The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Second Sunday after Epiphany
In the multiple decades I have been at this, meaning getting paid for putting people to sleep on Sunday mornings, wedding practices have drastically changed. You throw birdseed, not rice at the couple these days. Rehearsal attire today ranges from laid-back casual to inappropriate. Many attending act like they have no clue they’re in a church. And liturgical etiquette – we might as well be on a golf course. Wedding receptions are rarely held in Parish Halls anymore, replaced with blow-out dinners and extravagant parties at a banquet hall. More people skip the church part, yet I see so many more show up for the party. More often the wedding date is set by the reception venue availability. Then the couple looks for a church and clergy person. And that’s how it goes.
Today’s gospel reminds me of the Prayer Book opening to marriage that notes Jesus blesses marriage by his presence at the Cana wedding. John mentions nothing about a wedding ceremony, just the party, guests and wine. That fits more with weddings today. It’s the party, dummy.
Jesus’ mom notices the wine has run out. She nudges Son of God, as if to say, “Fix it.” Running out of wine is a huge social blunder for the bridegroom’s family. That’s a sign of scarcity – even loss of God’s favor. Running down the street to Discount Liquor’s for a couple of cases is not an option. “Woman, what concern do we have? My time isn’t here yet.” Mary covers nicely – “Hey you servants, over here. Do what he tells you.”
In the church I was raised, alcohol was such a no-no that preachers changed wine to “grape juice” at Cana. Doesn’t the miracle lose something – water to grape juice?
Talking about miracles offends modern, enlightened people. Miracles, or signs as John calls them, should offend. They shatter our expectations and explanations. If we explain or dumb them down, we miss what they point to. How do they work in the story? That’s the question, rather than asking if they happen or not. More is going on than we imagine.
Jesus heralds and brings the kingdom of God near. It’s more than an announcement. It’s an invitation into a larger world. This is revolutionary stuff. After Jesus changes water to wine, his disciples see God’s glory in him, and they believe. Interesting – all the chief steward believes is the groom withheld the best wine until everyone’s tipsy. And abundance – that’s enough wine to party on for weeks, even months. That’s not the miracle. The miracle is the One who comes to love and save us from ourselves, a sign of divine delight and love for us. That’s today’s Epiphany.
For generations Jews believed God dwells only at the Jerusalem Temple. If you need to transact business with God, go to the Temple. If you want to be close to God, go to the Temple.
Now that’s changed. John says that in Jesus, God comes among us – everywhere – to weddings and parties, to places where people are in trouble, to water waiting to be changed into Merlot. I still would like to know how to do that one. God is on the loose. That upsets those who say what God can and can’t do. Who knows where God may next show up – in some unlikely places, people and ways? God keeps the best for last, like wine or resurrection. God prolongs the party because life is a party when God is present. What happens at Cana is reason for us to rejoice that God is with us, and raise a toast to God’s amazing grace and unfathomable love for us all. So wipe off self-righteous, holier-than-thou frown and come to God’s party.
How do we do that? We draw close to God who already waits for us. Just turn around, accept what God has done – you’re there. You are forgiven, so you can forgive others. You are forever loved, and now you can be a loving person and show compassion. God smiles on you, and now you can smile at people, even the person who cuts you off in traffic. That’s how you know you are close. Others see how close we live to God. We even show God’s glory in our lives, by how we live.
Turning water into wine isn’t the miracle. The miracle is God’s everlasting love that comes to find and claim us. The miracle is grace – living grace, and there’s enough to go around and more – intoxicating us with the right stuff, falling in love with the One who keeps the party going. The miracle is we are found, known, loved and transformed by God. Then we are sent to bring healing, new life and hope to a starving, broken world. That’s how God works – through us. We are as Presiding Bishop Curry says part of the Jesus Movement, and the cause of God’s love in this world can never stop and will never be defeated.
Remember in John’s preface from a few weeks ago, he says, “from his fullness we have received grace upon grace?” Now we know why John says that. There’s a party going on. And the closer we draw to God, the more we radiate grace upon grace to the world. That’s how I believe it works. God hasn’t stopped showing up. We may go missing though. God will love us in spite of ourselves. So lift a glass of God’s abundance, grace, the miracle of love disguised as the best, most abundant wine at a wedding party. Now I could never get away with saying that in a Baptist church.