July 12, 2015
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES? WATER TO WINE
The first in a series of four.
Back in 1980 the United States and the Soviet Union played a hockey game. It was during the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. The winner would go on to play for the gold medal. And it was a foregone conclusion who the winner would be.
The Soviet Union had won the four previous Olympic gold medals. They were considered superior to any professional team in the National Hockey League. They had won earlier games in these same Olympics by scores of 16-0, 17-4, and 8-1. The United States team was a bunch of overachieving college kids. They had surprised a lot of people by how well they had played up to then, but this would be their biggest test by far. No one expected them to win. If they could do better than the teams that lost by 16-0, 17-4, or 8-1, they would be doing well.
They were behind 3-2 going into the final period. Way closer than expected. Then the Americans scored the tying goal. It was 3-3. They scored again. 4-3. There were 10 minutes left. Plenty of time for the Russians to come back. Everyone expected that they would.
Here are the final 60 seconds:
Do you believe in miracles? We throw that word around a lot. We use it in sports when the team nobody expects to win wins. We use it when someone who is always late actually shows up on time. Some of us use it when we manage to solve our own computer problem without having to ask some kid to do it for us. We even use it in our gardening. “Miracle-Gro.” Or as an alternative to mayonnaise. “Miracle Whip”.
“Miracle” is a biblical word. It’s a faith word. It’s a word that holds great meaning to followers of Jesus. But I wonder how clear we are on what that meaning is. It’s a word we Christians throw around a lot, often just as casually and carelessly as the general population. Today and for the next three Sundays, we are going to be talking about miracles. We are going to be looking at four of the miracles the Bible says Jesus did. I hope that as a result we will grow in our faith and we will deepen our appreciation for miracles. Both the miracles we read about in the Bible and the miracles we experience in our everyday lives.
This could be a 43-week series. Because the Bible records 43 miracles that Jesus performed. Forty-three might seem like a lot, but for those who got left out, 43 was not enough. Forty-four would have been just about right. If you were the one who was blind and Jesus healed someone else and not you, or crippled and you’re still crippled because it was the other guy who got healed, or if you were the one whose child had died and it was someone else’s child and not yours who Jesus brought back to life, you would have had a problem with Jesus the miracle worker.
A lot of people have a similar problem today. No matter how many miracles happen, someone always gets left out. Someone is always left wondering, why that miracle and not this one? Why for someone else and not for me? Why for someone I don’t even know or care about and not for someone I know and love?
So we begin this series with questions about the miracles of Jesus. Why so few? Why any at all? And why these particular miracles and not others?
We’re going to be looking at four of the miracles that are recorded in John’s Gospel. John doesn’t call them miracles. John calls them signs. Our scripture today concludes, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (2:11).
A miracle, according to John, is a sign. So what is a sign? If I turn right out of our parking lot (which sometimes is the only way to turn because traffic is so bad) I will eventually come to a sign that tells me I am on the road that will take me to Melba. The sign is not Melba. The sign points to Melba. If I pay attention to the sign, and especially if I pay attention to the other sign a few miles down the road that tells me when to turn left, I will end up in Melba. So a sign is something that points the way to something else.
That’s the purpose of miracles. Miracles are signs. It’s not the miracle that is the main thing. It’s not the one who benefits from the miracle who is the main thing. Miracles don’t point to us and how wonderful or how deserving we are. Miracles are like signs along the side of the road that help us find our way to Jesus.
But here’s the question a lot of people ask: Can’t we find our way to Jesus without the miracles? Another way to ask this same question: Do we really need to believe in miracles to believe in Jesus?
Let’s just state the obvious before we go any further. Miracles are a problem for a lot of people. Even a lot of people who believe in God and accept Jesus as God’s Son and take the Bible as God’s inspired Word. Even people with a deep and genuine faith very often struggle with that faith when it comes to believing that the miracle stories in the Bible really happened just the way they are reported to have happened.
We talked about Abraham Lincoln’s faith last week. Abraham Lincoln had a hard time with this. He didn’t have a hard time with what Jesus said about loving God and loving our neighbor. He did have a hard time believing that Jesus did miracles.
Another famous president, Thomas Jefferson went so far as to cut the miracles out of his Bible. He kept the rest of it. We’re told he read what was left of his Bible daily. It was easier to read with the parts removed that insulted his intelligence.
And that’s what it really comes down to. Can intelligent people believe in miracles? Can intelligent people who have been to school and studied science and know about the laws of nature believe the Bible when it says that Jesus wasn’t always bound by these laws of nature? It becomes a circular argument. If you begin with the assumption that miracles are impossible, then any report of a miracle has to be false. Why is it false? Because miracles are impossible. Why are miracles impossible? Because that’s the assumption we began with. And we end up believing the most far-fetched, improbable natural explanation instead of accepting the possibility that maybe the best explanation is also the simplest and is also the truth. God just did a miracle.
I know I’m speaking to a mixed audience. Some of you are like Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. You have a problem with miracles. You are in good company. Others of you are more like Al Michaels. You believe in miracles. Even greater miracles than an unlikely outcome in a sporting event. You are in good company, too.
This church is a safe place for you either way. Doubts are welcome here. If you have a hard time with some of the things I say in this series on miracles, I just ask that you hang in there with me and pray about whether this might be a growing edge in your faith walk. And if the miraculous is already a big part of your faith walk, I just want you to know this is a safe place to share your stories and to listen to others as they share their stories about the miracles we have seen God do.
So we’ve said that miracles are signs. A long time ago we said that. Remember? In John’s Gospel, miracles are signs that point us to Jesus Christ.
We’re barely into John’s Gospel. It’s the beginning of chapter 2. There’s a wedding at Cana of Galilee. Jesus is there. He’s there with his mother and his disciples. There are only four disciples so far. His ministry is just getting started.
And there is a crisis at this wedding. A horrible thing has just happened. They have run out of wine. I’ve seen a few emergencies at weddings. Brides arriving late. Groomsmen fainting. Rings getting lost. Wedding dresses not fitting. We had to call for an ambulance to come to a wedding I did in Burley a few years ago. An older gentleman had passed out. Turned out to be a case of too much wine, not running out of wine. I’ve had quite a few weddings that didn’t serve wine but I can’t recall a single one where wine was served and the wine supply was not sufficient to meet the demand.
Running out of wine doesn’t rank very high on our list of crises. There are worse things that have happened. It’s more than a little strange that this is the one that calls forth for the very first time the miraculous power of Jesus Christ.
He’s a reluctant miracle worker. It’s his mother who has to talk him into it. Has your mother ever talked you into doing something you didn’t want to do? It’s hard to say no to your mother. She doesn’t exactly ask him to do a miracle. She simply says, “They have no wine.” Then she stops talking. That’s all she had to say. Jesus knew she was doing more than stating a fact. She expected him to do something about it. And he did. But not at first.
At first he says something to her that doesn’t sound very nice. He says, “O woman, what have you to do with me?” (2:4) He doesn’t call her “mom”. He calls her “woman”. He’s not even polite.
Then he add this: “My hour has not yet come.” Maybe this is why he is irritated with his mom. He knows it’s not time yet for him to start doing miracles. He knows that once he does the first one it will be kind of like starting the clock. From that moment on, the clock on his limited time to do God’s work will start ticking down. And besides, surely God has more important work for him to do than to make sure inebriated wedding guests have the opportunity to get more inebriated.
So Jesus isn’t thrilled with his mother. But his mother knows her son won’t let her down. She simply tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. He says it’s not the right time for this. She says it is. And Jesus gives in and trusts his mother.
He tells the servants to fill six stone jars with water. Each one has a capacity of 20 or 30 gallons. That’s a lot of water. And that turns out to be a lot of wine. The man in charge of the wedding feast samples it and comments on how rare it is for wine this good to be saved this long and served at the end of the party.
I’ve been holding on to one picture that I knew I had to show today. I wasn’t sure when it would best fit in. Maybe now.
I love the story about the Christian woman who was strongly opposed to any use of alcoholic beverages. When it was pointed out to her that Jesus turned water into wine, she said, “I know. That’s one thing I never did like about Jesus.”
Why did Jesus do so few miracles? Why any at all? And why this particular one? I mean, really. With only 43 miracles in his quiver, it would seem this is one that got wasted. Wasted on people who may already have been wasted.
Some quick closing observations. For one thing, we should never expect miracles to make sense. Miracles don’t fit our understanding or expectations. Miracles are not for us to demand or to control. Miracles come from God. When they come, ours is not to ask why. Ours is simply to say, “Thank you, God.”
Second, for those who think of God as angry and judgmental, for those who see Jesus as somber and serious, water to wine does a pretty good job of taking down that stereotype. The first miracle Jesus did was to add joy to an already joyous celebration. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Next time you start taking life too seriously, remember that.
Third, C.S. Lewis points out that many of the miracles Jesus did, this one included, show us on a small scale what God is doing all the time on a larger scale. God is always turning water into wine and we aren’t even impressed. God fills the clouds that drop the rain that waters the vines that grow the grapes that produce the wine. Water to wine! Whether nature does it or whether Jesus does it, it’s a miracle either way.
We’re going to close today with John’s own editorial comment on the purpose of this miracle. It’s a sign. All the miracles are signs. We miss the point if we stare at the miracle. Same as we miss the point if we stare at the sign that tells us how far it is to Melba. A sign is there to show us the way. A sign is there to point us in the right direction. This sign is there to point us to Jesus.
In the next three weeks we’re going to look at other miracles, other signs, that also point us to Jesus. But this is the first one. Jesus is just starting to recruit his disciples. His disciples are just starting to figure out who Jesus is. They go with him to this wedding thinking he’s just one of them. They leave the wedding knowing he is much, much more.
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
His disciples saw the sign, they saw past the sign, they saw Jesus, and they believed.
Dear Jesus, open our eyes to see the amazing things you did and the amazing things you still are doing. Open our eyes to see you, to love you, to serve you, to glorify you. As we begin another week of life, may it be more than just another week of life. May we live fully, joyfully, and abundantly in you. And bring us back together next week to continue our journey as we follow the signs that lead to you. Amen.