January 14, 2001

Peace Lutheran Church

Pastor Steven P. Loy

Readings: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

There is a prayer that begins the liturgy for marriage that causes me to chuckle just a little when I pray it. The couple standing in front of me is probably far too preoccupied to even hear the prayer, but here is how it goes.

Eternal God, our creator and redeemer, as you gladdened the wedding at Cana in Galilee by the presence of your Son, so by his presence now bring your joy to this wedding.

The part that makes me chuckle is when I think about how it was that Jesus "gladdened the wedding". He turned 120 gallons of water into 120 gallons of wine after the guests had finished the wine that was already there. I donít know how many guests were at the party and I donít know how much wine the host had provided but 120 gallons as a second helping is a lot of wine.

I mentioned last week that I am reading a book by Douglas John Hall titled, "The Stewardship of Life in the Kingdom of Death". I want to share a few more sentences this week.

Karl BarthÖ wrote, "The message of the Bible is that God hates religion." What Barth means by this is that the God described in the continuity of the Testaments hates that impulse within us human beings that tries to get hold of God and control God - as Jesus put it, the attempt to "take heaven by storm." ÖBecause of this biblical polemic against the spirit of religion, many theologians in our time have distinguished between "religion" and "faith". ÖIn religion, the human quest reaches up to try to influence GodÖ Faith, on the other hand, is our response to Godís reaching down (grace).

All of us at some point in our lives come to church to get a little religion. We want to figure out how to pray in such a way that God will hear, to think rightly so that God will honor our requests, to believe correctly so that God will give eternal life. In every case it is a religious transaction. We give God something and God gives us something in return. Anytime you hear that there is something you have to do, whether it is believe something or give something, you are doing religion. Just give Jesus your heart and you will be saved. That is religion not faith. Believe in Jesus and go to heaven. That is religion not faith. It is a transaction, an exchange.

The danger with texts like this one from John is that we end up asking questions about the miracle. How did Jesus do that? Can I do that or can I get Jesus to do that for me? Whether it is health or wealth or a change in life when we pray for a miracle it is, most often, a religious practice rather than an act of faith. When we try to change our prayer to make it sound more like faith, we say "Lord, please grant me healing - if it is your will". It almost makes God sound a little perverse. If God doesnít heal me God must like to inflict pain. But I will try to do whatever this perverse God wants. John understands the whole business of faith differently.

There are two words that are very significant in the gospel of John. The two words are sign and glory. Both of those words are in the reading for today. At first glance sign appears to be synonymous with miracle. The changing of water into wine, the healing of an officialís son, the feeding of the five thousand are all called signs. We tend to hear miracles, but I donít think that is what John intends. Miracles tend to draw attention to the person who is doing the miracle. When there is someone with special abilities or gifts, like an Edgar Cayce or a Nostrodomus then the miracles are all about them. We remember them because they were unique people with special powers. John uses the term signs because what Jesus is doing points to something else. The signs are not about Jesus, they are about what God is doing. Jesus is not just a miracle worker, someone who will come and go, he is the messiah, someone for whom Israel had waited, someone promised by God. He will not appear on the scene and then be gone simply to become a part of history. He is someone anticipated and someone who will have an ongoing presence in the reign of God. To understand the significance of the signs in Johnís gospel we have to go back to the prophets.

We look at Amos chapter 9 for example. Amos, anticipating a messianic age said, "The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it." The messianic age will be one of prosperity, abundance, peace and equity. 120 gallons of wine might not be mountains dripping with sweet wine, but it is certainly a step in that direction. The abundance of wine at Cana was a foretaste of the messianic age, it was a glimpse through the curtain from this world into the next, it was a peek at what God has in mind. Every time Jesus healed someone it was an in breaking of the messianic hopes of Isaiah, that the blind will see, the deaf shall hear and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. The signs are Johnís way of telling us that Jesus is the messiah, he is what God has intended.

The reaction of the crowds creates a tension in Johnís gospel. Chapter six begins, "A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick." They wanted in on the success, they wanted in on the miracles and the mystery. They found Jesus interesting and appealing because of the signs.

The second word in Johnís gospel that is important is the word glory. It shows up in our reading today, "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana in Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him." The last time the word appears in Johnís gospel is in Jesus' final prayer, chapter 17. "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son, so that the Son may glorify youÖ" We all know what comes next. For John suffering and death are Jesus' moment of greatest glory because it is the fulfillment of Isaiah 52.

See, my servant shall prosper;

he shall be exalted and lifted up,

and shall be very high.

Just as there were many who were astonished at him

-so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,

and his form beyond that of mortals-

The interesting thing is that as the crowds learn more about Jesus, as they see that he is more than just a nice guy or a miracle worker, the crowds begin to diminish. From chapter six on John writes about the dwindling crowds. There are things that Jesus says that people donít like. He is not just a miracle worker he is the messiah, and he is not the military and political leader messiah that they wanted. He is the go to the cross and die messiah, the suffering servant of Isaiah, who invites us to follow in the ways of the kingdom.

Jesus turns out to be not all that the crowds anticipated, not all that we might want. He is instead what God wants. He makes no promises that if we believe rightly we will get what we want, or that if we pray correctly those things will come to pass. Instead this messiah invites us to live the kingdom life without any guarantees, without any certainty about tomorrow, only the promise that his ways are Godís ways and that ultimately Godís ways will prevail.

One last thing. I was invited to the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast at NMSU on Friday morning. I have gone a few years now and every year I think, I donít have time for this. Iím going to skip it this year. And every time I go I am deeply moved. The gathering is always an interesting mix of politicians, religious leaders, university administrators, faculty and students. There are awards for people who have contributed to racial harmony or championed the cause of racial equity. This year what moved me is that people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, with very different interests were all gathered there for one purpose, to celebrate racial diversity and harmony. I was struck by the witness of elementary school children and middle school students. I was struck by the passion with which the leaders spoke and lived. The eggs were bland, the fruit was limp, the hash browns were white and cold, but the spirit, the power present in that room was palpable. It was a foretaste of the kingdom, it was 120 gallons of wine having saved the best for last.

The wedding at Cana is a foretaste, it is a promise that there is more to come, there is more justice, more healing, more peace still to come, and that in Jesus we have a beginning, a glimpse of what God has in mind. There is more to come, more kindness, more forgiveness, more compassion, and the Jesus in us, the Jesus in you gives the world a glimpse of what God has in mind. The water in us is changed to wine for the world to drink - that others might have the same foretaste we have had.


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