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When the Wine Runs Out___Dr. Tan(2010-01-13TTC)

(2010-05-12 22:31:34)


分类: 阅读


John 2.1-11



The chaplain has expressly stipulated that I should preach from John 2.1-11, because he believes I am specially qualified by virtue of my dietary habits. It is a great honour to be stigmatised in the same way that our Lord was in Matthew 11.19||Luke 7.34. So, I cannot refuse.

Although relishing the task, I have to add that I do have some qualms. This is so because the passage is better enacted than preached. However, since we don’t have a course of ‘Miracles 101’, and since revelry of an alcoholic kind will be detrimental to the college’s funding situation, I have to be contented with just preaching, and await the day when we will all drink wine together with the Lord (Mark 14.25). And here’s the rub. Any sermon on this miracle story stands in danger of turning the magnificent wine of John’s meaning into the tepid water of floundering discourse, and earning the ire of the devotees of Cana.

But to keep silent is not the way to go, for great glory was revealed in that event. In this respect, there may be something Bordeaux can teach the devotees of Cana. Great chateaux like Lafite and Latour produce second wines, which serve to offer a glimpse of what great wines are like. By the grace of God, it is hoped that this sermon may become something like a second wine. More precisely, this sermon will focus on the problem-solution dynamic of the story, which, in a profound sense, is parabolic of human life and society.


1. No more wine

Wine has an exquisite quality of gladdening the heart (Ps 104.15). Not surprisingly, it is associated with celebrations and feasts. Marriage is an important and joyful rite of passage, calling for community celebration. There is then an intimate connection between wine and wedding. The evidence from every culture and society bears this out, i.e. before over-zealous religious taboos intrude.

      Therefore when wine runs out during a wedding feast, it can be such a let-down and shame. This is what happens in our story (John 2.3). The joyful celebration is still going on, but the especial item that enhances and exudes this celebratory mood is gone. Without the wine, the wedding feast is like an empty shell. Not wanting to embarrass the bride and bridegroom—and especially their families—the servants and those who are helping out with the feast try to solve the problem without calling undue attention to it.

      Perhaps we may find here a symbolic commentary of our lives. The Church is a place where joyful reconciliation and the celebration of God’s love are to be found, but it is often an empty shell. To be sure, the ceremonies and the liturgies continue but the wine has run out. We try to hide this from view as much as we can for fear of embarrassment.

The same may be true of our marriages. Joyful vows are made on the wedding day. They are kept after the wedding day. But the wine has run out. Hands are still held, but that special feeling is gone. Such a sad phenomenon may be found in many institutions of society too. A brave and joyful front continues valiantly, but there is no more wine. Statistics are given to convince the citizens of the health and wealth of a country, but the wine has run out.

There may be something more profound going on at the symbolic level of the story. God’s people are called to be a joyful people because of their covenantal relationship with the gracious God (Deut 16.14-15). The rabbis are adamant that the Torah was given not to be onerous, but to be kept with great joy. Indeed, depictions of the eschaton in the Old Testament are often filled with images of great joy—sometimes, nuptial in nature—and the abundance of wine (Isa 25.6; 62.1-5). This is so because there is no better way of depicting the unalloyed presence of God with his people. In the light of all this, what John may be adumbrating is that although Israel continues to celebrate her special relationship with God, there is no more wine. Although she continues to testify to the idolatrous world the truth of the one God, in truth, the lustre is gone.


2. Whatever he says to you, do it

What is to be done in such a situation? Where can wine be found at short notice? ‘The shops, silly!’ may be our reply, but it is not so simple in the ancient setting. Certainly, there is no shop we can go to to replenish the wine of our lives and institutions.

      In the story, Mary is aware of the problematic situation and informs Jesus about it. Jesus replies with a baffling answer, which has teased many readers and scholars (John 2.4). It is beyond the scope of this sermon to go into all this. Suffice it to point out that Mary sees a ‘yes’ in the opaque answer of Jesus, and hence instructs the servants to do as he says (John 2.5).

      And what does Jesus say? How does he solve the problem? He does not snap his fingers to bring forth wine ex nihilo. It would be spectacular if he did that, and his glory would certainly be perceived by all. Instead, the servants are instructed to fill the six stone jars—not wine containers—with water. John tells us expressly that the stone jars were used for Jewish purificatory rites (John 2.6). The implication here is that these rites are superseded by Jesus. They are not the wine. But they may be changed to wine. What they point to is now fulfilled. God’s eschatological wine is now provided. And the wedding can go on.

What must not be missed is that the miracle involves human instruments and a common resource. This is highly instructive. What do we do when the wine of our lives or important institutions run out? Seek the Lord and petition him, for he is the one who can replenish our wine. But what are we to expect after we have petitioned him? Something dazzling so that we can enjoy the spectacle like many overfed Singaporeans? No, we are to do as he says. What he says will often drive us back to the basics and the resources that have already been given. When Moses wanted some sure sign to show Israel that God had appointed him to be their leader, the Lord’s reply was ‘What is that in your hand?’ (Exod 4.2).

It is in the obedient performance of the basics and the utilization of the resources God has already given us that the joy of his presence and the replenishment of the wine come. To be sure, this blessing is not within our control. It cannot be because it is a gift. But the gift comes in the midst of simple trusting and obeying what the Lord has said. It is not to be sought from some pastor who claims to be a specially appointed broker of God, or found in schemes never countenanced before. The word is near you, so says the Lord, and we don’t have to cross oceans or ascend to the heavens to get it (Deut 11.13-14). Pray, trust and obey. Persevere in this and wait for the tepid water of our lives to be transformed into the wine of the kingdom.


3. Best wine ever

And what transformation we see! The erstwhile water has become the best wine. Only a wine lover understands the significance of the remark of John 2.10. After drinking a few glasses, most human palates are de-sensitised so that it is hard to differentiate between inferior wines and good wines. The fact that the banquet master could be bowled over by the miraculous wine indicates that it is far, far superior to wines normally regarded as good.

      But make no mistake: the banquet master and the wedding guests did not know where the wine came from. They experienced the results but did not know the process. Indeed, if they did, the process would come across as unremarkable. How can something so spectacular come from something so ordinary?

      We think we know what joy is. We think we know what a great wine is. But have you ever caught a glimpse of God’s eschaton? If you haven’t, don’t despair. Someday, we the children of God will all see and experience it. But have you ever stopped to ask yourselves how this will come about? The spectacular will arise from the cocoon of the ordinary because of the transformative power of the Lord Jesus Christ. The New Jerusalem will descend and glorious indeed it will be. It is the best city ever, because it is truly worthy of the August One to take up his abode. But take a closer look at its foundations and superstructures. They are all made of ordinary things that have been transformed. When the best ever wine is served at the banquet of the Lamb, take a look at the label on the bottle. It is not Lafite or Latour. Indeed, it may very well be PUB. And the Lord is pleased to have his glory manifested in all this.

      No wonder John calls this transformation of water into wine at the wedding in Cana the first of Jesus’ signs, or better, the primary sign of Jesus’ ministry (John 2.11). God comes to transform—old rites, broken lives, cruel cross—so that into this old and weary world will flow the best wine ever, borne by his people who trust and obey. Amen.


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