Isaiah 62:1-5, John 2:1-11
January 17, 2010
The ministry of Jesus began with his baptism, which we celebrated last week. After that, Jesus chose his disciples, and then the first thing that happens – “the next day,” according to John’s Gospel – is this story we just read, “The wedding at Cana.” And for years I wondered about that. Maybe you have, too. Of all the amazing, and miraculous, and controversial, and powerful things Jesus did, why does John remember this as his first miracle?
I’d heard all kinds of explanations. Maybe you have, too. For instance, “Jesus was human, just like all of us. And he would have been part of those celebrations.” Or perhaps, “He wanted to show the importance of the family relationships we all have with one another.” And of course there are those who have said, “Jesus wanted to honor, by his presence, the institution of marriage.” Those are all good reasons! But I sill wondered. Because this wasn’t just a matter of Jesus “being there.” John is very clear that Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine! And make no mistake! He made a lot of wine! And it was very good wine! And that’s always made me wonder.
The Gospel story of Jesus Christ has always been an important story to me. It was so important that I decided to follow Jesus – like you have, too. And in my case I’ve given my life to his service – like this. But in dealing with that story, it has always been the “learning about” Jesus that was important to me. Better understanding God and making clear the matters of theology and doctrine seemed to be the main purpose of this book. And of course that stuff is great! This is a wonderful book! And sometimes it’s all I can do on a Sunday morning not to give you more of the “word studies” in this book, which are fascinating to me! I try to refrain from that, because I know that’s not always the most “exciting part of the morning” for you!
That learning was important to me. And with that focus, with the doctrine and understanding about the message and ministry of Jesus as the most important part of the bible, this story didn’t seem to fit! Jesus turning water into wine seemed out of place somehow. And I couldn’t even imagine the spiritual dilemma this story created in those for whom “indulging” was seen as wrong. And I’ve heard explanations about that, too. “Wine wasn’t a strong drink in those days.” And “Wine was safer than water because the alcohol killed the bacteria.” It seems like that one negates the first one, doesn’t it? But in all of that, it was more for me a matter of this whole thing seeming “unspiritual” in some way. The party depicted here was “undignified” in light of the importance of this story.
So I wondered about all of that – until I read the books of John Eldredge. You’ve heard me talk about him before. When I read his eye opening, life changing books a year or so before I came here, this first miracle of Jesus finally made total sense. Because it was then that I got much better picture about the kind of relationship God wants to have with us. And that is key to understanding this! And I’d like to share a little of that journey with you.
Up until that time, the relationship I believed God wanted us to have with him was a “saving relationship.” You’ve heard that. People would ask, “Do you have a saving relationship with Jesus?” That means that we have a relationship with God in order to take advantage of his plan of salvation. And yeah, I always knew that God wanted to be closer to us than that. I sang “What a friend we have in Jesus” a bazillion times, just like you did. But still, it was the “saving relationship” that was most important to me.
Then I read Eldredge. And I started to see that God wanted to have an “intimate relationship” with us. He wants to be in close relationship with the creation he loves – us! For some reason this week I kept hearing the words of the song, “From a Distance.” Do you remember that one? I think Bette Midler sang it. The refrain goes “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us… from a distance.” And I like that song. But I don’t believe in the “from a distance” part. I think now that God’s much closer than that! I think the picture is better portrayed in the old song that goes, “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.” It’s that kind of closeness God wants! And not only that, he wants to share with us the things of the heart. “And the joy we share as we tarry there…” You know I never heard that song before I went out to Kansas. (They couldn’t believe that, either!) Well, in sharing that joy with us, God wants to be part of the joyful things of this life – things like weddings! Do you see how this story of the “Wedding at Cana” started to make sense to me?
Now I’m not saying I always have the ability to have that “level of intimacy” with God. I drift in and out of that like all of us do. But I know that’s the thing to strive for. And there’s even more to it. Because I always thought, like many of us do, that our relationship with God is such that God blesses us, and we delight in him. And that’s true. And that’s great. We even ask God to bless other people. And we are encouraged to “enjoy God.” Remember the catechism, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That’s a glorifying and enjoying on our part, isn’t it? But, an even further level of understanding is found when we see that it works the other way around! And this was eye opening to me! (And not just in the sense of ‘further knowledge,’ but in a sense of ‘amazement!’) Not only does God bless us and we delight in him, but we bless God, and he delights in us!
That’s an amazing revelation! And it was there all along! Look at the reading from Isaiah. “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord… you shall no longer be called ‘Forsaken’… but you shall be called ‘My delight is in her’ and your land will be called ‘Married,’ for the Lord Delights in you…” Do you see that? God delights in his people! Think about the parable of the talents. At the end God said to the faithful servants, “Enter into the joy of the Lord.” Now, to whom does the word “joy” refer? We tend to think he meant, “Come and be joyful in God’s presence.” But the more I think of it, the more I think Jesus was saying, “God is joyful, come be a part of that.” “God delights in you. Come share that delight!” Do you see what I mean here?
So. Think about yourself. Do you think God delights in you? We could end right here – with that thought. You could go home now and put that question on your refrigerator. And that would be a good thing! That’s a question to think about – here at the start of a new year. Before we get into all the “serious introspection” we do during Lent, I want you to think about this simple question. Do you know that God delights in you? Or is the main goal in your faith just to “be good” so you don’t make God mad at you? I wonder how many people think that way!
Sometimes you see that kind of thing in our human relationships. You see it when a person’s only goal in relationship with another is to avoid conflict. When that happens, a person can easily forget how to enjoy and delight in the other person. And what does that do to the relationship? It makes it kind of flat, and uninspiring, doesn’t it? Then think about the opposite. Think about what it’s like to delight in another person. Think about the attraction you had at first for your husband or wife. Think about the joy you had just seeing them, catching a glimpse of them when they returned from being apart from you. That’s amazing joy! And by the way, whose idea do you think that was in the first place? It was God’s. He wanted us to have that capacity to delight in one another, to have joy that together, and to revel in each others company! I hope you see that.
With that understanding, know that God delights in you in the same way. He’s not just “watching over you” to “keep an eye on what you’re doing!” He’s not just waiting around with his punishment or chastisement ready to fall. Just think how bad that would be in our human relationships! What would that do to the relationship with our children if that were the only thing we did. You know it’s much more than that! We delight in our children! At least I hope we do! And I’m not saying God doesn’t discipline us. Of course he does. But he does so because he loves us. And that love is the first order of business!
I know it’s been said that we do so because we want them to become “responsible citizens.” And that’s fine. I understand that. But it’s more than that. I like the goals for disciplining children I heard a number of years ago. It was said that we discipline children with the goal that they become people others want to be around! And we do so with the goal that, when they are grown, they become our adult friends. You see there is the idea of delighting in one another that’s so important in our human relationships! Why would we think it’s not the same for God? That’s what he wants!
So I ask you. And maybe you should put this one on your refrigerator. “God delights in you?” Maybe you think you’re not worthy of that. Maybe you think you haven’t done anything for which God would delight. And maybe those things are true. But know that he created you. And he created you to be in relationship with him. And he created you to enjoy. So, this business of changing water into wine is not so far fetched after all. When we say grace at a meal, it’s not just “so the food is blessed.” It’s not just a matter of thanksgiving, either. It’s a matter of God joining in. It’s God desiring to share those relationship moments with us. It’s God delighting in us.
Eternal God, king of the universe, it’s amazing to us that you want to share our lives, and rejoice in our joys, and even share our sorrows. Help us to let you in. Help us to think of you with us in all we do. Help us to revel in your presence, and to enter your joy. We ask your blessing on us and with us in this new year, and we bless you. And we offer this our prayer in Jesus’ name, Amen.