Gifts and Mercy – Sermon on John 2:1-11 for the Second Sunday of Epiphany

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John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” wedding at cana water into wineNow there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have become drunk, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Notice first that John doesn’t call this miracle of Jesus a ‘miracle.’ It is, of course, a miracle to take somewhere between 120-180 gallons of water and turn it into wine in an instant. But John doesn’t call it a miracle, he calls it a ‘sign.’ And importantly, this is the first of Jesus’ signs and manifests His glory. This sign becomes the standard by which all other signs of Jesus are known. This sign shows how Jesus loves to give good gifts even when they aren’t known, recognized, or appreciated. And, therefore, this sign shows us how beautiful is Christ’s love and mercy.

Jesus attends a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Galilee is a region that isn’t all that important. The kings, rulers, religious leaders are mainly in Judah to the south. And Cana is a town that was so small and insignificant we still aren’t sure where it is – archeologists haven’t discovered it yet.

At that wedding feast, the wine had run out. Either those planning the wedding didn’t plan properly, or (and probably more likely) the guests had been too busy refilling their glasses. The master of the feast (and we’re going to come back to his statement) will say that the good wine that Jesus provides is a mistake because the guests have become drunk using the same word that the Scriptures will repeatedly warn against.

So, this first sign, this first miracle of Jesus isn’t like His other miracles in the Gospels where Jesus gives sight to the blind, makes the lame walk, gives hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the lepers, freedom to those possessed by demons, and resurrection to the dead. But this turning water into wine is not simply a parlor trick that Jesus does to impress people. It is an act of pure mercy. Jesus turns water into good wine for a bunch of people who already had wine.

Mary lets Jesus know the party has run out of wine. And Jesus doesn’t seem to want to get involved. But Mary has faith that Jesus will do what is good, so she tells the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Jesus could have told everyone the feast is over, pack up, and go home. But He doesn’t. His mercy extends far beyond our imagination.

Jesus tells the servants to fill six stone water jars that are there for the Jewish rites of purification. These rites of purification were an addition to God’s commands for His people to be clean. The Pharisees had a bunch of rules about washing before eating (see Mk. 7:1-5where the Pharisees will accuse Jesus’ disciples of not following these man-made rules). So, these jars aren’t there to hold drinking water. In fact, you probably wouldn’t want to drink water from these jars as much as you wouldn’t want to drink from a bowl of water that people had used to wash their hands.

Water into Wine at the Wedding in Cana.jpgJesus tells the servants to fill the jars with water, and they fill them up to the brim. And, at Jesus’ command, they take some of it to the master of the feast. The master tastes it, and it isn’t water anymore. It is wine. The master didn’t know. The guests didn’t know. Only Jesus, Mary, the servants, and the disciples know that this had been water miraculously turned into wine.

Now, we have to slow down for a minute and consider the words of the master of the feast: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have become drunk, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Practically speaking, the master is absolutely right. You don’t waste the good stuff on people whose taste buds are numbed and who are probably going to throw it up anyway. You serve the good tasting wine first and serve the crummy wine when they don’t really care what it tastes like any more.

But in doing this, the master of the feast takes on a satanic role. And, I think (you can disagree) that is why John quotes the master of the feast. He is saying that there is a huge waste in giving good wine to people who cannot appreciate it, people who are going to abuse it, and to people who have been abusing it. You could almost say that the master goes to the groom and says, “You are some fool for giving people good wine when they can not appreciate it.”

This is what the devil says about God as God continually gives us His gifts of grace and mercy. Satan is enraged that God would love and forgive us who do not appreciate His gifts and mercy.

Cross and CommunionBut, dear saint, that is precisely the point. God is willing to give His gifts and mercy anyway. This isn’t a license to go on and sin because God will forgive you anyway. In fact, you are to abhor what is evil and hold to fast to what is good. Love one another. Outdo one another in showing honor (Ro. 12:9-11). And do all of that as you remember that God gives better than you deserve or appreciate.

Finally, remember that this sign occurs, as John says, ‘on the third day.’ This third day is the last in a series of days that John tells us about. The first day was back in Jn. 1:29where John the Baptizer says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Then, John says ‘the next day’ Jesus called His first few disciples. Then, this miracle occurs ‘on the third day.’ John could have kept his reckoning of time any way he wished. He could have said Jesus is proclaimed to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world on Tuesday; on Wednesday, Jesus gets His first disciples; and on Thursday, Jesus was at a wedding in Cana. Or, John could have just kept saying, ‘the next day, the next day, the next day…’ But John doesn’t. John is pointing us to the fact that this is ‘the third day’ which is a foreshadow of the resurrection. ‘On the third day,’ the day of the Resurrection, Jesus gives wine is not earned, deserved, or even appreciated to sinners who at best deserved to be told to go home.

Dear saints, you live in the time of ‘the third day.’ Jesus lives. The shadow is past. Your sins are died for and forgiven. The resurrection is now. The marriage feast has begun. The Holy Spirit is given. You receive the best wine and all of Jesus’ gifts. But it is still not what it will be.

Jesus will return. The trumpet will sound, and then the wedding of the Lamb of God will begin in earnest. And never forget that you are His bride, His beloved. Come and receive now what you have not earned, deserved, or can even fully appreciate. Receive it knowing that your Lord is not afraid to give it to you. His love reaches to the heavens; His faithfulness stretches to the sky (Ps. 108:4). Come and receive His gifts and mercy. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Sigh – Sermon for the 12th Sunday of Trinity on Mark 7:31-37

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Mark 7:31-37

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,”that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Most of Jesus’ miracles recorded in the Gospels are fairly sterile (if you will allow me to use that term). Christ tells a bunch of servants to fill jars with water, take some to the master of the feast, and the master wonders why the best wine was served so late. Jesus tells a paralyzed man, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home,”and the man does. And Jesus takes bread and fish, gives thanks, hands it to His disciples, and thousands are fed. Clean, neat, tidy miracles.

Little Girl Meme GrossThis miracle, on the other hand, is odd. It’s dirty. Maybe, you even find it disgusting. Jesus takes a deaf man who has a speech impediment off to the side. He sticks His fingers into wax-filled ears. God in the flesh spits (apparently, Jesus wasn’t taught how to give a proper wet-Willy). Christ literally seizes, not just ‘touches,’ the man’s tongue. And then, Jesus looks up to heaven. Sighs. And says, “Ephphatha,” which means,“Be opened.”

Scripture says that Jesus did more miracles than are recorded for us in the Gospels (Jn. 20:30; 21:25). It could be – maybe it isn’t, but it could be – that most of Jesus’ miracles were crazy and odd like this one rather than the ‘normal’ ones God has recorded for us in the Scriptures. That might explain why in Mt. 8[:5-13]the centurion who had a paralyzed servant tells Jesus to not bother about coming into his home, but to just speak the word.

Now, imagine how it was for this man. He had lived his life in a world of silence. He wasn’t able to communicate with others. Imagine his friends and family who have brought him to Jesus. They have wanted so desperately for him to hear and rejoice in God’s Word. They wanted him to be able to hear them say that they loved him. They have wanted to sing God’s praise with his voice added to their chorus. And now, here is Jesus. A man who can do the miraculous. So, they bring him to Jesus and beg and plead Jesus to heal him. And Jesus does this?

As unconventional as it is, the man is healed. His ears are opened. He is able to speak clearly. Though the man has a new-found voice, Jesus commands this man and his family and friends to tell no one what has happened. But they don’t listen. They disobey.

The Jesus who opens deaf ears has one simple command for to their ears to hear. The command comes from the Jesus who loosened the man’s tongue, “Don’t use your tongues to tell others about this.”But they shut their ears to His command, and they open their tongues in disobedience.

They were telling people that Jesus was a miracle worker who makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. They weren’t spreading lies about Jesus, but what they were proclaiming was misleading. It seemed like a victimless crime. But here is the problem – the people who heard their message got the wrong impression of who Jesus is and what He had come to do.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the wolrdJesus had come to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, not to be the audiologist who takes away the deafness of the world. Jesus had come to give eternal life through His death and resurrection, not to give a voice to the voiceless.

Jesus had a reason for telling them to keep silent about the miracle even if we don’t know exactly what that reason was. And their disobedience had consequences.

When Jesus was on trial before His crucifixion, Pilate sent Him to Herod, and Herod wanted Jesus to do some sign for him (Lk 23:6-11). When Jesus didn’t answer any of Herod’s questions or do a miracle, Herod had his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt and mocked Him. It might be that the report of these people fueled Herod’s curiosity to see Jesus the miracle worker and not Jesus the Savior.

You too, refuse to listen to God’s words and commands. Whenever you sin, you are refusing to hear God’s Word. You are choosing your own wisdom over God’s. Even when God’s command seems contrary to what is good, we must repent of our lunacy thinking that we know better than God.

But see Jesus’ grace despite their sin. Jesus knew that they would disobey Him. He knew that they would sinfully use His gifts as tools for their transgressions. Jesus looks to heaven and sighs.

Why does Jesus sigh? Well, Jesus sighs in sorrow over our sins against Him. He sighs when we act in self-righteousness. Jesus sighs grieving over our self-inflicted pain. He sighs in anger over what has been done to us by the devil, our neighbors, and even those who should love us. Jesus sighs, and yet, He acts in love and mercy.

Jesus is the friend of sinners, and He has compassion on all who suffer – no matter what that suffering is. He knows you are a transgressor and worker of iniquity, but He also knows that you are a victim.

Jesus takes and becomes sinYes, Jesus sighs and acts. He gets involved with us even though it hurts Him. He cannot help Himself. In His love and mercy, He gets bound up in the mess we make and that others have made for us. He gets entangled in our sin. In fact, He becomes sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

What Jesus did for this man, He has done for you as well. Jesus has miraculously opened your ears to hear His word of Law and Gospel. Listen to them intently. Believe what Jesus tells you in His Word because Jesus has borne your griefs. He has carried your sorrows. And even by the stripes you inflict upon Him, He heals you (Is. 53:3-5). Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Vineyard of Grace – Sermon for Septuagesima on Matthew 20:1-16

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Matthew 20:1–16

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Hiring the Laborers in the VineyardIn the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Too often, we forget that Jesus lived in history. Just as we have well-known stories in our day that form and shape our understanding of the world, so did Jesus and the people of His day. Today, if someone says, “I have a Cinderella story to tell you…” you know how the story will go – rags to riches. Well, in Jesus’ day, there was a famous parable that is remarkably similar to this one before us. This parable had been told during the funeral sermon of a well-known rabbi who died when he was only twenty-eight years old. The parable went like this:

A king hired laborers to work in his vineyard. After watching the men work for a couple of hours, he noticed one had a lot more ability than the rest. So, the king invited that laborer to spend the rest of the day with him eating and relaxing while the rest continued to work. At the end of the day, the king lined everyone up to pay them. The one who only worked two of the twelve hours was paid the same as those who had worked all day. The others complained. But the king replied, “This man worked with so much skill that he accomplished as much in two hours as you did in twelve. So, don’t complain; I’m being fair.”

Santa's Nughty ListThe point of this parable at the twenty-eight-year-old’s funeral was that this famous rabbi had done enough good works to go to heaven early. In other words, be good, do good, and get rewarded. Santa Claus anyone?

Now, there is a kernel of truth to that parable. It is right, proper, and just to reward good works. If you tell your kids they cannot play outside until their rooms are clean and one gets it done more quickly, it is right to not make them wait until the other is finished. The same goes for everyday life. Rewarding good works is the expected thing. It is fair and right to pay according to work done. But there is no grace in that.

Jesus’ parable this morning stands that other parable on its head. Our Lord isn’t teaching about fair wages or justice. He is teaching us about grace. Jesus retells the well-known parable, and in Jesus’ version, a bunch of lazybones who show up just before the checks are written get paid as though they had worked all day.

This is how it is in the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, bums who don’t work get rewarded for the work of others. But too often, we complain about this just like those in the parable.

When others are happy or blessed, we grumble and complain. We get covetous and envious. When someone gets a shiny, new toy, we think of all the reasons they don’t deserve it. We murmur to ourselves and others that they must have cheated someone else or gotten it by some undeserving means.

Because of our sin, we like generosity and mercy when we benefit, but not when others do. In our pride, we can even become embarrassed when we receive a generous gift or a simple act of kindness. Think of the rabid feminists who believe that a man opening a door for a woman is an act of micro-aggression.

We are prideful people who are always measuring. We look at our lives and works and compare them against those of the people around us, and somehow, we always end up on top. We keep score and expect God to notice. But then, when things go wrong, when we recognize our failures, our pride causes us to swing into despair. But even in our despair, we keep measuring. We know that we don’t measure up. And our despair makes us wonder if God loves us. Repent.

Repent and see the comfort of this parable. It teaches us that the kingdom of God is not a kingdom of fairness or equal pay. If that were the case, if God’s kingdom was where people got what they deserved, we would all spend eternity in hell. God’s kingdom, God’s vineyard, is a vineyard of grace.

With the Gospel, there is no room for pride or boasting in what we do because there is no doing on our part. Everything has been done by Christ, and we simply benefit because of His work. We who were dead in our sins, enemies of God, and children of wrath are raised, pardoned, and transferred into God’s kingdom.

Rescued from DeathAnd, with the Gospel, there is no room for despair. God’s love has been poured out for you to save you. In Christ, God has won your salvation on the cross. On the cross, Jesus bore the heat of the day, the heat of God’s wrath. And you, believer, get His wages.

Rejoice. The kingdom of heaven is the opposite of the kingdoms of men. You don’t earn. You don’t pay. The goods are given for free. It would drive any man-made business into the ground, but God doesn’t care. God isn’t out to make a living. He is out to give away His kingdom.

In Christ’s kingdom, grace reigns, sins are forgiven, and wretched orphans are made to be beloved children. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.