There are so many things we could talk about with this gospel text. We could talk about some missing data: What is the name of Jesus’ mother in John? … The text doesn’t say. Jesus’ mother is here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and at the end, at the cross, and nowhere else in the story.
We could talk about some of the symbolism in the text: the wedding occurs on the third day, and so does the resurrection; wine and vineyards remind us of God referring to the people of Israel as God’s bride; Jesus says he is the vine, we are the branches; and six jugs are an incomplete number – seven is complete.
We could talk about the enormous amount of wine – 6 jars times 30 gallons is 180 gallons or 9880 cups of wine – enough for 960 people to have 3 cups each. So, we could talk about the abundant giving of God.
We could talk about John’s choice of this story as Jesus’ first public act after calling the disciples and doing some teaching and healing. Instead, Matthew starts with the Sermon on the Mount; Mark starts with an exorcism; Luke starts with Jesus’ sermon in a synagogue – our reading for next week.
We could talk about the context and intent of the story. Why, we wonder, did John choose to start this way? What does John want us to get from this story? Since we want to know what Jesus is saying to us, that’s what we should talk about.
Each time we read a story, we get something new out of it; we ask new questions; something new strikes us as interesting or curious. Watching the video, [The Gospel of John, 2003, Visual Bible International] seeing the story played out so beautifully, has shaped the sermon for me.
I’m intrigued by the way Jesus’ mother pushes Jesus into acting when he resists. It’s such a human moment. She tells him there is a problem and he responds, “How is that my problem? We’re guests here.” Then Mary looks at the servant and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” What choice does Jesus have? He can shame his mother, or do what she says!
Mary must have known that he could do something. Did the Holy Spirit whisper to her to nudge him? What was Jesus waiting for? Why was it not yet his time? We wonder about this, but we have no answers. It’s one of the mysteries we don’t need to solve.
I am also intrigued by the last part of this story. Seeing the sign Jesus has done, the disciples believe in him. This is early in Jesus’ ministry, and in his relationship with his disciples. They have seen him do some healing. They have heard him preach in new and exciting ways. But this is something out of this world. This gets their attention!
Through this act of turning water into wine, Jesus gets the attention of the wine steward, the servants who filled all the jars, the bride and groom, and his disciples. A guest praised the host for such fine wine. And the disciples saw and believed.
Which brings us to the “why” of telling the story. Events that Matthew, Mark and Luke call miracles are called “signs” by John. Over and over again the signs Jesus does reveal God’s glory, pointing the way to God as clearly as highway signs tell us how to get to such and such a town or place.
Through these signs, Jesus proves he has access to God’s power. God creates, and Jesus has God’s power to create, in this case he creates wine out of water. God heals, and Jesus has God’s power to heal. God provides, and Jesus has God’s power to provide food for 5,000 people at a time. God has power over life and death, and Jesus has God’s power to raise Lazarus from death.
These signs point to God and demonstrate for us what God is really like. The people who saw these signs came to believe in Jesus. These signs from 2,000 years ago reveal God’s heart to us and give glory to God.
We assume that Jesus is not here now, doing miracles or signs. Occasionally, but more often than we think, there are miraculous cures – cancers that suddenly and inexplicably disappear. We meet people who died, but were resuscitated; they tell us about angels, family, a white light, and a feeling of love. Those are billboard-size signs.
But, does it take a billboard-size sign to point us to God? Aren’t there lots of tiny signs in our lives every day?
For example, Esther was a very large woman who shared this story one day. She was shopping and in the checkout line ahead of her was a frazzled mother and a crying baby. The mother was doing everything she could to quiet the baby, but the baby cried and cried. Esther looked at the mother and asked if she could hold the baby. The mother shrugged and handed over the baby. Esther smiled as she told what happened next. “Babies just love all of this,” she said, patting her ample chest. “They snuggle into all this softness and feel right at home. That baby gave a few more sobs and settled in for a good cuddle. He was almost asleep when I gave him back to his mother.”
There are several little signs here: the baby stopped crying and felt safe with Esther’s lack of tension; the mother gave her baby to a stranger; the mother was white, and Esther was black. The baby was comforted, the mother was relieved, and Esther had a story to tell.
We told stories in class: Betty counted up her cash, hoping there would be enough for her groceries, and setting aside a few items in case she didn’t have enough money for them. When Betty got to the cash register, she discovered that the person in line ahead of her had already paid for all her groceries.
Some more quick examples: Four-way stops abound in our area. How often does someone wave you through, letting you go first? It’s a nice counterpoint to those who slow down and then go even though it’s not their turn.
We see people with a full grocery cart step aside so someone with a loaf of bread can go first.
We have a table full of peanut butter and jelly in the narthex to give to hungry children.
We visit people in care centers and at home and discover our day has been brightened by caring for someone else.
If we watch, we see signs of God’s reign everywhere. This week, I challenge you to watch for signs of God’s power, grace, and glory. Send me an email or give me a call so I can tell them next week when the gospel text is Jesus preaching about giving sight to the blind, freeing the oppressed, and so forth.
Please pray with me. Almighty God, you give us signs of your presence and power and glory and love all the time. Help us to be more aware of them. Amen