|On that Walk between Live Oak CA and the Feather River|
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Faith for Living - Jesus and the Transformers
Preached on Sunday, January 15, 2017
Scripture readings: Isaiah 25:1-9; John 2:1-11
There’s a “Transformers” movie series which begins when a young guy buys a used Chevy Camaro that proves to have a mind of its own. It turns out that the car can transform itself into a super-intelligent, super-strong robot from another planet.
It’s a member of an alien race of robots who can transform themselves into mostly motor vehicles of various sorts. Those are the transformers.
There are all kinds of books, and videos, and programs out there that promise to turn you into a transformer. They don’t promise to give you the power to change yourself from one thing into another, but they promise to teach you to change yourself into a different person than you currently are. They promise to teach you to transform yourself into someone smarter, more physically fit, more confident, more successful, sexier, or richer, or some combination of these.
Some of these programs may actually work. They may turn people into transformers.
When I was in high school, my grandma Evans believed that I was in serious need of transforming myself into a different person. So, she gave me a copy of “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale, in hopes that I would take it to heart. She hoped that, by taking it to heart, I would become a more confident person.
I gave it a half-hearted try; even though I clearly understood that the book warned me that half-heartedness was doomed to failure. I experimented with it, and I soon felt that it was a program that could only succeed if I hid myself from myself. My experiment only worked when I pretended to be someone else (someone I was not), and I found that I couldn’t really eliminate my old self.
In the end, I gave it up. I didn’t become a transformer.
A couple years later, when I was eighteen, I received an experience of transformation without ever becoming a transformer. The people who knew me as a kid would be able to vouch for this. They noticed the transformation, at the time, and they said so.
My secret of transformation is that I gave up. I had loved the Lord for as long as I could remember. I remember loving God (loving Jesus) when I was three, but there was a lot of understanding that I needed to grow into; and I had to learn to say “yes” to God about those things. When I was eighteen I realized that I had not been saying “yes” to the God I loved.
There’s a common phrase among Christians about “accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior”. And I don’t know how well even Christians understand this phrase.
“Savior” is a word we seem to take to mean that Jesus is the source of our forgiveness. Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins on the cross. That’s true. I had officially accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was about nine. I did this while I was watching Billy Graham on TV, all by myself, at home in our family den.
Actually, I believe I knew something about this long before. That was part of the reason why I loved Jesus.
“Savior” also means rescuer. Jesus is the one who saves the day. He comes to our rescue, and this goes infinitely beyond sin.
When I was eight I almost drowned. And, when I say that I “almost drowned”, I not referring to the time when I really did drown. I really did drown when I was seventeen, in the sense that I wasn’t breathing and I had turned purple when they got me out of the lake.
When I was eight, I only, almost drowned in a swimming pool. When this happened there was a kid who jumped into the pool, and grabbed me, and swam me back to shallow water.
Boy was I ever mad at him. I yelled at him. I told him that everything had been just fine and that I didn’t need his help. That boy was my savior from drowning, and I refused to admit it. I didn’t accept him as my savior, which would have meant admitting that I was in trouble like he said.
Christians accept Jesus as their Savior from the sins that are really bothering them, but they aren’t very open to admitting everyplace where they truly need forgiveness, because there are places where even the best of us don’t want to accept responsibility or blame. Letting Jesus saves us from our sins doesn’t go very far, unless we are willing for him to save us from ourselves.
When Christians accept Jesus as Lord, sometimes it seems that they only mean admitting that Jesus is the big guy, and that he has the power to answer their prayers, if they pray the right way. But the word “Lord” means that he’s the boss. It means that we always say yes to Jesus, and that we never, never say “no”. The best of us have trouble with this.
When I was eighteen, I was faced with a choice of whether I was willing to say “no” to anything Jesus said. I felt, from the depth of my heart, that I couldn’t face it any longer. I could no longer face being someone who said “no” to Jesus.
To the best of my ability, I have stopped saying “no” to Jesus. If you catch me saying “no”, please confront me about it.
For me, positive thinking can only be the willingness to say “yes” to Jesus; and not say “no”.
There is really only one transformer. That one is Jesus.
The Gospel of John tells us that changing water into wine was the first “sign” that Jesus did. The word “sign” means more than a miracle. Sign means identification. A sign is a signal. The signs of Jesus signify his identity. Jesus’ signs are the signals that he sent to tell others who he is.
Wine is a sign for what God does. So is water. All through the Old Testament, God sometimes provides water as needed. God provides water because water is life-giving. God is the life-giver: the maker and protector of life. Water is a sign of God.
The Old Testament also shows God as the wine-maker, or the provider of wine. (Isaiah 25:6; Jeremiah 31:12; Amos 9:13-14; Hosea 2:14-23) When God brings the wine, it’s the sign of joy, and promise, and abundance. When God brings the wine, it is part of the celebration of the union, or the marriage, between God and his people, or even between God and his creation.
In Isaiah, God brings the wine to celebrate the end of the world as we know it, and the beginning of a new world where there is no more doom and gloom. There is no darkness. There is no death. There is no grief.
The wine is for everyone who has trusted in God. The wine is for everyone who has been brought by the love of God into that new world that will not end. It is a world where all people are married to God.
It’s a world where all people have been transformed by the transformer God. “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.” (Isaiah 25:8)
It also needs to be said that, through the Old Testament, wine also serves as a sign for blood. (Isaiah 63:1) The truth is that the power to transform sinners and the power to transform the world were pictured and foreshadowed by the blood of the sacrifices in the temple for the forgiveness of sins, and by the predictions of the prophets about the great bloody battles that would come at the end of time for changing the old world into the new world.
The blood of the cross became the power to transform people, and to bring a new creation to life. In the gospel, the bearer of the cross brings the wine.
Jesus turned the water into wine in order to show that he is the one who brings the wine. He is the bridegroom of the new world. He is the transformer.
Toward the end of the Gospel of John, John tells us his purpose for choosing to write what he wrote. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) John chooses every episode, and every talk of Jesus, in order to show us exactly who Jesus is, and in order to show us how he gives us life.
At the marriage in Cana, Jesus shows us that he is the transformer. He turns water (which is a symbol for life) into wine (which is a symbol for abundance, and celebration, and union).
Jesus shows us that his power can transform our limitations. Jesus shows us that we can live with his abundance, and celebration, and union in our ordinary lives in this world. Jesus shows us that we can live in this world without anger or fear because he will use his power to change this needy world into a new world, in his time.
In the time and the world of Jesus, everyone in town, and people from miles around, would attend any local wedding. The whole world went to your wedding. And they were all supposed to be wined and dined by you.
Your honor depended on this. Shame would follow any failure of hospitality for your part. That shame would follow you all your life.
The family that ran out of wine was probably a poor family doing the best they could, and they were failing. Their failure would not be forgotten, and no amount of positive thinking could prevent it.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, noticed the trouble they were in, and she feared for them. She decided that something needed to be done, and she was sure that Jesus could do it even though he had never given any sign of being able to do something like that before. She had a good reason for knowing this.
In some ways, Mary was the first Christian. She was the first person to have their life changed by Jesus. Doesn’t this make sense? Mary had a God-given identity and calling that came totally by the grace of God in Christ.
Mary was a person of grace who saw that others had a need for grace. She saw that they needed something that only Jesus could give them. She saw them with the eyes of one upon whom the Holy Spirit had come. (Luke 1:35) When the angel told Mary that she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30), the word translated as favor is the same word that is translated as grace.
Mary spoke to Jesus on behalf of this young couple and their family. It was one of the first prayers made to Jesus. Jesus sounds like he was surprised by it, and not quite prepared to do anything about it.
Doesn’t this show us something we already know? We may not always be sure that Jesus is prepared to come to the aid of others for whom we pray. We may not always be sure of what he intends to do. It’s true that he might have other plans. So, it isn’t strange that the people who knew Jesus the best felt the same as we do.
Jesus didn’t really answer Mary clearly at all. Mary still had faith in him, and she told the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)
This is the mystery of not saying “no”. Refusing to say no is not a way of getting what you want from Jesus. It’s simply the only way that we can really trust Jesus as Lord.
Jesus was, and is, the transformer. In a way, Mary (as the first Christian) became a transformer, too. She saw a need. Her heart spoke to her. Her heart was the same heart on whom the Holy Spirit had come. Her heart was the first heart to beat side by side with the heart of Jesus. Timothy Keller writes: “There’s a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace, and his or her heart for justice.”
This is what God’s justice is about: confronting a world where (over and over again) we see that the wine has gone. Mary spoke from the experience of a heart that knew this. She spoke to Jesus. She also spoke to the people who needed to be spoken to. She got people to listen to Jesus and not to their own common sense. She got other people to do what they would never have done without her initiative. She played a part in getting the water turned into wine. Mary set it up.
We live in a world where there is love and hope and yet there is not enough of something missing to see it all through. No matter how much we have to love and celebrate, we live in a world where the wine is gone, and we are called to see and confront this, with Jesus’ help, and with prayer, and with the will to do whatever he tells you, and with the will to persuade others.
We live in a shrouded world: shrouded by the sin that is so destructive that it leads to death. Jesus came to bear all that sin and death on the cross and to kill its power by resurrection. Jesus came to take away the shroud and raise the world, and us, to life.
We don’t have the power to turn the water into wine, but we can bring to others our service to Jesus. We can be like the servants, who were the only ones at the wedding who really knew everything that was going on. We can bring out to the world whatever Jesus wants to turn into wine.
Our story can become the story of Jesus and the transformers.