The Journey: Hidden Glory
January 14, 2018
Last week for those of you that were here, JB preached a great sermon in which he invited us to “come and see”. It was the same words that Jesus used when he invited his disciples to “come and see” what Jesus was up to. The disciples also used the same word “come and see” when they were inviting the other disciples to “come and see” what Jesus was up to in their midst. “Come and see” was Jesus’ invitation. It was his encouragement for us to invite those who have yet to come to know and experience the love and grace of Jesus to come and see what church is all about, see what Jesus is all about here at Fellowship Church.
I find it really interesting and maybe a little ironic then that immediately following those verses at the end of chapter 1 we go to chapter 2 and the scene takes place at a wedding party. Not just any old party. It’s a party with tons and tons of wine. Let me just say that if God was up to something similar here at Fellowship Church, I think our invitation to come and see might have gotten just a little bit easier, don’t you think? We might need a little bit of that this week. But to reduce this story to an endorsement to drink wine and have a party - that might be somewhat missing the point. I will say; however, that a party, a wedding banquet, a feast with friends, an experience of joy and laughter, I believe will be a part of the kingdom of God same day in its fullness. That there will come a day when the blessings that we experience on this earth will be made full and complete and we will be in the presence of God with all the people of God and it will be beautiful and it will be similar to a party, maybe.
But that’s not today’s sermon. This morning’s sermon I want to focus on the last verse that Aubrey read so beautifully this morning. Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believe in him.
What do you think of when you think of glory? I think of the athletes that thrust the championship trophy in the air after they’ve won their final game. I think of the politician’s image on the front page of the newspaper after they’ve won an election race. I think of the standing ovation that is given after a great performance. I think of the praise that one gets by their boss at a staff meeting.
Glory is BIG. Glory is LOUD. Glory is NOTICEABLE. You don’t miss glory if glory is in the neighborhood. This was certainly true in the Old Testament. The glory of God was radiant. The glory of God was powerful. It was big. It was noticeable. In fact, if you saw it there are some verses that say you would even perish from seeing the glory of God. My high school friends who made confession of faith this morning know about this. Our schools today are filled with grasps for glory. There’s enormous pressure in high school to distinguish you, to separate yourself, to receive some kind of glory, to be noticed in some ways. How I wish this weekend especially that you didn’t have to deal with all that pressure that you didn’t have to seek after glory for yourself.
My hunch is that we all have some understanding of what glory is. We all have a preconceived notion of glory. Verse 11 says that Jesus revealed his GLORY at a wedding in Cana. It certainly seems like his glory was revealed there doesn’t it? I mean 6 jars, 20-30 gallon jars of water, were turned into wine. This is amazing! This is miraculous. This is something out of this world! A miracle you might say, but John calls it a sign – a sign of the coming kingdom of God. I want to tease out the difference between what I think is a miracle and a sign. I think a miracle points towards the divinity of Jesus. A miracle says that Jesus is the son of God and that Jesus is who he says he was. Whereas a sign points towards the coming reality, the kingdom of God that is being ushered in through Jesus. It is a foretaste of what we will experience in eternity, a visible representation of God’s glory on Earth as it already is in heaven. So Jesus is doing something more here than just the miracle of turning water into wine. In this his first sign in the gospel of John, Jesus is giving us a window into what will come… a visible representation of God’s glory on Earth as it already is in heaven.
The first century readers wouldn’t have missed the ways in which Jesus is revealing his glory. They wouldn’t have missed this sign, because it’s hard to underestimate for us twenty-first century readers what a wedding was like in first century Palestine. These were the ultimate feasts, the banquet of the year you might say, the Golden Globes of Palestine or the Heisman Trophy award of Cana. Everybody went and everybody dressed to the nines. People observed what other people were wearing. People observed who was there and who wasn’t there. It was an incredible opportunity to bring honor to you as a guest, but more importantly honor to the host and honor to the couple that was to be betrothed. Equally so, it was an opportunity to bring shame upon your family as the host, and not just shame to the host, but shame to the family that was being married and shame to the next generation and the next generation and the next. Wedding stories were told and remembered for generations to come. Weddings were enormously significant in the first century so much so that husbands when they were preparing to get married or on their wedding week would walk all the way to their bride’s home. After they got to their bride’s home, they would pick up their wife and they would walk arm in arm in a procession with their wedding party all the way back to the groom’s home. Think parade, people on the side of the street celebrating love that this couple is experiencing. For you parents of females did you notice whose house they went to? It was the groom’s house. The groom’s family had to pay for the wedding.
A wedding in the ancient world was incredibly significant, so when Jesus’ mother notices that there is no wine, this is incredibly problematic. Just as an aside, Jesus’ response to his mother “Woman, why do you bother me with these things? My time has not yet come.” I just want to point out just because I think it gets a bad rap that the word “woman” is not a derogatory term. You’ll see that in the footnote. It’s not like “woman fetch me the newspaper”. This is the same Greek word “woman” that Jesus uses when he encounters the woman at the well. It’s the same Greek word that he uses with the woman who was caught in adultery. In both instances Jesus is trying to give respect and honor to the woman that the culture might have disrespected or brought about shame upon. It’s clearly a sign of honor that Jesus was giving his mother and she deserves it. Mary was looking to Jesus because she knew the significance of the problem at hand and she knew that Jesus was someone different. There was something unique about Jesus. Jesus was the solution to the problem.
It’s happened to me and maybe it’s happened to you. Imagine a beautiful summer night. It’s kind of hard to imagine in the middle of the winter. You’ve invited your closest family and friends over for a barbecue. They bring the side dishes and you volunteer- I’ll take care of the burgers and the hot dogs. Light the grill. Get it warmed up and as people are arriving you realize it’s time to put the burgers on. You open up the grill hood and what do you see but a lack of flame. Your propane tank has just run out. Who’s been there? The embarrassment and the frustration that you felt in that moment is just a small minute portion of the shame and embarrassment this family would have felt if they would have run out of wine at the wedding party. In an HONOR/ SHAME culture running out of wine is hugely problematic, so when Jesus turns water into wine he is not just doing some miracle so that everybody could have their fill of wine. Jesus is actually reversing the shame that was due to this family and giving them honor instead. For a family that didn’t have enough to provide for all the guests at the party he was providing more than enough. For a family that was maybe even struggling with poverty or having enough Jesus gave them more than they could ever have imagined. Jesus not only saved this family from shame and provided for them when they couldn’t provide enough for those that were around them, Jesus provided abundantly more and better wine than they could ever need. Text says there were six jars 20-30 gallons each. That’s between 120-180 gallons of wine which is the equivalent of 600-900 bottles of wine. It’s not just an abundance of wine in quantity but also abundance in quality. As the chief steward said, “This is the choice wine. Why did you save this for last?” Jesus gave them a gift greater than they could ever have imagined. It’s like asking for a $50 gift card from Target and instead you get Target Stores Corporation. It’s like asking for a bottle of water and instead you get Lake Michigan. Instead of asking for a couple bottles of 2 buck chuck, you get six hundred to nine hundred bottles of choice wine. In the midst of their shame and in the midst of their confusion about what will happen next, Jesus provides abundantly more than they could ever have asked for.
The miracle of turning water into wine created a scene that was a SIGN of the kingdom, an ABUNDANT feast in which all are fed and experience the fullness of joy AND where those who were once put to shame are made right before others. IT WAS A FEAST, a taste of the kingdom in its abundance…
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. It’s a scene that deserves much glory, but in so many ways God’s glory was hidden from those who were at that first wedding. We may think of glory as big, as loud, as noticeable, as huge even. But who is privy of the miraculous changing of water into wine? Who knew about that? Two servants, the lowest on the social ladder of success, the disciples who were most close to Jesus and that’s it. The wedding party didn’t notice that Jesus was the one that turned the water into wine. Jesus’ glory was hidden from the majority of people.
I don’t go to fancy restaurants all that often, but what I understand about fancy restaurants is that they have good chefs. What I understand about good chefs is that they prefer to kind of work in the background. They’re artists if you will. They love to create something beautiful to the senses, something pleasing to the eye and tastefully delicious to the mouth, maybe even something that has a fine aroma. But more often than not, they’re stuck in the back of the kitchen. Maybe every once in a while you’ll see a face peering from the kitchen window into the dining room. More often than not we have no idea who cooked our food at a restaurant, or who made the delicious food that we enjoy and their work determines our experience at that place, at that restaurant.
At the wedding at Cana, Jesus is the master chef creating something beautiful that all might enjoy. His restaurant, the wedding party, is a visible sign of the kingdom, a picture of the glory of God at work in the world even if the majority of people know nothing of it. You see, John chapter 2, redefines our understanding of glory. We think of it as big, as bright, as loud, but God’s glory often times slips through the cracks of our broken world and illuminates us with the light of Jesus Christ. The disciples had the eyes to see it, and maybe we too catch glimpses of God’s glory shining into the darkness of our world. We catch a glimpse of it when we see twelve high school students in the midst of a secular society stand up on a platform and say “Yes! I believe in Jesus.” We see it when a teacher comforts a mourning child or a mourning student. We see it when a church provides shoes for underprivileged students in their area. We see it when we welcome a visitor into our home. We see it when those who mourn are comforted with a word of hope, or a word of encouragement. These faithful acts are the kinds of things that can easily be missed by our society or even go unnoticed, but they shine with the glory of God.
I was toiling all day yesterday with how to conclude this sermon, because on the one hand, this is a glorious day, a day in which we celebrate the glory of God. You even got a standing ovation today. You received much glory today confirmands. It’s a day that we hope that you’ll remember. It’s a day that we hope that you’ll cling to. It’s a sign of God’s glory that’s shining through in your life. When your faith is tested and you’re going through your troubles, we hope that you cling to the glory of God and that you look to Jesus and cling to the faith that you profess today.
And for those of us that might be mourning this morning, how can we imagine the glory of God shining in a world that is so dark for us this weekend? How can we imagine God at work in this world and God’s glory shining when we feel nothing but pain and darkness? And for you, I want to remind you, that while I alluded to Jesus as a master chef this morning who creates something beautiful for us to enjoy, I also want to remind you that God is near to those whose hearts are broken. Jesus promises to walk besides us and maybe even especially near to us when we mourn.
And for the rest of us who might have come here with little expectation of what church will be like this morning, we are Jesus’ disciples. We have an opportunity like those first century disciples to notice the glory of God shining in our world and to notice the glory of God at work in each and every person that bears God’s image which is everyone. The glory of God is most visible in a human being fully alive. How might we steward that kind of light in other people? How might we look for God’s glory in the eyes and in the bodies of those who are most close to us?
I can think of no better way to experience the glory of God than here at this table. For it is here at this table that we have a visible representation of God’s glory coming to us. It is here at this table that all those who are mourning and all those who are living in joy come. It is here that the whole community of God comes and remembers who we are as children of God. It is here at this table that we have a sign, a taste, of the kingdom of God as it will one day be experienced fully. It is here at this table that we meet Jesus Christ.