Sermon: It’s a Miracle!
Year C, Epiphany 2
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11;John 2:1-11
Offered January 20, 2019 to Congregational Church of Hollis, Hollis, NH
Rev. Catherine A. Merrill
I’m at the grocery and the woman ahead of me says, “I’m in such a rush and there was a space right out front. It’s a miracle!” I think but do not say, “It’s statistics and maybe a little queuing theory!” Or when my friend says “I got the ink stain out of my shirt. It’s a miracle!” I want to say “The nice people at Procter and Gamble have spent millions to make that not be a miracle.” Or at Weight Watchers, when the person ahead of me steps off the scale and says “It’s a miracle.” “Come back next week, sweetheart. Evolution has had millennia to work on the calories in/calories out thing. You’re not going to win long term.”
So here we are, apparently living in the land of daily miracles, and yet we hit a story in the Bible like today’s Wedding at Cana, with its water into wine, we get a little uncomfortable, shift in our seats and ask ourselves, “Did that really happen? Like, literally?” When I read what biblical scholars write about many of the miracle passages, quite often there are wonderful interpretations that allow me to steer around the Miracle Question. In today’s passage, they point out that abundant wine is a sign of the arrival of God’s kingdom or that the goodness of the wine really points to the Eucharist.
But here’s the thing. Later, John’s Gospel tells the story of the woman taken in adultery(John 7:53-8:11), Jesus says whoever is without sin should cast the first stone. Later still, John also tells the story on the night before his arrest, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, even the one who will betray him, even the ones who will abandon him in the depths of his suffering on the Cross.(John 13:1-11)
I can’t help it. Using self-reflection to get a violent mob to back down and disperse? Using a gesture of humility to seal a community together hours before it should tear itself apart? Those are miracles to me. Having someone add a layer of interpretation or symbolism in those stories separates me from the pain and the power and the point of having those stories in the Gospel in the first place. So how do we become as open to the Miracle stories as we are to other stories where the miracles are a little better disguised?
John is a great place to start. He’s open to miracles and he’s open to symbolism and he doesn’t hide one in the other. John starts out “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”(John 1:1-2) If John had wanted shepherds and angels and magi, he would have had them. He clearly felt that to understand where Jesus came from, one needed to see the depth and subtlety and all the possibilities that the beautiful opening passage evokes.
John also builds his gospel around the miracles. John has miracles, like today’s Wedding at Cana, that don’t appear in the other gospels. He also has miracles that do appear, but he puts them in a different order. Because John’s miracles get bigger as they go along. Today’s water into wine is the first miracle, it’s an entry level miracle. You can get it at Walmart, withsome assembly required.
So John is a great place to get rid of that creepy feeling we 21stcentury people get around miracles. We have John, who loves language, who will never use one word when fourteen will do, who dives into imagery when it gets closer to the truth than statement of facts. So if we’re not supposed to take it literally, he won’t give it to us literally. And we have Jesus, who takes miracles dead seriously, so the pain and the power will be there to challenge us if we let them.
In today’s reading, Mary and Jesus are at a wedding in the Galilee where Jesus grew up. It must have been a huge party, so no wonder they ran out of wine. In that society, the quality of your hospitality spoke volumes about the quality of your character. You did not want to run out of wine. Mary wants Jesus to save the poor groom the shame and humiliation that would literally last for the rest of his life. Jesus’ public ministry had not begun and it appears that Jesus wasn’t sure it was supposed to start then. But he has the stone jars filled with water, and the contents taken to the chief steward to taste.
John, the evangelist who loves to use the $40 word, says “the water that had become wine.” There’s no symbolism here, there’s no hiding that what had started as water had become wine. Miracle plain and simple. Boom. Right there. If you want to doubt it, the chief steward says it’s good wine, the kind most hosts would serve to sober guests.
So we can squirm, but there’s a miracle right in front of us. And we’re dying to know, how did Jesus do it? I know you can go on the internet and find all the biblical miracles explained in some kind of crazy, pseudo-scientific way. But the explanations I’ve read don’t sound like they’d make “good wine”; they sound like they’d make drain cleaner.
Jesus does tell us how he did it. A little later on, Jesus says that the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing.(John 5:19). And what is it that Jesus sees? In this case, God, the Creator of the world, has set up every vineyard to turn water into wine, everywhere on the planet, every year through eternity. All Jesus claims in his miracles is a smaller location and a speeded up time table. Jesus’ miracles allow us to see the miracles God is working on a huge scale and at an unnoticeably slow pace.
What Jesus sees is that we, standard issue humans, are God’s miracle workers. We tend the vines and grow the wheat and protect the streams. So when it is time for the wedding, or to feed 5,000 on a moment’s notice, there are 180 gallons of wine and loaves of bread that have sprung from a handful of seed and fish that have been able to reproduce in their scores and hundreds. Biblical miracles allow us to see the miracles God has built into the world, like our scientific curiosity that has us on the edge of eliminating tuberculosis world-wide, like we did with small pox. Biblical miracles open us to become miracle workers when we allow our lives to become the local, speeded up versions of the changes that are happening on stately scales.
John’s gospel begins with the miracle of water into wine and ends with the miracle of the Resurrection. Even in this most magnificent miracle, Jesus is still doing locally and more quickly what God has promised to all of us in the fullness of time. When we really understand the Biblical miracles we can stop squirming, stop wasting time on parking and laundry miracles. We can start living into the literal reality of those painful challenges, when we live into the power that God has given us to find the point in our lives as the workers of daily miracles.