Sermon 06-08-14: “Party Time!”

June 16, 2014

Wedding Receptions

Since June is the most popular month for people to get married, I’m going to spend the rest of the month looking at weddings in the Gospels. We begin with the Wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11.

In John’s Gospel, the miracles of Jesus are called “signs”: in addition to demonstrating God’s power, they also communicate something about Jesus’ identity and purpose. What does it mean, therefore, that the very first sign that Jesus performs isn’t about healing the sick, driving out demons, or raising the dead, but enabling people to continue to party? This sermon answers that question.

Sermon Text: John 2:1-11

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.

I don’t need to tell you that weddings are a big deal. According to a 2012 report, the cost of the average American wedding, including the reception, is $28,427. It’s even higher in more affluent areas.[1] In Santa Barbara, California it’s over $42,000. Manhattan weddings average nearly $77,000. In other words, many couples are spending on a single event lasting a few hours the equivalent of a year’s tuition at college, or what the average American makes in a year.

As big a deal as weddings are today, however, it’s safe to say that they were an even bigger deal back in Jesus’day. In fact, weddings remain a bigger deal in more traditional societies. Several years ago, there was a movie called Bend It Like Beckham, about a soccer-playing teenage girl in England who came from a very traditional Indian family. Her older sister is getting married, and her very traditional wedding lasted for three days—it looked like three days of non-stop partying. A lot of fun!

The traditional days-long wedding depicted in this movie was much closer to the way weddings were in Jesus' day.

The traditional days-long wedding depicted in this movie was much closer to the way weddings were in Jesus’ day.

It was similar in Jesus’ day, but even more so. An ancient Jewish wedding could last up to seven days. And it was also a non-stop party. Nearly everyone in the village came. It was was the social event of the year! But if something went wrong—like, for instance, running out of wine before the wedding was over—it was deeply shameful. It would ruin a family’s good name and reputation.

So Mary, the mother of Jesus, was probably a close friend of the groom’s family, and she was eager to help. So she asked her son Jesus. Surely he could perform some cute little miracle and get their friends out of a jam.

Of course, that’s not what miracles are for! That’s why, in John’s Gospel, miracles are always referred to not as miracles but “signs.”A sign doesn’t exist for its own sake—we don’t view a traffic sign, for example, the way we might view the Mona Lisa. No, a sign’s purpose is to point us to something else. In the same way, Jesus doesn’t perform a miracle just because he can, or even in order to help his friends out; no, the miracles Jesus performs point to something else—they communicate something about who he is, or what it means to live in God’s kingdom, or what his purpose on earth is. For Jesus, miracles have symbolic meaning.

What symbolic meaning, therefore, will his very first miracle hold?

Whatever it symbolizes, it must be incredibly important. What’s the first thing Jesus needs to say about who he is or why he’s here? Should he tell the world that he came to bring spiritual healing and wholeness? He could do that by healing the sick or making the lame walk, but that’s not what he does here. Should he prove that he’s the light of the world, through whom people can see the truth about themselves and God? He could do that by giving eyesight to the blind, but that’s not what he does here. Should he prove that he came to defeat Satan and the forces of evil? He could do that by performing an exorcism. But that’s not what he does here. Should he show the world that he’s the true Lord of the universe? He could do that by calming a storm or walking on water. But that’s not what he does here. Should he show the world that he’s the resurrection and the life, and that through faith in him we have eternal life and resurrection? He could do that by raising the dead. But that’s not what he does here, either.

Instead, he performs a miracle that enables party-goers to keep on partying—or more accurately, to make an existing party even better!

To help us understand this, let’s first notice what the chief steward says in verse 10: When he tastes the miraculous wine, he calls the bridegroom in and says, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” See, the chief steward assumes the bridegroom is the one responsible for this rich, delicious wine. Because the bridegroom is always the one who provides the wine at weddings. He doesn’t realize, of course, that Jesus is the one who provided this wine.

And if Jesus provided the wine at the wedding, it’s almost as if Jesus were the true bridegroom…And that’s because, well, Jesus is the true bridegroom!

You see, in the Bible, there are many metaphors that describe our relationship with God: He’s the king, and we’re his subjects. He’s the master, and we’re his servants. He’s the shepherd, and we’re his sheep. He’s the commander, and we’re his faithful troops. He’s the father, and we’re his children. And each of these metaphors captures some truth about our relationship with God. But there’s another powerful metaphor that describes the most intimate relationship of all: He’s the bridegroom, and we’re the bride.

The image of God as husband or bridegroom to his people is found in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea—it’s also the image at the center of the Song of Solomon. And in the Gospels, Jesus makes a startling claim: he refers to himself as the bridegroom—his cousin John the Baptist calls Jesus that as well, and refers to himself is the “best man.”And both Ephesians and Revelation describe Christ as the bridegroom who will marry his bride, the church, at the climax of history, after Christ’s Second Coming, on the other side of our own resurrection.

Among other things, through this miracle, Jesus is claiming to be God, God-in-the-flesh, who loves us human beings the way a bridegroom loves a bride. Think about that.

I’ve officiated dozens of weddings during the course of my ministry. And as pastor I have the best seat in the house because I always have an unobstructed view of the bride when she enters the back of the sanctuary and walks down the center aisle. I can say from experience that every bride, no matter who she is, now matter how young or old, no matter what shape or size, is always beautiful, radiant—I mean they spend many weeks and a lot of money making sure that they look that way! But I love to see the face of the groom when he sees his bride standing at the end of the aisle. Often he looks astonished—and does a double-take, as if he’s never seen a lovelier vision in his life! And he hasn’t! Sometimes I feel like I ought to grab the collar of his shirt to keep him from running up the aisle to get her! In that moment, she is the answer to his heart’s deepest desire.

Brothers and sisters, do you dare imagine that God sees you like that? That God desires you like that? That God loves you like that? Do you dare imagine that God’s love for you could be as powerful, as intense, as passionate, as intimate as that—only much, much greater, because of course no merely human bridegroom can ever love the way God loves?

Jesus Christ loves you like that! And he’s jealous for you the way a bridegroom is jealous for his bride. And he wants you to belong to him the way a bride belongs to her bridegroom. He wants you exclusively. He won’t share you with anyone.

In his book The Meaning of Marriage, pastor and author Tim Keller talks about the tragic mistake that married people often make: they look to their spouse, he says, to be their savior. They look to their spouse to give meaning to their life, to fix them, to meet all their needs, to fulfill them, to make them whole. But no human being is big enough to fill that God-sized vacuum in their hearts. So this leads to disappointment, disillusionment…and maybe even divorce. If you saw the series finale of the TV show How I Met Your Mother, chances are you were disappointed. For one thing, the show had spent a couple of years developing the unlikely romance and engagement between Barney Stinson and Robin Scherbatsky. And in the finale, they did a flash-forward several years into the future, and it turns out that Barney and Robin divorced after only a couple of years of marriage.

barney_robin

Barney and Robin get married on “How I Met Your Mother.”

And I’m like, “Well of course they did!”They were both so needy there was no way they could ever be satisfied with one another! They were asking for so much more than the other could give them!

This is why Jesus speaks those controversial words: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”[2] He’s using hyperbole. He doesn’t mean that you literally hate these people. He means you can’t value any relationship ahead of your relationship with Jesus, the true bridegroom. It’s not because Jesus is mean and doesn’t want you to have fun; it’s because he knows that no one other than Jesus can fulfill your heart’s deepest longings. If you want to be happy and joyful and content in life, Christ must come first. Always! Everyone else will disappoint you, let you down. Everyone else will leave you empty; Christ will fill you up. Only Christ can make us happy and bring us joy.

After all, scripture says that our life with him is like a party. So it’s safe to say that we are not practicing our Christian faith properly if we are not in the process of becoming happier and more joyful people!

What if we made joy a part of our membership vows? “Do you pledge to serve Jesus and support this church through your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness?”“We do.”“Do you promise to be joyful in the Lord? Will you live your life as if God has invited you to a party and not a funeral?”“We will.”

Easier said than done, right? Joy isn’t just something you can just flip a switch and turn on. How do you become a joyful person?

Allow me share a few ideas that emerge from today’s scripture:

First, we pray! We’ve talked already about how our relationship with God is like marriage. I’m guessing that most of our marriages would be in trouble if we spent as little time talking to our spouses as we do talking to the Lord! The fact is, Mary gives us an example of faithful prayer in today’s scripture. Think about it: She tells the Lord what she would like for him to do. Her prayer isn’t perfect. Her motives aren’t quite right. She doesn’t quite know what she’s asking for. Yet, if she hadn’t gone to him and asked, he would never have worked this miracle in her life—and she and the rest of the people at the wedding would have missed out on the blessing! God will do things for us that he otherwise wouldn’t do if only we ask!

And someone might say, answered prayer is just a coincidence. You’re asking for stuff that was going to happen anyway. I like what 20th-century Anglican theologian William Temple said, “When I pray, coincidences happen; when I don’t, they don’t.”

Second, we don’t just ask God for things—we listen. Remember: Mary told his servants, “Do whatever he tells you”? How do we know what he tells us to do? We listen. The number one way we listen is by reading his Word, the Bible. Reading the Bible isn’t like reading any other book. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ within, speaks to us through it. The Spirit helps connect God’s Word to what’s going on in our lives. If you’re going through a “stormy”time in your life, for example, it’s helpful to read scripture like Mark 4:35-41, about the time the disciples were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. They were fighting wind and wave, bailing water, and afraid they were going to drown. And Jesus says, “Peace. Be still!”and silences the wind and the wave. That reminds us that Christ is with us and gives us the confidence to face the storms in our own lives.

How do we have that assurance if we don’t take time to listen to him speak to us?

Third, as Mary says, we “do whatever he tells us”—even when it’s hard, even when it doesn’t make sense. Notice that after Mary asks for the miracle, Jesus doesn’t snap his fingers and make wine. He requires people to do things in response. Mary gave orders to the servants, the servants filled up the water-jars. Our Lord often cooperates with us in order to answer our prayer. God will answer our prayers, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t also have work to do in the meantime—to be part of that answer.

Fourth, we recognize that all other wine runs out except the wine that Jesus offers. I’m speaking figuratively. What is the “wine”in your life that you drink in order to bring you joy? Is it your career? Financial success? Sports? Friends? Popularity? Recognition? Technology, gadgets?—oh my goodness, I can’t bear to be without from my iPhone! I get so anxious when it’s not in my pocket or in my hand. It’s like a drug sometimes! Nothing except the wine that Jesus offers can truly satisfy us.

Jesus is the true bridegroom, and because of that, guess what? He’ll pay any price to make you his own.

You can see this in the fact that John tells us that these stone water-jars were used for Jewish purification rites. In other words, before eating dinner, the people in the house would wash their hands in this water—not to wash away germs the way we do today—but as a way of ceremonially washing away their sin. Of course, the water couldn’t really wash away sin. But you know what could? The blood of Jesus. Remember during the Last Supper when Jesus held up the cup of wine and said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”[3] The wine in these stone jars symbolizes Christ’s blood.

We know that his death was in his mind because he says to his mother, “My hour hasn’t come.”Whenever Jesus talks about his “hour,”he’s talking about the cross. He’s talking about dying.

normandy_beach

Last Friday, our nation, along with Britain and Canada, commemorated the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the decisive battle of World War II, when 160,000 Allied troops invaded the Normandy beaches of northern France—when nearly 10,000 American soldiers sacrificed their lives to help secure the liberation of France, the defeat of Hitler and the Nazis, victory in World War II, and the liberation of Jews from concentration camps and the gas chambers. I can’t help but think of that first wave of American troops approaching Omaha Beach that morning—facing a hail of bullets and mortar rounds from the well-fortified cliffs above the beach. The soldiers knew they were overmatched. They knew the deadly danger that lay ahead of them. They knew the odds were stacks against them. They surely heard this voice in their heads shouting, “Save yourself! Run away! Think of all you’ll lose if you die!”In spite of all this, they still summoned the courage to put one foot in front of the other, even though each step brought them closer to death. What courage! I can’t get inside their heads and imagine what they were thinking as they approached the beach and their impending death? I can’t imagine!

But I can imagine what Jesus was thinking in today’s scripture as he looked forward to the cross and his impending death. He was thinking, “It’s totally worth it!”It’s totally worth sacrificing my life in order to save the life of [name]. It’s totally worth it in order to save [name]. It’s totally worth it in order to save [name]. It’s totally worth it in order to save you!

Are you saved? Do you want to be? Do you know that you can be?

[1] Found at http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2013/june/3062413.html

[2] Luke 14:26

[3] Matthew 26:27-28

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