A Sign of Love

Jan 16, 2022

Sermon 1-16-2022 
Second Sunday after Epiphany 
Text: John 2:1-11 
Pastor Jean M. Hansen  
     On Sunday afternoons, a group has been gathering here at FLC to watch and discuss episodes from the first season of “The Chosen” about the life of Jesus. I’ve enjoyed both the series and the discussion because the creators “fill in” the story’s context is very believable and seemingly historically accurate ways. Plus, the actors fit who they are portraying, and the dialog is both multi-layered and entertaining. Completely by chance, the episode we will watch this afternoon (#5) focuses on today’s Gospel lesson. So, even if you haven’t attended previously, I invite you to come at 4 p.m. and celebrate the wedding at Cana as we watch “The Chosen.” (Or you can look for it by googling “The Chosen.”)  
     If you do, you’ll discover, as I did, the answers to questions you may have about the story of Jesus’ first sign in the Gospel of John. I’ve wondered why the first sign – some would say the act of ministry – Jesus does in John is to provide wine for a party? In the other Gospels, his first act is an exorcism (Mark), the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew), and a sermon is a synagogue (Luke), all of which seems more significant than changing water into wine.  
     Also, the Gospel of John is full of amazing stories: Jesus feeding thousands, walking on water, healing a man born blind, and the most thrilling one, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Why would his first sign be this story? There are many complicated and theological explanations for this. But I believe the creators of “The Chosen” hit on the significant one. Before we go there, though, let’s note some interesting details about the story.  
     First, preceding this passage, Jesus has been gathering and calling his disciples. He promises them that they will see amazing things, events flowing from Jesus who is full of truth and grace, the Gospel writer proclaims.  
     Second, Jesus’ disciples and his mother, Mary, are at the wedding. According to one commentator, weddings were seven-day events and were a community celebration. To run short of wine would be a severe embarrassment for the host parents and the newlyweds. The shame of not providing adequate wine would be a topic of gossip for who knows how long.  
     Third, for reasons that are not detailed in the story, Mary is aware of the wine shortage and potential disgrace, and it is obvious that she expects Jesus to do something about it. The way that Jesus responds to her sounds disrespectful; it is more or less, “What do you want me to do about it?” This isn’t my problem, or your problem either, for that matter. It is not yet time for who I am to be revealed.” Perhaps his response reflects his knowledge that this door, once opened, cannot be closed. But Mama wins; she ignores his protest and tells the servants to do what Jesus requests of them.  
     Fourth, there are six stone jars used for ritual purification. They are stones because the non-porous stone is less likely to contaminate the water than porous clay. The amount of water held by each jar is 20 to 30 gallons, which is far more than would have been needed since one cup of water would purify 100 people. The theological (not literal) implication is, there is enough water here to purify the whole world.    
     Commentator Chelsey Harmon notes that in using the jars, Jesus turns a tool for meeting an obligation under purity law into a gift of blessing and celebration. (1) 
     By the way, can you imagine how heavy stone jars filled with 200 gallons of water would be? Mary must have conveyed a Jewish mother’s “no-arguments-allowed” to the servants who did this task. Let’s pause here for a moment and consider; this is 600-900 standard bottles of wine in our world. And it is not the $5 a bottle variety. This is a quality, delicious, not-often-experienced vintage. Some of you who are wine connoisseurs will grasp the significance of this more than I do. Think of the best wine you have ever sampled, and then imagine hundreds of bottles of it being shared with whoever shows up to join the celebration. That is what’s being described here.  It is an extravagant miracle, some would say it is a sign that in Jesus life, joy and salvation have arrived, an illustration of his words, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”  
     Fifth, and surprisingly, Jesus does this sign quietly. Only his mother, disciples, and the servants know what he has done. The steward knew that there was a problem but did not know how it was solved. It seems that neither the families nor the guests knew that a crisis was brewing (so to speak!)  
     So, back to our original question: Why would this be his first sign? I think “The Chosen” got it right in their portrayal. Jesus puts people first. It’s all about relationships.  
     The back story in the series’ portrayal is that the groom’s mother and Mary are best friends and that Jesus and the groom played together as children. The relationships are important, especially to Mary, who goes out of her way to help her friend prepare for the day when the feast is their responsibility. However, the groom’s family is not well-off; they cannot afford an extravagant party and order the food and wine they can afford, which is not the amount needed.  
     And, to add fuel to the fire, the bride’s parents are well-off; they know it and show it. It’s clear that they question whether their new son-in-law and his family are good enough for their daughter. The situation is ripe for humiliation in the sight of these uppity in-laws.  
     Once Jesus gets over his initial dismay and sees the potential damage, he cares and he acts. While it is true that this sign revealed his glory and helped the disciples to believe, which many scholars write is the reason it occurred, I do not think that is why he turned the water into wine. I believe he did it out of love – for Mary and their friends, to save them from humiliation. His love was sacrificial since he may have revealed his glory before he was ready. Ultimately, that sacrificial lover is for all of us.  
     Often when I pray with people facing difficulty, I ask that they might sense Jesus’ loving presence with them in a profound way. Today’s story illustrates what I mean … in his presence, we realize that he cares about that which troubles us, even if to someone else it seems minor. Jesus shows up and makes a difference, often doing it quietly yet turning the narrative around.  
     Commentator Elisabeth Johnson notes that the Gospel of John does not use the expression “reign” or “kingdom” of God often, but this story shows us what the reign of God is like: “It is like a village wedding celebration to which everyone is invited and at which the guests are surprised by the abundance and quality of the wine. The first of Jesus’ signs in John’s Gospel shows us that the bridegroom (Jesus) has arrived, and he truly is the life of the party! (2) 
     Indeed, in tonight’s episode of “The Chosen,” Jesus laughs, dances, and celebrates with the people he has and will love. His presence is made known in a profound way.  AMEN 
(1)   “Sermon Commentary for Sunday, January 16, 2022” by Chelsey Harmon, www.cepreaching.org 
(2)   “Second Sunday after Epiphany: Commentary on John 2:1-11” by Elisabeth Johnson, www.workingpreacher.org