Posted by: Johnold Strey | January 19, 2013

Sermon on John 2:1-11

WHY BOTHER?

 Text: John 2:1-11

Introduction

I have conducted ten weddings in my twelve years of ministry.  In the twelve years prior to that, I was the organist for dozens of weddings—more than I can remember.  All of those wedding experiences have taught me one thing: something always goes wrong at a wedding.  It might be a big deal; usually it’s not a big deal—but something goes wrong at every wedding.  The bride is late and the organist needs to keep playing more music until she shows (yes, that happened to me when I was a wedding organist).  The overzealous photographer crawls on the floor in the front of the church to take candid shots of the wedding party during the sermon (yes, that has happened to me as a pastor!).  It comes time to light the unity candle in the ceremony, but the candle won’t light (and yes, I’ve seen that happen too!).  Try as hard as you can, but if you ask me, I’ll tell you that something is likely to go wrong at a wedding.

The Gospel for today is from John chapter two, the account of a wedding in the Galilean city of Cana where Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were in attendance.  This is a great little story from the start of Jesus’ ministry, a story with a close association to the Epiphany season.  Cana was located about eight or nine miles north of Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth.  Since both Jesus and his mother, Mary, were present, it seems reasonably possible that they were friends of the wedding couple.  And guess what happened?  That’s right: Something went wrong.

I.

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’”  Jewish wedding celebrations typically lasted one week.  And the guests stayed for the whole week.  That meant a week’s worth of an “open bar.”  And that’s what went wrong at this wedding.  The wine supply ran out—and to run out of wine at a first century Jewish wedding was a social faux pas of the first order!

One of the reasons people suggest that Mary and Jesus were friends of this couple is because Mary involved herself in the situation when the problem was discovered.  And to solve the problem, she also tried to involve Jesus.  Who could blame her?  Isn’t that who we’re supposed to turn to when we have problems?  Mary had not forgotten who her son was: the infant for whom angels sang, the little boy to whom the Wise Men had traveled over countless miles to worship, the preteen in the temple in whom the rabbis were astonished to find such divine knowledge.  Whom else should we turn to when we have a problem but Jesus?  Mary did what we often fail to do.  But that’s when the story gets a little complicated.  

II.

 “‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My time has not yet come.’”  Doesn’t that seem a little terse?  Mary did what God’s people are supposed to do.  You have a problem; you go to Jesus!  She went to Jesus, and Jesus said, “Woman, why do you involve me?”  Jesus’ answer probably sounds harsher than it was.  To address a woman with the word “woman” was not uncommon or impolite; it was the same term he used to address his mother when he was crucified, and at that moment Jesus was hardly being impolite.

As for his question, there’s also more to that.  It’s hard to capture Jesus’ words in English, but the idea is this: “What common interest do you and I have here?”  We already know the rest of the story:  Jesus changes the water into wine. Crisis averted; let the party continue!  But if that’s how we viewed the story, Jesus would say the same thing to us that he said to his mother: “What common interest do you and I have here?”  Mary wanted to end a social faux pas.  But Jesus, who had now embarked on his public ministry, was not about to use his divine power to save someone from an uncomfortable social situation; he came to save people from a hellish spiritual situation.  Mary wanted to fix an earthly problem.  Jesus needed to reveal his divine glory.  Mary wanted an answer on her terms.  Jesus needed to reveal his divinity on his terms.

This is a simple story, but it contains a hard lesson for sinful people to learn.  We have a problem.  We turn to Jesus.  We pray that he solves the problem and erases the dilemma.  And sometimes his answer is, “Man, woman, why do you involve me?  What common interest do we have here?”  Just ask St. Paul, author of nearly half of the books in the New Testament.  In one of those books he authored, Paul explained that when he turned to God and prayed that he would remove a major problem in his life, God’s answer was “no” without further explanation.

“God, why don’t you take these problems away?  My paycheck keeps shrinking.  My friends keep turning their backs on me.  My health keeps deteriorating.  My burdens keep growing.  My loneliness keeps tormenting me.”  And when God’s answer to our prayers for an immediate fix is “no,” there is a part of us that says, “Why don’t you care?”  And when Jesus responds, “What common interest do we have here?” we walk away and shake our heads as if God doesn’t “get it,” when in reality, we are the ones who don’t “get it.”  There’s no such thing as a perfect and problem-free wedding, but sometimes our sinful nature thinks that we ought to experience a perfect and problem-free life.  But God never said that his purpose was to make our life cushy and comfortable.  He said that his purpose was to send his son to rescue this hell-bound world from sin and death.  And he said that everything he does in our lives—from the good things we receive to the trials and troubles we endure—is going to play into his purpose of keeping our faith in Jesus alive and well.  But the three-pounds of pinkish-grayish matter between our ears has a hard time absorbing how God is going to do something good for me by saying “no” to me.  And the invisible but real disease of sin in our hearts would rather turn our backs on God and start traveling the wide road to hell rather than trusting the often-repeated truth that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

III.

Mary wanted an answer on her terms.  Jesus needed to reveal his divinity on his terms.  Which begs the question: Why did Jesus bother?  His answer to his mother revealed that his goals and her goals were not on the same page; they weren’t even in the same area code!  So why did he bother?  Why did Jesus go ahead and perform the miracle and save the couple from social embarrassment?  Why did he bother?

Did Jesus really want to save this couple from social embarrassment after all?  Yes, he’s the Son of God, and yes, he has a much bigger purpose to fulfill, but if these are in fact family friends, wouldn’t he want to spare them the years and decades of shame that would have come from being known as the couple that ran out of wine at their wedding?  Wouldn’t it just be better to keep the peace and prevent the negative attention and snap his divine fingers to produce an instant solution?  The thoughts sound good, but it’s hard to make those thoughts stand alongside Jesus’ response to his mother: “What common interest do we have here?”  The Savior of the world may have stopped a social blunder, but he did not come to save us from experiencing social blunders, and any purpose that Jesus has here beyond saving the world from sin would fall far short of his lofty, divine purpose.

Maybe Jesus wanted to start his ministry with a metaphorical “bang.”  Just imagine the positive press and the widespread word-of-mouth that would have come from this miracle.  “Hey, did you hear what happened in Cana?  They ran out of wine at the wedding and all of a sudden Jesus of Nazareth snaps his fingers and all of a sudden there is 150 gallons of the best wine I’ve ever tasted—certainly way better than the ‘Two-buck Chuck’ they were serving before that!”  Can you just imagine the excitement that would be generated?  What a way to start his ministry!  But if Jesus was interested in positive press, he didn’t do much to garner it.  This public miracle was still done with a lot of privacy.  The banquet master didn’t know where the wine had come from.  The groom didn’t seem to know that there had been a problem!  When we page through the rest of the Gospels and see how often Jesus told people to keep quiet about his miracles, we’d have to say that attention and press were nowhere near the top of his priority list.

IV.

So if Jesus is not driven by a desire to spare the couple from embarrassment, and if he is not looking for positive press and free advertising to jumpstart his ministry, what was his motive?  We’re back to the original question: Why bother?  John may have given us the answer in the last verse of our reading, which is a summary statement that puts this miracle into proper perspective.  “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”

Did you catch what John called this incident?  He didn’t call it a “miracle.”  “This, the first of his miraculous signs.”  Actually, the original language of the New Testament doesn’t even have the word “miraculous,” just “signs.”  Think about what that means.  What is the purpose of a sign?  A sign points you to something else.  You’re driving down the road and feeling a little sleepy, so you look for one of those green and white Starbucks logo signs so you can purchase an overpriced caffeinated beverage to keep you awake.  And what happens when you see the sign?  Do you park your car and walk over to the sign to admire it?  Of course not!  You walk into the restaurant.  The sign just told you something else that you were looking for.  You don’t focus on the sign; you walk into the store!

If we just stood gazing at this miracle, “ooing” and “ahhing” at this nifty display of God’s power, we’d miss the point.  We’d be like the person who sees the Starbucks sign and then admires the sign instead of going in the store to buy his venti, whole milk, no water, chai latte.  Jesus didn’t perform this miracle to make us stare at his sign, but to lead us to faith in him as our Savior.  Remember what John said: “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”

In some ways, this miracle was the prototype for all of Jesus’ miracles.  The miracle told you something about Jesus.  It shows you that he has power over creation.  If Jesus has power over creation, then he can do something that only God can do.  And if he can do something only God can do, then we must be dealing with God in human flesh!  That’s what his disciples realized.  “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”  And through the inspired words that have been carefully recorded and transmitted over 2,000 years in the New Testament, you and I see his glory revealed as God, and put our faith in him.

V.

If we look at Jesus’ miracles and think that believing in him means that he’ll provide us with personal favors and the desires of our heart, we’ll miss the point.  Look to Jesus with the same faith that his disciples had in this account, and you will see a very different Jesus, but you will see the Jesus you need more than anything you could ask for or imagine.  Look to the miracle of the Virgin birth and believe that the born child of Mary is also the eternal Son of God who came to be your brother.  Look to the miracle of the wedding at Cana and believe that Jesus put his divine power to use for the heavenly purpose of leading you to faith in him as your Savior.  Look to the miracle of his suffering and death on the cross and believe that the holy, precious blood he shed was shed to wash away your sins and make you precious and holy in the sight of God.  Look to the greatest of his miracles, his resurrection from the dead, and know with faith beyond certainty that Christ has paid for your sin, defeated your death, and opened up eternal life to you and to everyone who believes that he is their Savior.  Look to the promises in his Word, and hear him reassure you that he has forgiven every time you have doubted his love for you or questioned his wisdom in your life.  Remember the waters of the font and revisit the meal in his supper and see again how the same Savior who miraculously brought you to faith and forgave you all your sins still keeps you in faith and forgives you anew each day.  Even when God says “no” or “wait” to your requests, the miracles of Jesus give you certainty that the same God who directed all the affairs of this world to accomplish your salvation 2,000 years ago will also direct the affairs of your life through good time and bad to keep you close to him, leaning on him for help, and looking to him in faith.

Conclusion

There’s no such thing as a perfect, problem-free wedding, and there’s no such thing as a perfect, problem-free life. But with your perfect Savior at your side, you know that every imperfection is covered by his forgiveness, every problem is directed by a divine plan that serves our good, and every page of his Word reveals his glory and leads us to put our faith in him. Amen.

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