There is the story of Johnny Carson, the host of The Tonight Show speaking to an eight year old boy. The young man had rescued two friends in a coal mine in West Virginia. As Johnny spoke with the boy, it was clear that boy was a Christian. So Carson asked, if he attended Sunday school. When the boy said yes. He asked "What are you learning in Sunday school?" "Last week," came his reply, "our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine." The audience roared with laughter but Carson tried to keep a straight face. Then he said, "And what did you learn from that story?" The boy shifted a bit- it was clear that he hadn't thought about this. But then his face lite up and he replied, "If you're going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus!"
To the modern hearer, it might be a bit puzzling to hear that Jesus’ first public act in John’s Gospel Is turning water into win-now I know you might say—hey by Episcopal standards that this is an exceptional miracle. But really water into wine?- In the Gospel of Mark--Jesus’ first public act is an exorcism, in Matthew it is the Sermon on the Mount; in Luke it is a sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth on the sabbath.
So what is John's is trying to tell us about Jesus and his ministry in this first story?
Let’s look and see:
Jesus’s family is invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee and he and his disciples tag along. As we look into this story we see a little bit of comedic tension between a mother and her son. Reminding us though Jesus is God, he is still a son. Mary is a demanding mother has faith in the abilities of her son. So much so she goads Jesus to take care of a problem. A problem that would have been a shameful experience for the family of the bridegroom.
So what does Jesus do—he directs that six stone water jars which were to be used “for the Jewish rites of purification” to be filled with water. The water in those jars would have been used for making people ritually clean to participate in the community celebration. This is important because in the Gospel of John, there is a running debate between Jesus and the religious authority. Where as the Authorities adopt of posture of following the rules that allowed some to be in and others to be out. Jesus offers a grace that welcomes all. By changing this water into wine, Jesus makes a symbolic statement that foretells Jesus’s ministry. Because really Jesus could have gotten water from any where else to may wine from but he chose the Jars of purification and repurposed them for grace. The jars could not be used for ritual purification any longer. In other words no would have to jump through hoops to be made clean or worthy to join the party.
John calls this miracle the first of many signsthat reveals the glory of God in Jesus. In the Gospel there are 6 other signs that reveal who Jesus is. The signs could be miracles but they didn’t have to be. For John the signs confirmed belief, encouraged faith, transformed individuals. For John it is not the miracle that was important- for you see once the wine is gone- it doesn’t really matter how good it tasted but what is significant is that the sign helped the people to discern that there is something special going on- God is doing something and especially with Jesus. The sign of the changing of water into wine at Cana- lead those disciples who on the fence about Jesus to be confirmed in their faith! It lead them to a deeper commitment to God through Jesus.
For you see in the Gospel of John, those who could recognize the signs were people who could spiritually see and understand the power of God as opposed to those whocould not see the signs and who were spiritually lost.
Signs are important for us in our world as well . We see a stop sign and we do what? We stop of course! We see the flashing lights of a police car we immediately recognize the sign and slow down or pull over- and pray we don’t get a ticket.
In church there are signs that are brimming with great symbolism, Baptism is one: when a child- or an adult and the baptized it is a powerful sign, we call it a sacrament an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The sign tells us something about holiness of the act and the holiness of the promise being made.
Sometimes there are signs that are not so positive, this past week in the news we encountered a sign in our Anglican Church. A sign that revealed a deep division within our Anglican church, as we wrestle with hard issues of who is welcomed and included by God in our church. I am speaking of course of the recent sanctioning of the Episcopal Church by Anglican Primates.
The sanction recommends that, the Episcopal Church, for a period of three years, “no longer represent the Anglican Church on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, and should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committeeand they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
The sanctions were imposed in response to our churches decision at General Convention last June to change canonical language that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman (Resolution A036) and authorize two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples (Resolution A054).
But even though there is a call for sanctions the Primates called for an unanimous desire to walk together in the grace and love of Jesus Christ.
What we might understand from this sign is that there is still a lot of work to do to reconcile differing perspectives in our Anglican Church.
But in the midst of the great work that has to be done. Our presiding Bishop Michael Curry and our Diocesan Bishop Nick reminds us, that Jesus calls us to be House of prayer welcoming all people. We are church firmly and courageously hold to the understanding that whether you are gay or straight, black, white, latino, Asian, young or old, conservative or liberal the Episcopal Church is your church! And that our church is part of movement that began with the first miracle in Cana of Galilee. A Jesus movement- a movement of justice, it is a movement that acknowledges that God loves us- all of us.
I am proud our church, I have faith in our church – because it is a church that welcomes all with the grace of God!
Because friends Jesus has been invited to our party- and his isour community. And by God’s grace we will by the g walk and pray with those who do not share our point of view. And by our walk we will fulfill our vocation to welcome all to Jesus. And we will be a community that isvisible sign of God’s inward Grace! So that all may learn and believe!