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First Impressions: John 2:1-11

January 12, 2010

Last week we meditated about the waters of baptism, and this week Jesus turns them into wine.  Since we have moved into John’s gospel, you may want to drink plenty of that good wine if you hope to catch all of his symbolism and hidden meanings.  I will not try to reproduce the scholarship of others here, but only to give you some possibilities for preaching this text.

2:1-2 The scene is a wedding, a fairly typical human event.  Jesus had been invited to join in, so he wasn’t a gate crasher.  His mother and his disciples were also there.  In William Willimon’s treatment of the text in Pulpit Resource (“God Comes to Us,” Volume 38, No. 1, 13-16) he uses the fact of Jesus’ presence at such an event as his point of departure.  God meets us in our lives, and erases our false distinction between sacred and secular.  God infuses all life, so nothing is truly secular, but all is sacred.  He moves further away from the text in describing that God who comes to us in the messy ordinariness of human life.  It is preachable, but I will go in a different direction.

2:3-5 In one of John’s most amusing scenes, Jesus’ mother made a simple observation about the wine running out.  It was, clearly, intended to be one of those mother’s comments that is really a demand for action.  “I noticed that your room is getting pretty messy” really means “Clean up that pig sty.”  Jesus’ response was really more fitting to a teenager than a Messiah:  “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?”  As one of my colleagues noted, most such conversations take a turn for the worse once you address your mother as “woman.”

The point of Jesus’ words, of course, is that his hour has not yet come.  His mother has hopes and expectations of her son, but now is not the time.  I am considering preaching about this idea of God’s time and our time.  Gerard Sloyan  (Interpretation: John [Atlanta: John Knox, 1988], 32-39.) discusses the idea of two worlds with two different timing mechanisms at work existing side-by-side—or even one within the other.  There is one world, a world of weddings and wine and ordinary human activity.  Within and without that world, there is also the divine existence.  He writes that John’s gospel “goes back and forth from one world to another, one eon to the next with silent ease.”

A sermon along this line could encourage hearers to see the world for more than what it appears on the surface, to see deeply.  It is probably too dorky to use the concept “I see you” from the movie Avatar, but that is precisely the image.  As I watched that film, I couldn’t help but think of the animated Pocahontas, in which the natural world speaks in ways that cannot be perceived by ordinary hearing.  How can we see God who moves in ways that are so mysterious, so subtle, so hidden?  How were the first disciples able to “see” Jesus so that they followed and believed?

2:6-9 This is a description of the miracle itself.  I am going to stay far away from the implications of these stone jars and their role in the rites of purification.  The text has much more to say.

2:10 Here, we learn that Jesus has created a new problem even as he solved the problem of running out of wine.  The bridegroom is going to be looking cheap for trying to save the best wine in hopes that he wouldn’t have to serve it to his crummy new in-laws and the people from work he doesn’t really like anyway.  My colleague (the same one mentioned above; all right, all right, it’s Jonathan Chute of Rolling Hills UMC) said that at first glance, the story seems to tell us that Jesus would be a handy guy to have around.  We’re always running out of ketchup at my house, and so I could just fill the empty bottle with water, bring it to Jesus, and the French fry emergency would be solved.  But then comes the unintended consequence: the new wine is better than the old.  The ancient truth is that we cannot control God.  Jesus is not my valet.  Even Jesus’ mother is tempted to use him as a fixer, but he only takes orders from the Father.  I may take the sermon in that direction.

2:11 This is the punch line.  The disciples believed because this event revealed Jesus’ true glory.  Again, the question is about what prompts our belief?  You might answer the question for yourself in the sermon.  What caused you to believe in the first place?

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