Second Sunday after the Epiphany ( John 2:1-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Second Sunday after the Epiphany + January 20, 2019

Text: John 2:1-11

When Moses was leading Israel through the wilderness toward the land of promise, he was content to know that the Lord went with them.  But more than a stranger on the bus, Moses knew that He wanted to know the Lord’s ways and find favor in His sight.  And God responded in kind: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  But even with the Lord’s promise to go with him, the knowing His ways, the promise, “I know you by name,” Moses longed for more.  He said to the Lord, “Show me your glory.”

But this request, the Lord was not going to fulfill.  It wasn’t the right time.  For all the closeness that Moses had, seeing God face to face, being known by Him, even having his face glow from being in the Lord’s presence—it wasn’t time to see His glory, because “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 32:20)

Around fifteen hundred years later, God is still with His people, but in a new way—a deeper way.  “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Building on the closeness that Moses knew, the Lord indeed is going with His people, He has made known His ways through Moses and the Law, and He is indeed personally present.  Again, there is a request: “They have no wine.”  But the response isn’t simply, “That’s not my concern”; it’s “My hour has not yet come.”  The answer is, not yet.  But even as Moses was given a glimpse of the glory of the Lord from the cleft of the rock, the Lord begins to reveal Himself to His people.

If we get caught up in how Jesus did this, or how much wine, or what quality it is, we miss the greatest thing: This sign is about God revealing Himself in a greater and new way to His people, a way that was not possible in times past.  “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.”  The Lord was unveiling His glory to His chosen people.

What is His glory?  Certainly there’s the technical answers about a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, how Moses could not enter the tabernacle because God’s glory had entered it.  But it’s easier to describe than that.  God’s glory is the unmediated intimacy which He has with man.  This has not been seen on earth since the Fall—ever since then it has been as the hymn says, “Though the eye of sinful man, Thy glory may not see.”  God’s glory has been held back, concealed, clothed.  Just as Adam and Eve could no longer be naked without shame, so God and man could not dwell together in perfect and shameless nakedness.  The union was broken with sin.

St. Paul speaks of this union which God desires with man in terms of marriage:

23 Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish… Christ nourishes and cherishes the church, 30 because we are members of his body…Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

He concludes by saying, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” (v. 32)  You could say that marriage is an analogy for God’s quest to restore that intimacy with man that was lost in Eden.  And just like the closeness and intimacy of husband and wife, it unfolds over time.

The revelation of God’s glory is akin to man and woman and the road to becoming husband and wife.  Two people meet, and there’s chemistry, but they’re unsure, gradually getting to know one another.  Trust is developed over time and through experience. Infatuation strengthens into genuine love, self-sacrifice and putting the needs of the other above your own interests.  Then there’s the mutual agreement that this is the person that you want to spend the rest of your life with.  And upon being married, declared husband and wife before the community, leaving father and mother and holding fast to each other, that the point of consummation is reached.  Husband and wife become one flesh—bonded together physically, emotionally, and materially.  “What God has brought together, let no man rent asunder.” (Mark 10:9).

And what God has brought together begets children for husband and wife—now father and mother—to nurture together.  This is the order which God established, an earthly reflection of a heavenly reality, the union of man and woman as a parable of the salvation of the world.

But tragically, we human beings have turned over that order and the consequences are palpable.  Today, many Christian churches in America are commemorating Sanctity of Life Sunday, but this isn’t just a problem of abortion.  That’s only a symptom.  There is a culture of casting every tradition aside and fulfilling one’s passions that’s akin to desiring to see God’s glory before it’s the right time to be revealed.  We seek the glory of marriage before the right time and without the burden it involves.  Closeness is sought up front without the time and mutual trust which must come first, and it results in deep secrets being turned into weapons of revenge.  The expectation of sexual intimacy and pleasure are seen as the next step for dating couples, without the duty and commitment that undergird it.  That union is further divided when one turns that mutual enjoyment inward and substitutes an image on a screen.  Couples want to be one life and property, but without the legal obligations from the state which support and enforce that.

Led by hormones and a flippancy toward tradition, it’s actually the next generation that suffers. This is where abortion often shows up, as a desire to eliminate babies from the one flesh union.  Here, the CDC reports that 85.7% of abortions are by unmarried mothers—those who don’t have the stability of a committed husband who does the godly thing and raises the child he has brought into existence.[1]

But God did not jump the gun on His married intimacy with His Bride, the Church.  He revealed His glory when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the Law.

How much we need God to bring us back to that intimacy we had with Him at the beginning!  And that is His burning desire!  God so often compares Himself to a husband longing to retrieve His wayward wife, because we are the ones who left Him.  We are the ones who left Him and made a mess of our lives and the lives of others.  In spite of our unfaithfulness, Christ, our husband, calls us back to Himself.  Even while we were delighting in immorality, Christ was dying for us.  While we were playing fancy free with His order, He was tirelessly seeking our place in His new creation.

At Cana in Galilee, Christ began to reveal His glory, “glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  That was just the start!  His glory was most fully revealed to us (so far) when He was lifted up on the cross to take away the sin of the world[2]—to take away your sin and mine.  That’s where God, your husband, not only revealed His heart, but also showed exactly what He was willing to do to win you back and restore that perfect intimacy.

And still, we have not seen all of His glory, but only as much as we are allowed to see now.  We have His Word, we have seen and believed in His Son, lifted up on the cross. The light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel—is that He came in the flesh to redeem us.  Yet even still, our Bridegroom is with His Bride.  He hasn’t abandoned us or forsaken us while we wander through the wilderness.  To Moses, He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 32:14)  That was true enough then, but even more so now, because now our Bridegroom baptizes us into His death and resurrection.  He gives of us His Body and Blood to eat and drink.  He has made Himself one flesh with us, and we with Him.

So this day in time, as He comes to us with His Body and Blood, I want you to focus on the 2nd stanza of the hymn, “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness.” (LSB 636).  Stanza 2 expresses our longing for our heavenly Bridegroom:

Hasten as a bride to meet Him,

And with loving rev’rence greet Him.

For with words of life immortal

He is knocking at your portal.

Open wide the gates before Him,

Saying, as you there adore Him:

Grant, Lord, that I now receive You,

That I nevermore will leave You.

Amen.


[1] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/ss/ss6713a1.htm

[2] John 12:23-24

Pointing to the Lamb of God (John 1:29-42)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Second Sunday after the Epiphany + January 15, 2017

Text: John 1:29-42a

 

Jack Friday in Dragnet was famous for saying, “Just the facts, ma’am.”  Whenever they would interview a witness, it undoubtedly happened that they would trail off into personal experiences and opinions about the suspect.  But what is needed from a witness is just the facts.

 

John the Baptist is that kind of witness.  Just the facts: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” “This man ranks before me, because he was before me.” “I baptized with water.” “I saw the Spirit descend and remain on him.” “This is the Son of God.”  It’s not important what John thought of Jesus, or if John could give a testimony about what Jesus did for him.  These facts are enough to make John the right kind of witness for God’s purposes—“that He might be revealed.”[1]  John’s ministry is no-frills with nothing to attract you to himself.  As John the Evangelist wrote, “He himself was not the light, but came to bear witness about the Light, that all might believe through him.”[2]  John was just a voice crying in the wilderness and a finger pointing to the Lamb of God.

 

It’s important who John is pointing to also.  Jesus is the One God has appointed to save the world.  Nobody and nothing else can be the Lamb of God, the true Passover sacrifice, the ram caught in the thicket which God provides.[3]  Jesus is the Savior of the world because only He takes away the sin of the world.

 

It’s important for us to get this right too, because there are others who masquerade under the name Jesus.  There’s the ecumenical Jesus who comes with the message that we should forget about our different readings of the Bible and embrace all things spiritual.  There’s the feel-good Jesus who encourages with out-of-context Bible verses and promises to help us be better people.  Then there’s the Jesus who is the worst kind of friend to have—a yes man.  He just pats us on the back and affirms us in every choice we make, even if that choice is to leave church in favor of more free time on the weekends.

 

The trouble with all of these false Jesus pictures is that none of them takes away sin.  They all leave us in our sins.  They make a mockery of God’s righteous judgment and turn the crucifixion and resurrection into an obsolete fairy tale.

 

John’s office was to proclaim Jesus to be the Lamb of God.  He himself did not know Him, but nevertheless He was God’s witness.

Only the Jesus whom God sends is the genuine article.

Only He take away sin

This is His chief aim—to make us whole and right before God.

Then everything else falls where it may, our mind and body restored.

 

Jesus continues to be the same Lamb of God who is proclaimed by us.

There’s no need to set up a fancy, side-door Jesus who gets people in the door through something completely unrelated.  This is not how people come to know Jesus.  It might be how they get to know Christians, but these things don’t contribute to saving faith.

 

The Lamb of God is proclaimed simply by pointing to Him and saying who He is and what He does.

 

This Jesus, the Son of God is the Messiah, the one who takes sins away.  He gives my conscience peace by His absolution.  He gives me confidence in my baptism that even death cannot steal me away from Him and the Kingdom He’s promised.  His Body and Blood give me strength to face my trials because He endured suffering and death and overcame them.

 

And hearing that, the Spirit will work faith when and where it pleases God (John 3:8).  No tricks, no gimmicks.  You and I are merely witnesses who are known by God and used by God to point to Jesus.

[1] Reveal comes from the Greek root of the word epiphany.  The season of Epiphany is about God giving epiphany of His Son as the Savior of the world.

[2] John 1:7-8

[3] John 19:14-18, Genesis 22:10-14