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Sermon: The Best, at Last. January 16, 2022

January 17, 2022

This is the sermon preached on the Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 16, 2022, at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, IL. You can watch the service here and check out the bulletin, too. The image is The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese (1562-1563, public domain.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Just when we think we have enough, the world has a way of trying to convince us otherwise. This holiday weekend, with little on the calendar and an extra day to work with, we decided to go through our enoughness. Beyond the simple joy of decluttering was the thought that it would be good to give things away when they were needed. Our winter hats, gloves, and scarves seemed to have multiplied in the basement when we weren’t looking. Goodness knows during these cold Chicago days, these items or which we had plenty could be put to good use by others. But as we planned to help others stay warm, our warmth ran out. Some of it, at least. On Friday, our upstairs furnace said farewell to this world. At 23 years it was a good run. Just like that, it was over. My mind swung from a feeling of fullness to emptiness. Unexpected expenses have a way of doing that. Don’t get me wrong; I know how blessed we are to be able to replace a furnace, but it’s not the most fun way to spend a tidy sum. A day that started with plenty ended with less. Or at least that’s what the anxious, doubting voices in my mind wanted me to believe. Would we have enough to move forward?
  2. I imagine that’s just the question on the mind of the steward at the wedding. It was his job to make sure there was enough. Enough food and wine to match the mood of a wedding, that wonderful moment when the future seems limitless, and everything seems possible. This is no time for empty glasses, yet here we are. Mary, there with her Son and his new friends, turns to Jesus and points out the problem. Jesus, however, seems disinterested. Calling her, “mother,” which isn’t disrespectful but hardly brims with filial affection, he claims that this particular emptiness is of no concern to him. His hour has not yet come. Mary, like most mothers throughout human history, believes her child can do anything. Unlike most mothers throughout human history, Mary is right. She takes it upon herself to speak to the servants, setting in motion the inaugural miracle of Jesus’ ministry. Upwards of 180 gallons of water turned into wine. An impressive trick to be sure. Emptiness into fullness. The steward is so relieved he doesn’t even ask questions. He just goes back to pouring wine as the celebration winds its way into the night.
  3. If that were all, it would be enough. The day is saved. That, however, is not all. You’ll note that our storyteller, John, is not interested in simply narrating deeds of power, however impressive. John eschews the word miracle, preferring to call such things signs. John wants us to know at the outset of his gospel that the actions undertaken by Jesus tell us more than that Jesus can do such things. The signs point to who he is, why he has come. This sign, at the beginning of his time in ministry connects to his final hour. The text is replete with christological clues, inviting to see Jesus as one with a tendency to do things on third days. Where once rituals of purification were required to wash one clean, now Jesus purifies us. Where once the stones stood empty, Jesus is now the One who purifies us by leaving the rocky tomb empty, filling this world with his presence. Where once there was simple water, now there is, at the last, the finest wine, and plenty of it. Take and drink, we hear echoing from Jesus’ future, of a new wine that is the blood of the covenant, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Far from being a miracle of frivolity, a party trick to keep a tired party going, this sign shows the eschatological scope of Jesus’ work. Behind the scenes of this wedding, the Savior of the world sets the table for the feast of the world’s redemption.
  4. Jesus does not come to us today to admonish us to be grateful for what we have, although that’s never bad advice. Nor does he tell us that our earthly hopes for enough will always be fulfilled. He does not even say that he has come to eradicate earthly emptiness in the here and now. That has always been our job, my friends, and God has called us to steward the resources of this world to make sure everyone has enough. As Martine Luther King, Jr., said in 1957, “Life’s most persistent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” That we continue to fail is hardly the fault of God. The answer to our emptiness is found in the Kingdom unleashed by Christ, freeing us to fill the lives and meet the needs of those around us. “When water is changes into wine at the wedding at Cana,” Pastor Amandus Derr writes, “Jesus proclaims the radical abundance of God. The results are copious. The quality is not just adequate but ‘the best.’ With this sign, Jesus inaugurates the new creation. In that new creation, the abundant best is the least we can expect.” Fed by Christ the host, we are sent to steward his gifts for the sake of this world. Gifted by the Spirit, we, together, overflow with a variety of gifts that are meant for the sake of the world, not hoarded for ourselves against scarcity, real or imagined. They are gifts received; gifts meant to be given again.
  5. Friends, Jesus has come into our emptiness and filled us beyond what would come dream or imagine. Seeing the abundance of our sin, he washes us clean. Hearing the anxiety in our voices, he meets our needs. Aware of our dying, he dies for us. His body, the human vessel in which the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, is poured out. For you. That in his dying you would have life. That when we run out death would not be the end. Reminders of life’s limitations have come too frequently at Grace of late. This week our dear Evie was taken from us, and we cannot help but weep and mourn at her absence. But the emptiness of this death is met by the enoughness Christ, this One with a penchant for filling empty third days with the fecund fullness of God.
  6. What better place to see a sign of the Kingdom than at a wedding? Where better to discover the unending that God intends for us? I’ve often said that I have the best vantage point at a wedding ceremony, particularly at the beginning, standing here in the chancel next to the bridegroom. Everyone stands and turns when the doors open, but I keep my eye on the groom. There is nothing quite like seeing the joy on the groom’s face, in his eyes, when he sees his beloved coming toward him, their futures stretched out before them with joys yet unimagined. Today, we move from the wedding at Cana to the wedding feast of the Lamb. Today, at this table, Jesus stands and watches as his beloved comes to him. He stands, face radiant with joy, eyes aglint with hope, as we are drawn irresistibly by the mercy and grace that flow freely from him. Come, church, for you are the bride of Christ. Come, though you are empty of strength or hope or health. Come, though you are full of little but sin and sorrow. Come, and discover again, just when things seem to have run out, that Jesus has saved the best for last. That, at the last, he will fill all in all. That here, on the third day, you have been given everything you could ever possibly need. Just when we’re convinced that we don’t have enough, we are given the abundance of new life in Christ. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

From → Sermons

  1. Martin Baumgaertner permalink

    That day Christ turned water to wine
    A miracle that John called a sign:
    Christ setting the table
    Ourselves to enable
    New life to regift gift divine

  2. Paul Haberstock permalink

    Pastor Lyle,

    On Thursdays several residents and I gather to read the Bible here Brookdale Des Plaines Senior Living Solutions. We have been reading various short Epistles from various Apostles.

    I would like us to be reading your “The Best, at Last” as a contemporary example of how it may have been “back when” and to share some thoughts on text awareness.(2nd word in line 7 of #1; Line 11 of #2; and end of Line 7 #3 “inviting to see;” as well as “do things on third days”).

    At the end of our reading the realization of how appropriate you have made this to our time and conditions. Your trusting approval will be appreciated.


    Paul Haberstock

    On Mon, Jan 17, 2022 at 7:40 AM Grace Upon Grace wrote:

    > Dave Lyle posted: “This is the sermon preached on the Second Sunday after > Epiphany, January 16, 2022, at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, IL. > You can watch the service here and check out the bulletin, too. The image > is The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese (1562-1563,” >

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