Sermon Ideas For John 2:1-11 Part 2
In an Epiphany something is being revealed! Just as in an incarnation something is being fleshed out. Water becomes wine. God is using the normal and ordinary circumstances of life to reveal the transcending reality of the Spirit. The best is saved for the last because it is found in the last place one would ever think to look.
The Church often points to this story, saying Jesus graced the wedding at Cana. I believe the marriage ceremony is perhaps the one place, other than the funeral, where the authority of the Church in human relationships is acknowledged even though the actual impact on the outcome of the marital relationship may be quite limited. Regardless, the miracle at Cana is not only the changing of the water to wine, but also the demonstration of God's continuing presence in the ordinary rituals and cycles of life.
Monica Furlong says marriage is an "ordinary spiritual discipline" undertaken by persons with no special talents or spiritual pretensions. The context of the revelation is ordinary though the content is extraordinary. The wedding at Cana becomes the ordinary scene for the revelation of God's extraordinary generosity.
"Of all human attempts to put love into practice," says Furlong, none perhaps is as brave or ambitious as marriage. To live with one other person for a lifetime, to make them one's only sexual partner, to have and bring up children by them, to remain loyal to them through the many crises which beset the human condition, is a very demanding programme; and it is not surprising that many fail to a greater or lesser degree."1
People are transformed in the enactment of this ordinary sequence of events and intentions. The process of learning to love and be loved transforms us. Marriage, through an ordinary and routine series of events, forms, shatters and reforms men and women to become more than they were. Death and resurrection are essential ingredients to a deep and enduring marriage. We die to control and revenge and are born to tolerance and forgiveness. We die to old ideas and are born to new ones.
The sermon becomes an instrument through which the hearer is surprised by God's unanticipated revelation in the anticipated events of life. Who would have thought there would be good wine or it would be saved until the last? Just as what we learn in marriage shatters any preconceptions about love, the revelation of God destroys our assumptions about when and where we will encounter the Holy One.
How do we find God in the regular processes and projects of life? We might ask, "where is God busy in the business of life?" Robert Owen, who founded the utopian community in New Harmony, Indiana, in the early nineteenth century, had other visions, too. In Scotland around 1800 Owen took over a cotton-spinning mill and began an experiment to reform the abuses of the early industrial revolution. He wrote in his autobiography, "The work people were systematically opposed to every change which I proposed, and did what ever they could to frustrate my object."2 The mill workers were convinced that Owen, like other employers, only wanted "to squeeze as much gain out of them as possible."
The laborers were used to the owners trying to squeeze as much as possible out of their efforts for profit, while the owners were used to the laborers doing as little as possible for their pay. There was little trust in this harsh environment. Owen wanted to convince the workers he was operating in good faith, without a secret agenda to simply manipulate and take the life out of them. His biographer wrote:
Owen was in no hurry. He certainly intended to improve their discipline and their standards both of work and of living; he meant to make New Lanark (Scotland) into a model community. But he did not intend to thrust either his standards or his discipline down anybody's throat; he wanted the workers to see for themselves that his was the better way, and to take them along with him step by step.
His intentions finally came to fruition with a quirk of international trade policy. The United States placed an embargo on cotton exports to Britain. Most factories were shut down and workers laid off. But Owen felt putting the mill's employees out of work would have been "cruel and unjust." So he continued to pay the workers to keep the mill's machinery in good working order. In the short run the factory spent seven thousand pounds paying the workers during the four month embargo, but in the long run it won the confidence and trust of the workers. Robert Owen's legacy included forbidding corporal punishment, the working of "pauper" children, the end of summary firings, the reduction of the workday from fourteen to ten and a half hours, and the establishment of schools.
Eventually this experiment went the way of all flesh, too, and developed problems and failures. However, the good news was surprisingly present for a season and that moment of history became a standard against which other periods of time could be measured.
We have no report of the response of the wedding party to the good wine, other than the steward's pleasant surprise and comment. It is the disciples, as the story reads, who recognized the glory of God in Jesus and "believed" in him. The signs of God are best seen by those who are looking for them. The sermon helps us discover uncommon meaning in very common places and events.
James L. Philpott
1. Monica Furlong, Christian Uncertainties (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1982), p. 19. 2. Robert Levering, A Great Place to Work: What Makes Some Employers So Good (And Most Bad). (New York: Random House, 1988), p. 29.