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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Grace Upon Grace Epiphany - 01/20/2019

Slide show - WeddingAtCanaPrez.pptx (PowerPoint)

(Slide: Mosaic artwork, Chora Church, Turkey)

Our Season following Epiphany is on the long side this year. The season’s length depends on the number of Sundays between Jan. 6th, the Feast of Epiphany, and Ash Wednesday. It is possible to have up to 10 Sundays after Epiphany. This year we have 8.

So that means, we’ll get to hear some texts that we don’t get unless it is a longer Season following Epiphany in Year C, or the Year of Luke.

I found a nice concise paragraph on the texts of this season on the ELCA website that I thought was helpful.

“The texts … used by churches throughout the world during the Sundays after the Epiphany include wonderful stories of those who (like the Magi) have ‘Aha!’ moments.  We experience similar Aha moments when we say, ‘So that is what God is up to!’ as we discover and claim the gifts of discipleship in our baptism.” (ELCA, Living Our Baptism … Five gifts of discipleship.)

For just one Sunday this season, this Sunday, we pop back into the Gospel of John for the well-loved and well-known story of the Wedding at Cana. This little detour actually led me to another verse from John that I’d like to use a primer of sorts, a verse to help us open up the stories that we will hear over the next month and half or so.

(Slide)

“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1.16)

From Jesus’ fullness we have all received … grace upon grace.

From the beginning of this season, we can see this verse get shaped and defined.  

We have all received, our guiding verse reminds us … that “all” starts to get illustrated from the story of the visit of the Magi, as we remember that God comes among us not as a wealthy and privileged child of powerful people with household names. God comes to us as quite the opposite. And, if that weren’t enough… among the first to recognize the Messiah in this unlikely infant are the working poor and a handful of foreigners. It’s not the receiving line one might expect when told Christ the King has arrived.

God is pushing the boundaries on what “all” really looks like.

Last week we got a snapshot of what “grace upon grace” looks like on that threshing floor where Jesus separates and frees us from our chaff. Our own sins, known and unknown; the wounds and hauntings of how others have sinned against us; even our illness and disease; our ignorance and pride is washed away and burned up forever. It’s quite astounding. Grace upon grace.

So this week we add the famous Wedding at Cana – the big party where Jesus turns water into a ridiculous amount of the finest wine.

(Slide, stone vessels near Ephesus)

There is nothing subtle about the abundance of this first sign of Jesus in John’s telling of the story, and perhaps that abundance is what first catches our imaginations in this scene.

These are enormous vessels used for washing by a large crowd of people before they settle in for a wedding feast. Even if they weren’t being used for ritual purification, they are not the kind of containers in which wine is fermented or stored. The vessels would never be used for something like this.

But Jesus isn’t constrained by human absolutes like always and never.

His response to the situation demonstrates just how large God is thinking when it comes to how this grace we receive in Jesus shows up in a wedding where the wine has run out … or in the life of a kid who is making risky choices … or in our most broken relationships … or a cancer diagnosis … or in the painfully divided people of our nation.

The grace God pours out is ridiculously plentiful – there is more than enough for all – and it is unexpected, it’s going to show up in surprising ways, contained in the most unanticipated vessels.

“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1.16)

I think this guiding verse also opens up another part of this story. I think I’ve talked before about how, true to form, the epiphany of this story – the truth about how all this wine came to be – that revelation comes to the servants.

When you stop and think about it, there really are not that many people who know – who have experienced the epiphany. The servants knew. Bless their souls. I sure hope they got a cup of wine at the end of the party when I’m pretty sure there was still some left.

The unnamed mother of Jesus knew. Some people like to argue she didn’t, but I think it’s pretty clear she did. We’ve all met … or maybe we’ve even been … the mother in this story. “When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’” (2:3) And then despite Jesus’ pretty relatable response of a son to his mother, which today might sound more like, “Mother,” with a good sideways glance of  “not now,” …. despite that, “Mother” is unfazed. She turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” (2:5) Jesus heeds her wise prompting.

It think it’s pretty clear she already knows … she knows, when you do what Jesus says, great things happen … as any mother would, she must have noticed some things about Jesus in those years of raising this unusual child.

So Mary knew and the servants. It appears the disciples new – at least by the end of the story. But no one else. Not the chief steward or the bridegroom or anyone else at that wedding.

The same is true for the other Christ-revealing stories we’ve heard this season. Like the shepherds who heard it from heavenly messengers and believed, the three Magi knew this was the long-promised Immanuel. Herod knew. But that was it, really, in that part of the story.

In last week’s story, it’s not clear if anyone at all knew. All those people gathered at the river to be baptized had to be convinced that John the Baptist wasn’t the Messiah. John himself had said beforehand that he was not worthy to tie Jesus’ sandal, let alone baptize him, and yet he did baptize him, without any apparent commentary. So did he know? It’s not clear.

When you think of these stories in these terms – of how few people really knew who Jesus is – it brings a whole other revelation. It’s like when you are looking a great and familiar piece of art and suddenly you start studying the negative space and realize the artist is saying just as much through that as what is more obvious in the painting.

In the negative space of these stories are a whole lot of people who didn’t experience a revelation about who Jesus is and what he’s come to do.

Some of them simply weren’t present. Some of them probably just didn’t understand or missed it.

How have we been like the wedding guests who went home with bellies and hearts full of good food and wine and company, completely oblivious to the miracle of abundance that had taken place?

When have we been like all the people watching Jesus being baptized and so focused on what we were certain of that we miss what is true?

When have we been like all those other people who surely saw the sign of the Star of Bethlehem, but could not comprehend what it was revealing or hear it calling them to follow?

I suspect we often miss these moments of divine epiphany, these experiences of understanding who Jesus is and what he’s come to do.

That’s one reason it’s so important to gather around these rich stories of Aha moments. They will help warm us up this winter. And I hope and pray it also pushes us to invite others to gather around the Word, the Font, the Table … in case they’ve missed it and need to hear they are God’s Beloved too.

And thankfully we can say with confidence that no matter how many epiphanies we miss, and for whatever reasons, in this Messiah, salvation is ours already. How do we know?

(Slide)

 “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Amen

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 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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