So What Sort of God Has Come?
I love this text, but what does it have to do with Epiphany? What does it have to do with the light of God shining in a dark place? What does it have to do with God in Man made manifest? This text answers the question asked by a contemporary singer: How would God be if He came down to earth? Not how most people think. Not how any of us in our sinfulness think.
What is the first thing the Gospel of John shows us God in flesh doing after calling His first disciples? Going to a party. Remember how His forerunner, the one who pointed to Jesus was? He lived in the desert not the reception hall. He ate locusts and wild honey not wine and wedding cake. He spoke of One coming who had His ax at the roots of trees to chop down the unfruitful and whose broom was in His hand to sweep the chaff away. Jesus, the One whom John the Baptist spoke of, shows up, and where does Jesus go? To a party.
Let me ask you this. Do you party with people you're angry at? Do you party with people you can't stand? Do you get an invitation from someone who has wronged you and go, bringing your friends along? Do you think God is any different? Do you suppose God in flesh is at the wedding in Cana reluctantly? Do you think He is really mad at these miserable, wretched sinners? And sinners they were, just like us. They didn't fear God as they should; they didn't love God as they should; they didn't trust God as they should. And this they did repeatedly, constantly, and always. O sure they had moments of fearing, loving and trusting God above all things, but they had more of not fearing, loving, or trusting.
Yet God comes and parties with them. Something has changed between God and sinners, and right now it sure isn't the sinners. How can God stand to party with sinners? Don't their sins stink to high heaven as Scripture says they do? Don't they deserve wrath and damnation as Scripture says they do? Haven't their sins created as wall between them and their God as Scripture says they have?
What has changed is that God has come into flesh and blood to carry sins away. Just three days earlier the Gospel of John tells us John the Baptist had pointed at Jesus and cried, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." John didn't say, "Behold the Lamb of God who WILL take away the sins of the world." No, Jesus was carrying sins away right then and there. That's how come God can party with sinners. The sins that were between God and them are now on the back of His Son. The sins that rightly bring down God's wrath and judgement aren't on the sinners partying, but on Jesus.
Because our sins are on Jesus, those who know that are bold before Him, so bold that they dare ask the God of all creation for small things. The whole world knows there is a Supreme Being of whom you can ask supremely important things. The whole world knows there is an almighty God of whom you can ask mighty important things. But those who know God has put away their sins from them as far as east is from west, know they can come before the all-powerful God with the smallest of requests.
Here Mother Mary one of the first to know that the Savior of the world had come, puts before this Savior the fact that they're running out of wine. Now folks this "problem" at the very most is a social embarrassment. No one here lacks food or shelter. No one here is going to die or even suffer from a lack of wine. Furthermore, from what the master of the banquet says everyone already had drunk their full. But you know how it is in social situations. It is considered impolite to run out of food or drink at a wedding reception. So Mary lays this social problem at the feet of the Savior.
What a wonderful God is manifested to us in this story! A God who can be asked about the most simple of things. A heavenly Father who is as kind and understanding as an earthly father on his very best day when his 3 year old interrupts him to ask him to fix a broken toy. Is this your God people of God? Or are you being called to repent of viewing God as only to be interrupted when the problem is really big? Does your God care about wine running out at your party or only about the real crises in your life?
I know what you're going to say, "But look how He answers His mother." Yes, look at that. Mary here acts in accordance with Catholic theology. She prays to Jesus, that is what a request is, based on her special relationship to Him. You can see this in the text. She doesn't merely say to Jesus, "They are running out of wine." There is a lot of people speaking to people in this text, but only here is the Greek word the face to face preposition. She gets right in Jesus' face. She expects Jesus to act NOW based on what she has said.
Mary intercedes based on Catholic theology, that is, that Jesus won't tell His own mother no. But what is shown is the reverse. Jesus doesn't at all recognize in matters of prayer her special relationship to Him. He calls her "woman" not "mother." And He doesn't say, as the insert translates, "Why to you involve me," but, "What do you and ME have to do with this?" That is the strongest way in Greek of telling someone it is none of their business what you will do.
Friends, we have a God in flesh and blood who will tell His own mother to wait. We have a God incarnate who will not be influenced by the closest of personal relationships. Is this your God, or do you have one who plays favorites? I mean if you're good enough, try hard enough, ask right enough then maybe He can be moved to help you. Is your God One who answers your prayers based on how close you are to Him at that particular moment? Then what will you do dear friend when it happens, as it surely will, that you are far off from God because you have been straying, and yet you really need Him? Will you conclude that you don't dare ask Him because of your sins? Will you conclude that you better ask the pastor to pray because surely he must be closer to God than you are right now?
Friend, that is not how God really is. He doesn't answer prayers based on the worthiness of the person asking. He answers based on His grace. We can ask Him for small or big things not based on how close we are to Him, but based on Him coming in our flesh and blood to take away our sins.
And what about when this great God in our flesh and blood delays to act? Can you see from this text that when He does delay it is not because He doesn't love us or care about our need however small it might be? Look at the God we see here. He tells His own mother that His time has not yet come. Did He love His mother? Of course, He did more than any of us love ours. At the cross, the only personal thing He did was see to it that His mother would be cared for. So it was not because Jesus didn't love His Mother enough that He didn't act.
So it is with you mothers, fathers, and children. Because your God doesn't act when you think He should or the way you think He should, doesn't mean His love for you is any less. It simply means that it isn't time. It's like when you mothers and fathers don't do what you're child wants when he or she wants it. You know it has nothing to do with a lack of love for them, and so it is with the true God.
This text shows us a God who acts based on grace for sinners, and it shows us a God who acts in extreme ways. Extreme sports are very popular with those in their twenties and thirties. These are things like mountain biking, snow boarding, climbing, skydiving, and the like. The true God acts in the extreme. Mary wants Jesus to act while they're running out of wine. I know the insert translates "They have no more wine," but no less of a Greek authority than Martin Chemnitz says, The Greek word means "There was merely a shortage of wine, or the supply had run low." But what does our God do? He waits till it's all gone before He acts. He waits till the extreme when the bridegroom and the master of the banquet are nervous, and the guests start to realize that the wine is gone.
Yes, we have a God who often waits, as we sing, "till every earthly prop gives way." We have a God who doesn't give Abraham and Sarah a son till as Romans says Abraham was as good as dead and Sarah's womb was dead. We have a God who waits till the disciples are perishing before rescuing them from the storm. We have a God who waits till Israel is up against the Red Sea with the Egyptians at their backs and then He parts the waters.
Is this your God? Or do you have a God who is more like a genie? You wish and He commands. This is the God of many who boast of their miracles and, by the way, of their relationship with God. But a God who always acts when we say the way we say is not the God shown here. When Mary brings before Her God the problem of no wine, what do you think she expects Him to do? This was a one day wedding feast that the poor had. She wants just enough wine to get through the day. Some commentators even say that what Mary really wanted was for Jesus and His 5 disciples to leave, so that the wine would last longer! I don't really know what Mary expected Jesus to do, but it most certainly wasn't what He did do.
Mary wants enough wine to make it through the day. Her God, our God, gives 120-180 gallons. That's 614-922 bottles of wine. And this wine was not the kind in the box that I normally buy, but the kind that comes in a bottle, with a cork, and fancy foil wrapping at the top. And friends, they didn't need cases of wine after everyone had drunk freely. What Jesus was giving the bride and groom was a grand wedding present.
Scripture tells us plainly in Romans 8 that we don't know how to pray as we should, but this text shows us just as plainly that we have a God who knows how to answer and answer better than we ask or think. Mary prayed just about the embarrassing detail of running out of wine. Jesus answered how will this newlywed couple be able to get a start in this harsh world. Mary asked to save the groom from embarrassment; Jesus answered to save the couple from the difficulties of life when you're just getting started. Think not that this God at the wedding of Cana has gone back to heaven. He is still here among us. He is still hearing prayers of the simplest kind, and answering in the grandest of ways. A God like this brings forth prayers.
Did you notice how this text closes? It says that Jesus showed His glory here. This is a fitting conclusion. Based on the wedding of Cana what can we say is God's glory? To party with sinners. And He does still each week right here with Bread and Wine which really is His Body and Blood. God's glory is to be asked for small things. And we do each week right here when we pray for our God to give us simple, daily bread. God's glory is not to be moved by our relationship to Him but by His all knowing timing and His infinite grace. God's glory is to be extreme. He does more than we ask or even think. We ask for daily bread and He gives us His Body, the Bread of heaven. We ask quite rightly for physical health for our years on earth and He always gives us spiritual health for eternity. We ask for earth and He gives us heaven. No one in Cana complained how God answered Mary's prayer when they saw how it all worked out. We won't either once we see how the innumerable prayers we have offered have worked out. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany II (1-14-01) John 2:1-11