Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sermon for January 31, 2010

The Second Sunday After the Epiphany
January 30-31, 2010
Text: John 2:1-11

Dear Friends in Christ,
Starting in the nineteenth century Americans developed their own unique heresy regarding the consumption of alcohol. No Christians had ever condemned drinking alcohol. In fact it was often the only safe thing to drink in pre-modern times. Many of our modern forms of alcohol were developed in monasteries and convents. Champaign was discovered by accident by a French monk. They had several wine bottle explode and the monk assigned to clean up the mess decided to not let all that wine go waste. He took a sip from one of the broken bottles and exclaimed: “I’m drinking stars!” Bock beer was developed in monasteries, as a drink for monks who were fasting. Often they would pass out from lack of nourishment. So they developed a heavy beer with greater nutritional value so that the monks could fast without running the risk of passing out. Scripture speaks positively regarding wine, the common form of alcohol in Biblical times. In Psalm 104 we read: “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.” Here wine is spoken of as a special blessing from God precisely because of its intoxicating effects. Ecclesiastes 10 adds: “Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life.”

Scripture condemns being a drunkard, as well as drinking to the point of debauchery. But it does not condemn those who get a little merry at a party. Or we could say that Scripture actually endorses the use of alcohol while condemning its abuse. This picture must be firmly in our minds, if we are to understand our text.

The traditional text in the old one year series for the second Sunday after the Epiphany is the Wedding at Cana. Why? Because this was the first of the signs that Jesus would perform to show that He is God. The season of Epiphany is dedicated to the proposition that this man, Jesus of Nazareth is in fact God, that is Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God who spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. Now if one is going to claim that a particular person is God, how would you go about demonstrating that? Well, you would show that He did things that no other person could do - things that only God could do. In other words you would look to the miracles He performed - particularly ones that special significance. John calls such miracles, signs. They are signs that point us to recognizing Jesus as God. The very first of these was performed at a wedding.

Jesus was invited to attend a wedding in the village of Cana, which is not too far from
Nazareth. This is the home town of the disciple alternately known as Nathaniel or Bartholomew. Since he is closely associated with Philip, perhaps a brother, he also may have been from Cana. We are not told why Jesus was invited. But we are given clues. Two of Jesus disciples were from this place. Also His mother, Mary was intimately involved. This would indicate that she was closely related to one of those getting married. Dr. Scaer, at seminary, suggested that this was the wedding of one of Jesus’ sisters. That is more than the text tells us, but it does fit. Mary, if she were the mother of the bride, would be one of the first to know that they were running out of wine. In any event we know that this was the wedding of someone closely related to Mary, and therefore also closely related to Christ.

The miracle is simple enough. They were running out of wine. Mary tells Jesus. He at first rebuffs her, but yet, Mary senses that something is going to happen. She tells the servants to obey His instructions. Jesus then instructs the servants to fill the water jars by the entrance. These would have been used for ceremonial washing. In this sense these are not like a wash basin so much as they would be like a baptismal font. They held between one hundred and twenty to one hundred and eighty gallons, total. Now understand that the Jewish custom was to mix the wine with water. So when this is served up, it’s lot of wine - probably in excess of three hundred gallons. Jesus then tells the servants to take some to the steward of the feast and have him taste it and approve it. He tastes it and is stunned. The water hadn’t just become wine, it became the most excellent of wine. There are two ways to take the wine steward’s reaction. First we might think that he is scolding the groom for holding the best wine back. The cheap stuff is fine once people are a little tipsy. But it could also be an expression of wonderment. That this bride groom is so generous, that the feast just keeps getting better and better.

The problem was that the steward of the feast was questioning the wrong bridegroom. Christ, in providing the wine for the feast was inserting Himself into the role of the bridegroom. This was His declaration that the true, heavenly bridegroom was among His people. And where the true bridegroom is, there is all things in abundance. Everything is rich and sweet. One has to wonder if the guests at the wedding of Cana would ever taste such good wine ever again?

In our day and age, the fact that this is the first of Jesus’ miracles has again become very important. We have many people today dragging out all manner of legends and false writings. Many of these writings are used to undermine the true message of the forgiveness of our sins. And so we hear tales of childhood miracles and the like. He healed the little drummer boys lamb while He was an infant and so forth. All these things are false. And they come from writings that were never considered reputable. These are writings that were written much later than the New Testament writings. We know from the evidence, that the New Testament writings were all written in the first century and there is no reason to believe that were not written by the apostles. We have manuscript fragments of several books that date well into the first century. Also nearly every book of the New Testament is quoted as Scripture by about the year one hunded.

At Cana of Galilee, Jesus performed His first sign. He stepped into the role of the bridegroom. He began the rejoicing that was to accompany His presence among men. Why should there be rejoicing that God is among men? Because He is present in grace, to pay for our sins and give us life. He is present in grace to forgive our sins and make us right with God. He is present among men, and wherever the true Bridegroom is, there is feasting, drinking and rejoicing.

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