Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 16 January, 2022.
Texts for this Sunday: Is 62:1-5; Ps 36:5-10; 1 Cor 12:1-11; Jn 2.1-11
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (Jn 2:11)
This week at our Monday night bible study, someone asked the question, “How can we be sure that God exists?” It’s a great question, and one that I think every person of faith struggles with from time to time, if we’re honest. Indeed, the phrase “person of faith” seems to contain a tacit admission that God is not a matter of certainty, not something or someone that we can empirically know, but rather something that we have to believe, without the assurance of proof.
Today I want to spend a few minutes thinking this question through, and I will suggest that this current season of the church year, Epiphany, is a good place to start. Epiphany is from a Greek word that means a revelation, a showing of something to someone. In the life of the church, Epiphany ends the traditional twelve days of the Christmas season as a kind of summary of what Christmas has been all about.
So what is Christmas all about? Christmas is about God revealing God’s self to humanity. All of the scripture readings we hear around Christmas – Gabriel appearing to Mary and then to Joseph, the shepherds telling the shepherds to go to Bethlehem, the star leading the Magi to the Christ child, the baptized Jesus declared as God’s beloved son – all these stories do the same thing. These stories all teach us that God wants to be known, that God wants to be in relationship with us as Emmanuel, God with us. In other words, all these stories are about revelation, about God revealing God’s self to us.
How does God reveal God’s self to us? Primarily, through scripture, and this point needs to be made because it’s fashionable for people to say that God speaks to them through nature, or through the love of their pets, or through charity work, or some other very personal way. Without wanting to call these sentiments into question, we need to admit that without scripture, we are free to imagine any sort of god or divinity we care to think of. Scripture safeguards us from creating our own gods, an activity that we humans are notoriously prone to (see calves, golden).
The reason the church listens to scripture is because it is only through scripture that we hear the voice of a particular god, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham and Isaac, the God of the prophets, the God foretold by John the Baptist, the incarnate Son of God Jesus who comes to us, lives with us, dies for us, and who rises again. If it were not for scripture, we would not know this God.
At this point, someone might reasonably object and say, well, how can we trust scripture? Aren’t parts of scripture judgemental and awful? Isn’t scripture an ancient book produced by fallible humans? Can’t we modern, rational people find some better, more enlightened way of thinking about God?
As an old man, after writing many, many books, the theologian Karl Barth was asked by a television interviewer to explain his life’s work. Barth paused, and in his heavy Swiss German accent, said that his life’s work amounted to this: “Jesus loves me, this I know, because the Bible tells me so.”
Barth was slyly using this old children’s hymn to remind us that the bible is ultimately all that we have to go on. Of course the bible is a human production, but the bible is also God’s revelation, it is the human-authored record of God’s wanting to break through to us, to love us, and to save us.
Let’s try to use today’s gospel, the story of the Wedding at Cana, to think this through. The story only appears in John’s gospel, so we have to take John’s word that it actually happened, but if you’re not willing to trust John literally, let’s at least consider why John felt the need to include it in his account of Jesus.
John calls this miracle “the first of [Jesus’] signs”, and in John’s gospel, the word “signs” means a miraculous thing that Jesus does to point to his identity as the Son of God, and John leaves it up to us to believe them or not.
So why this particular miracle? It’s not a healing, a cosmic struggle with a devil, or a resurrection (though we find these things elsewhere in John to be sure). All Jesus does is create wine out of water for wedding guests who are already, as the steward notes, pleasantly tipsy! In fact, Jesus creates so much wine (6 20 gallon jugs = about 600 bottles!) that we have to wonder, is this excessive amount of wine included simply to demonstrate Jesus’ supernatural powers?
Certainly that’s part of it. Creating water our of wine points to God’s creative power, to be sure, but it also points us back to the idea of Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus wants the wedding guests to have a good time. He wants to celebrate with them, he wants to share in all the joyous moments of a wedding with bride and groom, family and friends, which is presumably why he was there as an invited guest in the first place. Jesus’ commitment to the success of the wedding feast shows God’s desire to bless us with friends and happiness and times of celebration. The story shows God’s commitment to very texture of our human lives.
Again, that’s part of it. However, we know that life isn’t all celebration. Life also contains times of sorrow and tragedy, and these moments are anticipated as well. When Mary urges Jesus to act, and he says “my hour has not yet come” (Jn 2.4), she does not know what her son means. Jesus however knows, and we as John’s audience soon learn, that the Son’s hour means his death: “when I am lifted up [on the cross] from the earth, [I] will draw all people to me” (Jn 12.32).
Jesus will embrace the entire gamut of human experience, from his mother’s love and pride to the joy of the wedding guests to the hatred of the mob and the slow death of the cross. Indeed, he must do all these things so that he can promise to Martha, at the time of their shared grief for Lazarus, that “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11.25).
All these things are hinted at in the Wedding at Cana. Why does John include it? To show us a Saviour willing to share all the moments of our lives, the good and the bad, in joy and sorrow, in life and death, so that he may be life for us. Why does only John include it? That we can’t know for sure. Perhaps only John of the four evangelists knew of it, though much of what we think about how the bible is written is educated guesswork. Can we trust this story? Perhaps not, though there are far more fantastic things that scripture asks us to believe.
At the end of the day, perhaps the best question we can ask is this: what does the Wedding at Cana tell us about God? It tells us something vital about the character of God, namely that God wants us to share our joy and laughter, even our tipsy moments, just as God want to share our sorrow and fear and even our death, so that he may save us after our death. At the end of the day, all we can say is that “Jesus loves us, this we know, because the bible tells us so”. Amen.