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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.
Nine years ago, I preached my first sermon here at Lake of the Isles, and this morning’s gospel story of the Wedding at Cana was the text appointed for the day. Little did I know then that it would become my most familiar sermon text. Christmas and Easter, after all, happen only once a year. In the pre-pandemic years, it could be a month of weddings.
I love officiating at weddings. Weddings are filled with expectations, hopes and dreams. And why shouldn’t they be? After all, every wedding day is happy. It’s the living afterwards that causes all the problems. Over the years, I have noticed that at the beginning of the wedding ceremony, just about everybody feels they are in charge. The mother of the bride, the wedding planner, the bride and groom, the photographer, the pastor, the videographer- even the 4-year old ring bearer. But when something goes wrong, there’s always someone else to blame.
Whether couples like to hear it or not, even the best intended wedding moments do not always happen as planned. I have experienced just about every miscue and misstep here at Lake of the Isles. There was the young ring bearer who refused to walk down the aisle with the wedding rings, or the flower girl, who poured out all the flower petals at the first pew. I am not sure what was more painful, that, or the flower girl who methodically, and painstakingly, placed 120 flowers petals along each side of the aisle, using up the bride’s entire processional music. Then there were the two mothers of bride and groom and who had a fight just before the service leaving the bride in tears. Yes, things happen at weddings, and as a pastor, all I can promise is that at the end of the day a couple will be married. Although, I did have one bride who was concerned that that was not done properly either. She fainted in front of the altar just before I pronounced the couple, as husband and wife. That’s why this morning’s gospel, the story of Jesus turning water into wine is such good news of hope for couples of all ages getting married, and for every one of facing the uncertainties of life.
2000 years ago in ancient Palestine, the wedding reception didn’t end after the first day when the bride and groom arrived at their new home. For the next week, while they were still dressed in their bridal clothes and with crowns on their heads, the bride and groom would hold an open house. Here they would be treated like a king and queen and for that one glorious week and their word was law. In a land where there was poverty and constant hard work to scrape a living from the soil, this was a week to remember for the rest of their lives. It also was a sign of the future joy and happiness. And wine was its symbol of joy.
By contrast, a shortage of good food and refreshment in the ancient world was socially devastating. To fail to provide enough wine for your guests during a wedding was a mark of humiliation on the entire family. It also dishonored their invited guests. This shameful breach of protocol would forever color the bride and groom’s memory of their wedding celebration and serve as a fateful omen of their future bliss.
Few weddings I have performed, ever teetered on such matters of life and death, like the Wedding in Cana, though families are convinced it was a disaster. No one attending a wedding expects that things will go awry. Frankly, the same is true of marriage. Husbands and wives plan and trust that life will be fair, and that it will unfold as intended. But disasters come just the same, demanding more than our their own strength. It was true at the wedding in Cana. St. John writes, “Suddenly, there was no wine.” Isn’t that exactly how disappointment often enters our lives as well. Suddenly, unexpectedly.
We don’t know why or how Mary noticed the rising disaster coming. Perhaps the servants had begun to pour the pitchers of wine more slowly. Or perhaps Mary was a part of the groom’s extended family and heard the servants. Whatever reason, she felt personally responsible, and so she turned to Jesus. She knew instinctively into whose hands she could place the burden. She wasn’t too clear about what the outcome would be, but she was confident that whatever Jesus would do it would be the right thing. And so she told the servants to do whatever Jesus said.
Yes, quietly and with measured omnipotence, Jesus played the role of the perfect, all-providing host taking charge. Out of water came wine—better than any husband, wife, in-law or wedding planner could have provided. That’s why the chief steward having tasted the water that had become wine, and not knowing where it had come from, called the bridegroom and commended him. “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.
Many people may had seen the large stone jars being filled with water. But it was the servants alone, who had poured every gallon, who were witnesses to the miracle. They heard the lord and obeyed him, “Fill the jars to the brim,” and then, “Draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” And they did it. Their unhesitating obedience is a model for all of us, including brides and grooms, mothers and fathers in law, for all of us in our daily God-given tasks. Like them, we recognize that whenever God uses our meager efforts to help others, miracles can happen.
So my friends, what should we see in this miracle at the wedding in Cana? Is it merely the story of Jesus coming to save the day? Let me offer three convictions drawn from this story.
First, it reminds us that when Jesus enters our lives, even as a guest, he can provide all we need. Please note that God doesn’t promise to provide you with all that you ask for- especially if he knows it can destroy you. But God can and will provide miraculously for needs he knows must be met to empower you to follow him and his purposes.
Second, the story teaches us to believe in the messenger, and not just the message. The purpose of turning water into wine is summarized in the closing verse, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” The goal, you see, was to make people believe in Jesus first and foremost before anything else. When God causes miracles to happen, he doesn’t want us to just believe in the possibility of miracles, signs, and wonders and pray for them. He wants us to believe and trust in him.
Third, whenever Jesus enters into a person’s life he can turn the imperfect into something perfect. It is a deep, spiritual truth especially as one enters into the possibilities of love and marriage. Jesus has the ability to transform ordinary things into extraordinary things. If he can change water into wine, he can change lives that are incomplete into lives that are whole. Yes, in Jesus’ transforming hands he can take broken, sinful lives and strained marriages into healthy, life giving relationships again.
There is perhaps one more lesson that can be drawn from this story. It is the message that I underscore with couples in pre-marriage counseling. Love, marriage and success all demand hard work. It is even true for churches and church members. The founding pastor of Lake of the Isles, the Rev. William Passavant Christy made this comparison in his own sermon on a Sunday after Epiphany in the mid 1950’s. He had first entered the church building in the 1930’s when it had been abandoned and left derelict because of the Great Depression.
Pastor Christy wrote, “God has not ceased to perform miracles. If you had been with me 22 years ago when I first entered this building, you would agree that it was like an empty sepulcher. From basement to tower this church was as lifeless as the Coliseum in Rome. What has happened in these twenty years? I know only one answer to that question. God has worked a miracle here. God has filled an empty stone vessel with good wine.
As in the case of all miracles, men try to explain what happened in other ways. Some would say that this resulted from the magnetic power of a beautiful building in an ideal setting. But these features existed for some years before without results. Others might say it was because church-minded and consecrated people have worked and prayed this church into being. But all such answers add up to an explanation that does not explain. The most God’s servants have done at Lake of the Isles is to fill the pots with water. God spoke the water into wine.” That is what you and I have been called to do, and it is work, to fill the earthen vessels with water that God might perform yet another miracle.
My friends, God is performing miracles every day, but don’t be surprised if you can’t see his mysterious hand. The bride and groom were unaware of the miracle Jesus performed, even the steward was unaware- but the servants knew- and you can only imagine that when they served that finest of wines, that they proudly told everyone where it came from. That is the good news for each one of us this day. With hard work and God’s grace, often even before disaster is upon us, God is bringing hope and love to desperate and broken lives. And with Jesus as a guest into your home and into your lives, you can be assured, 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.