Sermon for January 17, 2016

Sermon for East St. Olaf
January 17, 2016
Text: John 2:1-11
Good news: Jesus’ first sign reveals “grace upon grace” – the very nature of God. 

The Bible is a living document. Whenever we open it and explore it in community we can trust that the Holy Spirit is present. The same Holy Spirit that inspired its creation continues to move among us and through us – and that means that when a group of people gather and open this up - we’re shaping new layers of meaning into the text and into our lives. It’s not a passive process – it’s active. And we bring our hearts and minds and critical thinking and devotional lives with us! 

I invite you now to meditate with me on the first of Jesus’ signs in the gospel of John – paying special attention to the details that you notice, the parts that seem strange, the parts that seem interesting, and the parts that inspire. We continue now with the reading of the text. 

John 2:1-11: On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Today’s Gospel text is from the Gospel of John. There are four Gospels total: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I like to think of them as four different newspaper reporters covering the same story – the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And they each do it with their own flair, focusing on their own interests. 

A few things that make John’s gospel especially unique. #1: John’s Gospel is the most like poetry. #2: He never mentions Jesus’ mother, Mary, by name. And in fact, she’s only mentioned twice in the whole book. Both times referred to as the “mother of Jesus.” Once at the very beginning – in today’s text – and once at Jesus’ crucifixion. #3: And instead of miracles, John always refers to Jesus’ mysterious deeds of power as signs. The word choice is intentional. John uses the word “sign” (say-my-on in Greek) instead of the word “miracle” because he wants readers to know that Jesus’ didn’t do miracles for their own sake…they weren’t convenient party tricks to wow the crowds. Jesus performed “signs” – and always with the greater purpose that those signs would be like arrows…pointing people to the very nature and character of God. So whenever we hear reporter John using that word “sign” – we can imagine an arrow pointing straight to God. And we can ask ourselves, “In performing this sign, what is Jesus trying to express to the people around him about the nature of God?” 

Lot of fascinating details in this text. First off, it’s a wedding. Weddings are a big deal now – they were a big deal then, too. They lasted for about a week. They lived in a culture of hospitality – so it was a VERY big deal that whoever was hosting the wedding provided for all the needs of the guests…especially food and beverage. So we can imagine what a faux pas it would be to…let’s say…run out of wine! Other interesting details…Why does Jesus have the strange tone with his mother? He calls her “Woman.” Super strange. We don’t know exactly what this is about. This is Jesus’ first public sign…so maybe he’s stepping into a new role and still figuring out what that’s going to mean for his family relationships. Or feels a need to be especially formal that day. Mary tells him there’s no wine…and she must know he is able to do something about it. Then he says, “Not our problem, lady.” Then Mom says to the people, “Just do what he tells you” – like she knew he’d still take care of things. 

And then Jesus does. He does this massively gigantic sign. There’s a bit of a situation….what with the running out of wine before the weddings over…and Jesus steps in. He takes these huge, 30 gallon washing vessels and repurposes them. Repurposing is really trendy right now. Taking wood and materials that were previously used for something else and making something new out of them. Jesus was one of the original repurposers. He took these giant basins for ritual hand cleaning, something that very much representated being in line with the rules and the law and being “clean” enough – and he turns them into giant wine jugs. 180 gallons worth. And it’s not the cheap stuff. It’s good. So good that everyone can’t even believe that it’s better than the early wedding stuff they were drinking. 

The fact that it’s a sign – means that it’s an arrow pointing us back to God. So it’s less about the wine or the jug or the miracle logistics….and it’s more about what Jesus is trying to convey about God. 

Earlier in John’s gospel – in the 1st chapter – Jesus is described as revealing God’s “grace upon grace.” Jesus reveals God’s abundance. 

180 gallons of wine. Good wine. When you expected there to be none at all. What does that kind of abundance look like and feel like in non-wine terms? What is grace upon grace? 
  • It’s like laughing when you forgot how. After you lose someone. Or go through some kind of massive sadness. And you think you’re never going to laugh or smile or feel joy ever again. And then you do. Grace upon grace…180 gallons of wine…it’s like the first time you laugh again. 
  • It’s like when a single mother is doing her best to make ends meet and can’t afford dental care for her kids and then finds out about the CARE clinic where she can go free of charge. That’s grace upon grace. 
  • Or when you’ve gone years and years without connecting with your spouse. And you’re like robots on auto-pilot. And then suddenly she reaches over and holds your hand – and it feels like 180 gallons of unexpected wine. That’s grace upon grace.
  • Or when you’re feeling really lonely. And your social circle has shifted. And then one day you’re having a cup of coffee with someone – and you notice that they’re actually listening, deeply listening to you. And you feel heard. That’s grace upon grace.  That’s 180 gallons of unexpected wine. The good stuff.

That’s the nature of God. Grace upon grace. That’s what Jesus’ is revealing in this sign. It’s less about the wine. It’s more about the arrow pointing to the fact that God’s abundance overflows – transforming the ordinary, routine water basins of our lives into extraordinary vessels of possibility. 

As a congregation – as a synod – as people of faith – as humans on this planet – where are we making space for grace upon grace? Where have you seen it? Where have you felt it? Where have you witnessed it? 

How can our families of faith be places where we not only experience it – but also share about it?

(Shared some special details about the context in which I preached that day...describing it as "grace upon grace")

Thanks be to God for signs. Arrows that remind us that we’re woven into the pages of a larger, cosmic, eternal story of grace upon grace.  Not just long ago. But here and now and today. Amen. 


  1. Em, thanks for sharing your insightful, uplifting message! Well done!

  2. I loved the way you explained this text. I've seen "Grace upon grace" when I was at Zion and watched you preach. I see "Grace upon grace" when I see my daughter raise her two girls by herself and going to the care clinics, among other things. I felt it and witnessed it when you were at Zion. You were the only one who touched my heart and could get the message so I could understand it. Thanks!

    1. Hey Bill! Thanks for your words - glad you enjoyed the idea of "grace upon grace"!

  3. Oh how I loved this. I will share it with others