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on Jesus’ tab: an Epiphany sermon

January 14th, 2007 by isaac · 3 Comments

Title: On Jesus’ tab
Date: Jan. 14, 2007
Texts: Isaiah 62:1-5; I Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

Weddings are so frivolous. Or, Maybe I should say the wedding reception is the frivolous part. That’s not to say that they aren’t meaningful—they can be important, I guess. But no matter how simple they try to be, they always turn out to be quite the event, and that usually means that they require a lot of work. At least that was the case for my wedding, and I didn’t even do half of what Katie did. But I had to worry about all sorts of things that seemed so silly to me. Like what the center pieces should look like. Or what color ties the groomsmen should wear. Or what kind of wedding cake we should have. As you can probably tell, I can go on and on.

But what does it say about our God that Jesus’ first miracle happens at a wedding—well not even at the wedding ceremony, but the reception? It’s gotta be a joke, right?

John 2:11—“This, the first of his signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” This is funny. Don’t you think it’s funny? After the people at the wedding go through all the wine, Jesus makes more so the party can keep on going. And then John has the guts to tell us that this somehow revealed Jesus’ glory, and the disciples had faith because of it.

It reminds me of a shirt my friend Don wears. On the back it has a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants to make us happy.” Maybe that’s the sort of thing the disciples thought—this Jesus knows how to party, we’ll stick with him.

This is the season of Epiphany. It’s the time when Jesus appears, or shows his glory—that’s what Epiphany means. And John says that this turning water into wine reveals Jesus’ glory; it’s a sign that points to Jesus’ glory.

I think it’s absurd. But maybe the absurdity itself is part of what’s revealed. Maybe John is telling us something about the absurd, frivolous nature of Jesus—and in John’s gospel, Jesus says that he and the Father are one… so Jesus shows what God is like too. Not only does this absurd miracle in Cana reveal Jesus, it also shows us something about God.

But what does it show us? I think this sign points to God’s frivolous and indiscriminate grace, how God pours out the Holy Spirit upon us like overflowing wine. It shows God’s abundance, God’s self-giving abundance overflowing into our lives, even when our lives don’t seem to matter too much in the grand scheme of things—in our world dominated by powerful politicians or business people, or humanitarian or celebrity heroes, or even radical Christian witnesses. Those are the sorts of people that make headlines, not us.

It’s important to notice that Jesus’ first public sign, his first demonstration of glory in John’s gospel, happens in the small town of Cana. It doesn’t happen in Jerusalem. Not in Rome. Not in any important regional centers. It happens in Cana, in the backwaters of Galilee. Everything about this sign seems so wasteful.

But this is how Jesus works. He doesn’t wait for everything to be just right. He doesn’t wait for us to get our lives together. He doesn’t wait for us make ourselves worthy of his generosity. God is in the business of practicing indiscriminate grace, frivolous grace, what seems like wasteful grace.

When Jesus’ mother makes her insinuating statement, “They have no more wine”—Jesus replies, “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus respectfully declines. “My time has not yet come,” he says. The timing isn’t even right. But he does it anyway—it’s completely frivolous, no reason, no premeditated scheme, no carefully thought out strategy. Jesus doesn’t even call the newspapers before-hand to arrange a photo-op. It’s completely whimsical.

This second Sunday of Epiphany shows us that God is wasteful, and that’s good news. It’s good news because Jesus wastes his life for us, all of us. Just think about it. In a short amount of time, something like 3 years, Jesus was able to amass a huge support base. He tapped into the hearts and minds of peasants throughout Palestine. News of his proposed Kingdom spreads across the countryside like wildfire. Revolution was in the air. If anyone could set the course of history, it was Jesus.

But he fails. He dies. He gets killed. The bad guys win. He disappoints the masses. In some sense, he wastes his life. He had so much potential—he could have been something great, bigger than Gandhi, bigger than Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus could have bested any revolutionary. But he wastes it all; and he fails the revolution for the sake of us ordinary people, us everyday Christians.

The indiscriminate grace of our wasteful God is the new wine that flows from Jesus, as the soldiers pierced his side. And this new wine is the Holy Spirit.

Now the trouble in the Corinthian church is that there are people who claim that the Holy Spirit belongs only to a select few—they claim that there is a hierarchy ordained by God. Some people are more important in the grand scheme of things simply by birth, or by achievement—God ordained and ordered the different classes for the sake of social stability. And so there are some in the church who claim to have more of the Spirit, and are more important to God’s work, simply because of their status in society.

This is the context where we can hear Paul’s political, social, and economically disruptive message to the church in Corinth. Paul proclaims the gospel of God’s indiscriminate and frivolous grace in this context of hierarchy—a place where the stability and longevity of the social order takes on divine importance. God pours forth the Holy Spirit on all people out of his abundance, and breaks through any and all division, all boundaries. God is an unending source just like those bottomless glasses of wine in Cana.

I Cor. 12:6—“There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people.” The all is important. The Holy Spirit isn’t given to a few, to the important people—the Spirit goes everywhere; it overflows.

I Cor. 12:11—“All these activities are the work of the one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives them to each one, just as the Spirit determines.” Paul wants to make it clear that we don’t determine where the Holy Spirit goes; we don’t control God’s Spirit. The Spirit of God is given to all the people who gather to worship. And that means all of us. The dividing lines of our society don’t mean anything in this place of worship.

At this point I want to return to something Joe said last week in his sermon. He said, “there are always things hidden within our practices that we ourselves don’t even know about—we don’t even know that we don’t know.” Things hidden within our practices. If we read our passage from First Corinthians with this insight in mind, then I think it’s a call to a kind of mysticism—but it’s mysticism probably a bit different than what most people talk about.

I’m not talking about a mysticism that separates the spiritual from the material, the divine from our creaturely bodies. I’m talking about a mysticism that takes seriously the fact that God’s Spirit is moving in our midst, in and through the things we do. It’s a mysticism that finds the revealed mysteries of God, the Epiphany of our Lord, through the power of the Spirit poured out into our lives, and manifesting in the communal acts of worship—that’s what I think Paul’s point is.

This is a mysticism that takes Joe’s insight seriously too: “There are things hidden within our practices that we don’t know about.” And, according to Paul, that hidden thing is the one Holy Spirit, moving through all of us, uniting us, binding us together. The Spirit is at work in us, Paul says in verse 7, “for the common good.” We offer the abundance of God’s Spirit to each other, as we bring our bodies to worship—through our songs, our prayers, our sharing, our fellowship, and maybe even this sermon. It’s through all these things that we are brought into the embrace of God, our mystical union with God.

This place, our humble body, our seemingly unimportant fellowship, is like that village in the backwaters of Galilee. But this Epiphany story in John’s gospel shows us that this church is exactly the kind of place where Jesus shows up in all his whimsical extravagance.

But when Jesus shows up this next time, he comes as a bridegroom for his bride—Christ will come for his church. And our history, human history, is the courtship of God, a divine love affair: we are being wooed by Jesus through the Holy Spirit. This is the drama of our Scriptures—the drama of the people of God. The Holy Spirit is the all-consuming fire of God that called out to Moses from the burning bush, the pillar of fire that accompanied Israel in the wilderness—it’s the consuming fire of God’s love for us, his unceasing Spirit drawing us into God’s embrace—new wine, because God is drunk on his love for us, and he wants us to drink of his Spirit too, to drink on his tab.

We are invited to partake in the eternal mysteries of God love, the intimacies of the Spirit, the intimacies of communion, a mystical union, the intimacies of a marriage. The end of the drama of our Scriptures, the book of Revelation, talks about the consummation of history as the consummation of the union between Christ and the church, the bridegroom and his bride.

And this flaming love that draws us together, that binds us to God, is already here, as of foretaste, an appetizer; the Spirit is here wooing us. The abundant presence of God’s Sprit that Paul feels so strongly about can be seen in our midst, if look for the things hidden within our practices. But it takes a mystical gaze that watches for God’s love poured out through our bodies as we are joined together by the one Holy Spirit when we worship our Savior—that revolutionary Jesus who dumped the revolution for the sake of his frivolous love for us.

But you don’t have to listen to me; the Bible says it best. Let me read from the end of our passage from Isaiah: chapter 62, verse 5, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

Tags: sermons

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Flint // Jan 30, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    “I’m not talking about a mysticism that separates the spiritual from the material, the divine from our creaturely bodies. I’m talking about a mysticism that takes seriously the fact that God’s Spirit is moving in our midst, in and through the things we do. It’s a mysticism that finds the revealed mysteries of God, the Epiphany of our Lord, through the power of the Spirit poured out into our lives, and manifesting in the communal acts of worship—that’s what I think Paul’s point is.”

    Well said! I would, however, not restrict the “mystic participation” with the Holy Spirit to only communal worship, but extend it into all the events of our lives.

    An insightful sermon and again… Well Said.

  • 2 phang // Dec 30, 2010 at 3:55 am

    A drinkable sermon!

  • 3 isaac // Jan 5, 2011 at 6:02 am

    Flint and Phang, thanks for reading my sermon and for the comments.