Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 20, 2019 (John 2:1-11), “Master of the Feast”

“The Wedding at Cana: Jesus Blesses the Water” (1641-1660), by Jan Cossiers (1600-1671), Saint Waldetrudis Church, Herentals, Belgium

Originally preached at Living Savior Lutheran Church, Fairfax Station, Virginia.


In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

The party had been going on for hours.  After fulfilling a number of formalities required to end their betrothal and finalize their marriage, the bridegroom had brought his bride into his home at Cana.  The dowry was paid and they would now seal their union with her entry into his house. All their friends and family were there to witness their marriage and celebrate it.  And celebrate they did! There was a banquet of rich foods, and the wine…well, the wine flowed like water. Everyone was partaking in the nuptial joy, and people were invited from far and wide.  There was music and dancing, games, flirtations, and merriment, laughter, and cheer.  The bride and groom and all their guests were looking forward to a week of wedding revelry.

Then, disaster struck.  A celebration that was meant to go on for a few days was going to draw to a premature end.  Someone–either the bridegroom himself or his caterer, the master of the feast— had made a miscalculation.  They were going to run out of wine!  The revelers had consumed almost all of it, and their reserves were dry.  No wineskins hidden off in some corner of the cellar. No old amphorae forgotten in a cabinet somewhere.  They were going to be out.  And how would that look to the guests?

Can you imagine how the master of the feast felt at this discovery?  This is first century Judea— you don’t not have enough wine at a wedding!  Providing refreshments for a wedding feast was an important way to show hospitality to family and friends and to make a good impression on all in attendance.  How could they have been so short-sighted? How could they have so royally messed this up? This was a huge faux pas, and would damage the reputation of the groom and his family.  What were they to do?

***

It often seems like we have everything figured out or squared away, that we are in control of our plans, that we are masters of our fate and captains of our souls.  That’s how we make plans, isn’t it?  We lay everything out and expect what we do to go according to our plan.  Follow the plan, and life will work out just as we desire it to.  Stick to the itinerary and your trip will go well. Follow the recipe and your dish will be perfect.  Set up everything just right, and your party will go off without a hitch. We’ve all been there. We all think this way.  We make plans, and very often, we put our trust in ourselves to carry them out. We’re like Clark Griswold, who just wants to give his family the best Christmas ever.  But very often, things don’t go according to plan, and if we didn’t make additional plans to deal with those snags in our execution — those squirrels in the Christmas tree, our cousin who shows up with his Winnebago in the front drive uninvited — then we’re up a creek without a paddle, and our machinations fall apart.

“Robert Burns Turning Up a Mouse in Her Nest, November 1785,” The Robert Burns Gallery

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, / Gang aft agley, / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / For promis’d joy!” writes the Scottish poet Robert Burns in his poem “To a Mouse.”  The success of our best-laid schemes is never given. There is no guarantee that they will come out the way we intend, and depending on the situation, they may not come out well for us at all.  It’s like the “Reset with Russia” that happened early on in the last presidency. The State Department made a little button, kind of like the famous Staples’ “easy button,” that Secretary Clinton and the Minister Lavrov could symbolically press to indicate a “reset” of relations with Russia.  It was only at the press conference where the button was unveiled, though, that a terrible mistake was uncovered. Minister Lavrov saw the button and laughed. The button didn’t say “reset” — it said “overcharge.” Someone didn’t check to make sure the Russian word on the button was correct! The State Department thought they had everything covered and had carried out their plan to a “t,” but someone trusted his or her ability with the Russian language a little more than they ought to have, and in the end, what was supposed to be a great diplomatic moment ended up making the American delegation look silly.

The Infamous “Overcharge” Button.
Meeting between Secretary Hillary Clinton and Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland, 2009.
U.S. Department of State.

And when we make plans, we tie our success or ability to adapt to changing circumstances to where we put our trust.  Very often we put our trust in ourselves to make our plans or schemes happen. But when we do this, when we see ourselves as the captains of our fate and masters of our souls, we forget that we aren’t actually in control.  God is, and when we forget that he’s the one who makes our life possible, literally the one from whom all blessings flow, from whom we receive all that we need “to sustain this body and life,” we make ourselves into little gods, and we sin against him.  And when our plans fail and things go poorly, we can be tempted to despair because all our faith has been in ourselves. Indeed, when we put our faith in ourselves to accomplish certain ends— even to do the will of God— we will be sorely disappointed. Our modern humanist tendency to make man the measure of all things causes us to ignore the God who made us and sustains us, and so in this, we sin.  The “promised joy” we set our sights on, like Burns’ mouse, is replaced with “grief an’ pain” when we make ourselves our own masters. Sinatra may have sung “I did it my way,” but when we do it our way, in our sin we find that our way generally leads to failure rather than success, and sometimes, to destruction.

***

“The Miracle at Cana” (1887), by Vladimir E. Makovsky (1846-1920), Vitebsk Regional Museum of Local Lore, Russia

Going back to the wedding at Cana, the feast was in jeopardy.  Where would they find enough wine for the guests at this hour? Was anyone really aware that the wine was out?  Suddenly, and miraculously, out of nowhere, more wine was found. 120-180 gallons worth, by modern estimates.  And unlike the lower-quality wine that you would usually serve at the end of the night when everyone was too far gone to really appreciate the finer vintages, this stuff was phenomenal.  It was even better than the really good wine that was served at the beginning of the feast. But where did it come from? The master of the feast didn’t know. Neither did the bridegroom, though I suppose he didn’t say anything about it.  After all, who would want to disavow great wine that appeared at your wedding as something you didn’t supply?

But there were some who did know from where this new wine came, and in such abundance.  Jesus had been invited, and Mary had asked him to help. He responded to her that he would deal with the problem in his own manner and in his own time.  When he told Mary, “what does this have to do with me? My time has not yet come,” Jesus wasn’t saying that he didn’t want to help, but that he would use the occasion for his own purpose, to demonstrate that he is the Lord of All.  And so he did. The servants were told to do whatever he told them to, and they heeded him. They poured water in the jars and it became the finest wine anyone had ever tasted. And in doing this, he gave the servants proof that he was no mere man, but in fact the Son of Man, the Messiah.  He gave them a sign, a “semeion.”

“The Wedding at Cana” (1870), by Carl Bloch (1834-1890), Det Nationalhistoriske Museum på Frederiksborg Slott, Danmark

That is why Jesus performs signs according to John in his Gospel— so that those who see and hear about them may know that he indeed is the Christ, the one who conquers sin, death, and the grave.  Signs like this attest to Christ’s being the true Master, and not just the Master of the Feast (because at Cana he helps the master of the feast save face by doing his job), but the Master of All Things.  He is the source, the one through whom all things were made, and from whom all things come. He is the one who gives all people value in the sight of God, upon whom all people rely for the promise of life.  This miracle of the 180 gallons of wine is more than just a miracle pointing to who Christ is: it points to the fact that Jesus is the one upon whom all people should rely and in whom all people should put their trust.  Those disciples who saw this sign and believed in him accordingly received the promise of everlasting life.

When the servants listened to to Mary and did whatever Christ told them to do, they were trusting in him. It was an act of trust on their part because they didn’t know what he was going to tell them to do or knew who he necessarily was. He could have told them to do any number of crazy things— perhaps making some sort of concoction of dirt with toads and bats wings— or just told them to run down to the wine merchants’ or go over to a neighboring vintner to pick up more wineskins.  But by trusting in Jesus and listening to him, they ended up receiving an immeasurably greater solution to the problem than anyone could have imagined. It was better than what anyone may have thought the feast needed. Indeed, for those who saw and believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the promise that accompanied this faith was far better than anything they had ever received in their lives. And so it is with us in our walk with Christ.

***

When we trust Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we realize that we receive everything from him.  We receive eternal life and forgiveness of sins. We receive forgiveness for the times that we forget him and what he has done for us, when we forget that he is truly the Lord of All.  And we are able to trust him to be our Lord, who cares for us and gives us what we need. And when we trust in Christ because he has saved us, we can confidently approach God our Father in any situation and ask him for anything we need.  In fact, he wants us to do this— when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking him for those things that we need and that his will will be done.  God may not always give us what we want, but he does give us what we need and what is best for us, and what he gives is us always better than what we, in our limited human experience, can imagine.  His will for us, after all, is that we live with him forever in perfect harmony, and nothing we can think of even compares to that. That is what he has promised to give us in addition to what we need in our daily life.

So in your own life, in your own plans, remember what Christ has done for you and how he has given you all you have, and has made you and all that you are.  Remember that he is not just the true master of the wedding feast at Cana. He is the master of your life as well, and he will use your life to further his kingdom and bring you to himself as he sees fit and in his own time.  So do not be afraid to ask him to bless your work. Do not be afraid to ask him what you should do. Do not be afraid to pray for his guidance. He wants you to. You are his by faith and in baptism, and he will provide for you, even if your plans fail.  For our Lord is the master of all. There is no need to despair when things go wrong, when our own strength is not enough to achieve the desired results that we want. Our Lord is in control. His plans never fail, and he will bring you to join with him in his ultimate victory on the last day.  On that day, we shall be partakers in a feast greater than that at any earthly wedding, when Christ will rejoice over his bride, the church, and delight in her. Amen.


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