare occurrence through the Divine.
But perhaps the most incredible thing about Epiphany is that it doesn’t end with the star stopping, or the wisemen being transformed.
That is just the beginning.
Epiphany: originally meant as a rare occurrence through the divine, continues day after day:
The birth of Jesus makes it so that
what was once rare insight is not quite so rare.
Jesus continues to bring divine insight and transformation to us and to our world.
Jesus grows up to heal the sick and raise the dead—a rare occurrence
Jesus turns water into wine, and feeds thousands with only five loaves of bread—a rare occurrence
Jesus dies on the cross, and rises again in newness of life so that all of humanity can have life eternal—a rare occurrence.
And it continues today--
God is still working in our world--
still bringing Epiphany after epiphany.
But we have to look at another definition of this “Epiphany”
The visit of the wisemen to the Christ child is not only a rare occurrence.
It is also a manifestation--
meaning “an outward and visible expression”
The manifestation—the visible expression of God.
Or as the old hymn says, “God in Man made Manifest.”
Epiphany is the rare occurrence of God in visible human flesh.
God becomes one of us—an incredibly rare occurrence.
Beginning with that First Epiphany with the wisemen,
through all of the rare occurrences of Jesus’ life,
God continues to turn all of those rarities into assurances for us.
Even today, God continues to be manifest: to be visible in our world.
We see it here, every Sunday when we gather together--
When we share the Eucharistic table together—as one large family worshipping the Living God.
We see the manifestation of God right here--when young and old come together:
When age doesn’t matter.
We see the manifestation of God when we lay down our differences, and choose to respond to one another in love.
We see the manifestation of God in the eyes of our youth and children—in their laughter--
in the wondrous and hope-filled way they look at the world--
That’s the manifestation of God.
And The manifestation of God is not over.
The visible expressions and rare occurrences of God working in our world continue.
That first Epiphany of the wisemen was just the beginning.
So maybe: we need to consider those “rare occurrences”
And realize that because of God’s amazing and wondrous love,
they are now every day occurrences in our lives.
Let’s pay attention to them,
and remember that because of Christ:
the manifestation of God in our world is not quite so rare anymore.
And it is so because of the one rarest occasion of all:
Christ coming to live and die on this earth:
God becoming one of us.
So that eternal life and joy in the Christ child is an everyday visible manifestation.
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