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08.09.15 The Bible’s Restart Button John 2:1-11 Sermon Summary

by on August 11, 2015

You would think changing water into wine was a miracle. It isn’t. Faithful Christians do it every day.

Note: members of my congregation looking for some comments about Mary will find them after the questions for discussion and reflection.

Summary Points

  • Signs in the Gospel of John (and our lives)
  • Why God judges us
  • What God’s judgment looks like
  • The extent of God’s judgment
  • The purpose of God’s judgment
  • God’s judgment and Jesus’ first sign
  • Questions for Discussion and Reflection

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ “signs” are supposed to lead to belief. John doesn’t call them miracles, because they are rather more like messages. These signs are not meant to evoke amazement as much as cause us to ask, “What does this mean?” John tips us off about this with the first few words of this passage, “On the third day.” It is actually the fifth day as John narrates the story. Clearly we’re to listen for the what the sign means about the day of resurrection, not the third day of the gospel.

To fully understand what Jesus’ first “sign” means, we have to understand God’s judgment. The prophecy of Hosea is about God’s judgment of an unfaithful people. Hosea assumes we know the Creation stories well: the Creation of the world and of humanity in Genesis 1-2; and how in Genesis 3 sin enters the world followed by God’s judgment of humanity and all creation.

In Hosea’s words, ancient Israel “did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished upon her silver and gold.” They are being judged because they have forgotten that everything we need for life (grain, wine, oil), and all the extras (silver and gold), come from God. When we forget this, and act like these are things we’ve earned ourselves, it evokes judgment. (By the way, this attitude is the “deadly sin” of Pride.)

What does God’s judgement looks like? In Hosea’s vision, ancient Israel, depicted as an unfaithful spouse, “shall pursue other lovers but not overtake them; she shall seek them but not find them.” Judgment feels like God frustrating our pursuits or robbing us of satisfaction. Psalm 127:1 reminds us that, “Unless the LORD build the house, those who build it labor in vain.” In this version of God’s judgment, we either do not achieve our goals, or when we do, we are not satisfied. One important insight from Hosea is that judgment is not an “afterlife” event; it is right now.

In another insight, Hosea reminds us that judgment occurs because of our actions, but it includes all of creation. Recall that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, but the ground was also cursed. So in Hosea God says in his judgment, “I will lay waste her vines and her figs—the wild animals shall devour them.” We’re not talking about God sending hurricanes into immoral cities. It’s more like the events impacting Colorado’s Animas River in August of 2015. In part, this passage about God’s judgment calls us to better environmental stewardship.

But finally, Hosea, like all the prophets, wants us to know that God’s judgment isn’t the end. “I will now persuade her,” God says, “and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” God’s judgment has a purpose, but it isn’t punishment, or is it meant to appease a wrathful God. Instead, the point of judgment is reconciliation with a loving God, and the restoration of all creation. “I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground,” God says, just as in the original Creation. And it includes reconciliation of all people: “I will abolish the bow, the sword, (the semi-automatic guns, the nuclear submarines), and war from the land.”

What does this have to do with Jesus’ first sign of turning water into wine? Throughout the Scriptures, deliverance, redemption, restoration, and salvation are depicted as the blessings of new wine. The best example comes from the prophet Amos, who like Hosea, has many judgment oracles. In Amos 9:13-14 the prophet writes, “The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.”

In John’s Gospel story, Jesus’ “hour has not yet come.” But by the time we, John’s audience, receive the story, the hour (Jesus death and resurrection, see John 13:1) has come. Now is the time—we live in the “third day.” It is important to remember that wine is the co-labor-ation of Creator and Human. It is the “fruit of the vine and the work of human hands” as one prayer puts it. In other words, through the symbol of wine God is calling us to participate in the new creation with Jesus Christ, confident that because of his presence in this work, the wine will never run out.

God’s mighty act of Creation is followed by an even mightier act of New Creation. This means that throughout our lives we are turning water into wine. Through our increasing conformity to Christ, our increasing sanctification, our baptismal waters of purification, like those six jugs for Jewish rites, are changed to the Eucharistic wine of the wedding feast.

The message of Hosea, Amos, and John is this: Don’t lose hope! Filling 180 gallons takes a long time. And while Jesus may be able to turn water to wine in an instant, when he’s working with us it takes longer. It takes a whole life—your whole life. The Scots’ Confession assures us that though we may not experience the fruit of communion at the time we receive communion, it is nonetheless assured by the faithfulness of God’s Spirit (see the Book of Confessions, 3.21).

The Presbyterian hymn writer Maltie Babcock used the image of Hosea’s prophecy to remind us that, “Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.” God’s New Creation in Jesus Christ reconciles sinful Creation with God’s original design and desire. God isn’t satisfied until all earthly creation is reconciled with its heavenly creator, and this includes us. Jesus who died won’t be satisfied until you and God are one.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • How would your thinking about “miracles” in the Bible change if instead of feeling like you had to be “amazed” you asked yourself, “What is the message behind this sign?”
  • Does it make a difference to you that God’s judgment is not a punishment or expression of divine anger, but rather a means of reconciliation with God’s love?
  • Knowing that God’s judgment of your action includes everything around you (creation and relationships), how might God be calling you to modify your behavior?
  • Realizing we live in the “third day,” how is God calling you to co-labor-ate with him in this New Creation?

Postscript on Mary

Some people are intrigued by John’s portrayal of the relationship between Jesus and his mother. She is not named in this story, referred to only as “the mother of Jesus.” And when he addresses her, Jesus refers to her only as “Woman.” And furthermore, he seems to rebuff her insinuation that he should do something about the fact that the wine has run out: “What concern is that to you, or to me?” Doesn’t Mary deserve better treatment?

I think it’s interesting that John tells us first that the mother of Jesus was at the wedding, and only after this says, “Jesus and his disciples were also invited.” It seems the important guest is Mary, almost as if Jesus wouldn’t be there if Mary hadn’t been invited. Mary is also the one who exercises faith in Jesus before anyone else. Even after he refuses to do anything, she tells the servants to do whatever he tells them. Only after the sign do the disciples believe in him; Mary does from the beginning.

On the other hand, John is telling us that Jesus is not subject to anyone’s agenda, not even his mother’s. His “hour” is determined not by a human’s need, but by divine will. John makes this point throughout his gospel (see 7:30, 8:20, 12:27). This is also, perhaps, one reason Jesus addresses his mother as “Woman,” as if to remind her and us that she, like we are, is merely a human.

Later in the Gospel, as Jesus is dying on the Cross, he again addresses his mother as “Woman,” when he entrusts her care to the beloved disciple (19:27). Many commentators have seen in this strange exchange an insight into the relationship between the church and the gospel. A long and venerable tradition sees Mary as a symbol for the church, and the beloved disciple as the author of the Gospel of John. By entrusting the one who gives birth to the Body of Christ (Mary, the Church) to the household of the gospel writer (the beloved disciple), Jesus is reminding all his disciples that his Word—even he himself (see John 1:1, 14)—has priority over their needs and desires as the church.

Practically speaking, then, Jesus’ relationship with his mother in the Gospel of John is a call to us to surrender our own agendas to that of Jesus, to trust God for the timing that conforms to his will, and to exercise faith as the church bears witness to “do whatever Jesus tells us.”

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