Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Miraculous New Wine

The Gospel of John tells some stories that are not in the other Gospels. One of them is the story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”   (John 2:1-11)

This story fits perfectly into the Season of the Epiphany. We are examining how God has manifested himself unto his people. The miracle of the feast was a sign from God. Signs are meant to direct us to something. The Gospel of John wrote about these signs for a reason. From the twentieth chapter of John we read:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.   (John 20:30-31)

Why did Jesus turn the water into wine? There were obvious reasons. Who can resist a Jewish mother? Then there was the embarrassment of the bridegroom who had run out of wine to serve his guests. Jesus cares about us in every area of our lives. Then there is the more obvious:

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.   (John 2:11)

But as is usual in the Gospel of John, there is more here than meets the eye. We have a transformation of water into wine. Surely this demonstrates that Jesus is the agent of creation and transformation. From John chapter one:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.   (John 1:1-3)

The water that transformed to wine at the wedding in Cana was from six jars which were used for ritual purification. Jesus, in his coming ministry, would transform and fill these jars with something better.

The Jews were aware of how sinful, how unclean they were before their God and how much they needed to be cleansed from their sins. Ritual purity was very important to Jewish people at this time.

We see it when the Pharisees question Jesus about his disciples eating without washing their hands in Mark 7. They weren’t thinking of personal hygiene, but religious purity. Those who did not follow the strict teachings concerning ritual purification were considered, by the Pharisees, less holy than those who did. Using jars that represented ritual purity at the expense of relationships, Jesus was seeking not to transform just water into wine, but attitudes of exclusivity based on fear of contamination.  Jesus didn’t empty the jars…they were already empty.  Jesus filled and transformed rituals that spoke of separation into wine that speaks of celebration and unity.

At the beginning of story about the wedding in Cana we have this phrase: “On the third day.” Surely this could suggest the transformation of Jesus at the resurrection.

God is ready to transform us. Jesus said:

“Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”   (John 6:52-56)

The psalmist wrote:

How priceless is your love, O God!
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

They feast upon the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the well of life,
and in your light we see light.   (Psalm 36:7-9)

Amen.   (See Eucharistic Preaching.)

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Confession of Saint Peter

jesus-peter1Who Do You Say That I Am?

In today’s readings we examine the most important question in all the world. From the Gospel of Matthew:

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”   (Matthew 16:13-16)

How fitting it is to have the Confession of Peter observed within the Season of the Epiphany. Peter was first among the apostles to confess that Jesus is the Messiah. The Apostle Peter’s earthly testimony compliments the heavenly one. At the baptism of Jesus God the Father spoke from heaven, testifying that Jesus is His beloved Son.

Peter’s testimony was quite remarkable. At a time when there was much confusion and speculation about who Jesus was, Peter had come to a clear and concise conclusion about Jesus’ identity. He did not do so by his own reasoning alone, however:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  (Matthew 16:17)

We remember that Peter not only confessed Jesus as the Messiah, but later he also denied Jesus. Just before the crucifixion Peter proclaimed that he would never leave or forsake Jesus. But Jesus knew better. He understands the frailties of human beings:

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”  (Luke 22:34)

Jesus gives us this warning concerning our confession:

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.  (Matthew 10:32-33)

Peter discovered that he could not continue in the Faith on his own strength. He needed the strength that only God could provide. We remember that Jesus forgave Peter and restored him after the resurrection. Our confession is important. Our continual confession is all important.

In Peter’s own words:

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

Today many people are confused about who Jesus is and what may be His place in history. Many biblical “scholars” have disputed the person and ministry of Jesus. Yet, we have God’s testimony and Peter’s testimony recorded in Holy Scripture. What will be our recorded testimony? How will we confess Jesus before men? At a time when Christians are being persecuted we will need God’s help to build and strengthen our faith as He did Peter. This will be all the more true for the troubling days ahead.

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First Sunday after the Epiphany

The Baptism of Our Lord

This Sunday we have another major epiphany in the life of Jesus. The Wisemen spoke about Jesus being a King. Today we learn about the Sonship of Jesus through his baptism by John as told in the Gospel of Luke.

John was preaching a baptism of repentance. Nevertheless, Jesus, who was without sin, asked to be baptized by John. From the Gospel of Luke:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”   (Luke 3:21-22)

If our baptism is like the baptism of Jesus then God tells us that he loves us and has chosen us. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Do not fear, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
    and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
    and my daughters from the end of the earth —
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”   (Isaiah 43:5-7)

We are not to be fearful, but, rather, to put our trust in God. We are assured by the Apostle Paul that our baptism is linked to the baptism of Jesus:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.   (Romans 6:3-5)

Is baptism a onetime occurrence in the life of a believer? Or is it an ongoing process? Perhaps that depends on who does the baptism. From Luke we read:

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (Luke 3:15-17)

Jesus baptizes with the Spirit and fire. Baptism apparently has something to do with purification. That purification is the fire of God burning in our hearts.

Do we accept our baptism the way Jesus did? Do we value it? Are we willing to fully participate in it? God has forgiven us for our sins through the blood of Jesus. He also wants to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we believed that God loves us then we will not hide from him. We will hide in him. That is one of the primary meanings of our baptism.

Let us follow the example of our Lord Jesus. He needed baptism because he needed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and his power while he was here on earth. We, too, need the assurance of God. God tells us he loves us. We need his guidance by the Holy Spirit. And we need the power of God in our lives to sustain us as we struggle in a fallen world.

What about the baptism of fire? God the Father does not condemn us. Our condemnation occurred on the cross of Christ where Jesus bore our sins. God does convict us of sin. From we read:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

The psalmist told us that we “should not fear for God is with us.” If we believe that then we will fully submit ourselves to him in faith, knowing that he has our best interests at heart. We have his promise: “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). The Apostle Paul writes:

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.   (Philippians 1:6)

Thus, we see that our baptism is the beginning of God’s work in us. We are to live in the promise of our baptism so that God can complete his work in us. We are a work in progress. Let us continue in faith, knowing that God is completing the work of the cross. The blood of Jesus removed our condemnation. That is true. The blood of Jesus is also continually cleansing from all unrighteousness. We are being reformed in the image of Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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The Epiphany

adormagiVisitation of the Magi

A moment of epiphany is when we say: “Aha!” We suddenly see a truth that we did not realize before. It may seem to come as a complete surprise, but often a deep preparation within may have been ongoing of which we were not fully aware.

The birth of Jesus almost went unnoticed by most of the world. A few shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem were informed by the heavenly hosts. But the Magi were able to discern that a major event had occurred through vigilant study and dedication of purpose. They had observed the night sky. God had been  preparing them for this great event. They were not Jews but they were acquainted with the ancient writings and had sought out the sayings of the prophets:

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”  (Micah 5:2,4)

The wisemen from the East were seeking the Lord. They did not fully understand who they were seeking but it did not stop them from doing so. They traveled a long distance and were willing to make sacrifices. We may look upon our life as a journey. What do we seek? Whom do we seek? And what sacrifices are we willing to make in our day? Will we set aside a time in our lives to seek God with all our hearts? (It is interesting to note that many people today seek God through Eastern mysticism. We must remember that the best of the Eastern seekers of God bowed down to the Lord Jesus.)

God reveals himself to those who are seeking Him. Many people are not seeking God today. Matters beyond their immediate concerns are of little importance to them. They are living in darkness without even knowing that they are in darkness. They have not yet seen the light of Christ. Nevertheless, the light of Christ can break forth at any time. This world needs a spiritual “Aha!”

The good news of Christ Jesus is for all people. From the Isaiah we read:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.  (Isaiah 60:1-3)

A wise person realizes that he or she does not have all the answers. Wisdom comes from seeking. The Apostle Paul wrote that “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” Paul had a spiritual “aha!”.He writes:

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  (Ephesians 3:5-6)

Paul further writes:

Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.  (Ephesians 3:8-12)

To be fair, Paul had been seeking God through his study of Judaism. He was a scholar of the first order. He needed direction and grace from God.

The wisemen of old sought Jesus. They found Him and worshiped Him. They returned to their own people with joy in their hearts. The Epiphany for them was a great and joyful awakening.

On the other hand, any epiphany of God can be a fearful thing. It was for Herod. From today’s Gospel we read:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened. …  (Matthew 2:1-3)

Herod did not want an epiphany of God. He believed that he was in charge of his circumstances and he wanted to keep it that way. What stops us from receiving our own epiphany? Have we been seeking God on a deep level? Are ready for an “Aha!” If we are holding on desperately to the status quo then we may miss a move of God.

However, we are in the advance stages of the Church age. There is not a lot of time left. God is on the move. He is pouring out his Spirit like never before. This Season of Epiphany may be a special time for us to tune ourselves to God’s frequency and not that of the world. The devil has a frequency that is distracting and discouraging. This is not from God.

We must slow down our worldly pace. We need to spend time in his Word and in prayer. God will speak to us. A great surprise might be coming our way. We read from Jeremiah 28:

Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord…

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