Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
Text: John 2:1–12
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
In recent times the third Sunday of January has been designated as a day for reflection on the Sanctity of Human Life. This began as a presidential declaration by Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s as a way of directing the nation’s attention to the evil of abortion which had been declared legal in the United States by the Supreme Court in the previous decade. You may have seen some news coverage of the March for Life in Washington D.C. this weekend for the same reason. Not every president has continued the practice of setting aside this day by presidential proclamation, but Christians no more need the president’s approval to celebrate the dignity of human life than we need the permission of Congress to give thanks to God on the fourth Thursday of November, or any other day.
I am not one to interrupt the liturgical year of the church for national holidays. But today the readings assigned by the lectionary lead us very naturally to a consideration of life along with the equally important and corollary topic of marriage. It is not a surprise that a society that loses sight of the importance of one of these subjects will have a gross misunderstanding of the other.
Marriage and Life, Life and Marriage. The two are intertwined in God’s order of the kosmos as purpose, cause, and goal. The purpose of marriage is to beget life; life finds its source in this union of man and woman; and the resulting life is nurtured toward marriage and procreation itself.
In creation God joined Adam and Eve in the first marriage and declared that such was part of His very good creation. The task to which He directed them was to care for creation and fill it with offspring. A well-ordered society then must care for and indeed be ordered around the support of marriage and raising of children.
Sadly, Scripture also tells us that the family is also the locus of sin’s disorder. To Eve God said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be towards your husband, but he shall rule over you.” And Adam is told, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.”
The pain of childbearing and raising, the contrary desires of husbands and wives, the difficulty in providing for families—is this not what has caused so many people to give up on marriage and family, to work against begetting life, to find satisfaction without commitment?
Yet God does not give up on life and marriage. His word to be fruitful and multiply remains efficacious despite the mess we have made of His order. Life is begotten of unions even when our commitment fails. Our lack of ownership for our actions has not stopped God from sending life into the world anymore than it has stopped the sun from shining and the rain from falling.
After the flood God promises that while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease. We can make a mess of God’s creation, but we are fools to think that we can undo it. The times and seasons will go on.
After this God repeats His Word concerning life, saying again, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” God goes on to say that He will require a reckoning for the life of man.
Here we should see that our sin makes a mess of life, but it cannot take away its value. In God’s sight every life is precious. Life and Marriage remain gifts of God. Therefore, let us repent of the mess we have caused. This is not an "us and them" repentance. Isaiah stood before the throne of God and recognized the shared guilt of communal sin. He confessed not only that he was a man of unclean lips, but he lived among a people of unclean lips. You may not be a murderer, abortionist, fornicator or serial adulterer, but you live among such people.
Our neighbors tend to influence the way we think and act. Let us repent, not only for our failure to speak up for the unborn, but that we tolerate fathers who walk out on their children, husbands who abuse their wives, mothers who care more about themselves than the children entrusted to them, wives who ridicule their husbands. Let us repent for our failure to show young people the beauty of marriage and the difference between love and lust. And above all let us repent for believing the lie of Satan that God is not able to provide for us according to His word. Really, that is the heart of the matter.
How much turmoil is poured out upon the earth because we forget that the sweat of our brow and the pain of child bearing are burdens on us in this sinful world, but burdens that can’t stop God’s grace? How many young people live together without marriage because they are convinced they cannot afford to do otherwise? How many lives are ended because parents don’t think they will be able to care for a child?
In our Gospel lesson Jesus manifests His glory to the disciples. He does this by manifesting His gracious providence. Let this be a lesson to all.
In first century Palestine, there was a very strong emphasis on hospitality. If you invited someone to your house you obligated yourself to care for them. A wedding celebration could last a week, so all the guests were to be taken care of for many days. If you think today’s weddings are expensive, just think about catering every meal for all those guests for an entire week! You can see how the poor would be tempted to do without a marriage. “Well, let’s just live together until we can afford a wedding.”
But this couple has become engaged and the time of their wedding celebration has come. Surely this couple and their families knew what was expected of them. No sensible person would purchase less wine than would be needed. The embarrassment of running out of wine would be the equivalent of a modern day father of the bride standing up and telling the guests that all the money was spent on the dress and there would be no food, champagne, or music at the reception. It’s just not heard of. The lack of wine then could only be caused by a lack of funds.
This couple was committed to each other, and they knew the risks of a poor family throwing a party. The town had to be invited, and you hoped the food and wine would last. But in this case it didn’t. Yet, lack of resources, the difficulty of scraping by, did not deter this couple or Christ, who dignified this wedding first with His presence then went on to dignify it with His first miracle.
Luther believes that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was there as a relative of the bride and the coordinator of the celebration. She certainly becomes aware of the problem before it comes to be known publicly: “They have no wine,” She tells Jesus. Jesus asks, “What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
There is a great need at this feast and Jesus gives a somewhat cold response. Here I have to let Martin Luther’s application of this text be heard:
But whenever the need is felt, he does not at once hasten and bestow what is needed and desired, but delays and tests our faith and trust, even as he does here; yea, what is still more severe, he acts as though he would not help at all, but speaks with harshness and austerity. This you obseve in the case of his mother. She feels the need and tells him of it, desiring his help and counsel in a humble and polite request. For she does not say: My dear son, furnish us wine; but “They have no wine.” Thus she merely touches his kindness, of which she is fully assured. As though she would say: He is so good and gracious, there is no need of my asking, I will only tell him what is lacking, and he will of his own accord do more than one could ask. This is the way of faith; it pictures God’s goodness to itself in this manner, never doubting but that it is really so; therefore, it makes bold to bring its petition and to present its need.
But see, how unkindly he turns away the humble request of his mother who addresses him with such great confidence….
This is where faith stands in the heat of battle. Now observe how his mother acts and here becomes our teacher. However harsh his words sound, however unkind he appears, she does not in her heart interpret this as anger, or as the opposite of kindness…. For if Christ’s mother had allowed those harsh words to frighten her she would have gone away silently and displeased; but in ordering the servants to do what he might tell them she proves that she has overcome the rebuff and still expects of him nothing but kindness….
Hence the highest thought in this Gospel lesson, and it must ever be kept in mind, is, that we honor God as being good and gracious, even if he acts and speaks otherwise, and all our understanding and feeling be otherwise.
Let us then be of one mind with Mary. When we feel need, when all around we see the pain and suffering of sin, when we are unable to provide for ourselves, let us not demand of others that they do as we please, but let us remind ourselves and others, “Whatever Jesus tells you, do it.” What suffering would be alleviated if we had this trust to follow God’s ways even when they seem to fall short of meeting our needs.
Jesus is lacking in earthly treasure. The cattle on a thousand hills are His, but still He has no gift to bring this couple other than the grace of His own presence. And where Jesus is present with His grace there is always more than enough. Jesus tells the servants to take the six stone jars holding water for purification and turns them from vessels of cleansing into vessels of celebration. The best wine of the feast is saved for last, but not just one final toast. Over one hundred gallons of the finest wine to celebrate God’s gift of marriage.
Therefore, let us not fret over our own marriages, or the children born and adopted into them. Let us not worry for the future, nor let our doubt cause us to step outside of God’s order of marriage and life. For this marriage in Cana is a symbol of every union and a greater union. Wives submit to your husbands, as to the Lord….Husbands, love your wives. Don’t let fear keep you from the joy of submitting your desires to the joy of your spouse. Cling to one another: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Wives, you can submit to your husbands because Christ promises to provide through him. Husbands, you can pour yourself out for the good of your wife, because Christ sustains you. Christ is the bridegroom and you, the Church, are His bride. If Jesus provides for all the needs of the wedding in Cana, how much more will He provide for all the needs of the heavenly wedding banquet. In fact, he already has. For your purification and for your joy, Christ gives you the wine united with His blood. He is the groom and the gift. He cleanses you of your own sin and the sin of the world in which you live.
The lives you have failed to cherish are sanctified by His death. Your lack of trust is undone by His faithfulness unto death. Your unclean lips which have failed to honor life and marriage, touched by the glowing coal of His body and quenched with the cleansing power of His blood, are made clean.
Whether you have murdered or tolerated murder, whether you are a man who has walked out on your family, a woman too proud to submit to your husband, or a child who has failed to honor your parents, there is a proclamation more powerful than any executive order, congressional declaration, or judicial ruling, Christ’s Word that for the sake of His death and resurrection all your sins are taken away and by virtue of His resurrection and ascension you already have a place at the heavenly wedding banquet.
And if you find yourself longing for a faithful spouse, but God has not yet united you in holy marriage, know that the Lord still provides.
Let all put on the bridal garments of baptism and rejoice, for Your bridegroom has prepared all things.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria