Monday, January 21, 2013

Savoring the Savior's Wedding Wine

In Nomine Iesu
St. John 2:1-11
January 20, 2013
Epiphany 2C

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

I am not what you would call a wine connoisseur, or a wine aficionado. I don’t subscribe to Wine Spectator. My palette isn’t too discriminating and I sometimes can’t tell the difference between merlot and cabernet. But there’s something about uncorking a bottle of wine that’s a little bit exciting. With wine you can never be completely certain what you’re going to get. Even if you’ve done your homework and studied the label carefully, wine has a way of surprising you. Each bottle has its own unique characteristics. Pour yourself a glass of Mountain Dew and it will taste just like the Mountain Dew you drank last year. But wine is never quite so predictable.

Preaching a sermon on the wedding at Cana is a little bit like opening a bottle of fine wine. It’s a vintage you know as well as the back of your hand. You know its bold, tasty flavors as well as its more subtle surprises. The wedding at Cana isn’t something new, but something familiar—something worth going back to year after year—like a good wine. So let’s savor this vintage from John chapter 2. Let’s sniff the cork, twirl the glass, let the wine breathe, and prepare to be a little surprised—as we imbibe some of the wonderful flavors in this very first of Jesus’ miracles.

But before we imbibe too freely I need to warn you about imbibing too freely. Since Milwaukee has been described as America’s drunkest city—since binge drinking is now becoming socially acceptable, I need to remind you that this miracle is not about divine approval for drunkenness. It is true that Jesus miraculously supplied 180 gallons of very fine wine after the wedding guests had already gone through a fair amount of wine. Jesus was definitely not a teetotaler. In fact, the Pharisees would later call Jesus a glutton and a drunkard—probably with this wedding in mind. But this miracle isn’t about the wine. It’s about Jesus and the joy of His salvation. Christians need to keep two things in mind when it comes to alcoholic beverages. On the one hand, they are good gifts from God to be used by those of legal age in moderation. And on the other hand, drunkenness is as much a sin as is adultery or stealing. God calls His baptized children to be sober and self-controlled at all times. He calls us never to hurt or harm our bodies by what we consume—but always to remember that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

St. John calls this miracle of water turned into wine the first of Jesus’ "signs." It’s not just a miracle, but a sign. This isn’t a cute parlor trick to show off Jesus’ divine power. A sign is much more. A sign reveals something otherwise unknown. A sign given by Jesus is intended primarily to create faith. In fact, St. John summed up the whole event like this: “Jesus . . . manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” The goal of this sign isn’t for you to say, “Wow, Jesus sure is powerful,” but to say, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”

It’s interesting that this first miracle occurred at a wedding. Wedding feasts at that time were often week-long affairs to which the whole town was invited; and food and drink were expected to be provided for all the guests. Toss in a few unexpected guests, a handful of wedding crashers, some cousins from up north—these could quickly put a dent in the food and wine. Running out of either would have been a terrible embarrassment for both families.

Since weddings are family affairs it should come as no surprise that Jesus’ mother, Mary, is also at this wedding. It’s Mary who first tells Jesus that the wine had run out. And at first, Jesus doesn’t seem eager to do anything about it. “What does this have to do with me?” he asks. Besides, he says, “My hour has not yet come.” Jesus’ “hour” was a reference to His death on the cross. That was why He came. That’s also why the artwork on the cover of this morning’s bulletin has a wooden cross hidden in the background, even as Jesus is manifesting His glory. Jesus seems almost irritated at his mother for hinting that He should do something to rectify the situation.

But Mary is a model of faith; and she forges ahead in faith, confident that Jesus will act. She says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Those happen to be the last recorded words of Mary in the Scriptures. And we really can’t go wrong listening to those words of Mary: “Do whatever my Son tells you.” After all, He’s the one who died on the cross and rose from the dead to save you. If Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, then we should do it. If Jesus says to forgive those who sin against us, then we should do it. If Jesus says give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, then we should pay our taxes. Do whatever He tells you.

It starts to get interesting when Jesus tells the servants to fill up six stone water jars. Now these big water jars were used for the Jewish rites of purification. And that fact is important. In other words, the Jews washed with this water for reasons of godliness, not cleanliness. By washing with that water they thought they could make themselves more acceptable to God (more on that in a minute). Well, you know what happens next. The master of the feast takes a sip of the new wine and immediately calls the groom over. Listen, he says, someone’s made a mistake here. You’re supposed to serve the fine wine first. Then, after everyone’s senses are a little dulled, then you slip in the cheap stuff (the two buck Chuck). But, says the bartender, “you have kept the good wine until now.” You have saved the best for last!

Now, remember, this text is like fine wine. So let’s savor what’s going on here. When Mary says, “They have no more wine,” she might just as well have been talking about the Jews of the Old Covenant. Their time was just about up. The time for a new covenant was drawing near. They were hopelessly mired in the law—in keeping rules and regulations and ceremonies—with nothing to show for it but six stone jars of water. That’s about as far as the law of God can take you. At best, it can only give you clean hands; but it can’t purify the heart of a sinner. And that’s where the problem lies for us. “The law came through Moses,” St. John wrote in chapter one, “but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Beloved in the Lord, savor the flavor of what this sign means. Drink deeply of the new joy He brings. In Jesus the old has gone, and the new creation has come. In Jesus, Old Testament bath water becomes New Testament wedding wine. Jesus fills up the commandments of Moses with His own perfect obedience. That’s why He came—to fill it up to the brim with Himself, and then to die an innocent death on the cross, to pour out His blood like fine wine from heaven to make glad every heart with the joy of His forgiveness, life and salvation.

When the bartender says, “You’ve saved the best until now,” that’s more than a comment on the wine. It’s a comment on Jesus. God has truly saved the best for last in His Son, Jesus Christ. In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, but now in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son. The promises, the prophets, the priests and the ceremonial laws of the OT—they were good gifts of our good God. But something far better comes our way in Jesus. He is truly the best vintage, God’s private reserve, set aside from before the foundation of the world and appointed to be poured out generously in the fullness of time.

Savor this wonderful wedding wine! Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law for all who believe. He’s the end of using the law to get in good with God. He’s the end of all hand-scrubbing religion—the end of all attempts to wash ourselves up and clean up the mess of our own sin. You can’t do it no matter how much you wash and bathe and soak and scrub yourself. You’ll never be pure enough. But Jesus does it for you in His dying and rising. He takes you sin and gives you His purity. All who believe in Him are completely cleansed and purified by grace. And that’s something worth celebrating and, I’m sorry, but grape juice just doesn’t cut it. Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal. In Jesus you have a place at the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, where the meat is richly marbled and the where the wine never runs out.

Have we made too much of this first sign of Jesus at Cana? No way. In fact, there are a few drops more of this text left to enjoy. We can’t quit until you recognize this: that what goes on right here at Our Savior every Sunday is more marvelous and more meaningful than what happened at the wedding at Cana. Here Jesus takes water and makes water a sign—a baptism—a sacrament of His death and resurrection life which is given to you in the splash of your own baptism. Here Jesus takes bread and gives it as His body; here Jesus takes wine and gives it to you as His blood. Right here every Sunday we have a wedding feast where Jesus is the groom, Jesus is bartender, Jesus is even the food and drink. And best of all, you are His honored guests.

One day it will all be clear—how our God always saves the best for last. And, He has one more vintage yet to uncork—you. You are still aging in the bottle, so to speak. God isn’t finished with you yet. Your hour has not yet come. It will come soon enough, at a time when the world’s party will have run dry, when Jesus appears in glory to raise the dead to life. And then, with a new, resurrected body and joy overflowing, you will fully experience what today you can only believe: God has saved the best for last, and the best always comes with Jesus. Amen.

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