Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sermon for Year C Epiphany 2


We are gospel hopping during Epiphany.

On the Feast of the Epiphany 
we heard from Matthew
as the magi traveled in search for the Messiah
who turns out to be a baby.

Last week
we were in Luke’s gospel--
the Baptism of Christ.

This week we have jumped over to the gospel of John
and we hear about the wedding in Cana
and Jesus turning water into wine.

I don’t believe we will hear from the Gospel of Mark
during the Epipany season
but hearing from three out of four of the gospels
makes it a rich and diverse season.

If you are a fan of the PBS program Downton Abbey,
as I am,
but have missed the first two episodes of Season 3
I may need to issue a spoiler alert for the next part of my sermon.

If you don’t know the program Downton Abbey at all,
I can tell you that it has nothing to do with a religious abbey
and I haven’t seen a single monk in any of the seasons.
Downtown Abbey is the name of a large house and estate--really large--
think bigger than Biltmore Estate large.
Downton is owned and occupied by Lord and Lady Grantham.
They live there with their adult children, 
a variety of others who stop in now and again.
and a diverse group of servants. 
Lots of servants.

It is one of these servants that kept creeping into my thoughts
as I prepared this sermon.
Mr. Carlson is the Butler at Downton.
He is traditional to a fault, loves the old way of doing things,
does not like change
and is absolutely loyal and devoted to the family he serves.

All the male staff report to Mr. Carson.
Mr. Carson is in charge of the pantry, 
the dining room, and the wine cellar.

Mr. Carson has a kind heart but extremely rigorous standards.

I kept seeing Mr. Carson as the wine steward 
in today’s gospel.
That he tastes the water turned to wine
and is so surprised that he goes immediately to Lord Grantham
to point out how unusual this is.

Lord Grantham, sir,
we have an unusual situation here.
This wine...

What is it, Carson?

Well, your Lordship, we usually serve the more inferior wine
once the guests are quite--uh, might I say--tipsy?
But this wine which we are about to put out--


Well, Lord Grantham, it is quite excellent.
In fact, quite a bit more excellent a vintage than what we served
the guests when they first arrived.

Lord Grantham trusts Mr. Carson
and values his opinion.

That is true of the steward in John’s gospel today as well.
It is the steward in today’s gospel--
his surprise when he tastes the wine--
that tells us
that something unusual has happened.
We trust him.
We value his opinion.
We know he is telling the truth.

Not only has the water been changed into wine,
the water has been changed into magnificent wine.

Remember? Epiphany is about shining light
onto Jesus being no ordinary human being--
yes, human.
But also, yes, absolutely divine.

The changing of the water into wine
is the first miracle Jesus performs.

We need to think of these moments--
following a star to find a baby in a manger,
the heavens breaking open 
        as Jesus prays right after his baptism,
changing water into wine--
these are “thin place” moments.

Moments when heaven and earth intersect--
right before our eyes.

In John’s gospel they are called “signs”.
The water into wine is the first of Jesus’ signs.

Jesus’ mother is there with him.
She is never named--she is only referred to as his mother.

It’s not surprising that she is there, too.
The tradition of that time
would have been to invite the whole village.
There would not have been a guest list---
everyone was welcome, invited.
And probably--because weddings were usually multi-day feasts,
everyone would have wanted to be there,
to eat, drink, be merry and celebrate.

Running out of wine
would not have been just bad planning 
but a disgrace for the family.
It would have remained an embarrassment for a long long time.
Some might have looked on it as a very bad omen
for the bride and groom and their married life together.
Running out of wine
would have been a disaster.

Jesus’ mother understands this.
She doesn’t tell him WHAT to do
but it is implicit that she wants him to do something
when she tells him they are running out of wine.

Oh, and then that moment when Jesus responds
and calls her “Woman”.

I don’t know about you,
but if I had ever addressed my mother as “Woman”
I don’t know if I would have lived long enough
to be standing here in this pulpit!

Yet that comment to his mother
lets us know quite clearly that Jesus is no longer a child.
He is coming into his own.
It is happening right before our eyes.

His mother also knows he is no longer a child either
and she knows that he is no ordinary person.

She tells the servants to 
“Do whatever he tells you.”

His mother knows.
His mother knows
that Jesus can--and will--do more
than just transform water into wine.

Jesus can transform us.
Jesus can take what is ordinary
and transform that ordinary into extraordinary.

Jesus came to transform the world.
That is our call as well.

There are some Episcopal billboards going up around the country--
we are trying to get some for Western NC too--
they simply say this:

Love God.
Love your neighbor.
Change the world.

Because with love
anything is possible.

Jesus did not change the water into wine to be a show off,
to do a magic trick as entertainment.
He did this because he had compassion, love 
for that family, that bride and groom--for his mother.
Jesus did not want the wedding to be a disaster.
He cared about people.

Yes, the story is here in John’s gospel as a sign,
to show us that Jesus could do anything--and did.

It is also a sign for the future--
another third day will come.
When everything looks hopeless,
resurrection will come.
The time is not yet
but it is sooon.

But now, it’s the season of Epiphany.
Once more we see the Light coming into ordinary life.
Jesus’ mother gives good advice.
Do whatever he tells you.

Do whatever he tells you.

We are called to use our gifts--
and, as we heard in the reading from Paul’s first letter
to the Corinthians,
our gifts are many and they are wonderfully diverse.

We are called  
to use our gifts, to do whatever God calls us to do,
to go wherever God leads us,
and to love all those we meet along the journey.

Love God.
Love your neighbor.
Change the world.

I think even Mr. Carson
would approve of change
when love is at the heart of it.


Teri said...

I like it! Love the comparison of the steward with Mr. Carson--seems right on to me!

And I can say with unequivocal certainty that if I had called my mother "Woman" then I would still be grounded.

Jeanne said...

Thanks, Teri! Our mothers would probably have been good friends! :-)

Mary said...

Wonderful! I love your point of respecting the stewards. And Mr. Carson makes me understand the gospel all the more!

Carrie said...

Great sermon!!