John uses signs instead of miracles in his gospel. These signs have two purposes. One is to help us believe that Jesus is the Son of God. The other is so that we may have eternal, abundant life. John intends for us to read and analyze the signs, to discuss them, to dig for their deeper meaning and hopefully to become followers of Jesus, obedient to his teaching as the servants are in the gospel story we just heard. We should be on the lookout for references to the Hebrew Scriptures throughout John’s gospel.
Let’s just walk through a couple of those references:
This event happens at the end of the first week of Jesus' public ministry. On the first day we see John baptizing in the Jordan River. On the second day, Jesus is baptized, on the third day two of John’s disciples begin to follow Jesus. One of those disciples is Andrew who tells his brother Simon about Jesus. Simon comes to meet Jesus and is given the name Peter. On the fourth day, Jesus meets and calls Philip and Nathanael. Three days after that, the seventh day, Jesus is at a wedding celebration with his mother and disciples. On the seventh day creation was complete. It is a day for celebration and worship. When we read “on the third day,” if we had memorized the Torah, we would think about God being revealed on Mt. Sinai.
The Lord said to Moses: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their garments and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” (Exodus 19:10-11)
Jesus’ glory is about to be revealed.
The scene of Jesus’ revelation is a wedding banquet. If we are familiar with the words of the prophets, a wedding should make us hear the words of Isaiah that Dick read for us this morning.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:4-5)
Is it possible that in this allegory, God is the bridegroom? And the wedding feast between God and Israel has run out of wine? There are six jars for purification, a symbol of the purity laws, but even they are not full as Jesus tells the servants to fill them with water. There is no wine, no joy, and the law is running dry.
Prodded by his mother, Jesus tells the servants to fill the purification jars with water. The water becomes 150-180 gallons of good wine. That is a lot of wine! An overabundance of wine! The steward, the one who serves the bridegroom, has no idea where the wine came from. Wes Howard-Brook suggests that the steward represents the religious leaders who have let the wine and the water run out. Religion has become a set of rules and duties with no joy or celebration. These religious leaders will remain clueless about the source of Jesus’ connection to God and Jesus’ power to spread joy. And the overabundant wine? That should call to mind God’s eternal banquet’s “overflowing, reconciling joy” as found in the prophet Amos:
The time is surely coming, says the Lord,
when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. (Amos 9:13-14)
So how shall we read this sign of Jesus turning water into wine? What does it have to say to the church and to those of us who follow Jesus? I believe we are being asked to evaluate the joy and delight within our rituals and other practices. Is our faith and devotion merely a duty? Or is it a source of delight in our lives. Do we laugh and dance and play as God’s beloved children or do we trudge through our faith? Are we grumblers who are sticklers for the rules? Are there too many “shoulds” in our faith and not enough pleasure? Are we too serious to sing and laugh and dance and play? Would anyone see you being a Christian and want what you’ve got? Does your face say “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart?” or “I’m behaving and you should too.”
Our rituals should shout abundance and joy. Our baptismal font should be large and full. You have a beautiful font. It stands at the entrance to the sanctuary so that you can touch the water and remember your baptism. I remember looking for the font in one of the churches I served in an internship. I finally found it in a cupboard in an office. It was the size of a candy dish and tarnished. Baptisms should have lots of water and oil and candles—and joy! Last week we had a lot of water! And oil and candles when we baptized Tom Olson in Puget Sound. I will never forget the joy on Tom’s face! Our symbols should be as abundant as the grace they represent.
There is always more bread on the communion table than we can use. I would give you a great big chunk of bread and let you take it back to your seat and enjoy eating it. You know that you don’t have to eat the whole piece in one bite, right? The bread and wine symbolize God’s abundant grace and God’s delight in you and me. We are loved and cherished and sung over with joy. Our heritage is delight.
So hear this prayer from pastor and poet, Steve Garnaas-Holmes. Feel the delight in God’s love. Feel free to pray with your eyes and your heart open.
O extravagant God,
thou gourmet chef of audacious feasts,
creator of unnecessary beauty
and wonder that transcends all usefulness,
you have poured out the water of this life
and turned it into wine,
and all of life becomes a wedding celebration,
a feast of gratitude
for faithful love.
O God of overwonderful grace,
you always save the best for now.
Like sailors in love and awe of the sea,
like wedding revelers whose best friend
has found the love of his life,
let us raise the cup
of blood-red grace and pass it around,
let us reel with the songs of your mighty acts,
stumbling from this world into the next.
O God who surpasses,
whose love exceeds, whose glory overflows,
take the water of my life
and turn it into your wine,
your transformative drink.
Serve me to your people,
whelmed with grace,
until they stagger, singing
out into the light.
-- Steve Garnaas-Holmes