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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

God Revealed In Water Wine People - 01/17/2016

In this season of the Epiphany we've been moving through the diversity of the Gospels to come up with a nicely rounded picture of what has been revealed in Jesus.

The storytelling styles and different perspectives of the Gospel writers work well together to give us a compelling sense of what this epiphany tells us about God and Jesus and, ultimately, us … as people of God and followers of Jesus.

On the actual day we call the Epiphany of our Lord, we had the story from Matthew of the Magi – the three kings – who come from foreign lands, strange experiences and mystical religious practices to find the newly born king of the Jews … to show us that the truth of God often comes to us through strangers and outsiders.

Then we moved back to the Gospel of Luke last week for the Baptism of our Lord where we joined the crowds down in the Jordan River – where we are shown the one who John the Baptizer has been preparing us for and in him we are given a model for a prayerful life that deepens and enriches our relationship with God. The epiphany continues and is heavily punctuated by God's response to the baptized and praying Jesus when the heavens open and the Holy Spirit comes into the world like a dove of peace and gracefulness and God speaks. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (3:22)

And now this week we move to the third sign of the Epiphany season and the first of the seven signs … or miracles … attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John.

This first of the signs seems different than the others. It is miraculous, but compared to the other signs this water to wine thing seems – on the surface, anyway – smaller in comparison. It seems somehow – kind of common.

We know though, from its purposeful placement as the first of the signs in this Gospel that it begs us to dig a little deeper, to turn it around in our heads and hearts and see what else might be revealed by the act of Jesus turning this water into fine wine.

These are 30-gallon stone jars. We saw a size comparison in the Children's Message. So imagine a jar that size, with a wide mouth and a bottom that tapers gently to a narrow and pointed base. About a third of the stone jar would typically be placed in a hole dug into the ground to support it and hold it upright.

For this occasion, they would have been filled with water so the wedding guests could scoop it out into smaller containers in order to wash their hands and faces and feet before the wedding feast began.

And so Jesus has the servants working the wedding feast refill these six giant vessels and then turns the water into fine wine for the guests at the wedding banquet.

And in that act, Jesus transforms this wedding banquet like the water – he takes  what is rather ordinary and expected and turns it into something that is lavish and unexpected.

It is not the only thing in this story that falls under the heading of unexpected. This sign reminds us once again that Jesus flips the order of things upside down and inside out in his ministry. In this case it is in the elevation of those without power, without status. Jesus says to the servants “'Fill the jars with water.' And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, 'Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.' So they took it. ... the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew)...” (v. 8-9).

The servants knew – the servants. Jesus' first sign in John is revealed not to the chief steward, not a member of the wedding party or one of the VIPs seated with honor near them, but to those who were there serving the others.

Still, water into wine doesn't seem particularly astounding – it's not really like healing people, driving out demons, multiplying loaves and fishes out of nothing… that is until you really consider what the bigness of this sign is trying to tell us. Then it certainly compares well to the scale and magnitude of the signs to come, like walking on water, giving sight to a man born blind or raising Lazarus from the dead.

That bigness is there. It comes in the amount of water that Jesus transformed in this story.  You know, it would have been astounding and lavish enough if had Jesus had transformed two or even one of these 30-gallon vessels of water into wine. But no, Jesus replenishes the wine at this wedding in six of these containers. That's 180 gallons of fine wine. And it's served at a time when people are accustomed to the the bridal party breaking out the cheap stuff when the limited and smaller supply of the good wine has been exhausted. It's akin to going to a wedding today, toasting and blessing the happy couple with a glass of nice champagne and then just when you expect the staff to break out the house wine and PBR, everyone's glasses are refilled with Dom Pérignon (Dom Perin-yon).

It's in that abundance that the nature of God and God's relationship with creation is revealed. It's in that rich, bountiful act that God's intention in Jesus Christ is revealed to us.

In Christ, there is not only enough for all of us gathered at the wedding banquet – and anyone else who happens to come by – but it is of the finest quality, and more abundant then anyone would know to expect.

This sign of God's abundant grace in the picture of 180 gallons of the finest wine is the extravagant and joyful image that overflows into the entire reading today.

It even overflows into our reading from 1 Corinthians where we hear from Paul about this beautiful diversity of gifts among the people in this active church at Corinth. It's a church of people much like us ... here on a snowy Saturday night/Sunday morning for many different reasons and bringing many different gifts … all of us drawn here from our own journeys to gather and think and talk and act as followers of Jesus.

The way the wine from our Gospel story spills over into this letter from Paul is in the Greek, of course. It's one of those things we lose in translation … a word choice that would have been more obvious and detectable to the people of the early church.

Our Gospel reading today ends “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” The verb “revealed” is εφανερωσεν (eph-on-ay-rah-sen), which means to make manifest, to make known, to reveal. So in Jesus, we see the Glory of God revealed. “Do what he tells you,” Mary says to the servants … in other words watch this one and do as he does to see and understand how God is changing everything.

This is the same word Paul uses when he writes “manifestation, in vs 7m  “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (12:7)

Paul is trying to shine the light of Christ on all the ways people are gifted – the sages and wisdom keepers, those who are problem solvers and visionaries, the healers, the preachers and those who are drawn to study of the Word of God, even those with gifts of the tongue and workers of miracles. He shines a light on this great diversity, holding all of them up as good gifts given to us by God … manifested, made known, revealed in us by God through the Holy Spirit.

Think of that … each of us in this room and throughout the church of Christ are little epiphanies, shimmering pieces of the greater revelation of God's activity and love for and in this world. It's beautiful. It's the hope for the world to which we cling and the picture of the world we open ourselves to and show to others as followers of Jesus.

And, Paul continues, these little epiphanies are breathed through us by God not for our own sake, but for the sake of the community and our lives together. It is diversity in unity. It is a complex and richly textured picture of God's people in God's precious creation.

How appropriate this is for a weekend when we hold our annual meeting and also as we celebrate the life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who courageously challenges us still to think about issues of racism and bigotry in light of the Gospel, who also holds up the diversity of creation as a beautiful and fruitful revelation of God's presence in the world.

Through Paul's words, those jars of epiphany God shows us at the wedding of Cana spills out over the brim of that text into in the community at Corinth, gathering up and celebrating their diverse gifts and uniting them.

And, as you may expect, it doesn't stop there.

Those jars of wine still overflow. It spills over into our worship space and our lives, our table of communion, where we are drawn together with all the gifts and skills and passion God awakens in us. Like the servants at the wedding, Mary speaks to us too … “Do what he tells you.” Watch this one and do as he does and see and understand what God is revealing. And Jesus says, “eat this bread … drink this cup … love one another, in remembrance of me.”


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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