Transformational Ministry

Pastor Monte Stevens  ―  North Riverdale Lutheran Church
January 17, 2016  ―  John 2:1-11

Transformational Ministry

Years ago when Johnny Carson was the host of The Tonight Show he interviewed an eight year old boy. The young man was asked to appear because he had rescued two friends in a coalmine outside his hometown in West Virginia. As Johnny questioned the boy, it became apparent to him and the audience that the young man was a Christian.

So Johnny asked him if he attended Sunday school. When the boy said he did, Johnny inquired, “What are you learning in Sunday school?”

“Last week,” came his reply, “our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine.” The audience roared, but Johnny tried to keep a straight face.

Then he said, “And what did you learn from that story?”

The boy squirmed in his chair. It was apparent he hadn’t thought about this. But then he lifted up his face and said, “Well, if you’re going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus!” The little boy was on to something.

Before we delve into the meanings of this text, there are a few items of interest that I would like to mention. The following is in some ways the process I go through to begin to unpack a text until it reveals its meaning. First, in which gospels does this story of the wedding of Cana appear?

It is John, and John alone, that mentions this story. You won’t find this story in Matthew, Mark or Luke. We often think of this as a miracle story, although it is never called a miracle by the author of the gospel. What is it called?  It’s called a sign.  Verse 11 says, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs.”

Look at your bulletin cover. Do you remember how many signs Jesus does in John’s gospel? I’ll give you a hint – it’s a good biblical number. Think of a good biblical number?  40 is a good biblical number;40 is a symbol of a long period of time. The Israelites were wandering in the wilderness 40 years, not literally, but for a long time. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights, not literally, but for a very long time, long enough for water to cover all the land. That would take a very long time, thus the 40 day and night symbol. And again it was not a literal flood where God callously killed all the people and animals of the earth, it was a symbol of God starting anew.

We all need to start over at times and even God needs to start anew now and again, at least symbolically. Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, again it’s a story not to be taken literally.  He went through a long period of testing. When you hear forty you should think symbol, and translate for a very long time. Does Jesus perform 40 signs in John’s gospel? No, but 40 is a good biblical number.

How many signs did John have Jesus perform in his gospel?  Seven – and seven is a good biblical number.  Right?  It is the biblical number of perfection. How many days did it take God to create the heavens and the earth and all that dwells therein? It took six day and nights and on the 7th day it was completed, and brought to perfection with God resting. Again this not a literal story of how God created the heavens and earth, this is not science. Genesis chapter one is a hymn of creation; a process that began in chaos, and reached perfection and completion on the 7th day.

John chose 7 signs, of which the wedding of Cana is the first, and the raising of his friend Lazareth is the 7th. This was an intentional number that John chose.  No more, no less. It was perfect, as Jesus was the perfect revelation of God, and for John the perfect creation of a human being.

John is our most symbolic of all the gospel writers. Almost everything has several meanings, and John never hits you over the head with one meaning. He has layers and layers of meaning, just like peeling back an onion. Here are a few other things to quickly point out.  John never names the mother of Jesus. He never calls her Mary.  The only name she has is “The mother of Jesus.” The mother of Jesus only appears twice in the gospel here at the beginning; the beginning of his public ministry and at the end where his ministry ends, at the foot of the cross.

What is also interesting and points to the reality that the gospel writers are not trying to present a historical story, but rather a theological narrative, is that in each gospel Jesus begins his public ministry with a different event:

For Matthew it’s the Sermon on the Mount.

For Mark he begins with an exorcism.

For Luke it’s interpreting scripture in the synagogue.

For John it’s offering a sign at the wedding of Cana.

So what was John trying to say through this first sign? Our first clue comes from Jesus’ dramatic line, “My time (hour) has not come.”  John – written at least 70 years after Jesus’ death – is looking back and saying something quite profound about Jesus. John is saying, with Jesus we are entering into a new time. This is not chronological time that is measured with a clock. This kairos time, this was the beginning of a new age.  This was a new eon. This is kairos time. This is regular time transformed. What time were they entering into? They were entering into the time of the new Messiah. There was the time of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There was the time of captivity in Egypt. There was the time of the exodus from Egypt, and the wilderness wandering. There was the time of entering into, the Promised Land, and the time of the judges. There was the time of David and Solomon, and the United Kingdom. There was the time of exile and return. Now is a new time – the time of the Messiah – God’s appointed One.

Jesus says, “My time has not yet come.”  And as a good Jewish mother, she says, “Yes, it has.  Now get out there.” And she tells the stewards in the story, “Do whatever he tells you to do.” This is the definition of discipleship in John.  Do what this new Messiah, in this new time, tells you to do. And the stewards can even be a symbol, in act one, of this new divine drama being played in the context of a wedding.

What is the role of a steward, they serve at instruction of the Master. We are stewards. We are stewards of this new age, which has begun in Jesus. Do what he tells you, says the mother of Jesus, and so we do, and so we continue to be the stewards of God’s creation in this new age, begun in the One, we call Messiah.

Now think of a Wedding.  What is a wedding a symbol of in the Jewish world of Jesus, or for any culture for that matter? It is a banquet of the finest food, and full of joy and celebrating the mystery of two becoming one. What do we sing about, anticipating, in our Lutheran liturgy? A Great Banquet! We sing, “This is the feast”, we sing, “Give us a foretaste of the Feast to come.” These are references to the Great Banquet at the end of time, where God and humanity will once again be One. The two will become One.  We will all be married to Christ the bridegroom of the church. We will be one with God and all creation!  The new eon of the wedding feast has begun, and will end, with a joyful party at the Great Cosmic Banquet.

Do you remember the problem that the mother of Jesus presents at the wedding?  Do you remember what she confronts Jesus with? They have run out of wine. This is a disaster!  For a wedding to run out of wine, was an omen that there was little chance of this particular marriage reaching its full potential. I wonder if John set this first sign in the context of a wedding symbolically to declare, that God’s people could not reach their full potential without this new Messiah, without this new age beginning.

A new age was needed to fulfill and finally transform God’s people into what they had been created to be from the very beginning. A transformation was needed, and the sign that Jesus is our transformational Messiah is that he transforms water into wine. Forget miracle – that’s not the point – or why John shares this story. It’s a symbol of transforming the very nature of something. He transforms something ordinary into something extraordinary. He transforms simple water into wine, an essential ingredient, and part, of the Great Banquet.

When we eat and drink at this table (in our church), we serve small bits of bread and small sips of wine, for they are just a little taste, a foretaste of the Feast to come.  And John says, to their surprise and delight, the best wine was served last, a reversal of the ways of the time before. In this age to come… the age begun with Jesus… only the best wine is served because Jesus is the best!

You have kept the good wine until now, now is the time. Now is the beginning of a new time – a new era – and John helps us see the signs, as he has Jesus perform the 7 signs that begin this new time. And so we now offer signs of our own, as we transform the world through simple acts of turning ordinary gifts into extraordinary signs of God’s love, and grace.

The stewards began to serve after the sign was complete. So we serve today and continue in our role as stewards of God’s creation following the One. Who will lead us, and all of humanity, to our seats at the Great Cosmic Banquet?

John is just beginning to share his understanding of Jesus in this first sign. He has six more signs to share, but that is for another day. Today we drink the new wine of a new age, and celebrate in the marriage feast that God has prepared for each of us.

Johnny Carson asked the little boy, what he had learned from that story of Jesus turning water into wine. The boy was indeed onto something when he said, “If you’re going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus!”

What I have always believed, and am reminded of today, is that if we are going to continue transforming lives, and this world, let’s make sure we invite Jesus to teach us how to be good stewards of this new age!