Epiphany 2 Sermon, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Generally speaking, what’s inappropriate at a wedding?
If you’re the guest, and if you’re a woman, you don’t wear a long-flowing white dress to someone else’s wedding.
If you’re the guest, and if you’re a man, you don’t propose to your girlfriend as a big surprise to everyone in attendance.
And, male or female, if you’re the guest to a wedding, you don’t walk around advertising your own business.
These are obvious answers to the question “What’s inappropriate?” But we also know the obvious answer to the question “Why is that inappropriate?”
And that’s because those examples take attention away from the bride and groom, those, on that day, to whom attention should especially be rendered. This makes sense to us.
So, it should also make sense to us, what’s appropriate at a wedding?
One man. One woman. That’s the definition of marriage. That’s appropriate. And since the marriage of a man and woman is for the procreation and/or support of children in a family, that makes sense.
But we’ve come to expect more.
Friends of the groom sit on the…right. Right?
Friends of the bride…the left.
You expect something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in your shoe, right? That’s how the saying goes.
You expect a reception. You expect a cake. You expect flowers to be thrown at single women at some point.
And, of course, you expect wine.
In today’s gospel lesson, there was a literal expectation of wine, and there was a big problem—the wine ran out.
If you had to boil down today’s gospel lesson into two complete sentences, they very well could be: Mary tells Jesus the wine ran out. And, Jesus miraculously provides wine.
That’s the plot. But there’s more to it than that.
The problem is clear—the wedding ran out of wine.
The result is clear—Jesus miraculously provides wine.
But the importance of Mary’s request and Jesus’ response can’t be overstated.
“The mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine’” (John 2:3). Mary is a great example of the Christian faith here.
She doesn’t ask for Jesus to give them wine. She doesn’t ask for a miracle. She simply states a need, a fact, and relies on her son and Lord to be merciful.
It doesn’t take great faith to confess that God is all-powerful. It doesn’t take great faith to confess that God is all-knowing or immutable or omnipresent.
Those are qualities of God. But whether they are or not doesn’t keep us up at night.
God’s eternal mercy, that’s what keeps us up.
It takes great faith to confess that God is perfectly merciful towards you.
Practically, we run into this in our prayers.
We pray for very specific things—and that’s good.
But sometimes our very specific prayers aren’t answered in the very specific way we desire. Believe it or not, that’s still good. Jesus says, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).
But it takes great faith to confess that God is still perfectly merciful when He refuses to give you what you want.
When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…” when we pray those words, we’re praying against ourselves, in submission to God, trusting His mercy, as a child trusts his father.
Mary knows who Jesus is, what He can do. She leaves it to Him to accomplish (or not) whatever it is He wants to do.
In His response, when Jesus rebukes her, we’re not surprised that she says, very simply, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).
When Joseph had interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, and Pharaoh had set Joseph over his own house and all his people, “When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. [But] Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do’” (Exodus 41:55).
We’re not surprised by Pharaoh’s faith. We’re not surprised by Mary’s faith. The Lord was with them!
What we are surprised at is Jesus’ rebuke.
And make no mistake about it, it is a rebuke. He says, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).
It’s not that Jesus responds to his mother by saying, “Woman…” That’s not the rebuke. That was an accepted way of addressing someone, by addressing them as Man or Woman.
The rebuke is this: “What does this have to do with me?” (John 2:4), or, literally, “What have I to do with you?”
“The expression is Semitic and occurs often in situations in which failing to mind one’s own business, so to speak, is considered objectionable” (Ridderbos, 105).
More to the point, Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). That’s why He rebukes her.
She knows He’s the Son of God, almighty and merciful.
But it’s not His hour. It’s not His wedding. It’s not His day.
The worst thing you can do at someone else’s wedding is call attention to yourself. And Jesus has just said, two verses before today’s gospel lesson, “’Because I said to you, “I saw you under the fig tree,” do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’” (John 1:50-51).
The very next verse is: “On the third day there was a wedding…” (John 2:1). Jesus promises his disciples that they’ll see great things. Then they go to a wedding, and they want that day to be the Lord’s Day.
But His hour has not yet come.
Notice how Jesus controls who knows what.
“Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now’” (John 2:7-10).
And I’m sure he replied with, “You bet! Thanks! I have no idea what you’re talking about, and you’re welcome.”
Nothing requires us to understand that the bridegroom knew Jesus was responsible for it. The only people who know that Jesus has acted miraculously are Jesus, Mary, the disciples, and the servants. That’s a lot of people, but Jesus controls it so that He doesn’t upstage the bridegroom. The groom, in fact, receives all the public praise.
It’s not a complaint that the master of the feast makes but a compliment. Generally, you serve the good wine until people’ve had enough that they can’t tell the difference. Then, since they can’t tell the difference, you serve the cheap stuff.
We keep this tradition alive in that, generally, there’s a different bottle of wine for the toast than there is for the table.
In the eyes of the guests, the groom is being overly gracious. His feast gets better and better.
The worst thing you can do at someone else’s wedding is call attention to yourself.
And Jesus’ hour had not yet come.
But He’s merciful.
And so, in a way that only Jesus could pull off, He mercifully and miraculously provides wine for the wedding.
And there was much rejoicing.
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11).
There is a connection between the signs Jesus performs, the manifestation of His glory, belief in Jesus, and His hour.
Jesus says, “For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36).
The works that Jesus does legitimize Him as the Son of God.
“And we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The signs tell us who Jesus is. They reveal His glory, that He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29).
And we believe in Him. In fact, John says, “These [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
The signs reveal His glory, and we believe in Him unto everlasting life, because He is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world.
That’s His hour.
In chapter twelve, some Greeks seek Jesus, and Jesus says, “’The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’” (John 12:23-28).
In Jesus’ words, and in His crucifixion, we see the fullness of His glory.
We see that the signs recorded point to Christ, the Son of God.
We see His mercy. That He would go to cross and death for sinners.
We see His hour, His day, and we see that nothing can ever draw our attention away from Christ, the Bridegroom, and what He’s accomplished for us. Our salvation.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
And so we, the Church, the Bride, hold to Jesus Christ, our Lord, the Bridegroom. We believe in Him and are saved.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!