Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
When I first came out of seminary, I was called to a large, suburban parish with a brand-new, gorgeous, acoustically brilliant worship space. The stained glass in this place is stunning and, as it is called St. Mary’s, all of the stain glass surrounding the worship space contain images of the Virgin Mary, telling her story through Jesus’ story. I would often go in there, early in the morning, and pray. Many times, my prayers would focus on a particular stained-glass story. The one I think I frequented more than any other, was the one that told the story of the wedding feast at Cana. There was simply something about that moment when the water, being poured into jars - in that stained-glass rendering of the scene – began to change over the wine that captivated me. I would stand there, all alone, in this big space, bearing witness to that little transformation; that tiny miracle of Jesus.
Jesus’ first sign in John’s Gospel, first miracle, wasn’t feeding 5 thousand people, calming the stormy sea, or even casting out a demon from a possessed man, woman or child. No, his first miracle – for John – comes in the tiny town called Cana, whose location now is uncertain, and turns water into wine. Seems a run-of-the-mill kind of miracle, doesn’t it, by Jesus standards? Small and insignificant, in comparison to raising Lazarus from the dead. But, as we so often see, in Jesus’ life, the real transformations can begin in small and unexpected places, growing into the larger story of who God is calling us to be and/or how God desires to use us as a healer. John’s Gospel does not think it is small at all, as he reveals that God has saved his best for last and, in this small miraculous act that Jesus is even reluctant to engage in, John tells us “… and [this] revealed His glory; and his disciples believed in Him.” When we intervene, act in love or hope, even in the smallest way, God’s glory is revealed and we are shown to be Jesus’ disciples.
I must admit that the wedding at Cana is something I have never once preached on. I usually dig into Corinthians with all its wonderful talk about spiritual gifts; the idea that we are all gifted enough, bright enough, strong enough to be disciples with something to offer in the kingdom of God. See, its hard not to talk about it. But, first, I thought that we could talk about weddings. Weddings are a sacrament of the church even if we, in our modern way of seeing, may refer to them as “sacramental rites.” Weddings are a form of invitation, where we, as priests, declare God’s blessing on what God is already doing in the lives of a couple. Perhaps that is what Jesus was doing, by changing the water into wine? Offering God’s divine blessing on what was already happening in Cana?
And what was happening in Cana? Well, Cana was part of the region of Galilee. And we don’t think about weddings as intervention, do we? But consider this. In Cana, which was in northern Israel, was also the site of many brutal Roman incursions which had happened in the Galilee over the years. Times were hard in Jesus’ day, oppression was rampant, and most people were poor, with no real prospects of being otherwise. Yet people married anyway. Marriage is, or should be, founded on the hope for the future. When we ask God to be a part of our marriage it means that God is part of that hope we associate with marriage. During America’s century’s long era of slavery, for instance, slaves were seldom allowed to formally marry, but they very often did it in secret and mostly on their own. Their desire to find connectivity to each other and God’s presence among them could not be stopped by their oppressors. Marrying, in spite of what the slave owner did to them on a daily basis, was an act of defiance, an act of liberation, a way that God intervened and gave them at least this form of hope.
Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana was probably like any other person there. But he intervened, in a seemingly small way, because that is what the situation required. Maybe the wedding feast at Cana is telling us that we are called to be interventionists, extremists, actors in the lives of others based on, perhaps our gifts, the situation and definitely the call of God on our lives as a continuing, active calling. We are called to act because Jesus has announced His presence in the world. His actions were signs that God has come among us, loves us, and intends to transform the world. His signs, whether turning water into wine or raising the dead tell me that we are called to use our gifts - our skills, bodies, and spirits – in ways great and small, to transform the world that we live in and bring about healing. Whatever our gifts, no matter the situation, if we act on a need in the name of God, with the mindfulness of Jesus, miracles will happen.
I recently reread MLK, Jr.’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. It still resonates. He wrote these words, among many, in April of 1963, the year of my birth: “… So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
Was Jesus an extremist? Yes, but not always in equal measure. Sometimes we are called to give a person what they need in the moment. We share the gift of understanding, listening, or presence. But there are times when we are called to act and intervene in bigger ways: to stand up to injustice, to name racism or hateful rhetoric (when that might be unpopular) and to look at ourselves and name our own sense of privilege or how we are or have been an obstacle in the struggle for freedom and happiness for another.
Jesus changed water into wine. Jesus calmed the stormy water and wind. Jesus came as the transformative sign and presence of God. He changed the way that the disciples and others thought about themselves. And he made it clear that all were to be embraced because all belong to God. And he spoke loudly and articulately about how the transformative love of God was being denied to people on the margins. And sometimes we must find the courage to call people out, in love, when they are denying by action, inaction, or word the full realization of God’s promise for another.
Miracles are hard to come by, we sometimes say. Only God works miracles and we are not God. But we are of God and anytime the hand of God is upon or among us, the miraculous is possible. Miracles always transform the person(s) involved in them – we are never the same when we are touched by the hand of God. Our care and attention can be a miracle in the life of another person. Our willingness to look inward and see how God may be calling us to change can also be transformative; a miracle. Our desire to stand with one another, in the midst of difference, fear, and misunderstanding can surely bring about miracles of the heart and can transform our world. Jesus turned the water into wine. What might His loving hand be trying, maybe against our will, to change us into?