January 20, 2019
Isaiah 62:1-5, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
New never gets old!
Jesus turns water into wine! This is one of the best stories ever told. A few good jokes are actually based on this story:
An Irish priest is driving down to New York and gets stopped for speeding in Connecticut. The traffic officer smells alcohol on the priest’s breath and then sees an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car. “Sir, have you been drinking?” asks the officer. “Just water,” replies the priest. Having none of this, the officer slowly and deliberately asks, “Then why do I smell wine?” Without so much as a blink of an eye, the priest looks down at the bottle and exclaims, “Oh no! He’s done it again!”
They say that the drought is so bad in South Africa that Christians are praying for Jesus to turn the wine into water.
What is actually funnier is that in some theological circles there is a serious debate going on whether the water turned into wine was real wine. The argument ranges from …it was not actually wine, it was grape juice to …it was a new wine that did not have time to ferment, therefore it was excessively watered down wine.
Arguments like these of course miss the entire intention of this wonderful story that appears in the Gospel of John and nowhere else. Furthermore, this story appears in chapter 2 immediately after Jesus calls Phillip and Nathanael. Jesus is now about to start his public ministry and the first thing he does is to turn water into wine.
As I mentioned before, John’s Gospel is a fascinating Gospel. It is also called an incarnational Gospel because it starts with Jesus, the logos, who is with God and who is God, becoming flesh. The informed reader of John’s Gospel always has to look for what is below the surface, for the theological meaning. So even though on the surface, the story is about Jesus turning water into wine, below the surface is a deeper theological meaning of Jesus bringing something new, something better.
There is a reason why the third day is mentioned: the day of resurrection. There is a reason it is a wedding: it is a joyous occasion. The jars hold about 120-180 gallons and they are filled to the brim: abundance! The quality of the wine is excellent: Jesus brings joy, it is good and it is in abundance.
Jesus turning water into wine is not a miracle, it is a sign. It shows that when Jesus became flesh, when he died and when he was resurrected he introduced a time of joy, abundance and goodness for humankind. Jesus brings new life for he shows that God loves us more than we can ever imagine.
So you see, questions about whether this was a miracle, or whether this was real wine or just grape juice, miss the theological point. The text is saying: The time has arrived, Jesus is here to introduce to people who are caught up in the old, dull, joyless life, a new full, abundant life of unrestricted joy!
When we look back on the newness, the full, abundant life of unrestricted joy that Christ introduced, do we still appreciate it? Or have we perhaps become used to it? Or do we take it for granted?
As human beings we very easily take things for granted. We think: Ah, this is how it is, was and should be! For centuries people have waited for God to bring about something new. For centuries people longed for God to show them something new, they lived on a promise like ancient Israel.
Isaiah 62:3-4 “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, or Desolate. You shall be called My Delight Is in Her and your land Married for the Lord delights in you! And God shall rejoice over you.”
They waited for a very long time, sometimes patiently, often impatiently and discouraged. And then, John is saying that the time has arrived. Here is God’s gift in Jesus Christ. Here is new life. Here is joy and abundance as God’s gift!
So the next question is: What now? What do I do with God’s gift? Do I embrace it? Do I implement and practice it to live a life of joy? Do I show newness in the way I look at the world? Or do I fall back onto the old way of doing things?
Years ago, when personal computers were still a rare novelty, Marie and I made the decision to purchase one. We were very excited because we were convinced that our lives will be changed by this piece of new technology. We unpacked the heavy monitor with its surprisingly small screen, we unpacked the keyboard and connected the cables, and when everything was in place we plugged it in, turned it on and waited. Now this was before windows and the mouse. The operating system back then was MSDOS. For those of you who don’t know this system, it was a command-line-based system, where all commands are entered in text form and there is no graphical user interface. Marie and I looked at the screen and then at each other. We had no idea what command to enter! In short, we could not use the PC. We had to learn MSDOS and the only way to do it was to sit down and start working on it. Our wonderful gift was useless because we could not use it.
God’s gift of new life, joy, abundance and peace is freely available to all. But if we don’t work on using these gifts they are useless for they are intended to be practiced! It sounds simple because it is simple but only if you embrace it and implement it.
The Apostle Paul of course knew this spiritual truth very well. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, he tells the members of the church: “I don’t want you to be uninformed about God’s spiritual gifts.” The background is that some members in the congregation were considering their spiritual gifts as of more importance than other people’s gifts. They were especially proud of the gifts that were visible, audible and distinguishing them from the lesser Christians. The gift here is of course speaking in tongues.
Those who spoke in tongues considered their gift as a sign that they were more spiritual, better than those who did not possess this gift. No, the Apostle is saying. Not so! There are many gifts and they are all equally important. There are people who show remarkable wisdom and knowledge, some have incredible faith and trust, some have abilities to heal the sick, others to prophecy. One is not better than the other.
But what is the Apostle’s point? His point actually is that these visible and extraordinary gifts of God’s Spirit do not make one person better than another. The determining factor is that the Spirit of God, the main gift of God, enables people to say: “Jesus is Lord!”
The Spirit of God makes it possible to accept and embrace God’s gift in Christ Jesus.
The hope of Isaiah 62 has arrived when Jesus became flesh. That was when God’s gift of joy, new and abundant life was presented to humankind. God’s Spirit enables us to embrace this divine gift by confessing that Jesus is Lord!
And now it is up to us to implement, use and practice what this gift means. It is a daily process, we have to remind ourselves of the newness that has become ours. We have to focus on walking with the Spirit in love and forgiveness. We have to practice to look at the world though a different lens, to trust God for the future, to not be fearful. These things do not come naturally, they call for commitment and discipline.
And how do we know that we are on the right track? How do we know that we are practicing what God wants us to be? The same Apostle Paul in the very next chapter gives us the most important metric if you will. Love! Whenever we practice love, we know that we are doing what God wants us to do. Whenever we are patient and kind, we know we are walking in God’s path of new life. Whenever we are envious, boastful, arrogant or rude, we can know that we go against what God wants. This is also true for insisting on your own way and being resentful. Those who rejoice in the truth are doing what God wants, those who rejoice in wrongdoing not so much.
Why? For love bears all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Love never ends. Those wo follow this path will always be on the right side of history. The greatest is love.
Why is love so important? You see, God’s gift of new life, of abundant joy was given to us as an act of God’s grace. Why? “For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him!”
This was new back then. But this is still new and it will never get old! Amen.