Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Sign of Transformation

A Sermon preached on Sunday January 17th, Epiphany II at St. Augustine’s, Wiesbaden

Isaiah 62:1-5, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

What can you remember about your wedding? Mine and Heidi’s was over 26 years ago, but when I think back, I can still remember a lot of details. We got married in the village church where my parents lived, a lovely little Saxon church with some less lovely Victorian additions. I remember the guests having to wait a long time for dinner because the photographer took us all over the gardens of Alton Towers where we celebrated to take his pictures! I remember the joy and the fun of the occasion, the dancing.  But I do wish I’d had Jesus as a guest at my wedding. It would have saved me a lot of money in drinks! 

The story of a wedding at Cana in Galilee is the setting for the first miracle, John calls them signs, in his Gospel. And the story is unique to John. In the other gospels we only find Jesus using weddings as a backdrop for his parables: the kingdom of heaven is compared to a wedding feast – one to which if you remember many of the invited guests would not come - so the king and bridegroom had his servants go out into “the highways, and gather together as many as they found, both bad and good until the wedding was filled with guests.” (Matthew 22:10) Clearly that was not the problem in Cana though, or they would not have been running out of wine!

As a Church we use this story in our marriage service, in the opening address: “Our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.”[1] And marriage as a metaphor for the union of God and humankind runs throughout the Bible, not just the New Testament as we heard in the passage from Isaiah earlier. God is described as the bridegroom joined in union to God’s people Israel and “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5)

But I don’t think that is why John places the wedding at Cana here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry – and yet it must be important because it’s the first public event in John’s narrative. It is a miracle of transformation of course. Water is transformed into wine, into very good wine. But that is not the only transformation taking place. What could have been a disastrous event is transformed into a joyous one, a shortage is transformed into abundance and most important of all, it is the beginning of the transformation of disciples. Jesus “revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11) Miracles are called signs in John’s Gospel because he uses each carefully selected event from Jesus’ life to show us not just what Jesus says and does, but what Jesus means
The first sign in Can of Galilee shows us that Jesus means life, joy, abundance, and transformation.  Remember that the passage began with the words “On the third day.” Important things happen in the Bible on the third day — most notably Jesus’ resurrection. We are already looking forward to his transformation and to the new and renewed life we are promised as a result. 

Isaiah also describes a transformation – one that the Jews who had returned from exile to Jerusalem could and must still look forward to. The reality of their life among the ruins was not so rosy … in fact it reminds me of the words of the former East German national anthem: Auferstanden aus Ruinen und der Zukunft zugewandt  or in English “Newly risen from the ruins and turning to the future.” Isaiah is describing this transformed future – a complete change of fortune for Israel that still awaits them. And a change of name will be a sign of the change of fortune:
“You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 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.” (Isaiah 62:2, 4)

We talked about the significance of name changes at our Bible study this week. When do people change their names? One example given was of witness protection, which is when people are forced to take on a new identity, in their case just to survive. Once a marriage always meant a name change – but for the woman only. Artists change their names – at least as a stage name for that often very separate identity. And in the Bible God often gives people a new name when they take on a new role or identity, and when they have been changed by the encounter with him. Abram becomes Abraham; Sarai, Sarah; Jacob, Israel; Simon, Peter – the Rock ….  

At the wedding in Cana the disciples start to get to know Jesus. So far they have followed him either because John the Baptist told them to. John exclaimed “look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” (John 1:36-37) or because they have been called by Jesus himself. But they don’t yet really know why. This first sign, and more follow of course, is meant to help them see both his power and his promise and to be transformed by that experience. 

The various spiritual gifts Paul describes in his Letter to the Corinthians, which while many and abundant are still only a small selection of the gifts God has for us, have no value in themselves unless they are also outward signs of an inward transformation. And that inward transformation has only truly begun, Paul writes, when people use those gifts to proclaim Good News, and when those gifts are used exclusively for the common good. Then they are also the means by which we can live the life that Jesus promises for us to the full:  “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” he says, later in John’s Gospel. (John 10:10)

I know that YouTube is full of videos of wedding disasters, sometimes because there is too much wine available, even without a miracle. But on the whole a wedding is a time of celebration and of joy; of community and of visible love; of living not just for ourselves, but for others. These are all elements of living a full or abundant life. These are all reasons why John sets the beginning of the disciples’ transformation, the first followers of Jesus, in the context of a wedding feast. The disciples – and all who follow Jesus today – are to be transformed into people who can live a full, abundant, joyous, loving life and share this life with others too! 

The disciples’ transformation began at a feast through their personal encounter with God in Jesus. This is also what we offer here at the Lord’s Table every week. The Eucharist is a feast, a symbolic one, and the Eucharist is the place for a real, personal, physical encounter with Jesus in the bread and wine transformed by God’s Spirit and made Holy. And here at this Table God’s Spirit will transform you too, and empower you to reveal his glory, to bring Jesus’ message of joy and abundance into the world, and to invite all the world to share in the feast that is God’s kingdom.

[1] BCP 423

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