Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sermon: Epiphany 2 - 2011

16 January 2011 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.

There were actually two miracles at Cana on that great day of our blessed Lord’s first sign. The most spectacular of the two, the one often depicted in artwork, the one that has given us a figure of speech, is when our Lord turns water into wine. And although this is the most spectacular, “the first of His signs” that “Jesus did at Cana in Galilee” is actually the lesser miracle. The greater miracle is tucked away at the end of the reading: “And His disciples believed in Him.”

Belief, that is, faith, is the greater miracle. In fact, one could say that faith is the greatest miracle – for in faith, we sinful, flawed, and by our fallen nature unclean creatures actually believe God and cling to His promises that bring us forgiveness, life, and salvation.

“And His disciples believed in Him.”

Think about how great this miracle is, dear brothers and sisters! For had they not “believed in Him,” they would have remained in their sins, hopeless and helpless, bereaved of the new life and bereft of salvation. Without this miracle of faith, all the water-become-wine in the world would have been meaningless. But with faith, the promise of the Word given in water is received and appropriated; with faith, the New Testament in the Lord’s blood given in wine is imbibed and made one’s own. For water being turned into wine is a sign done by God who reveals His might to us in power, but faith is a sign done by God and given to us by grace! To be sure, our Lord’s miracle of turning water into wine is also an act of compassion, but in the end, what saves the disciples of Jesus – including all of us disciples here – is not the fact that Jesus turned water into wine, but rather that we “believe in Him.”

Think of how easy it would have been for the disciples to disbelieve. They could have assumed Jesus was orchestrating a trick or putting on a show. They could have chalked it up to a prank by the wine steward or the groomsmen playing a little joke on the groom. Or they might have assumed the servants were in error, and now covering up their mistake. Or that they misheard the conversation. But no, they do not go there. They don’t put their brains into overdrive seeking a logical explanation to a mystery that cannot be explained.

Rather, “his disciples believed in Him.”

“Now faith,” says the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” For rational creatures to have faith in anyone or anything is, and always has been, a wonder. And especially in our own day in which science and technology, mathematics and computer algorithms rule the day – it is a miracle that anyone has any faith at all.

Moreover, we look around with our eyes and we see destruction, brokenness, sickness, sadness, suffering, persecution, the proliferation of evil, intolerance of God’s Word and against the Church, good called evil and evil called good, and even basic matters of human biology being remade into a theater of the absurd.

We see the rich oppressing the poor, and the poor taking advantage of the rich. We see intergenerational strife as children ignore parents and parents do not listen to children. We see racial and ethnic strife – even to the point of genocide. But worst of all, we see and we experience the darkness of our own hearts, our own sinful hearts, our own hearts that do not deserve to beat even one more time if God were to judge us as we deserve.

And in the midst of this, we “believe in Him.”

The prophet Isaiah speaks of a land in ruins and laid waste, with the people seemingly left to their own devices to repair, rebuild, and restore it. But the people have something that changes everything; they have a promise: “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 in the days of old.” “The mountains shall drip sweet wine…. I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them…. Says the Lord your God.”

With the eyes and according to reason, one sees a hopeless mess of ruin. But according to the eyes of faith, we see a remnant of people who “believed in Him.”

And when we look at ourselves, we hardly see the beautiful image of St. Paul’s ideal of the Church: genuine love, the abhorrence of evil, holding fast to the good, brotherly affection, showing honor, zeal, fervency, and service. It is truly impossible according to our reason and senses to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation” and “be constant in prayer” on this side of the grave.

And yet, in spite of it all, we “believe in Him.”

And this belief, this miraculous faith, is not simply understanding doctrine or memorizing the catechism – as good and helpful as those things truly are. For when it comes to the kind of so-called belief that is only comprised of bloodless facts and heartless formulas, untempered by compassion and unseasoned by love, “even demons believe – and shudder!”

The disciples of Jesus do not merely believe in what they can see and hear, nor even in what they are taught and have studied – but rather they believe “in Him.”

“In Him” dear brothers and sisters! Their belief is not in themselves, in their grasp of doctrine, in their feelings, nor in anything other than Christ!

For as remarkable as the water turning into wine truly was and is, even as John gives this miracle the venerable title of the first sign, that miracle pales in comparison to a sinner turning into a saint, of confession, of repentance, of conversion, of believing in Christ as Lord, as Savior, as Redeemer, and as God in the flesh. And yet that miracle happens every day as the baptismal waters lead people to the wine of the Lord’s blood, and as the brackish water of unbelief is changed into the sweet wine of faith.

Jesus keeps “the good wine until now,” for now is the day of salvation. Now is the day of our repentance. Now is the day of our forgiveness and new life.

“And His disciples believed in Him” – now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

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