Monday, February 20, 2012

God Speaking: Like Fine Wine

Preached on Sunday, February 19, 2012
Scripture readings: Psalm 104:10-23; John 2:1-11

John tells us that, when Jesus turned the water into wine, he revealed his glory. (2:11) John has told us about this glory before. He has told us, first, that Jesus is the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1:1-2)

John has told us that, in Jesus, God entered human life. God became human. This is how he said it: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (1:14) John sheds light on the glory of Jesus (the Son) this way: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” (1:18)

Jesus is the Word, who is God, making God known. Jesus is God speaking; expressing himself and revealing himself.

So when Jesus turned the water into wine, it was God speaking; expressing himself and revealing himself. It was a demonstration of a reality about God. It was a sign of who Jesus really is, and who the Father really is; and so it is a sign of who God really is.

Human beings can make grapes into wine, but we can’t make water into wine. The glory of turning water into wine is that it gives us a sign of who God is and what God can do.

God is the creator and the Lord of water, and grapes, and yeast and the fermentation process (all of which are a part of nature; all a part of creation). God can turn water into wine and that is why Jesus could do it.

When God does what we cannot do, that is a miracle. We have a God of miracles. The sign Jesus did tells us that. There is a special kind of trust and confidence (there is a special way of life) involved in knowing the God of miracles.

That trust, that confidence, that way of life, is meant to belong to us. A relationship to the God of miracles is what we have through Jesus, who gives us a new life through his birth, and through his sacrifice for our sins on the cross, and through his resurrection from the dead. Jesus makes us new people who are no longer separated from the God of miracles.

But, if miracles were the point of what Jesus did, by turning water into wine, he would not have needed to do that particular miracle. If miracles were the point, any old miracle would do.

The gift of turning water into wine makes a special point. Jesus did it to serve a specific purpose and meat a specific need. It sends a message of the sort of God we have and what sort of things he does.

The bride, and the groom, and their families needed wine for their wedding; and they had run out. I am sure that they did not run out of wine by mistake. They had run out of wine because they were poor.

Every house in the village had wine. The village was full of wine. They could have had it, if they could have bought it. They just did not have the money to buy enough wine for their guests.

The families wanted these two kids to get married. Weddings took lots and lots of wine because weddings always lasted for days, and whole villages, and whole neighborhoods of villages would come to share in the celebration.

A proper first century Jewish wedding was very expensive. It was one of the biggest expenses of their lives, and such weddings were an obligation of family honor.

The parents would have discussed the situation like this: “So many people are going to come. We can’t afford any more wine than this! What if we run out? So, maybe we won’t run out. There’s a chance we won’t run out. What will people say if we run out of wine? So, maybe we won’t run out.”

What was a wedding without wine? Wine represented joy. The ancient rabbis had a saying: “Without wine there is no joy!”

Wine was not about getting drunk. The custom was to mix wine with water before people drank it. The formula was two parts wine to three parts water. So the wine the guests drank was watered down by more than a hundred per cent. The wine they drank was more than half water.

But watering it down like that didn’t hurt it because it was a thick, meaty wine. Grape skins, and flesh, and seeds and stems stayed in the wine until it was poured into serving jugs through a cloth filter.

Practically speaking, because it was cut in half with water, your bladder wouldn’t allow you to drink enough of it to get drunk. The most you could hope to achieve, that way, was just a mild buzz! It did nothing more than make you happy.

If we could have traveled back in time to such a wedding, and if we heard the news that the family had run out of wine, we might have said, “Oh what a shame.” Only we wouldn’t realize the seriousness of the shame because we don’t life in an honor society. Running out of wine would have been a serious loss of face. It was an embarrassment where honor was everything. They would never forget their shame, and neither would anyone else.

The families of the bride and groom had been saving up for this since they got married, themselves. Their honor required them to provide what tradition required.

The days of their wedding were supposed to be remembered as the best of days. They were supposed to be the richest, brightest, and happiest days of their lives.

The bride and groom were treated as royalty. They wore crowns. They were addressed as king and queen. They were carried, round and round, through the village streets in a torchlight parade. But when their wine failed the honor and joy of those days failed, at least until Jesus stepped in.

My dad started making wine when I was about fourteen years old. I remember how much planning and preparation he put into it.

My dad was a perfectionist. He kept notebooks of the dates he did everything, the ingredients, and the amounts for each vintage.

Over time, my dad built his own crusher, and wine press, and filtration system. Wine was a lot of work, and a lot of waiting, and a lot of eager anticipation.

He did have some failures, wines that were bad, wines that spoiled. Early on my dad found that there were recipes for wine that would not work. He also found that, although may be true (theoretically) that you can make wine out of anything, there are some things that should not be made into wine.

My dad could make wonderful wine. His main wine was from grapes, of course. But he made all sorts. I loved his cherry wine. I gagged on his tomato wine, and his cantaloupe wine. They were horrible, truly horrible. He never tried those again.

Sometimes the wine does fail.

Life can be like wine, and sometimes it fails. We run out of something essential. Our courage fails. Our best intentions fail; or our wisdom.

Our patience wears out. Our time runs out. Our resources are spent. The people we depended on are gone.

We cannot mend all the harm we cause. We cannot mend ourselves. We cannot protect those we love from hurt or failure. We watch the defeat and the end of a cause we love. We are no longer quite whole because of grief and loss.

All of these are signs of being the children of a long fought rebellion. They are the signs of a rebel world. Everyone in the world suffers from a deformity and an isolation that began when our first ancestors tried to build a life independent of God. A life independent of God is a life where the wine runs out.

In a rebel world, there are barriers in our nature between us and God, between us and the people around us, between us and what God intended us to be. We look at our selves and we find there are parts missing; parts like an unselfish love, or like true humility, or like the ability to fully give the trust of one’s heart.

We may not always be aware of this. But, when we truly know ourselves, when we truly understand our world, then we realize that, as wonderful as life can be, as amazing as this creation is, we do run out of wine.

The God who turns the water into wine does the impossible, but this is not a case where just any miracle will do. The rabbis said, “Without wine there is no joy.” What God came, in Jesus, to give us was a humanly impossible, infinitely renewable, and everlasting joy.

Later in this gospel Jesus will say this of us: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

This is the wine: the barriers go down, the missing parts are restored. Water is good but wine is rich, and strong, and joyful.

If you want to follow Jesus, notice who he cares for and who he helps. It’s true that Jesus cares for the sick, and the hungry, and the disabled, and the poor, and the dying. He also cares for the ashamed, and the shunned, and the defeated, and the empty, and the joyless.

Notice that the kind of care and compassion Jesus shows is extravagant and not sparing of anything. The one-hundred-and-twenty to one-hundred-and-eighty gallons of wine would be more than enough for that wedding in Cana. The village would be drinking that wine for months to come. They would have to find new reasons to celebrate together. Jesus gave them far more than they needed.

God’s grace conquers us because it is so rich, and wild, and extreme that we cannot really argue with it. When we see Jesus reaching out to us from the cross how can we say “no” to it? I found that I couldn’t say no to it. How can we say, “I want only half of that, not quite so much please!”?

My Polish grandma (my Babcia, my Baci) expressed love through food and always made us eat too much. She shouldn’t have done this. Even in those days we knew this. But you couldn’t say no to her. Her grace was too big.

The grace of the gospel of Jesus is way too big. We can never hope to escape our debt of thanks to him.

If we follow Jesus, our grace toward others will always be too much. On Christmas, and for birthdays, my other grandma would give us clothing that was far too large. Often we would never grow into it. It would wear out before we grew into it.

When my mom would mention that the clothes were much too big, my grandma Evans would just say, “That’s a good fault.” The grace of God and the grace of Christians are big like this. If this were not true Jesus would have told everyone at the wedding that water was good enough.

He turned the water into wine because his grace to us had to be too big. He turned the water into wine because the grace he wanted us to give to others also had to be too big.

The Word of God and our life with him should be as refreshing as water, and sometimes it is. But the Word of God and our life with him is also meant to be far richer, and stronger, and more joyful than water. God speaks in Jesus. And God speaking is like fine wine.


  1. good morning, Pastor Dennis,

    brilliant post as usual, so well written.

    i loved reading your post today, and i also love your perspective on miracles.

    Jesus' first miracle, turning water into is not mere miracle, it is a sign, a miracle with a message.

    i really enjoyed reading about your father/aunt stories regarding wine making and wine as well.

    thanks for brightening my day.

    Have a blessed day!

  2. wonderful words...
    Thank you for your friendship!
    I will not forget that!
    God bless you!

  3. @Betty and @Isabel, thanks for you kind words.