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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Children often see love from a different perspective than adults. When a little seven year-old named Leo was asked about love, he answered innocently, “If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don’t want to do it. It takes too long.” When a ten year-old named Mike was asked about what most couples do on a date, he answered, “On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.” When a ten year-old girl named Lynette was asked whether it is better to be single or married, she answered, “It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need somebody to clean up after them!” So I wonder what the children at the wedding in Cana were seeing when Jesus was told by his mother that there was no wine.
According to St. John, only the servants who had hauled the water to fill the jars of purification knew that a miracle had happened. But the secret must have been too great for them to keep, or perhaps too great for the children watching Mary speak to Jesus, for the evangelist writes, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs in Cana and Galilee, and revealed his glory,” and at the end of the day, “his disciples believed in him.”
Five years ago, when I begin my ministry here at Lake of the Isles Lutheran Church, the story of the Wedding at Cana just happened to be the gospel lesson for the day. Somehow, I could have never imagined that this familiar passage would become the most frequent scripture I would preach on- 10 to 15 times a year, mostly at weddings. Of course, young couples expect that I will offer wisdom and practical advice in a wedding sermon. And I try to do that. For my nephew David and his wife Erica, who were married here this past year, I offered this counsel. “David,” I said, “in times of honest reflection, remember, ‘All men make mistakes; married men just find out about them sooner.’ And in times of a heated argument, remember, ‘The most important four words for a successful marriage are: ‘I’ll do the dishes.’ Now for Erica,” I added, “in times of differing views, remember, ‘Marriage is the bond between a person who never remembers anniversaries and another who never forgets them.’ And finally, in the awkward times of marriage, remember, ‘Marrying a man is like buying something you’ve been admiring for a long time in a shop window. You may love it when you get it home, but it doesn’t always go with everything else in the house.”
The story of the Wedding at Cana, however, offers something more than practical advice on love and marriage. It offers a profound sense of hope, for men and women in all walks of life. God is performing miracles every day, great and small bringing hope and love to desperate and broken lives, but don’t be surprised if you can’t see God’s mysterious hand.
The Evangelist St. John writes that Jesus’ first sign took place in the village of Cana about six miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. It was a miracle unlike all others. Generally, when we think about the miracles Jesus performed, they are about a great physical or spiritual need. There is the healing of a broken body, or the curing of leprosy or some disease, or restoring life from death. Even in the miracles of multiplying fish and bread and feeding thousands, there is and physical need. But the miracle at the Wedding of Cana is different- it is about joy.
It was a simple village wedding. No doubt it was an arranged marriage. The bride and groom may have met each other, but they certainly wouldn’t have proposed to one another. In time they would grow to know and love each other, for that moment they needed to accept the care and support of their families, and enjoy their wedding. In a land where there was poverty and constant hard work to scrape a living from the soil, the wedding celebration was a time they would come to remember for the rest of their lives. The dinner was a sign of the future joy and happiness. A successful wedding was also a sign of a successful marriage to come. The slightest incident or misstep would be interpreted by the community as a bad omen.
Wine was an essential part of every celebration. As the ancient Jewish rabbis said, “Without wine there is no joy!” And, so we read, in St. John’s gospel, that suddenly, there was no more wine. Of course, that is how disappointment often enters into all our lives. It is unexpected, and there is no provision that will hinder its coming. We plan and trust that life will be fair, and that it will unfold as intended. But disasters come just the same. Just as it was true at the wedding in Cana, it happens in our lives. Yes, suddenly, there was no wine, and there was no joy.
The reformer Martin Luther speculated that the bride or groom at the wedding may have been a poor relative or neighbor of the Mary and that is why she was playing the role of hostess. It also helps us to understand her urgent plea to Jesus. When the wine failed, Mary knew instinctively who to turn to, and into whose hands she should place that burden. She wasn’t too clear about what the outcome would be, but she was confident enough that whatever Jesus would do it would be the right thing. And so she told the servants to do whatever Jesus said. It is a message for each one of us. In the hour of disappointment, you need to hand things over to Jesus.
St. John writes that there were six stone vessels set aside for the rites of purification. Now, if each of those vessels held between 20 and 30 gallons of water, then Jesus gave the party 180 gallons of wine. I don’t know what Mary imagined Jesus would do, but I am certain that she was surprised by his miracle as well. And yet what else could Jesus do for a lowly, peasant couple? He himself was a poor village carpenter with no fields or vineyards to call his own. He had no money or jewels to offer the bride and groom. Instead, he offered a gift which would illustrate for brides and grooms for all time the assurance one receives when God’s grace comes to those in need. There is not simply an adequate supply, but rather an abundance. Indeed, Jesus’s gift reminds us that there is no human or physical need that can exhaust the amazing and joyful grace of God.
Now you may be wondering: So, why do I think the story of the Wedding at Cana is such an important story worthy of a sermon more than once a year? Why is this story truly good news, and not just a whimsical story?
First of all, the story teaches us that God loves and continuously blesses marriage, families and the home. That is at the heart of the story of the wedding at Cana. He is there as the unseen guest prepared and able to do what needs to be done. God knows that there will be unfulfilled dreams in marriage. There will be moments when couples disappoint each other, but let me assure you, God will not disappoint you. Tragically, people often complain that God is absent when disappointment and disaster enter in. Jesus cannot change your life if you do not let him in. This is my simple counsel for couples preparing for their life together, and it is true for you as well, from the very beginning of your relationship with God welcome Christ as a guest into your home and into your lives.
The story also reminds us of a second truth, that love, especially in marriage, is work. Young couples preparing for marriage often live with romantic myths of love and life. L.A. Peterson writes, “Most people live life and get married believing a myth – that marriage is a beautiful box full of all the things that they have longed for – companionship, sexual fulfillment, intimacy, friendship. The truth is that marriage like life, at the start is an empty box. You must put something in before you can take anything out. People have to work to infuse love into their marriages. A couple must learn the art and form and habit of giving, loving, serving, praising – keeping the box full.” Disappointment occurs when the husband and wife discover that neither has been putting anything in. And you discover that as well, if you take out more than you put in, the box will be empty. Before the moments occur, it is important to remember that you can be like the servants now. You can work by filling the empty jars of life and marriage to the brim.
Whenever Jesus enters into a person’s life he can turn the imperfect perfect. It is a deep, spiritual truth to begin love and marriage. Jesus has the ability to transform ordinary things into extra ordinary things. In his transforming hands he can take broken lives and strained marriages into a healthy, life giving relationships again. But work will be needed.
And that leads to the final truth, with Christ as the unseen guest in love and marriage, and with hard work, the best is yet to come. Without the presence of Jesus in our lives they often become stale, flat and uninteresting. But with Jesus, life becomes colorful, sparkling and exciting. He can transform ordinary love into something wonderful and divine. For if Jesus can turn ordinary water into the finest wine, what can he do with your life which is even more precious in his sight?
My friends, God is performing miracles every day, but don’t be surprised if you can’t see God’s mysterious hand. It may take time, but be assured, even now, God is bringing a message of hope to desperate and broken lives. That is his promise for love, life and marriage. And with Jesus as a regular guest in your home and in your marriage, the best is always yet to come. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.