Sermon - 2 Epiphany
Updated: Feb 15
Please remain standing. There was once a priest who was very tired after a long Saturday of weddings and as the last bride came down the aisle he realized to his horror that he had forgotten this couple's names. So, when the processional ended he asked, in appropriately Episcopalian language, "By what names come ye into this holy house?" The groom was startled at this unfamiliar question, but, had the presence of mind to reply, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Please be seated.
Over the years I've done a lot of weddings and names play a very important role in them. When I was an Army chaplain, I once did a wedding for a military couple who, rather than tuxedo and gown, wore their dress uniforms for the ceremony and they did something which I'll never forget. After the exchange of vows, the bride removed her nameplate and replaced it with one bearing her new last name. They had arrived separately as individuals; they left together as a couple. And that symbolizes exactly what happens at every wedding. Names are important.
The prophet Isaiah knew this well. You see that in today's reading. When he tries to cheer up the despondent Israelites, he tells them "you shall be called by a new name...you shall no more be termed Forsaken, and you land shall no more be termed Desolate, but, you shall be called My Delight Is in Her and your land Married."
Now, these words of encouragement come during the time of the exile in Babylon and what the prophet is trying to tell the people is that this exile will not be permanent. Yes, the gloating Babylonians may consider the Israelites forsaken and their land to be desolate, but, the good news is that God is planning something and the forsaken and desolate are going to get some new names.
Isaiah promises that the day will come when God will take the people with whom he has, since the time of Abraham, had basically a business agreement, "you will be my people and I will be your God", and he will change that into an intensely personal relationship. He will be as close to his people as a bridegroom is to his bride and he will make them part of his family. The new name they get will be His.
And, in today's Gospel, we see how it is. There's so much going on here. It's an unusual wedding because there are two grooms present. One who's just made a new relationship with another human being and one who has come to make a new relationship with every human being. And it's a fascinating miracle - one which has perplexed Baptists down the ages. Jesus changes 120 gallons of water into wine. That's like 600 bottles. A little girl heard this story and was asked what she learned from it and she said, "When you're having a party be sure to invite Jesus." But, why this miracle? Why, of all things, water into wine?
Well, in and of ourselves, we human beings are basically containers of water. I think 60% of our body mass is water. Plain, ordinary, H20. Nothing all that exciting. And, in and of ourselves, we human beings are just another little living organism on this little planet. One, among billions. But, the lesson of the miracle is that when we let Jesus work in us, then we change, spiritually, into something else, something new and exciting. We cease to be ordinary and plain. We become like the finest wine, of surpassing quality.
In his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul gives examples of how Christians are like fine wine. He says the proof that we are changed and of surpassing quality is because we have access to the power of the Holy Spirit to influence the world about us and we exhibit this through the exercise of "spiritual gifts" - wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, and tongues, among others.
Now, none of these are things we naturally possess. They're all given to us by God because of the new relationship we have with him through Christ Jesus. They're the proof that we are now members of God's family and that we have received a new name - Christians, belonging to Christ.
We, the Church, are indeed the bride, and he is the groom. We are more than his people; we are his family. And that is the most wonderful gift of all.
I have long believed that there are no wasted words or irrelevant details in Scripture and that's why we are even told in what kind of containers the water was made wine. It's important that we know that these are jars used in Jewish rites of purification.
First Century Jewish rituals for washing and purification were quite elaborate. For a desert country, the Jews used water in this way rather liberally - we might almost call it wastefully - but, it was a form of sacrifice, of making one's self and one's possessions holy by lavishing this precious element on them. It was a way of expressing personal piety, of getting close to God.
So, the fact that Jesus uses the jars in which this ceremonial water is stored is a way of saying that people no longer need the Old Covenant rituals to get close to God. God is already at work within us. The power to change, the power to heal, the power to restore, is unleashed simply by obeying the Word of our Lord.
It's funny that when the steward tastes the wine, he compliments the groom for saving the best for last. The joke is he's complimenting the wrong groom. Jesus has indeed saved the best for last, but, what he has saved is the Good News, the Gospel of Salvation, for these last days. The story isn't really about wine, at all. It's about the power of God to change the ordinary into the extraordinary, and to bestow upon his people gifts and blessing in excessive, almost wasteful, abundance because of what he has made us. Because of how much he loves us.
Names are important at weddings. We never find out the name of that bridegroom in Cana, or that of his bride. But, we know the name of Jesus and he knows ours. May we rejoice that he loves us and has called us his own and may we live as befitting the bride of Christ.
In the Name....