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A Sermon on the Gospel
Dr. David Smith

Preached on the Second Sunday after Epiphany at St. George's Anglican Church,
Prince Albert Saskatchewan, 2005

Epiphany season starts with us remembering the coming of the wise men to see Jesus And every Scripture reading during Epiphany is about the shining forth of his light, just as the star shone forth to the wise men. Today's gospel reading is the story of the miracle at Cana, when Jesus turned the water into wine.  It too is about the shining forth of the light of Christ. The end of the story is this:  "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory..."  John calls the miracle a "sign".  The story is not just about how a wedding celebration was saved from the embarrassment of running out of wine.  The miracle was a "sign".  It was not just a miraculous act, but a kind of picture of who Jesus is.

What the picture shows to us is that through Jesus God transforms our lives.

What the story is pointing to is the way God can take a sad difficult situation and transform it and make it better than if it had never happened. The last wine is better than the first. It is so important to remember that God does this. When difficult things happen, people ask why? Why did God allow this to happen? It is a difficult question to answer, but it is impossible to answer if we do not remember that God can take the saddest situation and transform it into joy. He may transform our sadness into joy in this world or he may in the next but he will certainly do it. The miracle at Cana is a picture of God transforming a small misfortune into joy. But it points to something much larger - the way that God transforms all sadness into joy. It is about how he will take our sadness and make it as if it had never been.

The miracle also tells us about how this happens in the circumstances of our lives. Sometimes we find that the wine of the joy of God's presence is gone. We cannot feel the faith and the joy that we once felt. It seems that the wine has run out, and we don't know how to get it back. In the story, it is at this point that Mary said to Jesus, "They have no wine." And in the story Jesus gave a shocking answer. "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come." This is hard to understand. Why was Jesus so harsh with Mary? What did his reply mean? First of all, the word "woman" is not harsh in Hebrew the way it is in English. But Jesus still did seem to be rejecting Mary's appeal in very strong terms. What he was rejecting was the idea that Mary had the right to ask for a miracle because of the natural relation between them. I'm sure that there was great love and affection between Jesus and Mary.

As all of us do, Jesus owed his mother honour and respect and support . But her natural relation to him did not give her the right to a miracle.

The members of his family had no more right to that than anyone else. What brings miracles is faith. Jesus was asking Mary whether she was coming to him because of their natural bond or whether she was coming to him out of faith. And the answer was that she was coming to him out of faith. She took his no for a yes, and she told the servants to do whatever Jesus said.

There is something very important here for us and for our lives. When we are in distress and when God seems to be gone from our lives, when the wine seems to have run out, our natural sorrow and need are not enough to bring God's transforming love. We can so easily say to ourselves:  "God knows my trouble, and yet he doesn't seem to be doing anything. I guess it's no use." But we haven't tried to exercise our faith. Our sorrow does not give us the right to a miracle. This might seem like a harsh thing to say but even in our troubles we need to have faith.

And Mary tells us what it means to have faith. "Do whatever he tells you," she said. When it seems that God is absent, faith means doing what Jesus wants us to do. Whatever a person feels, if he has faith he goes on following Jesus.

I don't know if you've ever been lost in the forest. If you haven't it's easy to imagine someone going through it. When a person first realizes he is lost it must be terrifying. He is overwhelmed by his feelings - he wants to shout and make somebody hear. But nobody hears. He might run aimlessly for a while. This is all very natural but sooner or later he will have to start to walk out of there. He will have to figure out what direction to follow to keep from going round in circles. And that person takes a very important step when he sets a direction for himself and starts walking. In the same way when there is sadness or trouble in our lives we may be overwhelmed by our feelings. We may send up frantic prayers for God to change everything. Usually it doesn't happen. Usually the step we have to take is to decide what Jesus wants us to do and to start doing it. We may not feel that this brings us any closer to God. We may feel that we are still lost, that the wine is still all gone. But by doing the right thing we have set ourselves on the road to transformation. When we take the first step of faith we may not be any happier at first.

In a way there is something that feels better about standing there and shouting in despair than in trying a path that we are afraid won't work. But the first step of faith is to do whatever Jesus would want us to do, whether we feel as if that will help or not. What this first step might be will be different for different people. For someone who is in mourning, the first step may be simply going on with the routines of their life, without having their heart in them. Keeping the house tidy, going out and visiting with friends, even when you don't want to - these are the first steps to finding a new life, with new kinds of joy. For someone who has a handicap or a physical limitation that they didn't have before the first step might be when they first use the wheelchair to get somewhere. It might be when  they first listen to a book on tape, because they can't read anymore. These are the first steps of coming to terms with the new reality. For someone who feels the need of God in their life, the first step might be to go to church, or to pray regularly, when they used to only pray when they felt like it. These are the first steps that will lead to a walk with God.

The odd thing is that when we take that first humble step a voice inside us will tell us that it is never going to lead anywhere. This is just water, the voice will say. We need wine and that is what we can't get. But we should ignore that voice and go on taking that first step. Out of that water, God will make his wine. Out of those first steps of faith, however small they seem, God will act to transform our lives.

Catherine Marshall tells a story about her own life which illustrates some of the truths about God's transforming power that we have seen in the story of the miracle at Cana. She had suffered from insomnia for a long time and was taking sleeping pills for it. Sleeping pills are a helpful medicine to some but people can also get dependent on them. Catherine wasn't comfortable with the pills she was taking but she was afraid of what would happen if she stopped taking them. So she kept taking them for 17 years.  Then one day she went on a trip and found she had forgotten her pills.  She thought, "Good, God has finally brought me to the moment where I will start sleeping without the pills." She prayed that he would help her to sleep. But she couldn't sleep. She couldn't sleep at all that night. When she got back home though she decided that it was God's will that she stop taking sleeping pills and she got rid of her supply. She told God that she was going to depend on him alone to help her to sleep. She took the first step of faith. But the struggle was not easy.  For eight nights she had great difficulty sleeping.  The lack of sleep made her nervous and hyper-sensitive to sounds. She had expected a miracle to help her to sleep. The miracle she got though was that she had no desire to go back to the sleeping pills even though she wasn't sleeping.  The next step she took was to do some reading about sleep and about the effect the pills had had on her.  She learned that using the pills for so long had left her sleep mechanism out of kilter. That was why she was having so much trouble sleeping now.  A third step was she started to exercise some control over the thoughts she was having when she couldn't sleep.  She had been used to letting her thoughts and feelings go in any direction and a lot of them were negative.  She started to change that and keep to more positive thoughts and feelings.  A fourth step was she started looking at her dreams.  Her sleeping pills had inhibited her dreaming and now she was dreaming quite wildly when she could sleep.  The character of these dreams started to show her some things about her emotions that she hadn't understood before.  Of course this was all a very difficult time.  Catherine wrote:  "Sometimes resentment would rise in me.  'All right, Lord,' I would protest.  I obeyed you and look where it's gotten me.  I've been miserable ever since.' Eventually the answering insight came, 'When you obey, I do more than one little thing.  You've been demanding an instant miracle for sleep;  I want a healing of the whole woman.'"

All that time, Catherine Marshall was following what she believed Jesus wanted her to do without feeling that it was working out.  But then things started to turn around.  The dreams she had when she did sleep started to be peaceful.  The disturbed feelings that had caused the other dreams started to go away.  And finally her sleep started to become normal.  This story shows us what God's transforming of our lives usually looks like.  We start when we have run out of wine.  The change begins when we begin to exercise our faith and take the first step of obedience.  The steps we take are the water that God takes and transforms.  And the wine that he produces is better than what was there in the first place.