Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sermon; 2 Epiphany; John 2:1-11

Last Sunday I said it was the beginning of the life of the church.  We commemorated and celebrated the baptism of Jesus by renewing our own baptismal vows.  And I asked how you might begin again to live into those promises we made – continuing in the apostles teaching and fellowship, resisting evil and repenting, proclaiming the good news, loving your neighbor, and respecting the dignity of every human being.

In doing these things we are helping manifest Christ to the world.  In doing these things, we are instigating small epiphanies for those around us and for ourselves as well.

All through this season of Epiphany we are presented with gospel stories that give us an epiphany, or a showing, of who Christ is.  Last week it was John's announcement, the dove, and the voice showing us who Jesus was.  Today it's a miracle that changes water to wine.  This is one of those stories that transcends Christianity in that even non-Christians are familiar with the general story, if not all the details.

One detail that is important to remember is that this story comes from the Gospel of John.  That is, not “this version of the story,” but “this story.”  It's only in John where we hear the story of changing water to wine.  This miracle wasn't a healing or feeding.  Nobody asked Jesus to provide wine (although his mother insinuated it), let alone offer any kind of solution to the problem of running out of wine for the party.  But, unbeknownst to anyone but the servants, he did provide wine.  And those few who knew about it believed in him.

John is funny that way.  In the three other gospels, the healings and other miracles are almost always preceded by a request and a statement of faith: “Do you believe I can do this?  Yes, Lord, I believe.”  In John this pattern is reversed – the miracle leads to belief.  Water is changed to wine, and the disciples believe; a group of Samaritans spend time with Jesus and come to believe because of what they hear; a blind man is given sight and comes to believe; and, most famously, Thomas comes to a profound belief after his encounter with the risen Christ.

For this reason I think John should be the patron gospel of every Christian church.  There are very few people who express a belief in Jesus Christ without having any experience of him.  The vast majority of people have an experience and then come to believe.  Whether that experience is growing up in a devoutly faithful home or being invited to church or searching for yourself to find a spiritual home, it's often the experience that leads to shaping belief.  And that belief is continually shaped by experience.

This is one, some might say, THE, purpose of the church: to offer an experience of the divine that shapes and forms disciples.

For us as Episcopalians, we are shaped by the liturgy whether we know it or not.  We are shaped by the particular rhythm of the service.  We are shaped by particular words and prayers we hear over the years.  We sit, stand, and kneel at particular times, involving our whole body in the act of worship.  And, as I wrote in the Wednesday Word a couple of weeks ago, we can take that liturgical experience into our daily lives so that our every act is an intentional liturgical act.  The liturgy can, if we let it, infuse our daily lives so that we can experience the divine in a way that shapes our discipleship and we can more fully say, “I believe.”

This liturgy, this experience of the divine that continually shapes and changes us, can be augmented to give us an even deeper rhythm.  One way is through the Daily Offices – Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.  Whether you say those in private or corporately (as at the 7:15 Morning Prayer service), you need to give it time to work, you need to give it time to become a habit.  In that habit is yet another way the experience shapes and forms us.  And if the daily offices are a bit much to fit into your schedule, maybe you could try reading and meditating on the Sunday Collect throughout the week.

The purpose of all this is to help us experience the divine so that we can be formed and shaped as disciples.  That formation and shaping of who we are is really just another way of saying we have been changed.  And that is really what today's gospel is about  – changing.

The first change comes in how Jesus does business.  The steward is impressed and says, “Everyone else serves the good wine first, then the cheap stuff later; but you saved the good stuff until the end of the party.”  In other words, he's addressing the “We've never done it that way/We've always done it this way” argument.  Our experience of Jesus is calling us to look at how we've done things and make changes if necessary.  Moving the choir and altar could fit into this type of change.

The other change happens with the water itself.  Water to wine – a change in substance and form.  I won't go into all the chemical details of this change, nor will I address any of the arguments that this miracle has generated (was it really wine or was it grape juice or was it a non-alcoholic wine) because all that does is miss the point.  The point is this:  Jesus did something miraculous, do you believe it?

The other important piece to remember is that Jesus was present when the water was changed to wine.

Much later Jesus will make another change – he will change wine to blood.  As with the change of water to wine, it's not necessary to get into the details and run chemical tests to determine what type of fluid is actually in the chalice.  What's important to remember is that a change is made and that Jesus is truly present.

What Jesus did at the wedding, what Jesus did at the Last Supper, and what Jesus does at the Communion event, is to change the ordinary into the extraordinary.

So while this gospel story is most often seen as an epiphany story, showing Jesus to have divine powers and thereby proclaiming him Son of God, this is also a story of change.  We experience Jesus in a variety of ways and locations, and that helps form and shape us as disciples.

This is the Epiphany season.  This is the season of beginnings.  How will your own epiphany, your own experience of Christ, change you from ordinary to extraordinary?  Pay close attention, there's an epiphany in there somewhere.



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