Sermon: The miraculous miracles.
The former presiding bishop Mark Hanson, who indeed is a very humorous descendant of the Norwegian Lutherans, once told about a flight he went on. As a bishop he was not traveling incognito but wore his bishop clergy collar and his cross. It was a long flight to Europe, and as he was seated, the flight attendant came to take orders for snacks and drinks, she announced that unfortunately they did not have any more wine. Mark Hanson looked at her and with a smile said: “Then just give me some water and we will solve that problem!”
Well, I guess that Mark Hanson had expected a laugh or at least a smile, but unfortunately the flight attendant did not seem to know the wonderful gospel story about the Wedding in Cana, because she looked at the bishop and slowly shock her head in disbelief.
Well, it is a wonderful story todays Gospel. It is a joyful story about a wedding that got even better as Jesus intervened and miraculously made wine out of water.
Almost immediately a lot of us, listen to the Gospel with the same kind of disbelief that the flight attendant approached the bishop with. “I don’t believe it! – I might believe in the moral teachings of Jesus, but all the miraculous miracles, I can’t believe in. All these unproven and unbelievable miracles about making wine out of water, or walking on the water, that I must dismiss as a modern intelligent human being of 2019”
So, let me start with another story.
Many years ago, when the famous Tonight Show host Johnny Carson was interviewing an eight-year-old boy, it became apparent that the young man was a Christian. So, Johnny asked him if he attended Sunday School, and the boy answered: “Last week our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine.” The audience laughed and roared, but Carson tried to keep a straight face and he asked to boy: “And what did you learn from that story?” The boy sat for a while, and then replied: “If you’re going to have a wedding make sure you invite Jesus!”
This afternoon at 3 pm we will celebrate a wedding here in our church – a wedding of a sweet committed couple. It is a wedding between a devout Catholic and a devout Lutheran – and we certainly have invited Jesus and pray that the Holy Spirit will join with joy, faith, hope and love.
I have officiated at many weddings through my 28 years of ministry. Most in churches but also some at beaches, in forests, at lakes, on mountains, in gardens, in homes, in hospitals …. or at a vineyard. One of the most beautiful weddings I had the pleasure of officiating at was at a vineyard in Paso Robles. The green rolling hills of vineyards and views as the backdrop and private produced wine on the tables. At that day the Story about the Wedding in Cana, miraculously blended in with the views, the smells and the taste of the vineyard and the wine. And Jesus was invited and in a very special way present in words, in wines and in spirit.
As Jesus at the wedding in Cana watched people enjoy an outstanding wine, whose origin they never learned or would have believed if they had been told, and even if people did not thank him, it was nothing new. As St. Augustine first observed and later C.S. Lewis later pondered: what Jesus did in Cana and in many of his miracles was no more than a speeded-up version of what he does every year on a thousand hillsides, as vines silently turn water into wine. Millions of people enjoy that wine every year without for a moment recognizing the divine miracle of it all.
We might read the Gospel to literally to truly understand and cherish the meaning. We might try to understand every miracle instead of giving thanks for the miraculous miracles that surround us every day.
Well, let us begin with us. Sitting here in the pews this Sunday Morning.
Any given Sunday morning, when we gather for worship, you would attract some suspicious glances, if one of you raised your arms during a hymn, loudly shouted Amen, or if one of you gave a spontaneous prophecy or suddenly began to speak in tongues, people would probably slowly but surely inch away from you and wonder about calling the local mental health facility. Let us be honest: we are not the most charismatic dancing prophesying congregation.
We are Lutherans. We find our favorite pew in the back, we sing sitting down, we do not clap, and we do not lift our arms over our heads, unless we need to change a lightbulb. We are Lutherans who may be spiritually lifted by the smell of coffee and the thought of a good lunch.
And yet, we do believe that the Holy Spirit works within us and around us. As we heard from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that “we are all given different gifts, but by the same spirit. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good….” and then Paul listed: wisdom and knowledge, faith, healing powers, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation…. all activated by the same spirit. Even if we might belong to a true Lutheran church with a distinct uncharismatic leaning, we all believe in and welcome all the help we can get from the Holy Spirit. Bring on the holy spirit, we pray.
Sometimes the problems that keep us up at night, yearning for the Holy Spirit to intervene and show, are large and looming and far reaching: gun violence, racism, child abuse and in our church setting it can be the missing youth, the aging members, the budget and accounting, the kitchen schedule, the A/C problems, or if the communion wine tastes good.
Well, for Jesus’ mother, Mary, the problem was that the wine was running out at the wedding party. She knew that only divine intervention could save the party guests from disappointment and the newly married couple from shame. Fortunately, she also knew someone who could work miracles.
Transforming water into wine was Jesus first sign in the Gospel of John. We might think of this first sign and miracles as a more lighthearted, simple, little miracle, that was less impressive or important when you compare to feeding 5000, walking on the water, or raising Lazarus from the dead. But a miracle is a miracle, right?
And we tend to think that miracles come easy, or with a snap of the finger.
But then consider another perspective of todays miracle. The servant’s perspective.
Jesus tells them to fill the nearby jars with water, “and they filled them up to the brim.“ These servants, at least some of whom are likely women, fill up six stone jars, each of which holds 20-30 gallons. Even empty, the jars would be extremely heavy, filled with about 200 pounds of water each they would be nearly impossible to move. And without faucets or hoses, this 120-180 gallons of water would most likely have to be drawn from a well. It turns out that even miracles can be hard work. Not just for the person performing the miracle, but for anyone helping. The servants had to fill up the jars. The disciples had to hand out the food for 5000 people and pick up leftovers. Those who loved Lazarus had to push the stone from his tomb. Miracles may be inspired and holy and wonderful and miraculous, but they do not come easy.
Isn’t it the same with the Holy Spirit? We hope and pray for the spirit to come down and help us, fix our problems, but sometimes we forget that when the power does come, it comes into us. The Spirit gives us the gifts of wisdom and prophecy, of healing and interaction. We must allow the Spirit to work in us.
And even if we do not talk about it so often, even if we Lutherans tend to refrain from too much Spirit talk, - it happens here too.
The Spirit of God, the holy spirit, moves us in so many ways: to serve, to sing, to help, to work and to love. The Holy Spirit empowers us to do miracles as a congregation: to care for one another, to call and care, to send flowers and prayers, to help serve coffee and lunch, to accept positions of leadership, to help when needed as we are just witnessing when our treasurer had a stroke. The Holy Spirit calls us to worship together as a family and be grateful for every worship. It is a miracle that we are still here after 112 years!
There is a lot of joy to be found in all these gifts and services that this congregations provides for the better of us all. There are mary gifts, services and activities. Everyone is given the manifestations of the Spirit for the good of everyone. The gifts of the Holy Spirits are abundant and many, and they overflow within our church, - even if we do not always call it by name.
As Benjamin Franklin said: “Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”
Believe in the miraculous miracles – don’t make life less than it is and can be. Amen.