Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“In Which We Turn Wine Into Water” Sermon, Year C, Epiphany 2, January 20, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: John 2:1-11

A couple weeks ago when Lynn and I were planning worship through epiphany (we always try to be looking about a month ahead or so, looking at themes for worship and music), I have each Sunday on a single sheet of paper and I write down what the scripture lessons and write down a short after each one to remember what the lessons for the Sunday are. And for today, I wrote down “Jesus turns wine into water.” And realized later that I had gotten it in the wrong order. That was not what he did today. But that would be, in some ways, more of a miracle to turn wine into water.

But then I started thinking about water, and the making of wine or beer or any alcoholic beverage, especially back in ancient times. I’m not quite sure what the water was like where Jesus was, but certainly in some areas of the world it was important, really, to turn the water into the alcoholic beverage so that through the process of boiling, fermentation, and adding of alcohol the water became safe to drink. A lot of areas didn’t have water that was safe for human consumption as it was. They didn’t have the technology other than making wine or beer to purify the water to make it safe to drink. Some places had great water, depending on the well they were at or whatever, but some places it was safer to turn the water into an alcoholic beverage so that it was safe for consumption. And tended to be very low alcohol levels in it, so it’s not like some of the wines or other things we have today with a low level of alcohol so that by drinking it you still get enough water to keep the body hydrated.

I thought of turning water into wine, or even turning wine into water, is a miracle of purification, in a way. Much like our water filters that we have today. Thankfully we have the technology to make our water clean and to make it safe to drink. The water filter that I have in my kitchen is just a little canister, about the size of a large avocado, but it has the technology to screen out anything that is, I think, 0.9 microns in size or larger, or maybe 1.0 micron, which gets rid of almost all the bad bacteria and nasty things and certain chemicals. And then within this little canister is some activated charcoal and there is enough surface area on the charcoal in this little canister, there is about 200,000 square feet of surface area. Inside this little canister. That’s four and a half acres.

That’s pretty impressive. And it might be wrong of me to contemplate water filtration as a miracle, or technology as a miracle, but at some level it can be. It can be. Now, activated charcoal is something not new. The Native Americans used charcoal for filtering, and I’m sure others did, too. But we have added the miracle of being able to enwrap it in plastic, to extrude the plastic to make the canister. And the miracle of plumbing inside of our homes. And the miracle of citywide plumbing, that we can, as a city, take water from a common source and then pump it out to every house and business and community to come out of our taps and bathtubs, and then have all of our wastewater go back to a treatment facility to be cleaned and purified and sent back into motion again. Think of that the next time, and I don’t say this to be crude, but think of this the next time you flush the toilet and then go into the kitchen and make a pot of tea or coffee. The water that is going into your coffee or tea has quite likely been in your house before, or someone else’s house.

That’s impressive. And I say it not to be gross, but because it is sewage treatment and clean water that has allowed the incredible density of our urban environments. That has allowed us to live so close together and that has helped eliminate so many diseases that plagued cities, even a hundred years ago, and still plague some cities in areas around the world that don’t have what we have. So maybe talking about technology as a miracle is disingenuous, but at some level it is miraculous that God made us capable of figuring this stuff out so that we can make these things, and that God gave us a world that is, at least at some level, understandable by us and that we can manipulate and change.

And in Jesus’ time they had the technology to turn water into wine. That was an old technology already at that point. Beer had been being made, wine had been made, around the world for a long time. But what was different about Jesus here is that Jesus had the cleverness to do that without the need for grapes, or yeast, or fermentation vats. Jesus just did it. And apparently did better without any equipment or any training than the professionals were able to do. Which maybe it was just beginner’s luck. But I don’t think so. He’s Jesus. He’s the Son of God. He is the Miracle Worker. And he just made his public declaration of who he is.

he is the one who can take the ordinary and make it into something extraordinary. Make it into something better, or more interesting, or at least different. Take one thing and make it into something else.

Last Sunday we read of Jesus’ baptism. We read from Luke’s Gospel last Sunday. In the sermon I mentioned that is the first thing he does as an adult in all four Gospels. That is the first thing Jesus does when he is an adult. Matthew and Luke have stories of the birth of Jesus, and of him as a teenager, but all four Gospels, the first thing Jesus does is get baptized by John the Baptist. And then Jesus starts to do what he was destined to do, and he starts fulfilling his mission. And I phrased it in the sermon as, “All four Gospel writers are telling us the story of Jesus, and they start it with, ‘Jesus was baptized, and then dot dot dot...” A way of saying, “Here’s the rest of his life. Here is how he lived out his baptism and fulfilled it”. Just as we all have our own dot dot dot: “he was baptized, and then dot dot dot,” or “she was baptized, and then dot dot dot...” And how we live out that dot dot dot is related to how seriously we take our baptismal vows, and how important that is to us.

And I want you all to strive to go forward living into that dot dot dot in such a way that you hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” from your peers at church, and hear it from your friends, and that you hear it from God. But I also want you to live this dot dot dot knowing that Jesus is not the only one who can transform things. And not the only one who can do miracles. Or as the Gospel of John always says, to do signs. John doesn’t use the word miracle; when Jesus does something it is a sign. Jesus works signs – things that point to who he is, and that point to God. These are all signs to lead people to look at God.

So Jesus was baptized and then turned water into wine. But we can do that as well. And we do do that. If we think of water as that which is ordinary, and wine as that which is extra-ordinary, or beyond ordinary, however you want to think of it. Think of water as ordinary, and wine as that water transformed into something that it thought it could be. We are the keepers of the keys of sacred transformation. That’s the power that Jesus has left to us. We who are his followers, we who are his Church. We can do signs that point to God. And do signs of transformation, of change. Transforming the ordinary into the extra-ordinary. We lift each other up. We help to build God’s realm one person at a time by taking lives that are broken and transforming them into lives that are whole and healthy. Or, at least closer to whole and healthy. Which isn’t as grandiose as it may sound. We do that here all the time. Even in simple ways. We do it at funerals and funeral lunches. We help those who are grieving, which is a kind of brokenness, a spot of unwholeness in one’s life: to grieve and to mourn. The way we treat each other at funerals, help those who are mourning by serving them, by being with them, as a way to bring some wholeness to help fix that brokennes by saying “You are not alone. You have a community that cares for you, and a community that loves you.” When we pray for one another. When we visit the sick, or send a card. Taking a meal to someone. Lending an ear. Offering a hug. having lunch together. working together at a pie and ice cream social, or holiday bazaar, or thrift sale. Worshiping together. It’s this endless list of ways that we transform one another’s lives here. And change each other’s lives. All signs that point to God. I would think that we are here doing all this because of our dedication to God, as our response to God’s love.

There is also physical transformation that we do in the church that is, in a way, miraculous. We can take a pile of wood, and wires, and ivory and make out of it an instrument that produces music of joy and praise, and music that can bring comfort at funerals, or bring that joy to a wedding, or help us celebrate in worship. And we have taken wood and wires, glass and fabric, plastic and concrete, and transformed that into this space that we gather in. This sanctuary that we come to worship in, free from the elements, Especially good on a day like this. This is not a day that I would want to be worshiping outside. And while we are here in this space gathered together we transform the air into music. We transform the air into learning in sermons and scripture. We transform it into words of loving concern in prayer. We transform it into sounds of laughter and the sounds of concern. And I’ve seen this happen a number of times, especially singing “Borning Cry”, or “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve, I’ve seen it at weddings and at funerals: I’ve seen you transform your body’s water into tears.

Signs. All signs that point to God. That this matters. That what we do here is important, and that other people are important because they are important to God. And maybe you can’t think of yourself as a miracle worker, but hopefully you can think of yourself as a worker of signs. To just doing things that point people to God. To say “God did that, through me; that was God’s work.” We transformed lives here, and do so as signs that point to God. We have done that with each other, but also you have transformed lives of people you don’t know and will never meet or will ever know the names of. Think of the money we gave for helping after hurricane Katrina, and Sandy, and the Indonesian tsunami and other disasters. The money we have given to the What If? Foundation in Haiti, and St. Francis Food Pantry, and Community Table, both our money and our physical presence there. Or our Street Ministry. Think of the people who have been touched by God, who have seen God’s sign, because you have felt or learned something here and that has inspired you live out your dot dot dot in a moment of generosity or compassion. And think of the lives that you have touched outside these walls just being around town, when you have offered a complete stranger a moment of compassion, or generosity, to let them go ahead of you, or to hesitate before cursing them for something you thought was idiotic for them to do. When you gave someone a bit of space. All of which may have touched them in ways, and transformed them in ways that you will never know. We also can turn water into wine. And we do.

But there is also another direction. If we think of Jesus as wine – as that which is extraordinary, and he was – at the end, Jesus became water. He transformed wine – himself – into water. He emptied himself and became the living water that he talked about with the Samaritan woman at the well. God in Jesus became ordinary: human. And then Jesus became ordinary for us on the cross, to know pain, abandonment, and hurt, and even death.

So maybe in that, in that experience of Jesus making himself ordinary, imagine that as a call for us to also turn wine into water. For us to find strength in the Holy Spirit to become water for others. because wine is good and fun and can make a party a happening event, but you can’t live on it. It’s not good enough for life. You can’t survive on wine. And wine can dull the senses and impair us from discerning the good. And life occurs mostly in the ordinary (and there are miracles aplenty in the ordinary to see, for those who see). But life occurs mostly in the ordinary, as water. We come to the wine of worship to prepare us to go out into the water of the week. Even liturgically we are in the season of Epiphany, the time between Christmas and Lent .And there is that long period between Pentecost and the next Advent, that goes usually May into end of November, or early June into November. About 35 weeks each year. Liturgically, that time is called Ordinary Time. That’s the official word for it: it’s the Ordinary Time. Most of our life is spent in ordinary time.

Our neighbors are not found in wine vats at parties, but they are found in the waters of daily life: of despair and longing, of worrying about their children, financial anxiety, all those things that we experience. Lamenting a botched opportunity, or failing body. And also celebrating the ordinary miracles as they come: the success of children, the love of family, the friends that surround us, having a meal with someone we haven’t seen in a long time, or telephone call or surprise visit, even just surviving a day of work. Most of life is ordinary time.

And even in this story that we read at Cana, there is this very ordinary event that goes on. Jesus’ sign was performed only because of this most ordinary mother-son interchange. Mary says, “There is no more wine”. And Jesus says, basically, “Who cares?” And says, “I’m not going to do anything.” But, he does. He does something. Jesus turned water into wine for one celebration, and he brought wine to a memorial at the last supper with the disciples. But when the chips were down and the end was determined, he turned the wine – himself – into water. He became for us the Living Water that is Jesus Christ. The water of our mother’s womb, our baptismal water, the water that we need to live, through whom we have been giving eternal life.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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