Lectionary Lab PREMIUM Edition for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
January 16, 2022
Textual Notes – Epiphany 2 – January 16, 2022 – by Delmer Chilton
1) Prevailing image of the day – "A Marriage/Feast"
The Wedding at Cana of Galilee is not seen, we find ourselves on the periphery, as Jesus and his friends sit at their assigned table at the reception – yet Jesus's turning water into wine revitalizes the celebration. In Isaiah, marriage is a prominent image of God's relationship with God's people. And the Psalm makes a small allusion to feasting and drinking in verse eight.
2) Theme of the Gospel and Supporting Texts - God's love revealed!
In Isaiah, the image of marriage is used to assert that Israel is loved by YHWH and the world will see this love just as at a wedding, both bride and groom tell the world of their love for another and their status as "married." (Verse 4) The Psalm speaks of God's "steadfast love" three times, (verses 5, 7, and 10). The Gospel lesson does not explicitly mention God's love, but the "sign" revels Christ as God's glory, and consistently in John
God's glory is Cod's presence, and God's presence is filled with love.
3) The Texts:
1) The Gospel John 2:1-11
Dr. Bubba #1 (John Fairless) often reminds me to go to the end of a biblical story to discern the meaning. Verse 11 says, "Jesus did, this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and reveled his glory, and his disciples believed in him." John told this story to show a) the disciples being convinced by a sign that Jesus was God's son, and b) to convince us, the readers of his gospel, of the same thing. John calls the "miracles" of Jesus "signs." This is not a mere literary style choice: a "miracle" astounds and amazes in and of itself, a "sign" points beyond itself to a deeper, spiritual reality. For John, Jesus is not just another miracle worker – the "signs" he does point beyond the sign to the of God's "glory" in Jesus. Another thing to think about is that the water was not there for drinking, Jesus didn't just add a bit of sparkle and fizzle to plain old water. The water was for ritual bathing. For John, the sign was Jesus taking something old and good and making it into something different and new as a sign of God's love and presence. In this new year, what old and good things of ours might Jesus be ready to transform into something new?
2) The Supporting Texts:
a) Isaiah 62:1-5: The setting of this text is third Isaiah's focus on the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem. In this context, Isaiah builds off the image of a wedding with its attendant public affirmation of new relations, love, commitment, status, etc. to proclaim Israel's new/future status in the world as the beloved of a powerful God able to rescue the nation and not only restore its former glory but build on it as a witness to the world. As we in the church find ourselves struggling through hard times, at a time when the pandemic, and politics, and religious decline make us feel a bit "forsaken" and "desolate" – can we find hope in God's promise of vindication and celebration?
b) Psalm 36:5-10: The text is the middle section of an individual prayer for protection and deliverance from a dangerous enemy. Verses 1-4 describe the evil doer threatening the Psalmist/prayer. Verses 11-12 are an explicit prayer from protection from the evil one described in verses 1-4. Our text is a statement of faith in and reliance upon the protection of God. Verses 5-6 praise God's steadfast love and faithfulness, verses 7-9 draw upon the image of the temple as a refuge – a place where God's people can rejoice, can eat and drink in safety. Verse 8's reference to feasting ties it to the wedding feast in John, but the connection is deeper than that. Just as God's glory is shown in Jesus, God's glory resided in the temple – an earthly place where God's "steadfast love and faithfulness were sure to be found. The church is the "body of Christ," in the world, the "temple of the Holy Spirit." Are we, individually and collectively, a place where God's glory, God's "steadfast love and faithfulness" can be found? Are we a refuge for a weary world?
Sermon by Delmer Chilton
Some years ago, I heard a story about a man from Italy trying to start a vineyard in Haversham County, in the mountains of Northeast Georgia. The County Commissioners were a bunch of good Southern Evangelical Christians, and at that time that county was dry, like most of the rest of rural Georgia, and the commissioners were none too keen on granting a permit for such a business. The man from Italy was very confused by their attitude. Most of all, he could not understand how making wine could be considered un-Christian. "After all," he said, "did not Our Lord turn water into wine at the wedding of Cana in Galilee?" Well, that remark sure got things stirred up. Every good southern Christian l was very clear on the reality that though Jesus may have turned the water into what they "called" wine, it was not wine as we know it; it was grape juice, unfermented, non-alcoholic; the recipe for which was lost from Biblical times until the 1800's; when a dentist and Methodist communion steward named Welch rediscovered it. (Some of that's true; Welch's grape juice was originally created as non-alcoholic communion wine. The whole jams and jellies thing came later.) Anyway, the Italian Catholic vintner stood there in amazement as the folks argued among themselves until the chair of the commissioners used his gavel and called for order and said, "Well, I have researched this thing and I have to say there was no such thing as unfermented grape juice in bible times. They didn't have the technology for it. Jesus really did turn the water into wine. . . and I've always been a little disappointed in the Lord for that!"
The story of turning water into wine at a wedding is very well known, and it has been used for a number of purposes. It is cited in the Lutheran wedding service for example, as a way, I suppose, of saying that Jesus endorses marriage; or perhaps that Jesus endorses drinking a bit and partying after a wedding. Along those lines, I've heard it cited on both sides of the drink/don't drink argument. The problem for a preacher is that it's not like a healing, or a Transfiguration, or a raising from the dead, or a feeding of the five thousand, or even a stilling of the storm, or a walking on the water. Turning water into wine doesn't come with any easily discernible, easily preachable, easily applicable, meaning. It's just this extraordinary thing Jesus did. It makes one feel more like saying, "Party on, Dude," than "Amen Brother!" So, knowing that John included this story in his gospel for a reason, we must ask the question - What are we expected to learn from this story? If the fact that Jesus could turn water into wine is not the real point, then what is? John is a writer whose work is full of symbolism. Unlike the other Gospel writers; Matthew, Mark, and Luke; he makes no pretense that his is a straightforward, historical narrative of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. John's intent is to reveal to us spiritual truth through the use of human stories. Things are always different than they seem it's generally a bit tricky to figure out what John is getting at.
A prevailing theme throughout John's Gospel is the dawning of a New Age. To John, the coming of Jesus as the Messiah has changed the world from what it used to be into something totally new and different. To John, Jesus' thaumasion – "miracles" are really simeion - "signs." A miracle is a thing that astounds in and of itself. A sign is an extraordinary thing that points beyond itself to another reality. The miraculous things that Jesus did, like turning water into wine, were signs to the faithful that the new age of God's dealing with the world had come.
So - what Jesus did was not about an obedient son reluctantly doing what his mother asked; nor was it about Jesus making sure the host of the wedding was not embarrassed by the wine running out, nor was it about making sure those attending the party were able to keep drinking. What is really significant in this story is that the water was special water. It was water that had been set aside for the Jewish purification rites. It was there for the people to wash up. This washing was not about being sanitary or comfortable. This washing was a religious ceremony; it was a ritual cleansing in order to go before the LORD during the wedding feat. In this sign - Jesus takes the "old" - the ritual bath water; and turns it into the "new" - fresh wine. It is important to realize that Jesus did not take the bad and turn it into the good! He did not take the useless and turn it into the useful. He took good things from the past and transformed, changed them, into other good things for the future. A good question for us today is "what does this text say to us today, in the year 2022?" What is our water that Jesus has come to turn into wine?
The church in America, is in the midst of transition. Church membership and attendance, already in decline before the pandemic, have plunged even more. Political and cultural divisions have bled over into the church. And, in and out of church, we are much less civil and kind in the way we discuss our differences. It is important for us in times of transition, upheaval and change to remember that God in Christ is actively involved in turning our old water into new wine. The New Age brought by Jesus the Christ is an ongoing age of transformation and growth. We in the church and in the country are not the people we once were, nor are we the people we will someday become. We are in a state of fluidity; we are water being changed into wine. We have choices, as individuals and as communities of faith. We can face the future's changes with fear and resistance; or we can embrace them with faith and excitement. Either way, change is going to happen, a New Age is upon us, the water is beginning to change, and God is smack dab in the middle of it.
My late father-in-law was a story-telling Baptist deacon. He used to tell the story of the old country preacher pulled over for dangerous and uncontrolled driving on a curvy mountain road.
Preacher - "Sorry Officer, I was a bit distracted. I was thinking about my sermon for the funeral I'm going to preach over this evening. Officer - "Hmm, what's that bottle there on the seat?"
Preacher -"hmm, that's just some Holy Water I use for Blessings and Baptisms and Healings and such." Officer – "Let me see that. "He uncorks the lid and smells the "holy water." "That's not water, Preacher. That's wine!"
Preacher - "PRAISE THE LORD! He's done it again!"
As we move forward into God's future for the church and the world, let that be our cry of faith, "God has done it again! And God has done it in and for us!
Amen and amen.