Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Marriage Feast

This sermon was preached to the people of 
Word of Hope Lutheran Church on Sunday, January 17, 2016.
The text for the morning was John 2:1-11.

Everybody loves a good wedding.  To be more specific, everyone loves a good wedding reception.  There’s dancing, there’s food, there’s family and friends, and a celebration of the love these two people have for each other.  And this morning in John, we even see that Jesus, his mother, and the disciples love a good wedding reception too.  And we also see that weddings where the Son of God are in attendance are not exempt from the cardinal rule of any social gathering - something will go wrong.
And in this instance, what went wrong was pretty terrible for a wedding in 1st century Israel.  They ran out of wine.  Now I was at some dear friends’ wedding a few years ago where they also ran out of wine.  Now it was no big deal, mostly because that particular group of friends are extremely goofy when we all get together.  We just had some soda and laughed and danced the night away.  This is not the case for 1st century Jewish weddings.  Wine was pretty much the only beverage you could serve and when the wine was out, the party was over.
And this isn’t a party that was only supposed to last for a few hours, this was a party that was supposed to last for at least a week.  Maybe more, depending on how wealthy the family was that got married.  Anything less would have been shameful and seen as a bad omen for the future of that marriage.  So, for the wine to run out on day 3?  Not a good sign at all.
And then after an interesting exchange with his mother, Jesus ultimately gives the family more wine, but he does it in one of those subtle, sneaky ways, that allows the family to keep their dignity and social standing.  You know, like Jesus does.  And then the author tells us that this was the first of Jesus’ signs that he performed in Galilee.
And then we’re left scratching our heads going, well sure, that’s impressive, but if it’s a sign what does it mean?  Does it mean that Jesus likes to party?  Does it mean that Jesus is a great social equalizer?  Does it mean Jesus sanctions weddings?  Does it mean that Jesus is a reluctant hero?  Does it mean there’s always going to be wine?  Is it a sign that this wedding is going to be great?  What does it mean, Jesus?  What does it mean?
So let’s look at the rest of the signs that Jesus does in John.  There’s a lot of healing, and feeding, and even some raising from the dead.  So what do they all point to?  I think these are signs that give us a glimpse at what life will look like in the kingdom of God.  There’s a lot of grace, there’s plenty of food, there’s no more illness, there’s no more pain, there’s no more grief, and there’s no more dying.  I think it’s safe to say these are all good things.
But really, let’s unpack why it might be important for this wonderful wine at a wedding to be considered a sign of God’s kingdom that is coming and breaking into the world.  Why a wedding and not, say one of the big religious festivals?  Why would Jesus want to use the occasion of a wedding to show what the kingdom of God will be like?
Well, one, because as I said before wedding receptions are kind łof awesome.  But also.  Throughout scripture, God’s relationship with the people of God has been likened to that of an old married couple.  God’s language of faithfulness is very similar to the language we use in our wedding vows now.  God’s promises are ones of fidelity and faithfulness through good and bad, God promises to care for God’s people, without hope or expectation of anything in return and God’s people make those promises in return - even though they don’t always know what those promises mean.  God even used the prophet Hosea’s marriage as very tangible metaphor for God’s relationship with God’s people.  
And it doesn’t stop there, there is still more scripture that refers to the kingdom of God as the marriage feast of the lamb.  And throughout the early Christian tradition there is reference to the church being the bride of Christ.  That we, the people of God are in this beautiful, holy, loving relationship with God that knows no end and that in the end of times, we’ll all be attending this magnificent wedding reception to celebrate that love that God has for us and we for God.
Which finally brings us back to Jesus, wine, and small town weddings in backwoods Israel.  For in this wedding of what was likely a poor couple, Jesus shows his disciples and us what the wedding feast at the end of time is going to look like.  Jesus turns around 180 gallons of water into wine.  Really good wine to boot.  Now 180 gallons is kind of hard to comprehend.  That’s enough wine for this party to keep going for at least a year.  And not just for those invited to the party, but for everyone in the village of Cana to join in the celebration for a year.  And in doing so, Jesus shows us a couple of things.
The first thing that Jesus shows us is that this a wedding feast that will not end.  There will be more than enough of the best of everything for all of us.  There will be plenty of wine for those who choose to drink, but there will also be plenty of food.  And because it’s heaven and I love food, I imagine it will be only the best food.  There will be burgers and hot wings, and fish and steak, and Indian buffets and Thai food, and Chinese take out food.  And you can eat as much of it as you want without getting fat!  Heaven.  
The second thing that Jesus teaches us is that the wedding feast is filled with grace upon grace.  That even when we think there’s enough, God will give us even more.  God will offer more than we think we deserve and more.  God’s love and faithfulness to us will just keep flowing and flowing, much like the wine did at this party.  And not only will that grace keep coming at us, each time we experience it, it will be better than the last.  God’s grace is without end.

And the third thing that Jesus’ sign at Cana teaches us is that all are welcome at the wedding feast.  There is more than enough for all to be able to partake.  There’s enough food and wine for everyone in the village to join in the Cana couple’s celebration and there’s enough food and drink for the whole world to join in God’s celebration.  All are welcome and all are invited to the table.  And the best part is, God promises that those three things won’t ever change - it’s all a part of that covenant God made with us.  Amen.