I know the plans I have for you
Funeral Sermon for Scott Steinberg
Matthew 11:28-30 // Revelation 2:10-11 // Jeremiah 29:10-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Jeremiah 29:11, I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, and Matthew 11 where Jesus says, “I will give you rest.”
Dear friends in Christ,
Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Come to me, you who are tired, and I will give you rest.
I can tell you this, there are different kinds of tired.
I remember my summers at camp during my college days. I would get done with the college semester just tired. Long nights, lots of caffeine, little sleep, bad food, reading, typing, and sitting. It was exhausting. But then, I would go to camp.
I remember that our days would start as the sun rose and we would be watching children until late. My days were full of canoeing and swimming, full of silly games and Bible study, full of walking miles and miles and miles through the woods and making breakfast, lunch and dinner over the fire.
I was tired but in a different way. Not so much of late nights and caffeine but full days and tasks well done. Not so much of writing papers and taking tests, but the questions of campers dealing with real life.
Scott was so tired at the end. But let me tell you what he was tired of. He was tired of breathing through a trach tube. tired of sickness, tired of pain, tired of doctors, tired of treatments.
But I can tell you what he wasn’t tired of. He wasn’t tired of his dear wife. He wasn’t tired of his daughters. He wasn’t tired of his dear little granddaughter, Emma Lynn.
And today, I would invite you to be tired, to be absolutely tired of death. To be tired of pain, tired of tears, tired of sorrow. Tired of struggle, tired of sin. Today, I would invite you to be tired of all these things that will pass away.
And today I would invite you never, ever be tired of these words, the words of our Gospel reading, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Never ever tire that the grace given in Jesus Christ is amazing, just as Trista sung, that the Lord is exactly what it says in Psalm 46, a refuge for all who are weary, and a strength especially when you are weak. Though your whole world would fall down around you, he is ever-present as a help in times of trouble.
I can tell you that when my son Benjamin was born, he was whisked away from us up to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul. We traveled on up in the afternoon and spent his second night alive up there, taking turns feeding him his bottle during the night, and I remember looking down at him, this precious little one in my arms, just two little handfuls of human being, and thinking, I’m never going to be tired again. I don’t need sleep anymore. I just need to look at this little guy, and I’ll be fine.
That didn’t last long.
But still, I know that I will never tire of seeing him grow up. I will never tire of seeing him figure out who he is. I will never tire of seeing this two little handfuls of human turn into a walking, talking toddler, turn into a speaking, running big kid, turn into a young man and beyond, wondering at the plans that my God has for him.
I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.
God’s plan for Scott included working construction and providing for his family. They included raising up four beautiful daughters. They included being a husband for 41 years. They included being a gentle and fun presence at daycare with all the girls and the boys (Because of him, Benny knows more about hunting than I do).
They included the days of cancer, God’s plans included the days in the hospital, the days of pain. They included the surgeries gone well and the surgeries with complications.
And in the end, they included the days when he could hold his little grandbaby, Emma Lynn Charlotte.
I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord. More than all of that, God’s plans included that he sent his son to die for Scott, that he rose up on the third day for Scott, that in his baptism, Scott’s name was written in the Book of life, and in the name of Jesus, there is no more pain and there is no more cancer and there are no more tears where he is at Jesus’s side.
I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord. That there will be a day when you, Carol, will speak to Scott once again in his flesh, and he will respond to you with his own voice. There will be a day when you will sit down together to enjoy the feast which has no end, to eat and drink in full what we know in part on the bench in your dining room. In the chapel during Christmas. The Lord’s Supper where we eat and drink with all the living and all the faithful departed.
There will be a day when we know in full that cancer and loss and tears and hospital beds and pain no longer will ever have the last laugh.
I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord. They are plans to prosper you and not to harm. Plans that end only in endless joy. Plans that end in a future far better than we could imagine. Plans that end in eternal life that has no end.
May Scott rest in peace.
Heaven Shines Down on the Outcasts
Seventh in a series of nine, “Heaven Shines Down”
Luke 6:17-26 // Jeremiah 17:5-8 // 1 Cor 15:12-20
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is the first portion of Jesus’s sermon on the plain, as Luke retells the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of heaven is yours...” Our text thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
God does not choose places or people at random but deliberately. God does not ignore the past of his people but uses every bit, every scrap of everything that we are to demonstrate his grace, his mercy, and his peace.
We’ve been seeing heaven shine down at Bethlehem, at the River Jordan, at Cana during a wedding feast, in Nazareth when Jesus is rejected, in Capernaum as Jesus heals and teaches, and last week, we saw heaven shine down as Jesus calls the disciples and tells them, I will make you fishers of men. Pastor Griffin said, “Jesus moved Peter from timidity to courage... and it wasn’t just a one-time deal.”
So, after seeing thousand chasing after him for healing, after seeing hundreds of disciples gathering around him, after selecting his 12 disciples...
Today, we see Jesus lifting up his eyes on his disciples, out and among so many that came to him for so many reasons, and he begins to teach.
Four blessings and four woes for today, and all four of these, they really just say (one thing). One thing, one main point said four different ways.
Let me read them all together.
Blessed are you who are poor, and woe to you who are rich, for the kingdom of heaven is at stake.
Blessed to you who are hungry and woe to you who are full, for satisfaction in heaven is at stake!
Blessed are you who mourn and woe to you who are laughing, for joy in heaven is at stake.
And here’s the most important one, and you know that because Jesus spends the most time saying it. Blessed are you when you are persecuted, and woe to you when people speak well of you, for your reward in heaven is at stake.
But before we get to that one thing, notice some of the context. All of these blessings and woes point us again and again to the truth that this earth is a heavenly (battlefield), and remember our definition of heavenly from a few weeks ago—heaven is to be in the presence of God.
Your kindness demonstrates the kindness of Jesus. Your response to adversity can encourage faith (which clings to eternal life!) in others. Your life in the body of Christ is where God has chose to make “Thy kingdom come and thy will be done” to come on earth as it is in heaven.
To say it in a different way, if you had eyes to see it, you would see in every interaction, every situation, every action, every reaction, in every one of those, there is a supreme battle raging between light and darkness, where every one of your actions has a cosmic effect, where heaven itself is at stake.
But back to the one thing. These verses only really say one thing, that’s this: Blessed are those who (have no power). Woe to those who (do have power). What does that mean?
Blessed are you when you are on the margins, when you are on the edge. Woe to you when you are the influencer, when you are in the center, when you are the leader and the doer.
Blessed are you when the only hope that you can possibly have is heaven. Woe to you when life is going well enough that you think you can do it on your own. What does that mean? Does that mean we should seek to be sad, that we should seek to make bad business decisions, that we should starve ourselves?
And well, that misses the point as well, because those are only the outward signs of something greater. The point isn’t to be poor and hungry and weeping and scorned, because being that is only a by-product of what Jesus really wants. Instead, it’s about a person (and I quote), “who no longer requires such things for satisfaction.”
What would it look like to no longer require such things for satisfaction? To no longer require wealth to know serenity and security? To no longer require laughter to know joy? To no longer require food to know fullness? To no longer require influence to know that you are to be an example of Christ’s love even to those who hate you?
Because, there will be a day when your Christian calling won’t match your gifts. The kingdom of heaven is like a man whose greatest calling in life was to be a husband, and he was good at laying down your life for your wife, but now she’s gone.
The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who exulted in using her body to run marathons, making friends. She felt alive there in a way that nothing could compare, but now her knees give out and she’ll never be out there again.
The kingdom of heaven is like a woman named Joni Earickson, whose promising life came to a halt when she became a quadriplegic. She couldn’t do what she always thought she would do. She couldn’t do hardly anything at all. But slowly and surely, she found that the Lord wasn’t done with her, and that he had more for her to do than she ever thought possible.
Because each and every one of us is going to come to that point, when what we want to do doesn’t match what we can do.
Or to say it the way that St. Paul said it, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
Your reward is in heaven, and heaven shines down to us in (Jesus).
Because, no matter however your circumstances change, your God stays the same. Jesus died for all of your sins, whether your sins feel heavy or not. Jesus was raised for your eternal life, whether you see the horror of death in front of you or not. Jesus empowers you with an unearthly peace and a godly strength whether you feel like it or not. He is the kingdom of heaven. He is our reward. He is heaven itself. And he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Amen and amen.
Heaven Shining Down By the Sea of Gennesaret
Luke 5:1-11 / I Corinthians 14:12b-20 / Isaiah 6:1-8
Sixth in a Series of Nine – Heaven Shining Down
Feb. 9 and 10, 2019
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are focusing on the specific locations of our texts in these days, to say this: that God does not choose places at random but deliberately. God does not ignore the past of his people but uses every bit, every scrap of everything that we are to demonstrate his grace, his mercy, and his peace. Two maps we have in our bulletin today focused on locations in Jesus’ day with significant history and particular opportunity. Locations where an epic battle raged between the Light of this world and the forces of forces of darkness, a battle that continues to rage to this very day.
In the past weeks, we have seen
Luke 5 through 13 summarizes Jesus’ ministry mainly in Galilee, and in today’s text we find Jesus using the metaphor of fishing to teach about mission and ministry. In this text, the boats will symbolize the church, the sea is the world, fish=people, and the nets will represent the teaching and preaching and miracles of Jesus.
Going fishing is the most (expensive) way there is to catch a free meal. That’s a little Facebook post that caught my eyes in recent days. I did a little research and found that in 2011 33.1 million Americans age 16 and over went fishing, they fished on average 17 days, they spent 41.8 billion dollars, (and I hope I’m not getting any men in trouble here today), which is an average of $1,261 a year spent by each fisherman or fisherwoman.
No doubt many of you have heard a lover of fishing say something like this – “it’s better to be fishing and thinking about God than to be in church thinking about fishing.” I don’t know about that, but I do know that the first disciples were fisherman, and that’s precisely who Jesus chose to hang around, they are the ones Jesus decided to call into ministry. I don’t know exactly why Jesus didn’t choose the highly educated or the independently wealthy folks, but we do know that he did choose the men that society considered unimpressive, not particularly successful, and uneducated.
In last week’s sermon, Pastor Muther’s third and final point was that going from Nazareth where he was rejected to Capernaum where there were all kinds of Gentiles mixed in with the Jews, Jesus was moving from the earthly to the heavenly. He pointed out that the heavenly wasn’t so much a place as it was and is the presence of God.
Moving from the earthly to the heavenly. Specifically we want to see how Jesus took Peter in our text from Point A to Point B. He took Peter where he was at, and by teaching and perfoming a miracle, Jesus moved him to where he wanted him to be. Three movements in the heart and mind of Peter, we would note.
First, Jesus took Peter From wanting to be left alone to (leaving everything). When Jesus first told Simon Peter to throw his nets back out into the deep, he was asking Peter to do something that defied logic. For starters, their nets were designed for night fishing, and secondly, the fish just weren’t biting! Peter wonders out loud why he should go back out fishing, but then replied, “but at your word I will lower my nets. He reminds us of the virgin Mary who wondered out loud how she could be pregnant, but then responded, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord, Be it to me according to your word.”
When Peter saw the miracle unfolding he just wanted to be left alone. The catch was so great not just one but two boats were sinking. The miracle was so amazing Peter knows he is unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus. The awesomeness of the one true God had grabbed ahold of Peter, and he just wanted Jesus to leave. He reminds of us of Abraham who was bold enough to pray a third and a fourth and a fifth time for Sodom and Gomorrah to be spared, even though he was but dust and ashes. Peter reminds us of Job, who dared spout off to God and then backed down with these words of confession, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” Or Isaiah in today’s first lesson who is in the presence of the Triune God and cries out, “Woe is me. I am ruined, for I am a man of unclean lips in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
Point A is Peter just wanting to be left alone as a poor and a miserable sinner, Point B is in the final statement of our Gospel lesson when he and his brother Andrew and fishing buddies John and James leave every one of their possessions, they leave their business, they leave their families, and they follow Jesus to places unknown.
For reflection: In what ways have I fallen into that ditch where I just want to be left alone, that ditch where I just want to mind my own business, that ditch where I’m not really against those pastors and people over at the church making disciples of all nations, but I’m not really wanting to be involved?
Secondly Jesus moved Peter From timidity to (courage) When Jesus invited Peter not to be afraid, he was absolving his sins. The great miracle of the abundant catch of fish pointed to a greater miracle – namely the forgiveness of sins. So also in the case of Isaiah, as soon as he cried out in unworthiness, the seraphim flew to him, touched his mouth with a burning coal and said, “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Keep in mind Jesus moving Peter from being afraid to being on fire for the kingdom wasn’t a one time deal. So also on this very same lake, recall another time when Jesus was sleeping, a terrific windstorm threatens to drown them all, the disciples wonder out loud if their Master doesn’t care that they are dying, Jesus rebukes the wind, he quiets the waves and wonders out loud where is their faith/wonders out loud why they have fallen back into being fearful little men. So also on this same lake, you will remember Jesus walking on the water, then Peter getting out of the boat with a strong faith walking on the water, then Peter wavering, Peter sinking, Peter crying out, Jesus reaching out and wondering out loud why he was of little faith, why he was doubting.
Jesus moving Peter from Point A which was being afraid to Point B which is on his way to becoming a faithful preacher of God’s Word to the early church.
For reflection: In what ways have I fallen back into that mood where I freak out in the storms of life instead of staying calm? In what ways have I retreated to my comfort zone where I stay quiet instead of speaking God’s truths with kindness and patience? In what ways have I been gripped with a spirit of timidity instead of courage?
Third, Jesus moved Peter From catching fish to catching (people) Jesus doesn’t just forgive Peter’s sinfulness in this text, he commissions him to take that forgiveness to the villages by the Lake of Gennesaret and beyond. He doesn’t just invite Peter into the kingdom, he calls him to be a builder of that kingdom. He doesn’t just shine into Peter’s heart with grace and with mercy, he says perhaps with a twinkle in his eye, we’re going fishing full time. From this day forward, you and your buddies are going to be helping me catch people alive!
In these next three years, Jesus would be teaching, he would be catechizing them with all kinds of teaching and with all kinds of preaching and with more miracles than they could even remember. By the time the next three years were finished, they would be fully equipped, trained, and ready to turn the world upside down. Just as fish would go from swimming loose in the lake to being caught and in the boat with Jesus, so also with thousands and eventually millions of lost and wandering sinners be brought into the kingdom through baptism, catechesis, and the Lord’s Supper. Peter’s commission to catch people alive was to go out and do what Jesus had just done to him, that is to preach the kingdom and forgive sins. Jesus would be moving on, the church would be going with him, and these ordinary fisherman would have brand new hearts, brand new desires, and a brand new vocation.
For reflection: In what ways have I been seeking after all these other things instead of the kingdom of God and his righteousness? Have I been hearing God wondering out loud, “whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Where are the places in my little corner of the kingdom where this week I might step forward and say out loud, “Here I am, send me!”
To fish or not to fish? The kingdom of God is like a father who is pretty regularly too busy to take his son fishing. Almost always there was a lawn to mow, a garage to clean, an errand to run, or a nap to enjoy. One day, he had the time. He took the time to take his 7 year old son fishing. For an entire afternoon and into the evening, the father was as patient as he could be, he taught his son how to bait and cast, he taught him how to reel and how to clean. That night as mom tucked him into bed and asked him how was his day, the answer was swift, the answer was simple. It was the best day ever. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Heaven Shines Down in Capernaum
Fifth in a series of nine
Luke 4:31-44 // 1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13 // Jeremiah 1:4-10
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon theme is Heaven Shines Down, and our sermon text leads us to heaven shining down in Capernaum, “And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are focusing on the specific locations of our texts in these days, to say this: that God does not choose places at random but deliberately. God does not ignore the past of his people but uses every bit, every scrap of everything that they are to demonstrate his salvation.
In the past weeks, we’ve been seeing heaven shine down at Bethlehem outside of Jerusalem, at the Jordan River where John baptizes Jesus, and at Cana where Jesus turns water into wine.
And last week we saw Nazareth, the little hometown where Jesus grew up, where Jesus was rejected, because “Jesus [was not] the Messiah they had in mind.” But “because Jesus was rejected, we are accepted... Because he rose up again on the third day, we understand not only that there will be a happy ending to our own stories, we know that the stories we live out here and now are full of both significance and opportunity.”
Today we turn our attention to Capernaum of Galilee. It was a Mankato-sized kind of a place to the Twin Cities metropolis of Jerusalem. It’s on the north side of the Sea of Galilee where the mountain snow fed a pure little lake with abundant fish. It was situated in about as beautiful a place as inland Judea had to offer. Capernaum was on the trade routes from Babylon in the east to Egypt in the west. It was a place of growing wealth.
It was a place where Jews and Gentiles alike mixed. Isaiah prophesied about this place, just before he writes what we have painted on the walls of our Sanctuary, “To us a child is born, to us a son is given”.... he says, “In the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” Jerusalem, the center of Jewish worship, was far away enough that the people had to rely on synagogues and Pharisees to practice their faith. Galilee and Capernaum were a place where the Jewish population was always aware, sometimes uncomfortably aware, of their Gentile neighbors.
So, into this Mankato, full of foreigners and Jews, Jesus comes preaching with authority, driving out demons, and healing the sick as the crowds gather around.
Three thoughts on the shift that happens in our text, as Jesus, who was just in Nazareth, comes to Capernaum.
Thought #1, A shift from what he (said) to what he (did). In Nazareth he says that he comes to proclaim good news and to free people from their oppression. In Capernaum, he starts doing it. In Nazareth, he quotes the proverb “Physician heal thyself,” and tells them that Elijah and Elisha served the Gentiles, and in Capernaum, he starts doing as Elijah and Elisha did. In Nazareth, he inaugurates his ministry with the words of Isaiah, and in Capernaum, he begins to teach with an authority that is both simple and deep.
We might not know what he said in that synagogue exactly, but we do know what he preached the rest of his ministry. He would ask us to shift from what we say to what we do...
Do you say that you practice forgiveness, or do you practice putting the sins of others away? Do you say it’s good to humbly confess your own sins, or do you take the time to set your defensiveness aside and admit that you can be at fault? Have you lately been praying for your enemies? Have you lately been looking for ways to give up your shirt when someone asks for your coat?
Thought #2, A shift from where he had (been) to where he was (going). In Nazareth, he was hometown boy. In Capernaum, he is a teacher with authority. In Nazareth, he was among those familiar to him. In Capernaum, he is among those who were getting to know him through his miracles and teachings. In Nazareth, he was among those who knew who he had been. In Capernaum, he begins looking toward the journey that ends at the cross and the open tomb.
I’ll tell you what I’m not saying: I’m not saying that his life in Nazareth didn’t matter. I’m not saying that the virgin birth is meaningless. No, quite the opposite. I am saying that it all makes far more sense when we see the ending.
You see what dribbling drills are supposed to do when you start driving the lane in a basketball game. You see what basic training drills are supposed to do when you get into combat. You see what the very mundane, the very basic, the trivial, does when you look to the end and get to see the whole picture. You see what it means for Jesus to preach what he preaches here, when you look to the cross and the open tomb.
Jesus shifts to inaugurating the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom that turns upside down what it means to have power, a kingdom finds its strength in weakness, a kingdom that finds its purpose in the death of the Savior. He shifts from where he has been to where he is going.
The kingdom of heaven is like a family that is finding its focus to be less on where their loved one has been, the struggle she has been through, the pain that he is in, and more on the place where their loved one is going. They find themselves less and less dwelling on the loss that they are feeling, and more and more looking forward to the day when they see each other again.
Thought #3, A shift from the (earthly) to the (heavenly). Galilee was ripe for rebellion. Two hundred years before Jesus, the Maccabeans led a revolt that freed the Jewish people into an independent state. “Thirty years before Jesus, Judas the Galilean led another revolt. Thirty years after Jesus, they would try again, and the Romans would end up destroying the temple of Jerusalem.” So, when Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is near,” the people a generation before him would have taken it literally and taken up arms, the people a generation after him would have taken it literally and taken up arms, so you could well guess that the people in Jesus’s day would have taken it literally too.
But Jesus shifts from the earthly to the heavenly, and remember that heavenly for the Christian doesn’t so much mean a specific place as it means the presence of God.
Jesus shifts from the earthly—from what you can see and taste and touch and feel and know—to the heavenly—who God is for eternity, treasures that moth and rust could never destroy.
I’ll what else heavenly DOESN’T mean. It doesn’t mean that the earthly has no meaning. On the contrary, the Christian believes that when we shift from the earthly to the heavenly, then the earthly stuff, the earthly life, all of the mundane ordinary things of our day are filled with an extraordinary meaning.
The lepers walking, the blind and the demon-oppressed finding relief, the fevers getting healed, they aren’t just about temporary relief and quality of life and band-aid solutions, because ailments and troubles would always come back... but in this moment, they point toward the way that Jesus will make all things right in the cross. They point to the heavenly blessings that give meaning to the earthly tools we use.
You shall not steal. Money isn’t just another earthly thing; it is a tool to lift the cross high. Don’t use money to enact your will. Don’t use it as a tool for your own entertainment. Use it as a tool to bless others and encourage them.
You shall not murder. Serving your neighbor isn’t just a good thing to do; is it the reason why God made humanity to exist.
You shall not commit adultery. Marriage isn’t just a stable place to find love or raise children; it is a picture of Jesus laying down his life for his church.
You shall not give false testimony. Telling the truth isn’t just a good thing; it is the only way to cultivate the honest community which points toward the new Jerusalem.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s stuff. Loving people more than you love stuff isn’t just a helpful tip when life goes wrong; it is a little piece of how God so loved the whole world that he gave his only son, how he knows all the hairs on your head, how the God who watches over the sparrows watches over you too.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town, a church that is made up of all kinds of individual stories, all kinds of people in community, the sort of community known for caring for any who comes through their doors, loving people in the ways that they need, forgiving others as they have been forgiven by their God, and living in the hope that all of this life points toward something more.
Amen and amen.
Heaven Shines Down in Cana of Galilee
Third in a series of nine
John 2:1-11 // Isaiah 62:1-5 // 1 Cor 12:1-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is especially the Gospel reading, from John 2, “All men first put out the good wine and when it is drunk, the lesser. You have kept the good wine until now.”
Dear friends in Christ,
We are focusing on the specific locations of our texts in these days, knowing that God most often works in those specific locations through their significant history to bring about particular opportunity.
God does not choose places at random but deliberately. God does not ignore the past of his people but uses every bit, every scrap of everything that they are to demonstrate his salvation.
Two weeks ago, we began with Bethlehem, the site of Rachel weeping for her children, the site of Jesus’s birth, the place where the Magi worship the Christ. Last week, we examined the River Jordan, an unimpressive place and yet one where God had chosen to give his people a new beginning.
Today we look at the third sermon in our installment of nine, Heaven shining down on Cana of Galilee. Look at the map in our bulletin. Cana was east of the city Capernaum, and north of Nazareth by about 8 miles. It was a similar kind of town, in the shadow of the two big cities in the area, Capernaum to the northeast and the capital Sepphoris to the north. It was just right for construction workers like Joseph and Jesus to get work. It was a small town, the kind of place where Jesus had family and friends the right age for getting married.
And for life in a small town, a wedding fest was a big deal. When someone would get married, it took over the town. “The wedding festivities lasted far more than one day. The wedding ceremony itself took place late in the evening, after a feast. After the ceremony the young couple were conducted to their new home...They were taken by as long a route as possible so that as many people as possible would have the opportunity to wish them well.” Can you imagine parading people around Janesville? And it wouldn’t end there. “But a newly married couple did not go away for their honeymoon; they stayed at home; and for a week they kept open house. They wore crowns and dressed in their bridal robes. They were treated like a king and queen, were actually addressed as king and queen, and their word was law.” Here’s the summary statement. “In a life where there was much poverty and constant hard work, this week of festivity and joy was one of the supreme occasions.”
How does heaven shine down when important chapters begin? How does heaven shine down when things are supposed to be at their most joyful? Three thoughts on the wedding feast that Jesus attends, a wedding feast gone wrong, a wedding feast that alludes to so much more. Three thoughts on how the presence of Jesus the bridegroom of the church changes the situation they are in.
First, he turns disgrace into pure grace. In our text, Jesus attends a wedding and they run out of wine. I quote “For a Jewish feast wine was essential... At any time the failure of provisions would have been a problem, but for hospitality in the East it is a sacred duty; for the provisions to fail at a wedding would be a terrible humiliation for the bride and the bridegroom.”
Hospitality was essential, to show your guests that you care. Hospitality was essential, because all of your guests were your family, your friends, the village that you lived in and around all of your days.
And in turning water into wine, Jesus turns disgrace on the part of the steward and on the part of the bridegroom into pure grace. He turns a rotten outcome into something better than we could imagine. He uses a mistake to make something better, and he does that for us too.
I find it to be a struggle for us to find the words to say these things, to say them in a way that doesn’t praise the mistake, nor does it minimize the pain. For grieving families, death can be a good thing even when death is the enemy that steals our loved one. For the person who has been through all kinds of hardship, those trials of life shape us into the people we are, even if we wouldn’t wish them on anyone.
But here we find the depth of the Christian narrative. We believe that God created the world, good, that the world’s good has been marred and smudged, and that Jesus came to make it good again. We believe in a world that God created good. Very good. Every bit of it. But we believe that all that good has been marred and smudged. Each and every part is good but it is good that has been twisted. Evil isn’t a thing in itself; it's a twisting, a disordering of what is good.
And here’s the gospel turn. We believe that Jesus took the worst piece of that twisting and marring, he took life which ends in death, and through the worst consequence of sin he has brought new life.
Do you notice what that does? It does what Isaiah 62 says so well. The God who didn’t wish for cities to be desolate and people to be forsaken in the first place has taken away their desolation and their forsakenness to call them into his weeding feast, to rejoice over them as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.
Second, in turning water into wine, Jesus turns scarcity into (grateful generosity). The wedding feast was only partway in and they were out of wine. One could imagine, that the wine steward was starting to get pretty stingy with the wine by the point that Jesus steps in. He only has so much left, and he would want to make it last as long as possible.
But after Jesus’s miracle, I would guess the wine flowed a little easier. The party went on a little louder, the rest of the night was a more than a little better.
If you had just enough money to get through the week, then you would look pretty hard at what you spent it on.But what if you had a million dollars in your bank account? How much easier would it be to spend?
St. Paul comes from much the same place in 1 Cor. 12. There is an overwhelming generosity of gifts, and only one Spirit who gives them. There are such a variety of members, and only one Body of Christ. All of the gifts that we have are to be used to the glory of Christ and to the building up of your neighbor. All of the gifts of your neighbor, this is the Christian trust here, all the gifts of your neighbor are to be used to the Glory of Christ and for the building of their neighbor.
Third, he turns this present hour into (eternity). This wedding feast, I can tell you with confidence, ended. At a certain point, the miraculous wine stopped flowing. At a certain point the bridegroom and the bride were no long addressed as king and queen. The laughter and the joy of the village were replaced by hard work. The brief moment of feasting was replaced by the poverty of living in a small town in an arid place.
But this is the first of Jesus’s signs, first of Jesus’s seven signs in the Gospel of John, and signs are a thing that point to something greater. This is the first of the signs that point to the greatest work of all. Jesus in his death and resurrection,
Every happy chapter of our life is a sign to the overwhelming joy of heaven. Every relationship of love and care is a sign toward the overwhelming love and care of our Father in Heaven. Your marriage is a picture of Christ laying down his life for his bride the church. Your moments, the ones that will stay with you for all your days, the ones that are so full of joy that time seems to have ne meaning, all point toward the day when Christ turns this present hour into eternity.
The kingdom of heaven shines down like a large church in a small town where they know they have a foretaste of the feast to come every time they come to the Lord’s table. They know that they have a little bit of eternal feast in every fellowship that brings them joy. They don’t despair over their past; nor do they hide it. Their eyes are turned from disgrace to the pure grace given them, from the scarcity of this world to the generosity of their savior. And together, they long of his hour to come.
Amen and amen.
Barclay, John vol. 1.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther