Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sermon: Epiphany 2

17 January 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 2:1-11 (Amos 9:11-15, Rom 12:6-16)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s hard to imagine the devastation in Haiti, a mere 700 miles from our safe and well-to-do American coastlands. Can you just imagine the house of the President of our country being in ruins, the leaders of nearly all of our industries and churches dead or missing? Can you imagine a disaster that will likely claim more than a hundred times the lives as Hurricane Katrina?

We know what it is like to suffer devastation. But what has happened in poverty-stricken Haiti is of a magnitude that even surpasses our suffering by far. Generations will date the history of Haiti in relation to this earthquake.

The prophet Amos likewise dated his own ministry as beginning two years before the earthquake that the Lord revealed to him that would happen, did happen. This earthquake of 760 BC was so significant that it was still being called to mind by Zechariah centuries later.

And thus Amos also spoke of ruins. He prophesied literally of the devastated City of Jerusalem. But listen to the promise of God regarding these ruins: “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old.”

The prophet relays the Lord’s promise: “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them.”

And notice the sign of this promise: “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it,” and again, “they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine.”

Wine is not simply something to survive on. It is a gift of joy. The Psalmist tells us it gladdens the heart. It always accompanies feasts and celebrations. The Lord is promising to rebuild in spite of devastations and restore in spite of the ruins, not merely promising survival, but offering the glorious sweetness of celebratory wine.

Jesus begins his miraculous ministry among the ruins of our sin-devastated world in a town called Cana. He is there to observe two people make a fresh start as one flesh, as a new entity, in a loving relationship with one another, a union that exists to bring fruit to the wife’s womb and to bring honor to the husband’s name. And wine is a part of the feast.

But the wine “ran out.” The limits of this fallen world were brought to the fore, invading the joy of the banquet and threatening the couple with shame. The Lord Jesus came into our ruins to cover our shame and to remove our reproach. His mother, who was not unfamiliar with marital shame herself, instructs the servants: “Do whatever He tells you.”

And that they did. The result is that the Lord Jesus, the living and breathing “booth of David” who was Himself to be raised up from the ruin of death following the earthquake on the day of His own crucifixion, would on this day, bring the couple a little foretaste of Amos’s fulfilled prophecy. The wedding party was dripping with sweet wine. Jesus restored the fortunes of those whose wedding feast had lain in ruins. The Lord prevented this marital union from beginning on a note of humiliation by mercifully redeeming the day by providing the wine.

And one of the fruits of this wine was faith: “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.”

This wine created faith in those who partook of this miracle, those who were served by the One who would later serve them the wine of His own crucified body.

The Lord Jesus is the epicenter of the greatest humanitarian and rebuilding effort of all, the work of God to take human form, relieve us of the burden of our sins, and to rebuild, renew, and restore our ruined and devastated universe. Even as the changing of the water into wine was a sign, so too are all those who serve their neighbors in Haiti doing Christ’s work, as Luther put it, being “little Christs.” And as Christ Himself put it: “What you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.”

The rebuilding of the Gulf Coast after Katrina and the rebuilding of Haiti after this earthquake ought to serve us as object lessons of the Lord’s merciful mission to recreate the universe that we have all destroyed thanks to the Fall and thanks to all sin’s effect on all creation. This process of making all things new is what Christianity is all about. And the Lord also makes us new, calling us to daily repentance, imploring us to yield the fruits of good works by virtue of our connection as branches to the Vine, and through the wine of His true Blood, in which we are washed and of which we are bidden to drink along with the bread of His true body.

Like good trees bearing good fruits, we are called upon to bear the good fruits of repentance, of helping our neighbor, of spreading the kingdom, and of striving to keep the commandments. This is how it is that St. Paul pleads with us to “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

St. Paul is not giving us a list of hoops to jump through, so that if we do them, God will be impressed with our piety and use those good works to purchase a place in heaven for us at His footstool. No indeed! We are the Lord’s children. We are sons by adoption. We are co-heirs with Christ. We offer of ourselves because He has first given us Himself – at the cross, in His Word, in Holy Absolution, at the Holy Font, and in His Holy Supper.

Rather St. Paul is imploring us to live out this rebuilding, this renewal, this renaissance, with joy, using what God has given to us, to likewise bring it to others in need. The Lord has rebuilt our lives, which has put us in a position to help our neighbors rebuild theirs. By virtue of our own crosses, we are especially in a position to show compassion, empathy, and love to our neighbors. The chalice of joy offered to us by our merciful Father is now ours to share, brimming with the wine that gladdens men’s hearts and brings them relief in suffering. It is the wine of the Lord’s gracious promise, signed and delivered in the wine of His very blood.

“Rejoice in hope,” St. Paul says anew to us, and to the suffering in Haiti, “be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”

And listen to this timely invitation from St. Paul, chosen for us to hear on this day by divine appointment: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” How moving and joyful it was, dear friends, in our time of need, when so many contributed to our needs and showed selfless hospitality to us – kindhearted and generous people, both believers and non-believers alike – who acted in love toward us, who were in dire need.

The Lord, who has forgiven us all our sins, who has literally given us the universe, who loves us, watches over us, who promises us a heavenly home of mountains dripping with wine and blanketed with fruitful gardens, of peace and harmony, of an end to all disasters and an end to all human need – has given us the opportunity to show the same compassion and love that He has first shown us.

Let us partake of the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Let us enter into the eternal fellowship anew in the communion of His body and blood. And let us joyfully share the wine of the Lord’s grace and mercy as a sign, not only to manifest the Lord’s glory and bring others to faith, but also as a sign of the love and mercy shown to us by the one who has saved the good wine until now. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

Theophilus said...

Last Sunday I found my way into a Lutheran Church and was greatly surprised by the sermon. I had come to the conclusion that all Lutheran preachers were literalists. But this one surprised me. He preached on John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana. He began by telling us that this story was a PARABLE. It was not to be interpreted literally. The sign was the sign of Jonah – repentance and new spiritual life through Jesus’ gospel (Luke 11:29-30) – the only signs that Jesus performed.

The six large stone jars represent the Temple tradition, all those priestly rules and regulations which governed their daily lives in the past. They were empty. The people of Cana were no longer observing that tradition.

Furthermore, they were out of wine, God’s covenant word. There were no prophets proclaiming the covenant word of the Lord to them. Their lives were empty of the joy of the kingdom of God. (The preacher said with a smile, “Jesus would never have literally made 6 large jars of wine for a wedding party which was out of wine because they had already drunk freely.) The new wine served that day was Jesus’ gospel of glad tidings.

When Jesus stands before hearers of his gospel, he is the groom and they are his bride. The worship at Cana was a wedding celebration in this sense.

The important thing here is the content of the new wine, the content of the message Jesus spoke to the people of Cana. Jesus could well have said the following to them:

80 years ago, the northern portion of Samaria was re-named Galilee. Everyone knows that you people of Galilee are really Samaritans. The Judeans despise you. They call you Samaritan half-breeds. They refer to you as dogs. They avoid contact with you, because you are unclean.
You are not allowed to worship in the Temple of Jerusalem.

But what I say to you is this. You too, like the Judeans, are descendents of Abraham and therefore the beneficiaries of God’s covenant blessing. God is your merciful Father, and you are his beloved sons. Your heavenly Father has bestowed on you the same dignity and worth that he has showered on the Judeans. Much joy be yours in knowing your new identity as the beloved sons of God. For now you know that the Judeans are not superior to you, and you are not inferior to them.

Now then, it is important for you to live like the beloved sons of your heavenly Father. You too have been called to love your neighbor as yourself, to forgive your enemy from the heart, and to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, including the Judeans who despise you. This new life of righteousness is the eternal life in you already now. Come, follow me along this path of righteousness.

There will be times when you will doubt that you are the beloved sons of God, when walking in righteousness will be very costly. It is then that your heavenly Father’s gracious promises will sustain you in love, peace, joy, and faithfulness. Like the promise given you in the Psalms through King David: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” And again, “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” And again, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. . . . Surely goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life.”

When the people of Cana heard this message of glad tidings, when they drank freely of this new wine, their hearts were filled with joy and celebration.

Today, this same marriage feast is taking place here as you, the b ride of Christ, listen to his good news for you. Yes, the best wine has been left for now. Drink of it, and you will taste its sweetness and be intoxicated with joy.