Do what he says


The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 17, 2016
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls

Just down the hill from Nazareth lies the town of Cana, perched on the descent that leads toward the Sea of Galilee.

As our bus moved through the center of town, it was not hard to imagine how things might have looked 2000 years ago when Jesus and his mother were busy with the epic wedding party recorded in today’s gospel.

I have had the great fortune of presiding over several weddings throughout my decade of priesthood, but never yet have I had the opportunity to attend a reception that went on for days!

Perhaps this is one of the casualties of busier contemporary life, but most receptions are lucky to last into the waning hours of a Saturday evening.

Not so in Cana of Galilee!

When today’s scene opens up, the party has been going on for three days already.

Just imagine how “happy” everyone must have been up to that point…filled with rich foods and strong drink…having the conversations that only come about after things start to loosen up…pausing briefly just to sleep and begin again the following morning.

If you can imagine that, you can also imagine how “sad” they must have been when the wine ran out.

End of the party people! Time to go back home and get back to normal life!

Except in this case, Jesus happens to be at the party, and his momma is not quite ready for the party to end.

I love this exchange between the two of them because it is so very human.

It is easy for me to imagine the unspoken language that passes between mother and son as the words are spoken, and the glances that get exchanged.

These wonderful moments of humanity stand in stark contrast to the divine miracle that happens later.

The wedding guests do whatever Jesus tells them” and that involves filling massive 30 gallon stone vessels with water and then witnessing Jesus turn that water into wine to keep the party going.

It’s the first time in John’s gospel that people get a glimpse of something greater going on in Jesus.

We heard about how Mary, Joseph and the magi saw something special in the just born Jesus in the Gospel of Luke last week.

What are we to make of this miracle in John, 2000 years removed from it, living in a world in which our scientific sensibilities make us dubious of accounts of material reality being manipulated?

The first question I ask when engaging scripture is this: What is God trying to communicate here?

In the case of the miracle at the wedding of Cana, it has a lot to do with the promises of the past being fulfilled through Jesus…but not always in the ways anticipated or expected.

Israel’s historic connection to vines, vineyards, and grapes is a strong one.

When Joseph was in prison in Egypt, it was a dream about vines, grapes and restoration that he interpreted for Pharoah’s cup bearer, which led to his fame with Pharaoh and rise to power.

Many of the markers of the promised land… after all the years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness were abundant water, vines and their fruit.

Deuteronomy 8 reads, “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.”

Isaiah prophesies hopefully about Zion saying, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”

And later in John, Jesus will go so far as to call himself “the vine” making the connection between the promises of the past and their present fulfillment even stronger.

There are further echoes in the passage that that connect to the overall message of John and the processes of nature that are worth mentioning.

The wedding has been going three days and seems over… much like the three days of Jesus’ trial crucifixion and burial.

Both bread and wine go through a process of fermentation… a sort of decay and death, in order to become the new, wonderful, and lifegiving things they are.

Such newness recalls Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus in the night, and conversations about being “born again or from above” strongly connect to those natural processes.

And the wine that arises as a result of the miracle is not just any wine, but the best wine like “well aged wines strained clear”… which suggests that Jesus is not just aware of the prophecies from before, but is making them reality in the here and now.

It’s a rich passage, and if we see it in the context of the larger biblical narrative, it can inspire us to look deeper into the scriptural witness for even further connections.

But in this moment, what does this miracle of turning water into wine have to do with those of us gathered in this church?

There is something that will always remain mysterious to us about the miracle itself… how water gathered together in stone jars can become a whole other substance.

In all honesty, I don’t really get into the mechanics of it, nor do I find it fruitful to spend much time basing my faith on knowing how Jesus accomplished such a thing.

What intrigues me is that Jesus’ miracle is accomplished through the collaboration of other normal humans like you and me.

They fill the jars.

They draw some out and give it to the steward.

And somehow in the faithfulness of listening to what Jesus tells them to do, the miracle happens.

So much of what we do on this earth in the name of God is about listening faithfully with the ears and the heart of faith, and then responding so that God’s will might be done through us.

This week a vestry member sent me a picture of a statue of Jesus without hands that had the accompanying inscription, “Christ has no longer any hands but yours to do his work in the world.”

We are God’s instruments, and we are called to hear the voice of Jesus and act accordingly.

We are the servants of the Lord who draw out what God makes good in order to share it and keep the party going into the days to come.

We are also filled vessels awaiting transformation by the word of God.

These past few days, the Anglican world has been responding to the communiqué from the Primates meeting, and one of the central questions that has been discussed is what it means to listen to Jesus and respond faithfully.

It’s an in house discussion…much like the communication between Mary and Jesus at the wedding…complete with glances, nods and unspoken language that is not always apparent to those on the outside.

Who is hearing and responding to the voice of Christ?

Is the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the church representative of God’s kingdom ushered in by Jesus, or is preventing that inclusion what it means to listen to Jesus and “do what he says?”

There are no easy answers, although if the wedding of Cana is any indication, God’s bias is for staying together and keeping the party going.

It means having those conversations while sharing the best of wines…the wine that is served at God’s table in communion every week… and it means listening very closely to each other and to what Jesus is saying now.

That is what the church is called to do and be in this very moment.

To listen.

To act.

To help Jesus keep the wine of reconciliation and forgiveness flowing, while staying at the party together… in the Anglican Communion, in this week of prayer of Christian unity, and as the world that God created, redeemed, and loves.

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