Sermon from January 16: Joy Is in the House

Joy Is in the House
Epiphany II; January 16, 2022
John 2:1-11

Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one; and don’t spoil it by telling the punchline to the person next to you. The police officer pulled over a car that was being driven erratically and was surprised to see the driver wearing a clerical collar. Then the officer recognized the driver; it was the Pastor of the local Lutheran Church. As she looked in his window, she noticed a wine bottle in the beverage holder; it had been uncorked and stoppered. The officer said, “Pastor, have you been drinking?” He said that the bottle contained water; she asked if she could sniff it and said, “It smells like wine to me.” The Pastor replied, “Good Lord; he’s done it again!”

I have a lot of questions about this story. Whose wedding was it? Why were Mary and Jesus and his disciples there? Why didn’t the groom and the headwaiter plan better to make sure there was enough wine? Why did Mary think that the lack of wine was a problem Jesus should do something about? But John isn’t interested in those questions and so there are no answers to them. The important question – What does this tell us about Jesus? – John answers thoroughly. So settle in and hear what I think this story tells us about Jesus.

Did you notice how much wine we’re talking about? There were six stone jars there, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. We’re talking 120 to 180 gallons of wine. I don’t know how many guests there were at the wedding, but that’s still a lot of wine. Remember the story of the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-14)? From five loaves of bread and two fish Jesus fed 5,000 people with twelve baskets of leftovers. What does this tell us about Jesus? That he does things in a big way. A hallmark of the presence of Jesus is abundance or, if you like, extravagance. Jesus doesn’t simply makes wine; he makes a lot of wine. Where Jesus goes, there is plenty and to spare.

During the pandemic a lot of churches have stopped doing things they had been doing. I remember one pastor lamenting that no one would volunteer to make their annual July 4 celebration happen. The pastor saw that as a sign of the scarcity of people willing to do anything. But another colleague changed the question; he asked, “Is it that? Or is the issue that this is something your Church doesn’t need to be doing anymore?” If wine were unimportant, Jesus would not have bothered with it. They needed wine at the wedding. And so Jesus made sure they had it and that they had it in abundance. If we think our resources are scarce, perhaps the real issue is that we’re misdirecting them; Jesus provides in abundance.

What else do you notice about the wine? It’s good wine, the best wine at the party. The headwaiter scolds the groom: Why did you save the good wine for later? Now here’s a bit of fun. Those who think there’s something wrong with wine claim that this was really grape juice or raisin paste. They can’t imagine Jesus drinking wine, much less providing it for a party. And so you’re left with this ridiculous statement from the headwaiter: “Everyone serves the good raisin paste first, and then the inferior raisin paste after the guests have become drunk.” Have you ever seen anyone drunk on raisin paste? Neither have I. Don’t mess with the Bible. It was wine. Jesus made water into wine, and Jesus used wine for the first communion.

When Jesus does something, he does it well. He makes good wine. Likewise, when he heals, he heals people completely: not simply making them walk or cleansing their skin, but forgiving their sins. He heals hearts and spirits. I find in my own life it can be rather slow, but the goodness of Jesus does overcome the works of the devil. In this respect, at least, you can see the presence of God in Jesus. The work of God is surely good. Sunrise and sunset are to be expected daily, but do they need to be so beautiful? Or do they witness to the goodness of God? We need nourishment, but eating is such a tremendous pleasure. What God does is not only necessary but good and so we can see God at work when Jesus provides wine and it turns out to be the best wine at the party.

The last line provides the clues to take us to the heart of this story’s purpose: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs…and revealed his glory.” Two things: John never calls this a “miracle;” he calls it a “sign.” A sign tells you something and often directs you to something else. This sign tells us that Jesus is the source of abundance and goodness, yes, but it also points to his glory. In the Gospel of John, when Jesus speaks of his glory, he is talking about his death and resurrection. He says, for example, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23) and begins to speak of his death and resurrection. Maybe that’s why Jesus didn’t want to do this yet; he told his mother that his hour had not yet come (2:4). True; the hour to be glorified had not yet come, but the hour to do a sign that will point to his glory had come. I gather that Mary knew that.

The glory of Jesus is to take the sin of the world to the Cross and to be raised from the dead for the world’s new life. The prophets Joel and Amos both gave this sign of the coming of the Age of God: “The mountains shall drip sweet wine” (Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13). When Jesus made the water jars overflow with wine he showed the world that the Age of God was upon them. The Age of God does not come when the government in Washington or in Lincoln enacts legislation that conforms to our political agenda. The age of God does not come when entropy overtakes the cosmos and it all comes to an end. The old age of sin came to an end when Jesus died on Golgotha; the new age of God came over the world as the sun rose on that first Easter morning. The age of God is here whenever and wherever Jesus is present, providing wine in abundance, good wine for all the guests of God.

To me personally that all adds up to joy. Is it a mere side issue that all this happened at a wedding, one of the most joyful occasions in human life? Is it a relevant issue that the water came from a source intended for a legal ritual and became the wine of celebration? Perhaps not, but I cling to that detail, because if I know anything about Jesus I know that where he goes there is joy. So let us eat and drink in the joy of the Lord, for the Lord Jesus is in this house. His presence is our abundance. His presence is our goodness. His presence is the glory of the Age of God.

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska