The abundance of God’s grace is revealed to the world in the Incarnate Son of God who first reveals that abundance in the changing of water into wine, the bringing of the extraordinary joy of God’s presence to the ordinary things of our lives.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Second Sunday after Epiphany, year C; texts: John 2:1-11
Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
There is sometimes a spirit among the people of the United States (and perhaps other peoples, but this is where we live and have experienced it) that seems to be afraid of not having enough. Perhaps it comes from the shaping of the Great Depression, but we seem too easily to step into the trap of thinking we’re tight on what we need, that things are short, and we’d better look out for ourselves, despite our having so much more than the majority of our fellow human beings. This spirit shows itself in a fierce hatred of taxes among some, even if those taxes make life better for all citizens (building roads and schools, for example), and especially if those taxes help others in deeper need than we ourselves. It shows itself in a meanness of self-centered concerns in voting, in a selfish withholding of grace and forgiveness to others, as if we diminish the supply if we pour it out on people we don’t think deserve it, and in a fear of losing what we have so that we cling to our ways and our things with white-knuckled hands.
Yet others, even many among us in our country and in our midst, somehow have a sense of abundance, even in times of want. These are people who amaze and astonish us with their graciousness, their open-handedness, in material and spiritual things. People who always seem to have something to share with another person, even if they themselves seem deprived. People whose joy at being forgiven and loved compels them to love others no matter what. These people inspire us to consider that perhaps, with a different way of seeing and thinking about our lives and our world, we, too, could know such joy and peace.
Today we celebrate the third manifestation of Epiphany, a manifestation the Church has long linked to the other two we’ve celebrated the past two weeks, which is why we decided to extend our Epiphany white an extra week into the green season. In this manifestation the adult Son of God reveals his glory. In making a party more abundant. In making sure there’s enough wine to extend the joviality and festivities. There are many who wish to dismiss this action as trivial, trying to understand why Jesus would do such a thing, for in the big picture of the suffering of life, who cares about having enough wine? But John the Evangelist says this is pivotal, this is the “first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and [he] revealed his glory.” John suggests we pay close attention to this raucous party, and particularly to our Lord’s participation in it.
There’s a lovely moment in this story when the steward says about this new wine, “this is the good stuff.” Perhaps that’s what our Lord invites us to see as we encounter this, the first revelation of his glory. Perhaps our Lord needs us to see the “good stuff,” the abundance that God has given us and the world, rather than continue to grumble that we might run out of what we need some day.
John seems to be speaking of more than just the first sign among many miracles when he says, “this was the first.” Because in John’s Gospel, when the Incarnate Son arrives, abundance flows, and it’s always far from unimportant.
At Cana, this first sign is excessive and beyond what is needed: even if a party is running out of wine, even if it is, as were wedding feasts in those days, a three day affair, would they really need between 120 and 180 gallons of wine? And wonderful wine at that?
But that’s the best part of the story, isn’t it? (Well, apart from the wonderful give and take that Mary and her son Jesus have.) But this is the glory of this sign: the groom and his family need more wine so as not to be embarrassed before their neighbors and friends. Jesus gives them more wine than they could begin to consume in weeks of celebrating. So the glory revealed here is that when the Triune God, Incarnate in the Son, comes to a party, there’s not only enough for all. There’s beyond enough. And it’s all good stuff, fine vintage.
But such abundance anchors the entire Gospel of John, beginning, middle and end. Central to the story of Jesus’ ministry in John is the story of the feeding of 5,000 plus, a story all four Evangelists tell, but one which only John expands into a deep, critical meditation on the gift of Jesus himself.
But to start with, it’s a Cana party, all over again. There’s no food, well, except for a little boy’s lunch, and many are hungry. The disciples, in the role of Mary, ask Jesus what is to be done. And just as at Cana, Jesus acts as if he doesn’t know what he will do, here questioning Philip as to what he thinks should be done. But then he has the disciples seat the people, and feeds them from five loaves and two fish.
Nothing is said about the quality of the sandwiches, as was said at Cana about the wine, but as at Cana, there’s not just enough for all. There’s far more than enough. Twelve baskets are filled with the leftovers. These are hungry, poor people. If there are that many leftovers, it is only because they were satiated, satisfied, filled. And once more, the glory revealed here is that when the Triune God, Incarnate in the Son, comes to a picnic, there’s not only enough for all. There’s beyond enough.
When we move to the end of the Gospel of John, once more we see a sign like this, after Jesus’ resurrection. Seven disciples have left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee, for reasons John doesn’t explain. They fish all night, at Peter’s insistence, and catch nothing. Luke tells a similar story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. But John says the same thing happened here.
Because when they start rowing to shore in the morning, with empty nets, they see Jesus on the shore (though they don’t know it is he.) And he once more acts as if he doesn’t know what will happen, and asks them if they’ve caught anything. When they say no, he invites them to try the right side of the boat. And they catch so many fish they aren’t able to haul the net in.
When they come to shore, Peter having swum in since he now knows it’s Jesus, they have breakfast with their Lord, using these fish they caught. But John adds a detail which I used to think odd: he says they caught 153 large fish. Why, I have wondered, does the number and size matter?
But in the light of Cana, and the feeding of 5,000, I think I understand: once again we not only have enough, we have more than enough. Eight people for breakfast, 153 large fish. That’s what the Son of God does. Once again, the glory revealed here is that when the Triune God, Incarnate in the Son, comes to a fishing expedition, there’s not only enough for all. There’s beyond enough.
So if, in spite of this abundance of stories about God’s abundance, we still have that sense that we don’t have enough, maybe that’s because we aren’t seeing properly.
In all three of these revelations of abundance, there are people who can’t see what’s happened.
Only the disciples and the servants know the truth about the wine, not the bridegroom, nor the steward, nor the wedding guests.
In John 6, Jesus spends a great deal of time talking about the feeding of the 5,000 and it’s clear that even the disciples don’t really realize what happened there, and certainly not Jesus’ opponents.
And whatever the seven disciples in Galilee thought about the breakfast on the beach after Jesus’ resurrection, I never fully understood the 153 fish until now, in spite of the fact that this encounter is one of the stories that norm and shape my faith and life. It just seemed an odd detail to include.
So the question in our lives seems to be not “do we have enough,” but “are we actually sure we’re seeing clearly what we have?”
And our vision is related to our expectations.
If we have an idea of how much money we need in the bank to be secure, and we don’t have that much, we will be insecure. If we, however, can see how to get by on much less than we normally would think, then we have a completely different vision along with a different attitude.
If we have an idea that all things need to be good and happy and whole for us to be happy and fulfilled, then when things are hard or broken or painful, we will feel miserable. If, however, we recognize the promise that God is with us always, even in our hard times, our painful times, then whether we are rich or poor, whether all things are going well or all things are falling apart, “whether we live or whether we die,” as Paul says, we realize we are the Lord’s.
If we have an idea of what the “good stuff” is that is based on the world’s evaluation – the best of things money can buy, the finest things in the world – then if we aren’t able to have such things we will be dissatisfied with our life and our lot. But when a man dying of thirst in a desert finds a pool of brackish water that most would consider unfit to drink, it tastes like the finest spring water, cool and refreshing. It’s all about one’s point of view. What God provides us is far more than brackish water. But if we are expecting the world’s standard of “good stuff,” we might miss the incredible abundance of riches God actually gives.
What Jesus’ manifestation at Cana invites us to do is see God’s action differently, and begin to lose our fear.
And so as we gather here once more to worship the Triune God, we gather to be fed with an embarrassment of abundance. To be blessed by the gracious Word of God in speech, song, and prayer, filling us with the good news of God’s love for us and the world. A good news which transforms our lives forever.
We gather to be blessed by the Meal of Life our Lord gives us, filling us also with the good news of God’s love for us and the world. Once more, Jesus transforms the ordinary, this bread and wine, into the extraordinary grace of his crucified and risen life, his forgiveness, life and love that is ours and the world’s in this meal.
We gather to be blessed by the presence of our Lord himself as promised in these people around us, yet again filling us with the good news of God’s love for us and the world. That the abundance of God’s love and grace abide in us and in each other and that we are sent, filled, graced, loved, to fill, grace, and love the world in God’s name, abundantly and eternally.
And when we see God acting in such abundance, abundant grace, abundant goods, abundant life, we also begin to live as if there will always be enough, instead of fearing we are falling short. We learn to rejoice at the many ways God cares for us and the world, and learn to see abundance where it really is. And let our fears subside by opening our hands to share. And so we become part of God’s abundance in our fearlessness.
So we see that in each of these abundance stories, the people bring something to God, share something, which is then blessed to expand in dramatic, ridiculous ways.
Jars are filled to brimming with water, the stuff of life, and Jesus transforms it into glorious wine, flowing beyond belief.
A boy has a small lunch to share, nothing, really, but the stuff of life for him, and Jesus transforms it into food for all, and more to spare.
The disciples work all night and catch nothing, but offer their work one more time at Jesus’ instruction, and Jesus transforms an empty net into a net bursting with goodness and food, more than they could begin to eat.
And so it is with us, when we have learned to trust God to provide, we offer what we have to let God so transform it that the world is filled to the brim with God’s goodness. We are a part of God’s astonishing abundance by wasting less, taking less, learning to share with our sisters and brothers so that all might have enough, learning not to be afraid, beginning to see God’s abundance for all. Through our new vision and lack of fear, God works not only to fill us to the brim, but to fill others as well, that all might live.
The “Good Stuff” is everywhere when the Triune God, Incarnate in the Son, is among us. That’s what we see today and always.
May God open our eyes to see this revelation, this manifestation which continues in our midst, that we might see the abundance God has poured out on us and on the world. And may the Spirit of God so empower us that we become signs of that foolish, frivolous, and life-giving abundance to all we meet and see, signs of the love of the Incarnate Son among us, who, when he comes to a party makes it so there’s not only enough for all. There’s beyond enough, astonishingly so.
In the name of Jesus. Amen