Sunday, January 14, 2024

Listen to Jesus

 John 2:1-11

And on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and Jesus also was invited, and His disciples, to the wedding.  And when the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine."  And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what do I have to do with you?  My hour has not yet come."  His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it."

Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each.  Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water."  And they filled them up to the brim.  And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the headwaiter."  And they took it to him.  And when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when men have drunk freely, then that which is poorer; you have kept the good wine until now."
This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany      1/14/24

Listen to Jesus

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The account of the wedding at Cana is a familiar and often preached Gospel text.  It is used in weddings, and, of course, it is a Gospel lesson during the season of Epiphany.  There are a number of lessons one can draw from this text.
One lesson might be the compassion of Jesus.  Look how He helps those in trouble.  Another might be Jesus' respect for His mother, although that one could go either way, in the opinion of some.  One could look at the providence of God or the richness of Christ's blessings.  As an Epiphany theme, one could even speak about the glory of God shining through the humanity of Jesus in this, His first public miracle.  This morning I want to begin from the words of Mary, Jesus' mother, "Whatever He says to you, do it."  Our theme is, Listen to Jesus.

The account is simple.  Jesus is attending a wedding, with His disciples in tow.  This is the wedding feast which follows the year of betrothal.  This is the sort of wedding feast that Jesus intends everyone to relate to as He tells the parable of the Five Wise and Five Foolish Virgins.  There is feasting and drinking and dancing and great merriment.  Everyone they know is invited.  Such joy and feasting was a community affair.

Unfortunately, they underestimated the appetites and thirst of their guests, and the wine ran out.  Now Mary comes to Jesus.  Mary seems to know that they have run out of wine before most of the other guests.  She comes to Jesus and lays this problem at His feet.  She doesn't directly ask for Him to fix it, although that request seems to be implied.  

We are also not given any reason why Mary would expect Jesus to do something, or what she thought He might do.  We don't know if and when His powers might have been used at home.  We don't know if she thought Jesus might just go get some extra wine.  We don't know if the Holy Spirit prompted her, or if she was just your typical Jewish Mother.  We only know that she lays this problem at His feet, and, by the brief exchange between her and Jesus, we can tell that she clearly expected Him to do something, possibly something miraculous.

Jesus' response to Mary is remarkable.  "Woman, what do I have to do with you?  My hour has not yet come."  Some people have imagined that Jesus was being rude to His mother.   Some suggest that Jesus was telling her that He did not want to do anything, or that she should leave Him alone.  His response, though cryptic, must be understood as coming from our Holy Lord.  It has to make sense in the context in which was spoken, and be consistent with His character.

What He said to her, translated into idiomatic English – the kind of English we speak – would be something like, "Things are different now, and this is My responsibility, not yours.  When the moment is right, I will take care of things."  His words tell His mother that she is no longer in charge of His life, now that His ministry has begun.  He lets her know that He is going to take care of things, but at the right moment.  Though terse and cryptic, His answer to Mary is a promise to help, and a gentle instruction for her to understand that He is no longer merely her little boy.

So, Mary steps out of the way.  She gives the whole thing to Jesus and tells the servants of the household to listen to Jesus and obey.  And Jesus tells them to do things that make no sense in the circumstances.  He tells them to fill six stone pots with water.  That's twenty or thirty gallons each.  Those servants were working hard for a while!  Then Jesus tells them to scoop out a ladle full of water and take the water to the steward of the feast – the guy in charge of the party arrangements.  Headwaiter, from our translation, is just a little misleading.  Doing the water filling had to seem nonsensical.  Taking the water to the Steward of the feast had to seem equally pointless.  But they did, and WOW!  What a result!  

Jesus not only answered the need, He answered it abundantly!  He provided somewhere between 120 and two hundred gallons of wine.  And what Jesus provided was good stuff.  The response of the steward of the feast tells us that.  No one knew what Jesus had done, at least at first, but Jesus, the servants, and probably the disciples.  What He did was not about an urgent need, but about the need of the moment, significant for that couple, but only for that night.
So, what can we learn from this?

There are several lessons.  First, is the lesson which forms our theme, Listen to Jesus.  Nothing would have happened that night if the servants had simply ignored Him.  They could have, He had no specific authority in that house.  Like them, we need to listen, to hear Jesus, and to follow His direction.  Not all that seems to be pointless is.  Sometimes God has hidden great benefits in doing things His way, even when it doesn't make sense to us.

To listen to Jesus, you need to listen to the Word of God.  That means more than simply allowing it to flow over you.  You want to pay attention, you want to think about what is being told to you and how it might apply to you and your life.  You want to hear what Christ commands in His Word – and everything God tells us is a command.  We ignore the Word of God in any topic at our peril.  God knows.  He knows what is true.  He knows what we are like and what we are dealing with.  He knows how to bring us blessings.

What God tells us does not always have to make sense to us.  Those servants did not understand the water thing, as they filled those large pots.  You don't have to understand what or how or why either.  Admittedly, it is nice to understand, but sometimes it is just faith, trust in God, that we need to listen to, and do it as God says to do it.  

A good example of this principle is all of the grumbling in our churches.  God tells us to take our troubles to the ones who are troubling to us – directly, one-on-one.  If you have a concern about me, or about someone in the parish, you are to take it to them personally, and hash it out there.  That doesn't happened in many situations.  We have all witnessed people grumbling to one another about someone else, instead of talking to the one they were grumbling about.  The result is frequently discontent and division in a congregation, a scenario we see happening all around us in the Synod.  And when I have encouraged people to do what God's Word teaches us to do, many have told me that it is not reasonable, and that it would never work, and that the destructive course of grumbling and gossip is better and more useful.  But God's way is the way of healing, even if it doesn't seem that way or to appeal to us.

God's way doesn't have to make sense or appeal to us.  In fact, it is human nature that God's ways would not appeal to our flesh.  It is, none the less, God's way, and it will be effective for accomplishing what God wills.  His way is usually effective in bringing relief and peace to His people, too.  I mean, no one thought at that time that Jesus should die on the cross, except His enemies — and Jesus Himself.  No one but Jesus thought that He would be able to do something positive with so terrible a thing.  But He took your sins and mine there.  He nailed them to the cross in His body, and He died the death that you and I have earned.  Because He died for our sins, God forgives us.  Those who know this truth, and trust God, and take Him at His Word, are called "the children of God" and are given eternal life and are promised by God that they will rise even from their graves to life of both body and soul - with Jesus - forever.

It doesn't have to make sense to us from the "get go".  We need to listen to Jesus.  He will help.  And our need doesn't have to be the real important stuff either.  Jesus cares about us.  He cares about the little things, too.  He helped this couple with the need of the moment – a little extra wine – okay, a lot of extra wine.  You can take anything to God.  And everything He tells you to do is what you should do.

I don't expect God to talk to me personally out loud, and neither should you, but His Word tells us what we are to be like, and how we ought to behave, and doing it – whatever "it" may be – Jesus' way is always the right way.  If God says it, it must be important, and we should listen to Jesus.  God will help you in your troubles, and He will guide you in your way.  

Another truth which this Gospel account illustrates is that God can and will bless abundantly.  He provided more wine than they could reasonably use that night.  He fed the five thousand – with baskets full of left-overs.  He forgives your sins abundantly too.  He pronounces forgiveness in the absolution.  He speaks His forgiveness in the sermon.  And He feeds you with His love and forgiveness in the Holy Supper, as you eat His true body and drink His true blood hidden under the form of the bread and wine in the Sacrament.

Do we need this forgiveness upon forgiveness upon forgiveness?  The question is an impious question.  God gives it.  One might assume, rightly, that any one absolution is sufficient for the moment, but God is so superabundant in His giving that He gives and gives, and pours out more and more upon us for our comfort and our assurance.  If you are wrestling with your sin, hearing one absolution may not be enough to quiet your fears and silence your guilt and shame.  Besides, who are we to ask the question of need?  God gives – and gives richly and abundantly!  He gives so that if you can imagine that He did not intend you to be forgiven in the absolution that you cannot doubt that He knows your sins, and He knows you are there, and forgives you as He gives His body and blood into your hand and your mouth, personally!  Listen to Jesus!

You see, the question about listening to Jesus is really the question about who is Lord here.  Our flesh is always tempted to push God aside and take charge.  That is what Adam and Eve did in the garden.  That is what Mary began to do at the Wedding at Cana.  Jesus reminded her, gently, that He was in charge and that He would handle the situation according to His own timing and wisdom.  The question each of us needs to answer in every situation where we are tempted to put our own wisdom and our own ways first is, "Who is the Lord here?"

Who do we trust – ourselves, or Jesus?  Who knows and understands how things work better – us or the Lord? Even the wickedness and sin of those who persecuted Him and executed Him served God's holy purpose.  Because of that death, you are forgiven, and Jesus pours out on you eternal life.  Jesus shows us in Cana how compassionate and abundant He is.  Mary tells the servants of the house, and reminds us, to listen to Jesus, and to do whatever He tells you to do.  It worked then, even though it wasn't clear until Jesus was finished just what He was going to accomplish.  It isn't clear for us, either, many times, precisely what Jesus is planning to accomplish.  But as it was in those days, so it is today.  Listen to Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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