Reading the Signs

In Sermons Kyndall by Covenant Baptist

“Reading the Signs”
Linda Cross
Covenant Baptist Church
San Antonio, Texas
January 20, 2013
John 2:1-12

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.

He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”

So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

And although the 12th verse isn’t included in the lectionary selection, I will read it anyway, because it is the way John intended to close this section of his gospel.

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.

I think this may very well be the first meeting of what would become the church. Jesus invited his mother, brothers and new friends home to Capernaum for a few days retreat. There they could debrief and consider what had happened at the wedding and what it might mean for them all.

Both the apostle Peter and James the brother of Jesus were the leaders of the Jerusalem church and both attended this retreat. It is interesting that although Jesus’ brothers were included in this story, the gospels tell us that they didn’t not believe in him as messiah at first.

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart

be acceptable in thy sight,

O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

“On the third day,” John wrote, “there was a wedding in Cana.” John’s gospel opens – not with a birth narrative – but with the testimony of John the Baptist,

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.”

John was preaching and baptizing at Bethany across the Jordan, in a wadi on the east bank of the river just south of Lake Galilee. It was there, according to John’s gospel, that Jesus made his first appearance. While John was baptizing, he looked up and saw Jesus. “Here is the Lamb of God,” John announced, “who takes away the sin of the world! This is the Son of God.”

The next day, the first day after John’s announcement, Jesus called his first disciples: Andrew and Philip, two of John’s disciples. Andrew immediately went to find his brother Simon Peter and brought him to Jesus.

The next day, the second day, Jesus decided to go back up to Capernaum where he had made his home. So he rounded up Andrew, Peter and Philip and left for Galilee. Capernaum was a prosperous community of about 15 hundred people on the north shore of Lake Galilee. It is on the River Road from Damascus to Jericho that leads on down to Egypt. The Customs Offices at Capernaum in the north and Jericho in the south collected the tolls on the numberless camel caravans carrying goods between the Orient and India and the Mediterranean basin. Matthew, also known as Levi, was the tax collector in Capernaum. Zacchaeus was the customs officer in Jericho.

Jesus’ three new disciples were all from Bethsaida, which was a small fishing village a short walk up the shore from Capernaum. Hot springs fed the lake there, making it a choice spot for the fishing business. When the disciples arrived in Bethsaida, Philip went to find his friend Nathanael, to bring him to Jesus, also. The apostles James and John were also from Bethsaida, although we don’t that Jesus had called them yet.

The next day, the third day, Jesus and his small band of four disciples left Capernaum for Cana to attend a wedding celebration. The exact site of Cana has been lost, but most scholars believe it was within a few miles of Nazareth. There Jesus met his mother, and probably his brothers, as well.

The crisis of the story develops “when the wine gave out.” Such a breach of hospitality would have been humiliating for the bridegroom and a terrible insult to the family of the bride.

We don’t know how the situation came to Mary’s attention, but it did. She acted quickly, in a manner that tells us a little about the family life of Jesus, I think. Mary was a single mother of several children. Since her husband died, she had learned to rely on her eldest son. Perhaps he had even delayed the beginning of his ministry until his younger siblings had reached maturity. Jesus was about thirty years old. It is most likely that his younger brothers and sisters were married. He and Mary may have thrown wedding parties of their own.

“They have no wine,” Mary said to Jesus. Obviously she expected him to remedy the situation.

For those of you with adult sons, or daughters, you may have had similar conversations. You can almost hear the exasperation in Jesus’ voice, “Woman, what concern is that to us? It’s not our party.” Perhaps he was feeling the sting of being single in a married world, knowing that marriage and family would not be his. And then he made an interesting comment. “My hour has not yet come.”

Unperturbed, Mary turned to the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We are probably all familiar with this story. How Jesus instructed the servants to fill the empty purification jars with fresh water, and how, when they dipped out of the jars, the water had become excellent wine. This was the first of Jesus’ signs, John tells us, and it revealed his glory. His hour had come.

Miracles are God’s acting in history in ways that are unexpected. And like beauty, miracles are in the eyes of the beholder. Miracles are seen by the eyes of faith. They don’t prove anything, and they don’t create faith.

John’s gospel refers to miracles as signs. Jesus himself calls his miracles his “works.”

Harold Songer says, “Miracles are deeds which speak.” They demonstrate God’s love, providence, healing and deliverance. They express God’s demands through judgment or instruction. And they show God’s ultimate intentions of restoration, redemption and new creation.

Of course, the supreme miracle is God’s coming to us in history as a human baby, growing, learning and developing in all the same ways we do, and living among us to demonstrate God’s extraordinary love for us in a completely and utterly unexpected way.

All miracles should be understood as signs.  So, let’s look at this story more closely and see whether we can read the signs.

John opened the story with the words, “On the third day.” The third day for Christians is resurrection day. Even here at the beginning of his gospel John is pointing ahead to the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. At the beginning of this wedding story John is hinting at the celebration in the new age when the Bridegroom comes for his Bride, the church.

“I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” – Rev. 21:2

Jesus began his ministry in an out-of-the-way village celebrating a wedding with family and friends. Perhaps the first surprise is that Jesus was at the party. Jesus lived among us and still comes among us in the ordinary activities of our lives. His presence blesses the joys of home and the work of our hands.

Mary, who noticed the impending disaster and brought the problem to Jesus, points ahead to the role of the church. We are to notice the people around us. We are to be aware of their needs and problems. And we are to bring their situations to Jesus in our prayers.

John used the empty purification jars to suggest the emptiness of the old way. Our attempts to save ourselves are fruitless. We cannot wash away our sin. But when we are washed in the fresh water of baptism and filled with the new wine of the coming age, we participate in the great wedding feast that is to come.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new…. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.’” – Rev. 21:5, 6b

The size of the jars, twenty to thirty gallons each, far beyond the needs of a village wedding feast, as well as the excellence of the wine, suggests the generosity and providence of a Creator God who blesses his creation with amazing abundance, supplying more than enough for every one of his beloved creatures.

It is interesting that as the story unfolds, the witnesses to the miracle are the servants. The servants are among “the least of these.” The servants are the ones no one notices, the ones who have no status and no voice. Like the shepherds on the lonely hillside, the servants are the ones who see. They do as they are told: they fill the jars with water, and then draw out the wine. In this also John is pointing ahead to the church, the disciples, the servants who do as they are told, and see with the eyes of faith, the work the Lord is doing in the world.

As a child I thought this story was boring. Water was turned into wine – so what? It certainly wasn’t as exciting as feeding 5,000 or walking on water.

Now, it has become one of my favorite stories. As the mother of an adult son, I’m intrigued by the relationship between Mary and Jesus. I find myself wondering what Mary expected Jesus to do when she told him they were out of wine.

I am fascinated also by the quietness of this story. There are no crowds. Just Jesus, a few disciples, his mother and the servants are aware of the situation and of Jesus’ response.

But most of all I am touched by the generosity of this miracle. It points to a God who responds to our needs with abundance and excellence. And it hints of the kingdom of God and of the Lamb who is coming.

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“Miracles are deeds which speak.”

The miracle of the wedding at Cana speaks to God’s providence. It shows God’s coming to us in the ordinary events of our lives and providing for us – even when we may not realize it.

This miracle speaks to God’s instruction. “Listen to Jesus,” Mary said. “Do what he tells you.”

And it speaks to God intention:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” – Rev. 22:1-2

“Behold,” Jesus declared, “the kingdom of God is at hand. Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” – John 7:37b, 38b

Let us pray.

We are thirsty, Lord, parched by our busy, stressful lives. We are blown dust-dry by the winds of war, violence and terrible calamity.

We are helpless. But we believe that you are the Word of Life.

Help us listen for your voice. Give us courage, strength and stamina to do your will.

Bless us, Lord. May rivers of living water flow through us to wash and water a dying world. Amen.