Jesus turned water into wine. This was his first miracle, and one of those for which he is best known. We can see why. Jesus saved the day and kept the joy going. This is the kind of Savior people want to follow!
But there’s more going on in this story than just Jesus making people happy. We must notice the symbolism.
According to the prophets of old, Israel was God’s vineyard. Now, however, it is Jesus who provides the wine – all by himself. In Jesus, God is doing something new.
To perform the miracle, Jesus used jars that were used for purification. Jesus’ new thing will bring purification in a whole new way, and to a whole new degree.
The text concludes by saying that in this miracle Jesus was manifesting his glory… meaning he was making it known. Jesus has the glory of God. He does things only God can do.
But notice too—only the servants and the disciples see the glory of Jesus. His glory had to be revealed slowly. To many it would remain hidden. Only those who would listen, those who would “do whatever he tells you” as Mary counseled the disciples, would truly get to see the glory of Jesus.
Catching the symbolism is critical. But let’s go back again to the story at its most basic, human level. Jesus saved a family’s wedding. That’s important too. The family who threw this great wedding party to honor the marriage of their child was about to suffer great embarrassment until Jesus provided more wine. Jesus, we see, helps with the normal, everyday troubles of life too.
Today, our church, along with many others, is observing “Life Sunday”—a day to reflect upon the sanctity of human life. As I often do on this day, I decided to address the topic by using our regular scripture readings—in this case the ones for the Second Sunday after Epiphany. I did, however, switch the second reading from 1 Corinthians 12 to 1 Corinthians 6. Now all three readings mention marriage—each doing so in its own way.
The Old Testament reading uses marriage to illustrate God’s commitment to, and delight for, his people Israel. The New Testament reading tells of the importance of us being faithful in our marriages. And the Gospel reading, as we’ve seen, uses the occasion of a wedding to tell us about the glory of Jesus.
As I was thinking about the subject of marriage and its relationship to human life, I imagined a scenario where a family’s embarrassment at a wedding came not from the fact that they ran out of wine, but that their daughter, the bride, was pregnant.
There used to be a term for that kind of wedding—a shotgun wedding. The idea was that a father took out his shotgun and told the guy who knocked up his daughter “marry her, or else.” We don’t use that language anymore. For good reason. It sends a lot of bad messages. But I wonder if the rejection comes from some not-so-good reasons as well.
For instance, do people even get embarrassed anymore when the bride is pregnant? I have a feeling that most of the embarrassment these days might only come from the fact that the bride won’t be looking her absolute best, and therefore won’t get the perfect photo op. Maybe that’s too cynical of me. But I doubt it.
In our day and age most of us have learned to be gracious when a sin is brought to light. And that’s good. We’re sinners too. Who are we to judge? And, even more, we know that life is complex and that people who may sometimes make bad choices can at other times make very good ones. A few years ago, I officiated at a wedding where the bride was obviously pregnant. The couple had come to me not demanding my services but humbly requesting them. They knew that their life choices did not measure up to God’s commands, but they wanted to make things right. And they certainly wanted to keep the child. I commended them for their faith. And I performed their wedding.
It’s always good to be gracious. At the same time, we must be careful with this idea of not judging. Yes, we should not judge too quickly. And yes, we should rarely, if ever, judge people to the point of condemnation. On the other hand, behavior that is wrong must be labeled as such. A judgement to that effect must be made. This is one of the ways in which we exercise good judgment.
On Life Sunday, it is our task as Christians to think deeply about how we can exercise good judgment in our commitment to life. We start by agreeing that life is sacred—meaning that life is something that God has brought forth, not us. Once that is acknowledged, we can then think about the many scenarios in life that require our judgment, doing so in ways that reflect God’s will.
Today’s Old Testament reading used the metaphor of marriage to talk about Israel’s relationship with God. Using that same metaphor, I think it’s safe to say that most people in our community these days are married more to their personal freedoms than they are to God. They love to talk about choice. They love to talk of their rights. As a result, the messages we hear the most in our community reflect these values. They can rile us up to the point where we don’t want anybody, including God, telling us what to do.
With that understanding of our day, and the messages that prevail in our cultural dialogue, I feel a need to not only challenge those messages, but to challenge you. And this is the way I feel led to say it: I challenge each of you today to exercise your judgment in ways that are more pro-life, and less pro-choice.
Let me share some thoughts on what I mean by this.
First, I challenge you to have a pro-life view in the sense that you have a bigger view of life—meaning that you see life in its very simplest form as still life. This will mean that you think about human life beginning at conception and not at a later time, such as when it is capable of choice, or even in those earliest days when God is deciding whether or not the conceived zygote will be implanted in the uterus, or whether it will survive to be classified as an embryo or grow to be a fetus. The pro-life view acknowledges this. And this is also the view which sees life with disabilities as full and true life. And it is the view which sees the declining days of life near its end as still, full and true life as well.
Second, I challenge you to be pro-life in that you see the importance of caring for and preserving life at every stage. And with that understanding, that you also not neglect the earliest stage of life–where a child is yet in the womb. It’s interesting that the Scriptures, in many places, lift up the importance of these children in the womb—quite possibly because they are so easily overlooked otherwise. And by overlooked I don’t mean those times when the woman is great with child and has that beautiful glow of motherhood. We see that. I mean that time when she first finds out she is pregnant, and begins to worry. Some women will have great worry, especially if the pregnancy is unplanned. With this in mind, St. Paul’s has decided to start giving through its budget to a local crisis pregnancy center that can help women who might be greatly worried. The center connects them with people and resources that can help. It cares for them with prayer, with love, and with hope for the life that is within them.
Third, I would like to challenge you to be more pro-life in the sense that you be more accepting of quantity of life and that you be less concerned about quality of life. Understand that it is very natural for us to want a better quality of life. We find ourselves thinking about it all the time. And, it’s not so natural for us to think about quantity. In fact, we get quite nervous about there being too many people around. The Bible tells us—as a people, not just individuals—to be fruitful and multiply. It doesn’t tell us to look out for number one. God told Abraham that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore. God certainly also tells us plenty of things to help with quality of life too. But let’s understand which messages our natural, sinful selves are more inclined to hear.
Fourth, and lastly, I challenge you to be more pro-life and less pro-choice in the sense that you love people more for who they are and less for the choices they make. People are children of God. People make choices—some bad, some good, some hard to determine. With this challenge I am particularly thinking about our political life together. People makes choices with their votes and their candidate support – and they do it for many different reasons. We are tempted, more and more in this country, to label one another exclusively by our party affiliations. I do encourage you to be more pro-life in your voting, but I also urge you not to jump to quick conclusions about how others should do this. Many of you will feel most compelled to work with those that seek to end abortion. Many of you will feel most compelled to work with those that seek to end hunger. We need people to do both of these. Let us respect one another’s life and choices—especially when we see that those choices are made in good faith.
Let me say in conclusion that it is hard to give a pro-life sermon—and not so much because we worry about offending people, but rather, because we know that some people will feel very guilty. The Church, however, does not apologize for causing guilt. We do something better. We announce God’s forgiveness… which takes away our guilt.
Jesus came into the world to do a new thing. He came to show us just how pro-life God is. He came to give his life for our life. He came to pay the price for our sin. He came to assure us that when we repent of our sins God will forgive them. He came to bring a change even greater than water into wine. He poured out his blood—which he gives to us in the wine of His supper—that we might be purified from our sin and live into eternity.
Jesus came to redeem your life. He has claimed you and put his mark upon you at Baptism. He will nourish through His Supper. He will be with you until life’s end… which in reality is not even an end but a new beginning. Our God is a God of life. Let us put our faith in this God and do what He says.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.