Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Second Sunday after Epiphany (Epiphany 2)

John 2:1-11; Romans 12:6-16; Exodus 33:12-23

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Back in New York, whenever I would speak of God’s institution of Marriage, I had this one parishioner who would say, “Pastor, God may have created the institution of marriage, but who wants to live in an institution?” Now, that man was kidding, sort of. Nevertheless, it is a sad reality today that Holy Matrimony, God’s institution of marriage, is too often spoken of in contempt and with derision, has been redefined into utter meaninglessness, and has become the butt of too many a sarcastic joke. God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden, before man’s fall into sin, when He made a woman to join the man by his side, from which she was taken, and joined them in a one-flesh union. God blessed them that they should be fruitful and multiply and fill, subdue, and rule over the earth. That is God’s institution of marriage, which God Himself proclaimed to be, not just good, but very good.
Martin Luther considered marriage to be one of Three Estates or Hierarchies: The home (marriage and family), the Church, and the state (civil government). All three consist of rulers and the ruled – parents and children in the home, pastors and parishioners in the Church, magistrates and citizens in the civil government – each an intrinsic part of a divine order through which God provides and cares for His people, and God’s people provide for and care for each other and glorify Him. Closely related to the doctrine of the Three Estates is the Two Kingdoms Doctrine through which God rules, protects, and cares for His people through the Kingdom of Grace (or the Kingdom of the Right), the Church, and the Kingdom of Power (or the Kingdom of the Left), the civil government. The point being this, the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman, blessed with fruitfulness in the bearing, raising, and training of children, is the foundation of societal structure and order and civil government, and marriage is itself a reflection of the divine structure and order of the Holy Trinity so that, through marriage, we are blessed with a glimpse, albeit a glimpse darkened by our sin and idolatry, of God Himself and what it means to truly love selflessly and sacrificially.
Marriage is created and instituted by God that we might know Him and learn to love and serve like Him. Through marriage, we are blessed to participate in God’s ongoing creative activity by bringing forth new life, conceived and born out of love for God, for each other, and for the new life brought forth as good fruit from the vine. Such love is truly and only love when each spouse humbles themselves and selflessly and sacrificially gives of themselves for the sake of the other to the glory of God. Such love St. Paul says is patient and kind, does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Such love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Such love never fails. Only with such love can two individuals, so different, so distinct and unique, possibly become one flesh. There is no equation in which one plus one equals one except in Holy Marriage as it was instituted by God in creation. Such unity is the fruit of love, selfless and sacrificial love, the love of God for His Son, for humanity, and for you. Truly, there is no other.
And thus, Jesus’ first recorded miracle occurred within the context of a marriage. Even as God created and instituted marriage in the beginning, so He Himself is present with and abides within the one-flesh unions of those He joins together in Holy Marriage. There are few things more common and ordinary than a wedding. Indeed, Jesus Himself described the ordinary, common, day to day life of those people who were destroyed in the flood saying, “people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark.” Marriage and weddings are common, normal, and routine. Nevertheless, our Lord Jesus attended and participated in a wedding, and likely several others, because He is fully human, and because He is Emmanuel, God with us, as one of us, in all the things it means to be human. Furthermore, God Himself created and instituted marriage, and He blesses it with His presence and with fruitfulness. There is nothing shameful or undesirable about marriage – that is a modern idea – but marriage is sacred and holy in God’s sight, for it is of Him and from Him and has His blessing.
The first chapter of John’s Gospel abounds with creation themes: The Word of God, light and darkness, water, the descent of the Holy Spirit, etc. Some exegetes believe that John’s Gospel is a sort of catechism and that he begins by recounting the six days of creation. In that respect, “on the third day” in chapter two, verse one, would correspond to the sixth day of creation, the day in which God created Adam and Eve and joined them in the one-flesh union of holy marriage, blessing them that they should be fruitful and multiply. That Jesus’ first miracle occurs at a wedding points to the reason He has come: To restore fallen humanity to a right relationship with God by fulfilling God’s Law and suffering the death His creatures rightly merited by their disobedience and rebellion, death on the cross.
Now, a first century Jewish wedding feast would have lasted seven days. The families of the bride and groom were expected to provide food and drink, and possibly lodging, for all of their guests throughout the seven days. The fact that they had run out of wine early in the feast would have been a horrifying embarrassment for the families, and for the bride and groom as their new life together was just beginning. Mary, Jesus’ mother, told Him of their dilemma. Jesus answered her saying, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Now, the English translation makes this sound almost rude, but it truly was not, but only the common manner of speaking at the time. The important thing was not how Jesus addressed His mother, but the fact that His hour had not yet come. Jesus’ hour was the hour of His Passion, His suffering and death. It was but the beginning of His ministry, and He had many things to do and teach before His passion. Still, He did help, and He did it in such a way as to not attract the attention of most to Himself, but only His disciples and a few servants.
Jesus commanded the servants to fill six stone water jars to the brim with fresh water. The stone jars were there for the Jewish purification rights. They stood as a rock-solid, immovable, symbol of the Law of God. For, because of their sin, all the people were unclean and were thus unable to participate in the wedding or the feast until they had ceremonially washed themselves according to the Law. They could not enter into the holy presence of God without first being cleansed. That Jesus had the jars filled to the brim points to the fulfilling of the Law of God that Jesus would accomplish by His obedience unto death. Then Jesus commanded a servant to draw some of the water and bring it to the master of the feast. The servant did as Jesus directed, and, unbeknownst to all, as he did, the water was made to be wine. When the master tasted it He praised the bridegroom saying, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” The wedding couple and their families, who were at dire risk of being humiliated, embarrassed, and disgraced, were instead praised by all. Jesus has turned their sorrow and despair into wonderful joy, laughter, and celebration. And, the only people who knew that He had done anything at all were Mary, His mother, His disciples, and a few servants. Everyone else praised and glorified the wedding family for their gracious hospitality. “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.”
God instituted marriage that we might know and love Him and bear forth His fruits of love by knowing and loving another man or woman, by selflessly and sacrificially giving ourselves to each other, and by selflessly and sacrificially bearing the good fruit of new life to the glory of God. We do not know how long the first marriage of our First Parents in the Garden of Eden lasted before they succumbed to the serpent’s temptations and sinned, but it probably wasn’t long. Their sin truly consisted of selfishness and self-centeredness, the very opposite of love. Their desire was to have wisdom for themselves, to know good and evil by their own judgment (as opposed to God’s), and to be like god’s unto themselves. Not only was their love for God corrupted, but their love for each other was corrupted. Thus, when God questioned each of them, they each in turn blamed the other, and they even blamed God for their fall. By their own will and decision they fell from grace and became slaves of sin under the curse of the Law. Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding in Cana pointed towards who He was and what He would do to undo the curse and to restore God’s people to a right relationship with Him and with each other once again. He would fulfill the Law’s demands, hence the water jars for purification were filled to the brim. And, in exchange for the curse of the Law, which He would take upon Himself and die upon the cross, He would give the blessing of His Sonship with the Father, His innocence, righteousness, and life that cannot die.
God instituted marriage to show the kind of relationship He desires to have with you: A selfless and sacrificial relationship in which each spouse lays down his or her own life for the sake of the other and bears the fruit of love and life, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness. God doesn’t want to rule you, but He wants you to rule with Him. God wants to marry you. Jesus is your true Bridegroom, and you, His Church, are His Bride. And the Bridegroom invites you this day and every Lord’s Day to eat and drink in communion fellowship this foretaste of the great wedding feast yet to come in heaven that you may be filled to overflowing with His love. Love to fulfill all your needs to the very brim, and more to overflow in sheer abundance through your words and deeds of love to others to the glory of His holy Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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