Sunday, January 16, 2022

The One Who Fills the Universal Emptiness

Here is both the video of today's second worship service with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio and the text of the message. Have a good and blessed week.

John 2:1-11

This past week, Ann and I welcomed a high school classmate and her husband, whose wedding I did thirty-three years ago, to our house for dinner. It was so much fun! During the course of our time together, we prayed and our friend talked about things she is praying for in her quiet time. We reminisced and talked about our challenges. And we laughed and laughed. I found myself unable to sleep that night because I was so excited just thinking about all the four of us had shared. Do you ever have times like this, moments filled with so much meaning and joy that you can’t catalog it all? 

These sorts of moments, I think, are gifts from God meant to sustain us in His love, joy, and grace.

All of this brings us to the subject of our Gospel lesson for this Second Sunday after Epiphany, John 2:1-11. I’m sure that if I’d been one of the disciples with Jesus on the day our lesson recounts, I would have had an even harder time sleeping that night than I did this past Thursday! There is so much in Jesus’ first recorded miracle, turning water into wine, that we could never catalog all the love, joy, and grace to be seen here. In fact, as I was preparing this message this past week, I began by listing about twelve different things I could talk about.

Today though, I want to focus on two basic things revealed to us in this encounter with Jesus. 

You know what happens. There’s a wedding in Cana, a village not far from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. It’s been one week since Jesus began His ministry and three days since He and the disciples left the Jordan to arrive here. Wedding celebrations last a week in these times and the festivities have just begun when a crisis happens. Jesus’ mother thinks Jesus should do something about it. “They have no more wine,” she says. (John 2:3) It’s probable that the mother of our Lord wants Jesus to save the wedding hosts from embarrassment.

But this crisis is more than a socially embarrassing situation bringing the potential for community ridicule and scorn. It points us to a simple fact: Nothing in this life is guaranteed, permanent, perfect, or utterly reliable. 

Wine runs out. 

Good health fades. 

Relationships fray. 

Life ends. 

And, as to our supply of righteousness–a sinlessness that would make us worthy of life with God, we are completely lacking, totally unworthy of salvation. 

David, described by the Bible as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), who also committed adultery and murder, confesses: “I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5) 

Friends, we are all lacking

In our own power, we lack the certainty that we will be alive this afternoon, let alone in the tomorrows we so carefully plan. 

In our own power, we lack the righteousness needed to have a life with God or a place in His Kingdom. 

Paraphrasing Jesus’ mother, we can say honestly about our existences and prospects, “We have no more wine. We have nothing!” 

Without the God revealed in Jesus Christ, our lives can only be exercises in meaninglessness and futility.

Jesus responds to His mother, asking her what their hosts’ dilemma has to do with the two of them, and reminding her, “My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) Jesus’ “hour,” according to the Gospel of John, is the time of His glorification, which includes His death, resurrection, and ascension. 

Jesus is reminding her that God acts on His timetable, not ours. 

While Jesus would later reveal Himself to be “I AM,” Yahweh, the God of all creation, the time for such disclosure to the world at large had not yet come, and not even His earthly mother could change that.

But Jesus does hear our requests of Him, our prayers in His name, and He has compassion for all His children. 

When our conditions of lack, of helplessness and need, are brought before Him, He doesn’t walk away. 

When we acknowledge our sins, He doesn’t hide His face! 

You know what happens next. Jesus, without a word beyond telling the servants to fill the large stone purification jars with water, calls no attention to the miracle–the sign of His lordship–that He performs, turning water into wine. Only those who already in some way believed in Him–His mother and His disciples–have a clue as to what has just happened. (John 1:29) The steward of the party and the others think that it’s either a fortuitous circumstance or good planning that the groom has saved the best wine for last.

That’s often how an unbelieving world views the ways in which Jesus meets our helplessness with His help. 

When I had the so-called “widowmaker” heart attack twelve years ago, my cardiologist told me the day I received a stent, “Because you had none of the risk factors, I can’t explain why you had the heart attack you did. I also can’t explain why you survived.” When I shared that with an unbelieving friend, he told me, “Well, I’m sure that there’s a medical explanation.” “Sure,” I told him, “my cardiologist is top-notch. He can explain what happened to me. But he was telling me that he couldn’t explain why it happened.” My attending nurse, looking at the miracle of my survival through the eyes of faith, had as good an explanation for my survival as I’ve heard: “God has other plans for you.”

At the end of today’s Gospel lesson, John tells us, “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11) 

What was it about turning water into wine that made the disciples believe all the more that Jesus was the Messiah?

Consider the visions of fruitfulness, plenty, and life that the Old Testament prophets, hundreds of years before, said would come when the Messiah brought the Kingdom of God into being. 

Joel 3:18-19 says: “In that day the mountains will drip new wine...” 

And God says through the prophet Amos, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills…” (Amos 9:13) 

And, beyond the prophets, in the period between the Old and New Testaments, a time of despair and spiritual emptiness, one of the rabbis wrote with precision about the miracle at Cana: “And it shall come to pass…that the Anointed One shall then begin to be revealed…each branch shall produce a thousand clusters, and each cluster produce a thousand grapes and each grape produce 120 gallons of wine,” precisely the amount of wine Jesus made from water in our lesson. (2 Baruch 29:3, 5-6, Apocrypha)

Jesus is the Messiah Who offers up His body and His blood, Who, for those who believe in Him, replaces the old bitterness of sin, death, and futility with the new wine of life, fullness, plenty, and eternal reconciliation with God. Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

By God’s grace through faith in Jesus, our unrighteousness is replaced with Jesus’ righteousness, our death is replaced with Jesus’ life, our grief is supplanted by His resurrection joy.

Life in this world is hard. But we who are born captives to sin and death can see in the One Who turned water into wine and has already finished His work of saving us and granting eternity to all who turn to Him in faith, hope. 

Suffering, death, decrepitude, sorrow, and spiritual poverty need not be the final word over a human life. 

Already, we have seen the epiphanies revealing Christ’s identity as God the Son and our Savior. 

Already at Cana, we can faintly hear in the distance the cry believers will hear on that Resurrection morning when all the dead in Christ will be called from their graves as God and His angels shout: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14) 

This is our joy and the joy we are privileged to share with all the world! Amen