Grace Upon Grace – from Cana to Canterbury

a sermon for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus did not simply change water into wine.  He transformed water used for ritual baths into hundreds of bottles of the finest wine, and in so doing, he transformed the basic element of our baptisms into the basic element of our communion with God and one another.

 

 

Over the past several years, I’ve become something of an expert about weddings. Some of that I’ve learn professionally as a priest, providing counseling for couples who are considering getting married. But most of it comes from being the father of the bride. Twice. In the past 18 months. My daughter Kate married Ryan about a year and a half ago. Then my daughter Sarah married Pan this past May.

According to the Book of Common Prayer, “the bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.” Marriage is a holy institution. It is a grand celebration in the life of a couple. And for the family putting on the wedding, it can be one of the most stressful events they ever experience. Think about it. Every little detail has to be planned out. How many guests will we have? Where will the reception be? How much food do we need? Will we have enough for everyone to drink?

As stressful as weddings are today, imagine what they were like in Jesus’ day. Back then, weddings lasted more than just a few hours – they were week long affairs. So you might imagine that running out of food or drink would be considered haraam, a terrible embarrassment, a violation of the rules of middle eastern hospitality that call for taking care of a guest at any cost. This would cause shame for both the newly married couple and for the host family.

icon-wedding-at-cana-3This is the situation Jesus finds himself in when his mother tells him that they had run out of wine. Maybe she was a relative of the couple, or at least a close friend. At any rate, she knew that her son had the power to do something about it. At first, Jesus is mystified, “what has any of this have to do with us?” But then he relents and transforms 6 large stone jars of water, water used for ritual bathing, into wine.

This is a story about God’s extravagant abundance. There was an abundance in quantity – each jar held about 30 gallons, about the size of standard garbage can. Six jars would be 180 gallons or about 900 bottles of wine. That’s a lot of wine! God’s blessings overflowed those jars and filled every wedding guest many times over.

Then, there was an abundance of quality – when the servants took the wine to the chief steward, he was amazed at how good it was. Why would anyone save the best wine so late in celebration, when the guest’s were too drunk to tell the difference? But God’s always gives us better than we ever deserve.

Water. Wine. Christ was revealed as the son of God that day through his extravagant abundance. He transformed water used for ritual baths into hundreds of bottles of the finest wine, and in so doing, he transformed the basic element of our baptisms into the basic element of communion with God and one another.

Our lives in Christ are framed by these two events. By the water, we are adopted as children of God at our baptisms. By the wine, we are nourished and sustained, strengthened for our service to our neighbors. Between baptism and communion we are joined to God and to our fellow human kind in love and in service. We become recipients of the extravagant abundance of God’s grace – what in the first chapter of John is called “grace upon grace.”

If Jesus teaches us anything, he teaches us the extravagance of God’s grace:
How many times should I forgive my enemy? Seven times? No, seventy times seven.
What should I do if someone strikes me? Turn the other cheek.
What should I do if someone takes my coat? Give him my cloak as well.
This is what the kingdom of God looks like. This is how we live into grace upon grace.

So, what does this mean for us today?

Many of you heard this week about the meeting in Canterbury, England of all the national leaders of the churches that make up the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is made up of all the Churches that are derived from the Church of England. They meet from time to time for mutual support and to coordinate ministry around the world. But the relationships between some of these churches have been strained over the issue of human sexuality. As you know, the Episcopal Church has acknowledged and/or embraced LGBT persons as full participants in all of the sacraments of the Church, including marriage. But other members of the Communion in other parts of the world simply believe we have gone too far. This week, most of leaders of the Anglican Communion voted for a temporary suspension of our representation on ecumenical and theological decision-making bodies.

There was grace in that decision – many countries wanted to kick the Episcopal Church completely out of the Communion. But the real grace upon grace came from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who said,

“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female, for all are one in Christ.”

Regardless of the decision of our sister churches in the communion, God’s grace upon grace means that the Episcopal Church will continue to be open to all, while at the same time, we remain committed to living in relationship with the other members of the Anglican Communion. Grace upon grace. We must commit to making room at the table for all people regardless of race or gender or sexual identity and walking along side those who disagree with us to be a witness for mercy and love for all God’s children.

Jesus did not merely change water into wine, he changed the bath water of our baptisms into the finest wine offered us at the heavenly banquet.  Baptism makes us children of God and communion nourishes us for life together. Grace upon grace.

Our everyday lives are made holy, and our life together becomes an example God’s extravagant abundance. May we always make room at the baptismal font and live in communal relationship at the eucharistic table, and at every sacrament, for everyone – no matter what.

Thanks be to God!

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