Sermon for Second Sunday after the Epiphany -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
Depending on how you count them, there are nearly 40 stories in the Gospels of miracles by Jesus! Some of them are very well known – the feeding of the 5,000, the calming of the storm, walking on water, raising Lazarus from the dead, healing the ten lepers, and the healing of the woman who just touched the hem of Jesus’ robe. And that is just a few from the list – there are many more others, mostly involving miraculous healing.
And then there is today’s gospel from St. John, Jesus first miracle! Is it a miraculous healing? No. Is it a mass feeding of hungry people? Not so much.
No, Jesus’ first miracle is changing water into wine at a wedding, at his Mother’s request, even insistence. Is this miracle of a lesser importance, with less life-changing implications, than others?
Well, perhaps, but scholar David Lose points out that this miracle, Jesus’ first miracle, is a miracle of grace, of abundance, of celebration. And this miracle moves beyond the gift and generosity sense of grace – it moves to an unbelievable more-than-you-can-possibly imagine sense of abundance.
Lose suggest we think, for a moment, of this gospel scene: Jesus and his disciples are at a wedding and the hosts run out of wine. Inconvenient, we will probably acknowledge, perhaps embarrassing, but is it really such a big deal? Yes. Because in this time and place, running out of wine too early isn’t just a social faux pas, it’s a disaster. Wine isn’t merely a social lubricant, you see, it’s a sign of the harvest, of God’s abundance, of joy and gladness and hospitality. And so when they run short on wine they run short on blessing. And that’s a tragedy.
Which is when Jesus, prompted by his mother, steps in and provides not just more wine, but more wine than the whole crowd could have drunk not only during the three days of the wedding feast, but probably across three weeks. In changing the water of those six large basins of water for purification, you see, Jesus is providing close to an additional thousand bottles of additional wine. And not only that, but as the surprised steward discovered, it’s not just a cheap bottle of Chianti, but the best wine yet served.
And that, according to John, is what grace is like: an overflowing of joy, celebration, blessing, and the presence of God.
As we regularly see in the Gospels, first things matter. Mark describes the exorcising of a demon as the first thing Jesus does. And Luke – as we’ll see over the next two weeks – Luke reports the first thing Jesus did is preach a sermon of release and freedom and healing. And each of these things matters, as they set the tone and even theological agenda for those particular gospels. Which is why it’s significant that in the Fourth Gospel John describes the first thing that Jesus does as providing more wine, joy, and blessings than this couple – or any couple – could possibly have imagined or deserved.
Because that’s what grace looks like.
And this sense of grace is so counter-cultural today. Which makes it so timely. I mean, look around – about the only things folks can talk about today is scarcity. We don’t have enough money or food or security or power or privilege. Perhaps it’s like this normally, but especially during an election year it seems like candidates revel in telling us all the things that are wrong in order to win our vote by vowing to make it better.
And the reason they do this is simple: we’re disposed by evolution to pay attention to scarcity and fear. Think about it: if you miss opportunity, it might be a bummer, but if you miss acknowledging a real threat – including running out of something essential – well, that might be deadly. And so we’re hard-wired to pay attention to scarcity and lack and fear. And so everyone from marketers to politicians focus their energy and creativity on creating in us a sense of lack in order to promise us they can fill it.
And, all too often, it seems to me, we define the Gospel in the same, limited ways: Jesus lived, preached, taught, fed, cured, eventually was crucified, and was raised again by God, all in order that God will overlook our misdeeds. Now of course the forgiveness of sins is a central and important element of our faith. But too often we’ve spoken of it as the only element of faith, as if Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were a kind of divine “white out” for the check marks against us on St. Peter’s ledger.
Which is why I am grateful that John reminds us that grace isn’t only about making up for something we lack – grace is also about providing more than we’d ever imagined or deserve. Think of it, Jesus could have provided just enough wine for the party to go on, and, given that people have already been drinking a few days, even an ordinary bottle would have been gratefully received. But Jesus went way, way beyond expectations to provide more and better wine than they ever could have expected.
Why? Because that’s what grace looks like. That’s what God’s unconditional love for us looks like – way beyond anything we could hope for or expect, way beyond our expectations.
And, if God loves us so much more than we could ever expect or deserve, why wouldn’t we want to respond in kind, so to speak.
Please take a moment and think of your blessings and how abundant they are – your home or apartment, your car, your job or retirement or school, your family and friends, this wonderful congregation, and living here in this amazing climate where a cold day is in the 50’s! And that list can and should go on and on. Think for a moment of all that you can add to such a list of blessings.
And, then, think of how we, you and I, can respond to such love by God with love and care for others. Think of all the opportunities we have to serve others through our congregation and community or just through simple acts of everyday kindness. What more could each of us do for our family and friend and neighbors also for the poor and homeless in our community. And think of all the ways we can reach out beyond our community through our church and the countless ways we Lutherans are helping people around the USA and around the world.
And it all begins with simple acts of everyday kindness. Seems to me that’s the least God can and should expect from us in response to God’s overwhelming grace and love.
Like fine wine. Lots of it. Overflowing. Like God’s love for us all.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Wine and Grace
Sermon for Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
January 16 & 17, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California