Eventually, I’ma havta write sermons. I might be able to weasel out of it, But prob’ly not. In the Lutheran Church, there’s a formula – the subject of every Sunday’s sermon is already picked, so that might make it easier. This past Sunday, it was John 2:1-11, Jesus turning water into wine at the marriage at Cana – which is here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+2%3A1-11&version=NRSV
On the face of it, this is Jesus demonstrating His ability to do miracles. All Bible passages have meaning behind the surface – layers and layers of meaning. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in. The words on the page don’t change, but the meaning within the words can be interpreted in different ways, according to the circumstances of the reader. As active, “woke” readers of the Word of God, we are obligated to look past the surface and attempt to discern what the hidden meaning is. If we do this diligently, we’ll find a variety of possibilities, at different levels, and eventually arrive at something that is specific to ourselves. The Bible is personal – it’s about any one individual – you. And your relationship with God.
So, at one level – the big one, which many people have sussed out, the wedding represents God’s relationship with people. The wine that was served, which has all been drunk up, was the old covenant with Abraham, which was given greater clarity through Moses and maintained all through the Old Testament. This was a good thing, good wine. The wedding guests drank it and were satisfied. Then Jesus showed up.
We’ve all been to weddings. Sometimes, it’s your best friend and you’re deeply invested, maybe part of the wedding party. We don’t have any info on this particular wedding. Maybe Jesus went to school with the groom, or maybe they were third cousins and Jesus was invited because, ya know, ya just invite people. I was married once and we invited people just because we were kin to them somehow and it seemed like the thing to do. My wife had some work connections to the people who ran the local tuxedo rental place and she invited them – they didn’t come, but they did give us a big discount on tuxes, which was helpful. So, maybe Jesus was invited because he was a prominent figure, a local celebrity, and it seemed like a good idea to have Him there.
At any rate, He was there, probably thinking about esoteric, Godly stuff, and then His mom comes running up to Him saying, “They have no wine.” And He says, “Yeah? So?” I can relate to that. I’ve been at family gatherings and suddenly my mom is yapping at me about some kinda problem and my first thought is “So? That ain’t my job.” And then I realize it’ll be easier if I just do whatever it is she wants done, whether I really care or not.
So, Jesus tells somebody to fill up some water jars – specifically, jars that were used in the purification rites. Judaism is somewhat concerned with purity. Actually, most religions are. The idea is that people accumulate defilements – sins of one kind or another – and become unclean, unfit to stand in God’s presence. Ritual washing cleanses the individual, making her or him acceptable in God’s sight. Jesus has these jars filled with water and then the water becomes wine.
The old ritual of purification has been replaced by a new one. The water, which is the water of baptism, has become the new wine of Christ. This is not the wine of Abraham and Moses. This is a new thing – Isaiah 43:19. This is the symbolic announcement of a new covenant, a new relationship between God and people. No more will it be necessary to ritually bathe every Saturday and again after your period ends. Now there is one cleansing – baptism. And a new wine – a new Spirit – which is better than the old.
I’m not saying there was anything wrong with the old covenant – and the reason I’m not saying that is the text doesn’t say that. It’s necessary to say that because Christianity has a long and sickening history of condemning the Jews – adherents to the old covenant. There’s nothing in the story of the wedding at Cana that indicates that the drinkers of the old wine should be vilified and/or persecuted. The text does indicate that the new wine is better than the old, but this is a Christian text – obviously John thought his calling was better – it was better for him. And it’s better for me, which brings us to another layer of interpretation – really, the one I’ve been working toward, because like I said, this shit is personal.
Nigh twenty-one years ago, I was called by God. I was literally told to get clean and sober, among other things, which is kinda funny in this context about wine. I was told to put down the wine – vodka, OE 800, weed, meth, xanax, percocet &c. – and begin some kind of relationship with some kind of spiritual something. So I did and things got better. My understanding of God for a couple decades was adamantly all over the place. I described myself as an “ecumenical pagan” – I saw the greatness in all religions, but felt most drawn to nature and the symbols of traditional, tribal religious systems. (I was never a neo-pagan, because that’s just silly.) I threw myself into serving God, according to my understanding.
Then I was called to become a Lutheran Pastor, which kinda implies becoming a Lutheran. It wasn’t as dramatic as the earlier call, but it did/does mean some restructuring. And I’m finding it to be better. And again, there was nothing wrong with my old path – I was doing the best I could to learn, grow and act as I believed my Creator wanted. I was not lost or sad or suffering, though I had started, there in the month or so before the call to Lutheranism, to think that there was something more I could do – and to pray for guidance in my journey. I believe God heard those prayers. I believe God had been guiding my development, giving me hints, and had decided that the time was right for me to take the next big step. My old understanding was replaced with a new one – and again, that doesn’t mean that the old one was wrong or bad or unacceptable to God.
All of this so far is literary interpretation. You can do this kinda thing with any story from Little Red Riding Hood – good lumberjack = Jesus, big bad wolf = Satan – to Finnegans Wake – everything = everything. Any story that is worth reading is open to interpretation on more than one level. And it is certainly possible to find meaningful messages in countless writings, from bumper stickers to the Harry Potter series (I’m a Gryffindor). When I said above that the Holy Spirit was present and active in the Bible, I was not talking about literary interpretation, though that is part of it. We, again, as active and “woke” readers of the Word of God, do have some obligation to study and contemplate Scripture. We should scrutinize the Bible and dig for the meaning. The role of the Holy Spirit in the process happens when we see – or experience – a meaning that was hidden before and which suddenly speaks to our own life experience in a way that causes us to know what we did not know before. In other words, we have a revelation:
- 1.a surprising and previously unknown fact, especially one that is made known in a dramatic way.
- the divine or supernatural disclosure to humans of something relating to human existence or the world.
The second definition is more relevant here. The entire Bible was revealed – to numerous individuals over a period of time that spanned more than two-thousand years. There’s a lotta material there. Some of it might be very interesting or meaningful to any given individual at any given time – I have a hard time seeing the importance in my life of Matthew 1:1-17, fr’instance – but all of it has the potential to speak directly to the reader – by the action of the Holy Spirit. (The Holy Spirit is present in any and all things and can use any vehicle for communication, but the Bible is a handy tool.)
So, the story of the marriage at Cana has direct and immediate relevance to me at this moment that has absolutely nothing to do with anybody else. I offer it merely as an example. You want something that’s meaningful to whatever your particular circumstance is? Get to diggin’.
I really am the kinda person who enjoys this kinda thing. I look for signs all the time and find them pretty easily. The call to ministry came to me – Christ was “born” to me – during the time of Advent. I’ve been learning and digging and experiencing epiphanies during the time of Epiphany. This kinda shit feels right to me – it rings true. Maybe all the acid I dropped back in the ’90’s gives me a little edge, but I’m sure that anybody who tries can find meaning and guidance in Holy Writ.
If I had to write a sermon on John 2:1-11, I’d be doing something like what I did here. I’d also be asking somebody to read it. Like an editor.