The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, 17 January 2010
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Deacon Paul S. Kahn
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that thy people, illumined by thy Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever.Amen.
I Corinthians 12:1-11
“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
+In the name...
In Oscar Wilde’s play, Salome, some Nazarenes come into King Herod’s court speaking of a messiah who has appeared. He has healed lepers, and a blind man, they report. At a wedding in Galilee he changed water into wine! To which Herod’s wife, the evil Herodias, responds, “I don’t believe in miracles. I’ve seen too many of them.” Now I don’t generally identify with Herodias, and perhaps she was really thinking about her court magicians and conjurors, but she does, unintentionally, clue us into something: many of us, most of us, see miracles all the time -- but do we really see them for what they are?
In John’s Gospel the miracles, or “signs,” reveal Jesus for who he is -- and the revelations generate belief. On the days right before the wedding, we find Jesus calling the disciples. When one of them, Nathanael, asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus replies, “When you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael seems to find this miraculous, because he immediately exclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!” Nathanael’s new-found belief is a direct result of his eyes being open -- and opened -- and he is transformed. And Jesus tells us this is just the beginning. In fact, the first of the seven great signs takes place the very next day -- and it’s a sign that reveals the very nature of Jesus, and points towards his inevitable glorification. There is so much to talk about in the story of the Wedding at Cana. There have been many attempts to decipher the somewhat obscure exchange between Jesus and his mother, and much can be made of the fact that the stone jars were there for the Jewish rites of purification. But what I find most striking in this episode is the sheer quantity of wine involved. Six stone jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons, filled to the brim. That makes at least 120 gallons of wine. That’s not just a lot -- it is more than they could possibly have needed at that wedding, even if the whole village had been there! As the witnesses surely knew, abundant wine is a sign of the messianic age, the golden age.
According to the prophet Amos, “’Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord... ’when the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.’” By turning water into wine, the mundane into the divine, Jesus reveals the sanctification of creation for which he has come. In turning emptiness into fullness he reveals Grace, he reveals redemption. Queen Herodias would have looked and seen a magician’s trick. The disciples looked and saw a miracle, and they believed. Their eyes were open -- and opened. They were transformed, seeing that Divine generosity exceeds our needs -- and exceeds our hopes.
If I were preaching this sermon a week ago, I would probably end here, nice and easy, on this optimistic note. But this week it’s not so easy to do that. This week we saw in a country not so far from our own a disaster so horrific that even hardened newscasters have been reduced to tears. A country where much of the population exists on two dollars a day, a country with a barely functioning government and minimal infrastructure, has been plunged even lower by a catastrophic earthquake. And with all the graphic images of the piles of corpses, all the stories of parents amputating limbs to try to free their children from the rubble, one fact from Haiti jumps out at me: one of the things people are most desperate for there is drinkable water. It can seem ironic, insensitive even, to celebrate the miracle of turning water into wine when so many people in Haiti may be facing death by dehydration. What they need most is not wine, but water. Where is the sanctification in this disaster? Where is the redemption? We can look and look, but where do we see the signs?
One place to look is our response to the needs of the Haitian people. One particular public figure has responded by saying that God has cursed Haiti. I trust that most of us will respond more gracefully, and more hopefully. And we can, with our eyes of faith, see signs of hope. We see it when our country and others send ships and soldiers and food and medical supplies and emergency generators. We see it when charitable organizations work non-stop to relieve the suffering, even as they mourn their own losses in the region. We see it when groups of volunteer firefighters mobilize themselves and throw themselves into a different kind of danger from what they usually face. We see it in the outpouring of financial contributions -- even by text-messaging! And I hope that each of us will see the signs in our own generosity. There is information in your bulletins on how you can give to Episcopal Relief and Development, and there are also some hand-outs on the table in back. For a number of years Episcopal Relief has been doing great work in Haiti in the fields of education, health, small business development -- even providing clean water. And now they are representing us, this church, in disaster response. Whether you choose to give to Episcopal Relief and Development or to the other agencies doing heroic work in Haiti, such as the American Red Cross or Doctors without Borders, please do give.
Our old friend Queen Herodias may have stopped believing in miracles, but it’s probably because she stopped looking. But if we open our eyes, we can look at every act of generosity and see the signs of the divine written all over it. We have all been fed, and continue to be fed, by divine generosity. May we reflect the divine through our own generosity towards others.
©2009 Paul S. Kahn