January 17, 2015
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There is an old story about a young minister asked to hold a grave-side service for a man who had no family or friends. The funeral was to be held at a new cemetery way back in the country, and this man would be the first to be buried there.
The young minister was not familiar with the backwoods area and didn’t have a John McElduff to take him to the graveyard, and soon he became lost. And then there’s that thing about certain individuals that are not fond of stopping to ask for directions. So our young cleric arrived an hour late.
He saw the backhoe and the open grave, but the hearse was nowhere in sight and the digging crew was eating lunch. He apologized to the workers for his tardiness and stepped to the side of the open grave where the vault lid was already in place. Assuring the workers he wouldn’t take long, he invited them to gather around the grave.
They stood silently as the pastor began to pour out his heart and soul, preaching about "looking forward to a brighter tomorrow" and "the glory that is to come," to which the workers replied "Amen," "Praise the Lord," and "Glory!" Being encouraged by the attendees responses, the preacher preached and preached like he had never preached before, all the way from Genesis to Revelations.
He finally closed the lengthy service with a prayer, thanked the men, and walked to his car. As he was opening the door and taking off his coat, one of the workers said to another, "I ain't NEVER seen nothin' like that before, and I've been puttin' in septic tanks for thirty years!"
I was so excited to see this morning’s scripture passage, this one not about a funeral but a wedding. I think it may well be my second favorite passage from the whole Bible, and it’s not because it’s about wine. But it is about Jesus’ first miracle, the first that we know of, and overflows with points and meaning.
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Thank you, Al. First, a couple details. The Greek for Woman does not denote any disrespect. In other cultures of that day, it was certainly a derogatory address. But our modern culture uses the word “man” in the same way, “Man, that was some fine fishing the other day.”
Just about every sentence in this pericope - as they say in seminaries - contains enough depth to warrant it’s own little study. But Scott Hoezee from Calvin Theological Seminary shined a light on a little word near the end of the passage that I know I’ve overlooked every other time I’ve read it. It’s the little word “glory.” “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
We typically think that “glory” is the bright shining presence of God, the white-hot holiness of the divine that is so stunning, even Moses had to be hidden in the cleft of a rock to keep it from frying him to a crisp. We think that “glory” is the power of God that is so raw and so real, the priests who once entered the Holy of Holies did so at great peril (and if anyone else tried casually to enter that place where the glory of God dwelled, they would surely die).
Even on a human level, when we talk about “glory,” we generally mean things that are dramatic, that raise someone up to such a pinnacle of splendor as to elicit the adoration of everyone else. The Hebrew word for “glory” is kabod, and it means something with gravity, something heavy, something weighty in the sense of being momentous.
The Greek word for “glory” is doxa, and it’s the first part of our word “doxology” because when we are in a doxological mood—singing our praises at the top of our lungs perhaps—it is likely because we have been exposed to something stunning, something spectacular, something loaded with heavenly portent and power. (By the way, this micro detail might also give us a hint as to how we would rightfully be singing the Doxology - any time we sing it.)
Generally, glory is big. Glory is bright. Glory is loud. Glory is a multi-sensory extravaganza that you will not miss if you are anywhere in glory’s neighborhood when it happens. But John 2:11 tells us that when Jesus quietly transformed water into wine - to solve a family’s social mishap that saved face in front of their friends - this first revelation of Jesus was no less than his glory. In fact, this glorious manifestation was sufficient as to cause the disciples to put their faith into Jesus.
And get this, this is a plain, ordinary wedding with almost plain, ordinary guests. There were no swirling winds or flashing lights to indicate Jesus’ power or glory, and it wasn’t the public nuptials of royalty or societal greatness. If any of us were walking by that day, there was nothing to indicate that such a miracle was going to take place. In fact, there is no evidence that the wider crowd at this wedding reception ever knew what had happened. Only Mary and the disciples—and the servants who had done Jesus’ bidding—realized what had happened.
Yet glory was revealed, and it was a thing big enough to generate faith in the hearts of the disciples. Somehow, the disciples saw - in that moment - all those soaring prophecies from Isaiah - about the coming of the kingdom and all the good things we enjoy flowing freely and in never-ending abundance. When needs are met—even needs as commonplace as the one in Cana that day—somehow joy follows and that joy is related to the glory of God.
Iranaeus once said that “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” That’s not likely the definition that the priests of old would use, but it certainly gives us cause to think for just a moment. The desire to flourish, to enjoy and take delight in God’s creation even as God did at the dawn of time brings us closer to the heart of God. Likewise, when God’s heart breaks over the spectacle of poverty and need, if we don’t attempt to come alongside God’s heart - the best that we mere humans can - we miss the fullness of God’s glory. Granted, running out of wine for wedding guests who may well have had their fair share to drink already may not seem like the kind of dire want or need that would break God’s heart—and perhaps it wasn’t—but John may be using this as an emblem, a shadow of the real thing. But the point remains the same: where God’s Messiah is, abundance follows.
Jesus, after all, did not make a case of wine but hundreds of gallons - some 2,160 cases of wine. It wasn’t a cheap or watery Boone’s Farm or Ripple but a vintage better than most had ever tasted. This entire story smacks of being “over the top” in so very many senses. There is an extravagance here, almost an element of luxury, that seems to burst the narrow confines of the event at hand. It’s as though someone asked for a bottle of water and Jesus gave him Lake Michigan. It’s as though someone asked for $50 to buy her child a toy and Jesus gave her the entire Toys-R-Us warehouse. At such a small event, Jesus’ actions seem outsized.
Yet the disciples saw the glory. It was the glory of God providing more than is requested, more than can be imagined. It was the glory of God giving access—if even for just a little while—to the abundant fullness with which God established this creation in the beginning.
So we may have to revise our definition of “glory” if John 2 is a revelation of it. But maybe, just maybe, that will mean we’ll see divine glory a lot more often in our lives than we might otherwise think; we’ll begin to see just that much more - how we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
So when the hungry in our cities are fed, the homeless are housed, children without decent shoes get nice new sneakers from a local clothing ministry, when the despairing are comforted by a word of hope, when the sad can dry their tears with the gospel comfort of the resurrection to come: when we see these things happening in our churches and in our communities and in our families, then we are seeing the glory of God as God continues to guide us back to that for which he created us and this whole cosmos to begin with.
So must we pray. Great God of all that is, we thank you for the gift of glory that perhaps more often than not, happens in front of our very faces. Give us the eyes and ears to see and hear the huge amount of glory that lies before us between Bethlehem’s birth and Easter’s resurrection. Help us to reshape our worldview that we see this place of connection and interrelatedness as the very life that flows from you, through us and back to you. Help us to see your greater glory as it is compiled of all the little glories that we may overlook. And thank you, too, for giving us the most glorious, the most over-the-top example of your love, that of your son. It is through him that we live and breathe, and come to know you and your love for us. As all your people say in the glorious name of your son, Jesus Christ, Amen.