Isaiah 62:1-5 – The fortunes of Zion will be restored. The land will be married to God, who will rejoice over Zion like a bridegroom rejoices over a bride.
Psalm 36:5-10 – Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 – There are varieties of gifts, but on Spirit. Nine gifts mentioned.
John 2:1-11 – Jesus turns water into wine, the first of his “signs” in John’s gospel.
The week of Prayer for Christian unity began in 1908, running between the feasts of St. Peter (January 18) and St. Paul (January 25). This octave was conceived by Father Paul Wattson, founder of the Graymoor Franciscan Friars, according to Wikipedia. During this week, Christians from around the world gather to pray for Christian unity, remembering Jesus’ prayer,
“that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” John 17:21
The 6th Annual Houston Ecumenical Prayer Service will take place on Thursday, January 24, at ChristChurch Presbyterian in Bellaire, 5001 Bellaire Boulevard 77401
6:15 – Gathering with a light meal
7:00 – Prayer Service
Pastors and deacons, I ask you:
- Plan on coming
- Bring a group of lay people from your congregation
- Publicize the event as widely as you can in your congregation and community
I’m going to focus on John’s story of the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ first miracle, but first a word about our 1 Corinthians 12 text. Here it is:
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
When Paul writes to a “church” in Corinth or any other place, consider this: He is writing to a synod (diocese, district, conference). He is writing not to one congregation, but to a network of house churches.
He wants to make sure they are not ignorant (ἀγνοεῖν, agnoein). You see the word “gnosis” there, knowledge. He doesn’t want them to be unknowing, or without knowledge. With gnosticism flourishing, this will strike a chord with his listeners.
His word is about unity in diversity. Yes, we as individuals and house churches, may have different gifts, but that doesn’t mean we lose our unity, because the same God gave them all, for the common good. The purpose of our spiritual gifts is for the common good. Sometimes I feel we have lost a sense of the common good in modern society.
These gifts are given by the one or the same Spirit. Paul makes this point several times, notice the numerous references:
- 4 “same Spirit”
- 5 “same Lord”
- 6 “same God”
- 9 “same Spirit”
- 9 “one Spirit”
- 11 “one and the same Spirit”
Notice also the subtle Trinitarian overtones in vv. 4-5:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;
and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God…
He then lists nine gifts:
- Working of miracles
- Discernment of spirits
- Interpretation of tongues
It strikes me how very different worship in the early church must have been, compared to a formal Western liturgy. After the Edict of Milan legalized Christianity, and a few years later Constantine made it the official religion of the Roman Empire, worshipping communities went from small charismatic house churches, to large basilicas with worship modeled after the Roman courts. Prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues and the like reveal a worshipping community that looks more like a Pentecostal prayer group engaged in ecstatic prayer, than a formal Euro-Lutheran liturgy.
The Lutheran churches I have visited in Africa, where Christianity is growing, tend to be less formal. While not Pentecostal as such, there is a higher value on prayer and healing. When Bishop Golicke visited us, and worshipped at our Tri-Theological Conference, I asked him how worship compared to worship in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic. He was reluctant, but after I pressed, he gently said, “We might be a bit more… enthusiastic.” His successor, Bishop Samuel Ndanga-Toue said our worship, “felt Catholic.” He seemed genuinely surprised. He didn’t mean it as a critique of Catholics as much as a statement about worship style.
Paul’s point seems not to be about worship style, however. He’s not pushing tongues. In fact, he will, in other places, encourage the churches to tone it down, so as to not freak out the unchurched visitors. Indeed, on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, observers were so convinced that the Christians were intoxicated, Peter had to begin his sermon with the words, “These people are not drunk…” I’ve never had to begin a sermon like that. We may not wish to embrace the whole of Pentecostalism, but we could probably use a bit more enthusiasm in our worship, to use Bishop Golicke’s term.
And I’ll point out that not all the gifts Paul mentions are these Pentecostalish gifts. He mentions wisdom. There are some wise people in our communities. There are people with knowledge. We have people who know a lot. We need them. We have people that are very discerning.
Paul would encourage us not to see our differences in gifts, between churches, or between individuals, as church-dividing. The Spirit gives different gifts, for the common good, but it is the same Spirit that animates them all. This is perhaps an important lesson to remember in January as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity comes around, and we find ourselves praying with Christians from other traditions.
Water to Wine
John is the only gospel writer who conveys this story about Jesus at the Cana wedding. This Sunday is the only time this story appears in the Revised Common Lectionary, Epiphany 2C. We will not read it again until 2022.
John’s gospel can be divided roughly into four parts:
- Chapter 1 – Introduction
- Chapters 2-12 – The Book of Signs
- Chapters 13-20 – The Book of Exaltation
- Chapter 21 – Epilogue
This story is the first of seven signs or miracles that take place in the first half of John’s gospel. The signs occur in the second part, chapters 2–12. The seven signs are:
- Changing water into wine in John 2:1-11
- Healing the royal official’s son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54
- Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-18
- Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14
- Jesus’ walk on water in John 6:16-24
- Healing the blind at birth in John 9:1-7
- Raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45
Cana is mentioned only three times in the Bible, all three of them in John’s gospel. We don’t actually know where it is. There are three candidates in Israel (Kafr Kanna, Kenet-al-Jalil and Ain Kana) and one more traditional candidate in Lebanon (Qana).
St. Augustine (Tractate VIII) points out that God turns water into wine every year. Rain water grow grapes which eventually ferment into wine. It is so commonplace we have lost our amazement. This miracle reminds us of the everyday miracles of life. Later, in Tractate IX he says the six jars of water represent six fruitless ages without prophecy, the inter-testamental period, until Christ came.
Like Augustine, Luther sees allegory in the text, as usual. “Galilee signifies…” he says. The six stone jars of water signify six days of labor before the sabbath. They also are of stone, Luther says, like Moses’ stone tablets of the law. The gospel renders the law delightful. The drawing of the wine and passing it to the guests signifies the preaching of the gospel.
In one of his 1525 postil sermons (sermons for the entire church year that Luther wrote to be preached by pastors) Luther uses John 2 to preach a sermon on marriage. He says Jesus’ presence at the wedding indicates his high regard for marriage. He also says the miracle indicates Christ is ready to supply any need arising in marriage, even turning a distasteful marriage into a joyful one. Furthermore, this text shows Christ approves of lavish receptions:
Here too Christ indicates that he is not displeased with a marriage feast, nor with the things belonging to a wedding such as adornments, cheerfulness, eating and drinking, according to the usage and custom of the country; which appear to be superfluous and needless expense and a worldly matter; only so far as these things are used in moderation and in keeping with a marriage. For the bride and groom must be adorned; so also the guests must eat and drink to be cheerful. And such dining and doing may all be done in good conscience; for the Scriptures occasionally report the like, even the Gospel lessons mentioning bridal adornment, the wedding garment, guests and feastings at weddings. Thus Abraham’s servant in Genesis 24:53 presents ornaments of gold and silver to Rebecca, the bride of Isaac, and to her brothers; so that in these things no one need pay attention to the sour-visaged hypocrites and self-constituted saints who are pleased with nothing but what they themselves do and teach, and will not suffer a maid to wear a wreath or to adorn herself at all.
The phrase, “sour-visaged hypocrites and self-constituted saints” makes me smile. Self-appointed saints are not in short supply these days. Luther goes on to critique gluttony as well, but his heart in this has already been made clear.
In any case, a sermon on marriage, on a Sunday morning, not during a wedding, might be a refreshing and helpful thing.
There is much allegory built into the stories of John’s gospel:
- In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again. Nicodemus asks how someone can be born again from his mother’s womb, but Jesus is speaking of a spiritual rebirth.
- In John 4 Jesus asks the woman at the well for water, and after some conversation, offers her water that will quench her thirst forever. She replies, “You don’t even have something with which to draw water.” Jesus, however, is speaking about quenching a spiritual thirst.
- Later in John, Jesus heals a blind man, and talks about the Pharisees being blind. The Pharisees balk, but Jesus is speaking of a spiritual blindness.
If this is the pattern in John — Jesus moving from the ordinary physical things to extraordinary spiritual things — then what are we to make of this sign (the first of seven) in John 2? Perhaps this first sign lays out the pattern for us. Water represents the physical and wine represents the spiritual. In John 3 Jesus will say, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (John 3:5-6) Is water the physical and wine the Spirit?
Jesus turns that which is ordinary into something extraordinary.
I find it interesting that the water that is used is in the large stone jars used for the rites of purification. Purification laws came from the Levitical codes. Washing was required for a hundred maladies and after a number of everyday events (see Lev. 14-17, Num. 19, et al). Could this also be Jesus turning the law into gospel? Could it be Jesus changing the waters of the law into wine with spirit and life? There are some interesting theological overtones here. The law does not pass away. Jesus does not get rid of the water; he simply transforms it into something more. It would not be unlike the writer of John’s gospel to be making a point several layers deep: Jesus has come to transform the religion of his day, based on laws and rituals, into something with some Spirit, some… Life, to use one of John’s favorite words.
In an age of metaphysical dualism, with Gnosticism in the air, John offers us a vision of transformation:
Water > Wine
Physical > Spiritual
Flesh > Spirit
Law > Gospel
Ordinary > Extraordinary
Commonplace > Sacred
Meaningless > Meaningful
Survival > Life!
I can’t help but think of the dualism in Prayer of St. Francis:
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow > love
Where there is injury > pardon
Where there is doubt > faith
Where there is despair > hope
Where there is darkness> light
And where there is sadness > joy
O divine master grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
to be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
Could water to wine be the Spirit of Christ transforming
hatred to love
injury to pardon
doubt to faith
despair to hope
darkness to light
sadness to joy
This first of Jesus’ miracles reveals his “glory,” John says, but I think Jesus’ glory is much more than a few magic tricks. These “signs” have much deeper meaning. The real trick for Jesus, and for us, is the transformation of lives. In this sermon I might like to explore how faith transforms life from a drab going through the motions into something with purpose, joy, meaning, Life! It might be interesting to distinguish religion based on the law from religion based on faith: trusting God’s promises.
In John 10:10, Jesus says,
I have come that you might have Life, and have it abundantly.
Psalm 104:15 says that wine,
Wine gladdens the human heart.
How has Christ gladdened your heart? How has Christ brought joy and a sense of purpose to your life?
In every congregation I have served there have been those who would say they would not be alive today if it wasn’t for Christ, faith and the church. What if we allowed them to tell their story? In every congregation I have served there have been those who could speak eloquently of how faith in Christ had transformed their life, saved their marriage, impacted their career choice. FIND THOSE STORIES AND TELL THEM. Let these folks speak for themselves during a Temple Talk, or write their story for others to read. Collect these stories and create a Lenten devotional book, or email them out each day in Lent. Let the people to carry the good news, and share how Christ has turned water into wine in their lives.
The preacher may also consider telling the congregation’s story. How has the wine of the gospel transformed the life of your congregation? How has it transformed the community around you?
One final possibility is a stewardship sermon. We often approach life and ministry with a scarcity mentality. Jesus approaches this and other situations, like the feeding of the 5000, with an abundance mentality. Life is not a zero-sum game. God provides enough of the basics, and maybe even enough of the goodies, like wine, so that we can be a blessing to others.