Epiphany 2 Sermon, 2019
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
“If these walls could talk…” is an adaptable saying familiar enough that it doesn’t have to be expounded upon.
Whether it’s a place of any historic interest, be it a meeting room, a battlefield, or a flower garden, the saying “If these walls could talk…” implies that there’d be a great story, a great lesson, to be heard and learned.
Well, if the six stone jars could talk, what would they have to say?
The stone jars in John chapter two are identified as being there “for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons” (John 2:6).
These stone jars held the water that was used to purify those sinners looking for forgiveness.
What do you think they heard?
What would they have had to say?
Or, think of it in terms of the Church today—if the altar rail could talk, what would it have to say?
The altar rail is, of course, where you kneel to receive the forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of the Altar, but it is also where penitents come to confess their sins to their pastor, seeking the specific joy of sins forgiven in private absolution.
What have the stone jars witnessed and overheard?
Who’s knelt before this altar? Who should and hasn’t?
Stone jars and a wooden altar rail don’t have your best interests at heart.
They can’t talk, but if they could, they’d speak only reminders of our many sins and failings, the many times we’ve needed the jars for purification and the rail for absolution.
What would people say of you if they knew you went to confession every week or even every month?
“There’s So-and-So, confessing sins. My goodness, you’d think she’d just get ahold of herself.”
And if these walls could talk, or the jars, or the rail, it would chime right in, “You don’t know the half of it…Let me tell you…”
The details may change from age to age, but the story’s the same.
We’re afraid to confess sin, because we’re afraid to speak out loud our most shameful thoughts, words, and deeds.
If I tell you that I go to confession once a month because I desperately need to do so, there’re people who’ll be legitimately shocked.
“There goes Pastor, confessing his sins, again. My goodness, you’d think he’d just get ahold of himself.”
Consider, though, what that sounds like when I say it this way:
“There goes Pastor, receiving and believing the gospel again. My goodness, you’d think once a week is enough for a person.”
Specifically, we’re afraid to go to private confession.
Generally, we’re afraid to deal honestly with our sins, live at peace with each other, and grow and mature in faith and holiness of living.
We’re afraid, because we’re wrong about what Confession is.
If the stone jars could talk, they’d have nothing positive to say.
If the altar rail could talk, it would have nothing positive to say.
And if you fail to consider that the jars are used for purification, that the rail is used as a place to pour out salvation, then you fail to consider what God has to say about things.
Our world is drab and lifeless, in desperate need of joy.
You can grow used to the drab. You can dull your heart to all that the rail would have to say to you. You can worship at another altar, one less prohibitive, one that encourages the blasphemous hedonism of our darkened age. You can find camaraderie amongst addicts. You can find comfort in the fact that Netflix and Hulu will auto-play the next episode. You can buy online and have it shipped to your door. You can make a name for yourself and nothing you propose to do will be impossible to you (cf. Genesis 11).
You can do all this, but you will not find joy.
The wedding at Cana was a dull affair—they ran out of wine.
Steakhouses always have steak. McDonald’s always has a BigMac. And Walmart has “Low Prices. Always.”
Weddings never run out of wine.
So they’re poor or wasteful, that’s the implication.
And Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine” (John 2:3).
Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).
You might think that by Jesus saying, “What does this have to do with me,” He has nothing to do with a wedding running out of wine, but that’s not true.
That Jesus’ hour has not yet come means the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified has not yet come. He means it’s not yet time for Him to ascend the Cross and win humanity from death.
And He’s right—this is just John chapter two, we’re not that far into it yet.
But the two have this in common.
Wine at a wedding provides joy.
Scripture is clear about the joy of wine: God causes the grass and plants to grow, “that [man] may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man” (cf. Psalm 104:14-15).
And the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ, His death for us and for our salvation, is the source and cause of our unending joy.
Mary, knowing for what purpose Jesus came into the world, asked Jesus to bring about a little joy.
Jesus, knowing for what purpose He came into the world, replied that the hour for that joy had not yet come.
Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), because she knew the joy of God.
And not only does the water become wine, it becomes the best wine.
“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).
As often as you can—but especially when confronted with all that is drab and dark in our world—remember the joy of the Lord.
Or, rather, remember that our Lord, in all that He does, brings joy.
To each wedding. To each family. To each day.
It may be the joy of learning not to rely on things.
It may be the hard-earned joy of a good friend instead of the false-but-quick-satisfaction that the Internet bestows.
It may be the joy (and pain) of children, the indescribable joy of raising a family in the one, true faith.
It certainly is the joy of the forgiveness of sins, which we receive, again and again, always needed, always relevant.
Remember to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and…run with endurance the race that is set before [you], looking to Jesus, the [author] and perfecter of [your] faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is [now] seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2).
As Martin Luther wrote in his 1529 Admonition to [Private] Confession: “If you were a Christian, you should be glad to embrace the opportunity of going even a hundred miles or more to discharge the duty [to confess your sins and receive the absolution], and not permit yourself to be compelled, but come and urge us to hear your confession. For here the constraint must be reversed, so that [pastors] are subjected to the command, and you be vested with the liberty; we force no one, but permit ourselves to be urged, even as we are constrained to preach, and to administer the sacraments. When we admonish to confession, therefore, we do nothing else but admonish every one to become a Christian; if I succeed in bringing you to this, I have also brought you to confession. For those who long to be pious Christians, to be free from their sins, and to have [consciences filled with joy], have the right hunger and thirst already” (from the Henkel Book of Concord translation of Luther’s 1529 Brief Admonition to Confession).
Remember the joy of the Lord.
That all our Lord does and says brings joy.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!