[Picture: The Wedding at Cana, by Denis Calvaert, Public domain]
Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the second Sunday after Epiphany, 1/19/2020. The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the second Sunday after Epiphany, click here.
By now you have heard it a hundred times: the current year is 2020. And it has become popular, even trite, to remind people of this. Most often, the reminder comes when someone wants to make a point about ethics or morality. The fact that it’s the current year is sufficient reason to do away with every year before it; because the fact that it is the current year means that the world is different than it once was.
To some degree we must admit this is true. We are sitting in a room full of forced heat, and we will return to homes with electricity and comforts far beyond that of ancient kings – all because it is the current year.
But for all the world’s advances, current year after current year, we still can’t seem to solve our biggest problems. Electricity, comfort, and forced air notwithstanding – they do little to alleviate the great tragedies in our lives: sickness, hunger, death, divorce, and failures of every sort don’t get better because it is 2020.
The life and ministry of Jesus show that He has come to heal the whole world, and even that He will at last put an end to all of these great miseries.
When Jesus heals the sick, when He feeds the hungry, when He raises the dead, when He goes to a wedding, when Jesus does all these things, we see and know: they are a picture of the full life He has won for us on the cross, and what He will deliver fully and finally in the resurrection.
Because all of that is so wonderful, it could make what Jesus does this morning seem a bit trivial. But this, St. John writes, was the first of Jesus’ signs, by which He manifested His glory. (verse 11)
Why? Why should Jesus reveal Himself in this way? Compared to everything else Jesus does, this is a parlor trick. What is so glorious about it? Didn’t Pharaoh’s magicians do more impressive things when contending with Moses and Aaron? What is revealed at the wedding in Cana?
As it turns out, the world of then is not so different from the world of now. People still got married. People still had parties. People still had limited resources and drinking problems.
That last part is not completely clear in the translation you heard just now. But the people are absolutely drunk. It is likely that the bridegroom bought plenty of wine to make for a respectable feast. It would have been more than enough for a party of pious wedding guests, but it was not enough for this crowd. They have taken a good, God-given gift, and used it to harm themselves. Like marriage, and children, and wealth, they have taken God’s good gift and abused it.
What we would expect in this situation is a rebuke. What we would expect is for Jesus to begin His ministry like His cousin, John the Baptist. What we would expect is Jesus flipping over a table and casting out the drunks.
Mary, who knew Jesus rather well, doesn’t know what to expect. Maybe He’ll miraculously make them sober; and in that moment, fully reveal Himself in the presence of His new disciples. Maybe He will flip the table. Maybe He’ll go home.
But Mary cannot control her Son. This becomes clearer with those words by which Jesus begins to distance Himself from her:
Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come. verse 4
Though she has been treasuring up Gabriel’s and Simeon’s words in her heart for 30 years, she has no idea what He will do. But she does trust Him. She does have faith in Him. That’s why she tells the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”
What Jesus then reveals in this sign is that He is not moved chiefly by justice, but by mercy. Justice would have looked like a rebuke, or a flipped table, or worse: by Jesus just going home. But He is not here to reveal God’s Justice, which is already known. Jesus comes today to reveal God’s abundant and overflowing mercy.
He is not John the Baptist come to scold drunkards. He’s come to pour out His Holy Spirit to those who never asked for Him and don’t deserve Him. He loves those who hate Him and promises life even those who killed Him.
By attending and blessing this wedding, Jesus also shows us that He loves holy marriage, He delights in that institution which He created in a world without sin. By joining one man and one woman He makes one flesh. And this is a blessing not only to them, but to the whole world.
It is a good and glorious thing, worthy of the best wine and celebration, not only for the good it is in itself, but because it is a picture of Jesus’ union with His Church. (Ephesians 5)
Likewise, Jesus does not only delight in marriage, but in the fruit of marriage. Like so much wine, this also is a gift we have wasted and abused or kept silent while others do.
We have stood by while women are lied to and crippled. We have stayed quiet while children are murdered in their mother’s wombs. This is a disaster of the highest order anytime and anywhere, but it afflicts with staggering and disproportionate frequency the minorities we claim to love.
Yet we have remained quiet, as if in a drunken stupor, because “Do(ing) whatever He tells you” will earn a rebuke from the world or from your boss. When we are tempted to do whatever He tells us, we simply remember that we live in Boston, and it is the current year.
And we would ask for justice? Repent, and pray for mercy instead. For we know today that Jesus’ compassion is greater than His justice.
He gives us what is good. He gives wine to drunks whose taste buds are numb. He loves abortionists, along with the babies they killed, and their mothers who knew not what they were doing. He wants to forgive, to be merciful, He would shower us with wine we do not deserve, cannot appreciate, and will almost certainly abuse.
His Spirit intercedes for us so that even when we stand before Him and grunt and complain or hide what we want, or even when we don’t know what we want, when we’ve been lied to and misled, when we’ve acted out of cowardice; even then He hears the Spirit on our behalf.
Doing whatever He tells you does not mean doling out justice. Vengeance is not ours. Vengeance is His; but so are mercy and forgiveness.
He has compassion on murderers and mothers, fathers and elected officials, for the timid and the greedy who keep silent for fear of the opinions of others. He is not John the Baptist come to rebuke drunks. He is Jesus, come to save, and gives good wine to drunks.
And so, the Lord begins His ministry with a gift of extravagant waste. He pours out gifts on the undeserving and negligent. He gives His Holy Spirit abundantly and suffers His rejection. He bleeds and dies for those who will scoff at Him, despise Him, and refuse His benefits. That is what is revealed in Cana.
We don’t ask for anything now because we think we deserve it. We don’t. We don’t deserve for God to heal our land, but we ask that in mercy He would. We have no right to be called His people, and to be forgiven, but He has declared us to be so.
By God’s grace, you are His disciples, who believe in Him. The wedding feast is open to you. Come. Eat, and drink: Christ’s own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins and life everlasting; every good thing, won for you on the cross and awaiting you in the resurrection – brought to you now, today, in the current year.