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Epiphany 3: God’s Love Revealed

January 20, 2013

A sermon preached at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Third Sunday of Epiphany, January 20, 2013

Isaiah 62:1-5     John 2:1-11

We continue this morning our journey through Epiphany, the season during which we explore how God revealed God’s self in Jesus Christ, how the life and love of God shone through his particular life, and because it did, how God’s life and love can shine in our lives too. Each week as we turn to scripture we find the circle of witnesses to what God is doing in Jesus growing wider and wider.

Our passage from the Gospel of John recounts Jesus’ first sign at the wedding in Cana.  He turns water into wine, demonstrating the abundance and the goodness God that desires for all people here and now.  Jesus, the long-awaited one, announces the arrival of God’s reign through an act that celebrates life and celebrates love.

We remember that Christ was born to poor Jewish parents living under the domination of the Roman Empire.  That as legend has it, wise men from afar offered him their allegiance by bringing gifts because they saw in him a new hope for justice among the peoples of the world, a world that was wracked with political intrigue and imperial ambitions.  And we remember that Jesus received baptism along with other Jews of his time, repenting of the social sins that caused violence and suffering.  Now today we see him demonstrate God’s abundant love in festive celebration of one couple’s love.

But the love of God that Christ reveals is never saccharine pr sentimental, it is never plastic, it is never simplistic. It’s a powerful love that brings hope not only at weddings and celebrations, when overflowing abundance is obvious, but also during times of exile.

We read in Isaiah, a text written as God’s beleaguered people are in exile in Babylon, that the people of Israel will no longer be named “forgotten” nor their land called “desolate” but “my delight is in her” and their land shall be called “married.”  Isaiah makes an analogy between the erotic and joyful love between two people which renews and gives life and the love that God has for God’s own people – even when they are in exile.

God’s love is a love that brings abundance, not only to people but, as the psalms testify, to earth and animal as well.  God’s love for creation, God’s desire for the well-being of people and the earth, God’s promise of abundance for all, suffuse our scripture.  And this desirous love cannot be bought, contained or squelched – not even by the most difficult circumstances.

Our passages this morning demonstrates that God’s love is revealed both to individuals and to whole peoples in times of joy and celebration as well as times of grief and ruin. But there is a problem here. For many of us, the idea that God’s love is revealed in the midst of difficulty, while admittedly sometimes hard to feel, makes sense. It feels right in a way that God’s love revealed in the midst of our joy, our celebration, our love relationships, does not.  After all in times of trouble it’s clear that we NEED God.  There are even people (and entire congregations) that are addicted to difficulty: they need it to cry out to God and seek God’s presence. But in times of joy?


So I want to use our gospel passage this morning to invite you to see God’s love revealed, not only amidst the ruins of our lives and the horrors in our world, but amidst the revelry – amidst the joy of love publicly professed and proclaimed, love at a party, with wine flowing and family and friends gathered around.  Because actually, for us Protestants, that can be a heck of a lot harder than searching for God’s love amidst the ruins.  Because we’re all deeply suspicious of happiness, of joy, and of wine too.  We Protestants are known for working hard, saving hard, and having a “deep joy.”  That our Lord and Savior might choose, at his mother’s urging, to announce God’s arriving kingdom at a party, is a bit much.  We’d rather have him inaugurate it in the synagogue reading from the scroll of Isaiah, or better yet, upon a mountain, speaking challenging truths.  Or even healing someone who is sick.  But announcing God’s kingdom at a party?  One that had been going for quite awhile?  One where all the good wine had already been drunk long ago?  This is the place for God’s epiphany?  God’s revelation?

The White Plains congregation has a three hundred year history rooted in New England Puritanism. We are by tradition and habit a practical people.  We don’t squander.  We like to judge those who do.  If we party, we do so responsibly.  And some of us, Protestant or otherwise, who are recovering alcoholics are just wincing, worrying about what such a passage might be encouraging.

But Jesus, at his mother’s urging, turns the water to wine.  In Jesus’ day, the bride and groom celebrated the marriage not with a honeymoon but with a seven-day wedding feast at the groom’s home.  So this is the big too-do.  Who knows what it cost too, for a peasant family.  It had to be a hefty investment.  And the embarrassment of running out of wine – the bad wine at this point in the party – would have been a shameful experience that family and neighbors would remember for years.   And maybe you remember a time in your own lives when you’ve hosted a party and started running short.  It’s a kind of queasy feeling – can I make the portions smaller?  Will someone ask for a second helping of something I don’t have?  Perhaps if I do one more round of bread…

Who could know all the personal and social dynamics of running out of wine.  But remembering that most people drank wine anyway, not water, because it was more hygienic, the wine is not just about revelry, it’s also your basic beverage.  So wine is not only about the party, it’s also about sustenance.  When Jesus increases the wine he not only helps the party keep going, he also demonstrates that God is at the base of every resource that sustains us; wine, bread, land, love.

Ernst Hess has written that, “In our text the chief steward recognizes the excellence of the wine when it is brought to him, but he does not know its source in Jesus, or its meaning as a sign pointing to God’s grace.  We are often like that, recognizing good gifts without recognizing their source in the Creator’s love.”[1]

This morning, we’re invited to see the source behind the sign.  The miracle reminds us that God is at the base of everything that sustains us, and that that sustenance is intended for everyone, even the earth and the animals, to share.  That everything we have, comes as a gift from God.  Believing that God is the source, the giver of all good things, frees us up in times of joy and times of distress.  It allows us to celebrate, to hope, to share – trusting God and remembering that what we have is not ours.  As we do this we are put back in touch with what is most fundamental, that it is not what we have or do not have, but how we live together, freely and fully, that matters.  For even we ourselves do not belong to ourselves – we belong to God, together with all of creation, we belong to God.

What might such an understanding that all things come from God, even our very self, come from and belong to God free us to do as a church?  If we truly believe that God is with us, seeing us through all circumstances and providing for our needs in every time and place, what would be different in our life together?  How would we as a church be changed?  What would we have the courage to do and be and become?  How would this affect our budget and financial decisions?  Who would we reach out to welcome?  Where might we be sent out to care?

Over and over Jesus comes to us ready to turn the water of our fear, uncertainty, timidity into the wine of joyful, sustaining life together.  Whether we are poor or well-off, whether we are healthy or sick, whether we are exuberant or anxious, right now God is stretching out to each of us, offering God’s abundant sustaining love – love which we can not only receive but also embrace and share right now, no matter our circumstance.  And when we do this, WE become the sign of God’s love to others.  We show forth God’s presence.  Our very lives remind us that God still goes the road with us.  And this is true not only for you and me, but for us as a church. Right now, God is freeing us up for new, vibrant, just, and joyful life; right now God is shaping us into the sign of God’s abundant love.

[1] Bartlett and Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009.

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