Jesus’ First Miracle … what does that have to do with me?
January 17, 2022
John 2:1-11

“DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church: which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee, …”

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve spoken those words while standing before a beaming and hopeful couple as they launched their new life.

I always go to great lengths to explain to them that with God they are creating a new entity … something that had never existed before: their marriage.

Before, they were Bill and Sarah, or Judy and Martha … but in a moment they will be a Mr. and Mrs. – or whatever terms they chose.

And we talk about how their marriage will offer them many opportunities to grow by giving them opportunities to sacrifice, forgive, and learn patience.

Their hope will come from submitting to the love and nurture of their new marriage entity – sometimes putting care for their marriage above their personal desires of the moment, and that as they do this, they will also discover strength, help and guidance from the grace of God.

Life will bring them opportunities to love more and love deeper, and God’s grace will enable them to do so – even when it is tough and confusing.

I say that the purpose of marriage isn’t to make us happy but to make us holy – which I explain means to grow as Christ’s people.

But why does the traditional wedding ceremony include mention of Jesus at Cana in Galilee?

Is that just because he was at a wedding?

Well, we find that it’s much more than that as we dig into the passage from John 2 that Sharon just read.

First, notice that the wedding scene appears shortly after the passage of John 1 where the light of Christ appeared in the world dominated by darkness.

John 1:9-10 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  The Word was in the world. And the world was made through him. But the world did not recognize him.

If Christ was to have any chance of bringing light to the world, he had to find a way to help those living in darkness to believe and trust in him.

So, during the next few verses, Jesus calls his first disciples and then they head off to the wedding.

Weddings were sometimes multi-day events – and in a little town like Cana, it’s likely that an overflow crowd had gathered.

Jesus was probably enjoying the scene – circulating through the crowd, swapping a few jokes, talking about how lovely the bride looked.

Then his mom pulled him aside.

Probably a bigger than expected crowd had gathered and the host was about to be humiliated by running out of wine, which leads to the curious exchange between Jesus and his mom.

Was she nagging Jesus?

Was Jesus feeling manipulated into doing this and so responded disrespectfully to her?

The English sounds a bit that way but like so many phrases from the past, it’s easy for their meaning to get lost in history.

Imagine 2,000 years from now how people would totally misunderstand what we mean by “get over yourself”.

What kind of bodily contortion had we used to get ourself over ourself?

Scholars have found a regional idiom of the time that sounds a lot like what Jesus says to his mom here, and conclude that it could mean something like, “You and I understand what’s happening here. Don’t worry. I’ll take it from here.”

Then Jesus performs his very first miracle.

He doesn’t go to the host to say, I’m going to save the day for you.

He doesn’t stand up in front of the crowd and announce his great powers.

He just goes quietly about his business in front of the lowly servants and his disciples.

Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus’ miracles are always called “signs”; their purpose is always to point to God.

In this case, Jesus’ miracle was specifically given to his newly gathered disciples to show them his divinity.

John 2:11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

That was the point: Right here at the beginning of their journey, Jesus began to give his new disciples understanding of the one they were about to follow.

Those large stone jars were used by attendees to wash and cleanse their hands as part of a religious purification ritual.

By choosing to use them, Jesus symbolically turned a tool for adhering to a purity code obligation into a gift of blessing and celebration.

Later Jesus would give his mission statement as (John 10:10) I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Well, this was an example of grace and abundance coming from Jesus.

Do the math: Conservatively, if each jar held 20 gallons of water-turned-wine, then (by today’s standard) Jesus produced 600 bottles of the finest wine … an abundance of blessing that is pure grace.

The next episode reported in John’s gospel is Jesus arriving at the Jerusalem temple where he drove out the corruption that was attached to the religious obligation of temple sacrifices.

So, Jesus’ gift of wine for the celebration followed immediately by his confrontation of corrupted purity codes are signs pointing to the grace brought to us by the Son of God.

That same Jesus of grace is the one we are following into our new year … a fact that we need to be reminded of as we look at the challenges we are facing.

I don’t know about you, but I feel a bit like we are stumbling into 2022.

It wasn’t that long ago that we thought we had COVID under control – but here we are again.

Restaurants are closing, hospitals are turning away sick people because they are overwhelmed with COVID patients.

What a decade or two ago were outlandish, fringe political views now hold power, and to solidify their control 19 states have passed 33 laws to make it harder for certain groups of people to vote.

And most of us have reluctantly accepted that in discussions about critical issues that affect our health and our democracy, facts, logic, and science no longer matter.

Few of us would have predicted any of this fifteen or twenty years ago.

Stress is when we feel concern or responsibility, but don’t have the power to control our situation.

So, we stumble into 2022 with stress we had thought we’d left behind.

What are people doing with their stress and stumbling – what is the collateral damage to our circumstances?

There’s a rash of alarming statistics floating around.

For example, while miles driven during the pandemic were down 13%, during the past two years traffic accidents were up over 25% – often related to intoxication and aggressive driving.

Matthew Yglesias summarized national studies called, “All Kinds of Bad Behavior Is on the Rise.”

Among other things, he points out that the number of altercations on airplanes has exploded, the murder rate is surging in cities, drug overdoses are increasing, hate crimes are on the rise, Americans are drinking more, nurses say patients are getting more abusive, and so on and so on.

Americans have become more narcissistic, less concerned about community wellbeing than perceived individual rights, while giving less time and money to charities, and turning away from churches.

It’s natural to wonder why God doesn’t just fix all this – bring calm and justice … and just some common sense and human decency to us.

But we aren’t in heaven yet – we are still in a world filled with darkness.

So, God is more interested in bringing each of us out of the shadows by developing our hearts than changing our conditions.

God wants us to learn to be healthy in the midst of discord, calm in the midst of chaos, and servants in a world of greed.

We can stare into the darkness, or we can seek the light.

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We all know that our upset and fear can twist our minds and poison our hearts.

So, we are called to accept what we can control and let go of what we cannot.

For that kind of discernment, we have to discipline ourselves to focus on what is healthy and constructive, and not to be thrown by every negativity or fall down every rabbit hole that appears on Facebook or Twitter.

Proverbs 3:23-26 Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.

What we do have control over is the condition of our heart, and if we let it become poisoned then it will eventually take us down  and those around us, too.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes in my frustration and anxiety I wonder where God is.

I came across something that C.S. Lewis wrote that I find helpful in times like that.

“I believe in God for the same reason I believe in the sun that shines up in the sky.  I believe not just because I can see the sun but because by the sun, I can see everything else.”

So, when I hear all the craziness and confusion around me, I can pause for a moment to also recognize the wonders around me: nature, kindnesses, and all the amazing ways God has seen me through my own struggles.

Remembering where I’ve experienced grace even when things had seemed dark and chaotic reawakens my awareness of God in the present.

There is a decision point we all come to: Will I give my mind and my heart to the darkness – and frankly that often feels the easiest – or to God?

Romans 8:6 Letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace;

So, God wants to work on you first, because transformation won’t happen in your life until your thoughts and attitudes begin to align with the ways of Jesus.

That’s how we become more Christlike.

Just like at the wedding where Jesus was preparing his disciples for their journey ahead, he promises to be with you throughout this year, come what may.

Romans 8:26-27 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

I get up every morning and work on messages like today’s because I care about each one of you.

I want you to do more than survive 2022 – I want you to thrive, and I know that will only happen if we use these discouraging – even frightening – circumstances as ways to face and grow through our fears, to dig deep for compassion, and to learn to rely on the Grace of Jesus to see us through.

That is exactly the kind of covenant people make with each other at their wedding.

As we do that, we will come through this year stronger, more resilient, and more faithful than we began it.