It's nearly missed.
In an otherwise dense and detailed narrative,
the actual turning of water to wine
is almost an aside.
No extravagant ritual,
just modest instruction,
"Fill the jars with water."
No grand Moses-like or Elijah-like spectacle,
where crowds of people gather for a contest
to see if the miraculous can be done,
just the discrete instruction,
"Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward."
No formal wine tasting, blind-folding, swirling and sniffing,
just a modest sip.
And a gushing, if not baffling, declaration:
"Everyone serves the good wine first,
and the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.
But you have kept the good wine until now."
No one present
in Cana of Galilee knows the source.
Neither the bridegroom,
nor the chief steward,
have any idea that Jesus did this.
And though the servants
know that he was involved,
they have no idea precisely how
Jesus turned water into wine.
And those guests?
They're too inebriated to perceive anything.
This good wine.
This wine in great abundance.
About 150 gallons worth.
Is nearly missed.
By every person at that wedding feast.
Jesus, himself, suggests a theological reason
the turning of water to wine
nearly escapes notice:
"My hour," he says
referring to his passion and death,
"has not yet come."
If anyone notices,
or ponders the significance of this good wine,
it cannot be fully appreciated until that hour comes.
Until then, the time is
not quite right.
The plain reason Jesus'
turning of water to wine is nearly missed,
is that it's in human nature to miss things.
"We can't see,"
the saying goes,
"what's right under our noses."
We get so caught up
In our concerns.
We can't see what's going on around us.
We're glued to our smartphones.
Cut off by our earbuds.
We're connected to everything else in the world,
except what's actually around us.
Worse still, we're able to customize
every aspect of our consumerist life,
that we're tricked into thinking
we have control over the world around us.
No wonder our rhetoric has become so divisive.
No wonder our society seems to grow ever more immature.
We've forgotten that
the only thing we can control in life
is our response to the world around us.
We've become like the Phariseesâ€”
and their obsession with their interpretation of the law
represented in those six jugs of purificationâ€”
so turned in on ourselves.
And our justifications.
And our perspectives.
That we struggle to perceive
going on in our midst.
In Saint John's Gospel
Jesus' disciples struggle with perception
time and time again.
Take Nathaniel as an example,
the final disciple Jesus calls
immediately before he turns water to wine.
Nathaniel can't quite figure out
how Jesus knew who he was.
Jesus says to him,
"Do you believe
because I told you I saw yo under the fig tree?
You will see greater things than these.
Very truly I tell you,
you will see heaven opened and the angels of God
ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
This water turned to wine,
is the first of these "greater things."
The first of his signs.
More to come.
Six of them.
So that Nathaniel, the disciples,
so that we don't miss the point:
Where God faces death head on.
And crushes hell itself under foot.
And then to the upper room,
when Jesus comes to breath on them,
the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The critical gift
for the human family.
For all of us who can't control what happens in our life,
only our response to it.
The Paraclete, the Advocate,
the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit
which sees all Jesus' disciples
through turmoil and pain.
Through the times of life
when there seems to be
no more wine.
A gift to turn to and to rely on.
From everlasting to everlasting
Until that last day when pain and sorrow is no more.
For, the Promise of Christ is not the absence of struggle.
The Promise is Christ's presence in the midst of our struggles. The Promise that such struggle is
never in vain.
The Promise that the result of struggle
is not empty, but full jugs;
not old, but new wine.
The Promise of Christ is
that struggle itself is always
the maker and the marker
Of, what Saint John calls,
We remember in prayer today
who died in Christ early Thursday morning.
It's been a privilege
to know Howard and his late wife, Trish,
for these past 10 yearsâ€”
a fraction of the time Pastor Derr
and others here have known them.
Many of you know that Trish died last year,
and Howard's heart has been broken ever since.
To know them was to know their pain and struggle.
As Trish endured excruciating pain,
the result of countless medical procedures.
To know them was also to know their reliance
on the promise of Christ in the gift of the Holy Spirit,
To heal them.
And to give them real joy:
Deep, passionate love for one another.
For their family.
For the friends.
For their church.
A few weeks before Trish died last year,
I joined Pastor Derr and Carole,
on a trip to the Blohm's New Jersey home.
We sat together.
Enjoyed an array of food, and drink and conversation.
Memories stretching back aa life time.
Hopes and dreams reaching to the next.
And in the midst of a tremendous amount of pain.
Enjoyed a moment of absolute peace.
It happened and we nearly missed it.
Because we were in the midst of it.
It came not with fanfare,
but quite conversation.
Not with extravagance.
Just our gathering.
And Christ in the midst of it.
Last Thursday morning,
as Howard sat down to breakfast.
Knowing the love of his children and grandchildren.
Remembering his beloved wife.
And expecting the visit of cherished friends.
That hoped-for moment.
The hour came.
And the peace we enjoyed for but a moment a year before,
â€”a peace Howard trusted in his whole life longâ€”
became his for all eternity.
When Jesus' hour came.
His final act.
Was to say to the beloved disciple
who had gathered
with his mother,
and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clops, and
at the foot of the cross,
"Mother, here is your son."
Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother."
If there is anything that will get us to see beyond ourselves.
And our own agendas.
To overcome our individualism, and our self-serving ways.
To perceive what we so easily miss.
It will be the gift of one another.
The gift of one another sharing in Christ.
From this water turned to wine.
To the sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop
held to Jesus' mouth.
To this table.
Where bread is broken.
And wine is poured.
Here we share in what God is doing for each of us.
And for all of us, together.
Here, not simply a foretaste of the great feast to come,
but the active re-shaping of our lives.
And our world.
The dignity of human nature.
Struggling against all things.
Struggling against the evil one.
Struggling against all odds.
To re-craft the whole creation,
in goodness and wholeness,
in peace and joy.
And, in the event we miss it the first time around.
Its offered time and time and time, again.
And time, and time, and time again,
is revealed in other places, too.
At Trish and Howard's table.
At the tables behind these red doors.
In our places of work.
In our own homes.
Time and time and time again
the Promise of Christ reveals itself
â€”that's how epiphanies work.
Even if we might miss it,
this we know.
When we see it, there's no denying it.
When we hear of it, we can't help but rejoice.
When we taste it we know it.
Because it's that good.
And this, too:
we wouldn't want to live any other way.
Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York
SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY
January 17, 2016
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Saint John 2:1-11