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Sep 29 2014

The Very Best Church Sign

John 2:1-11

By the time you read this, we will have a new, highly visible church sign on the front lawn. What a blessing! An abundant memorial gift (in the name of a late, beloved member of our congregation) enabled us to make this important investment. Our new sign replaces the long-time church sign that served us well, but that has been unreadable to people driving by in their cars and falling to pieces for years. Now the name of our faith community, priorities, worship times, Congregational activities, celebrations, and praise of God will be much more visible to people travelling Walnut Street. In early October our sanctuary hosts the wedding of a lifelong member who has grown up before our eyes. It is exciting to think about the personal message of Congregational blessing and congratulation that the sign might proclaim!

Signs are not ends unto themselves. Rather, signs announce and proclaim; a sign always points toward a deeper and fuller reality. The coming of our long-anticipated message board has me thinking about John 2:1-11: the story about “the first of Jesus’ signs”!

Yes, Jesus uses signs, too, to reveal the coming of God’s kingdom. Curiously, the first of his signs is not a billboard; nor is it manifested in a healing, stirring sermon, or a rebuke. Rather, it is by turning water into wine at a wedding party! Perhaps you know the details of this delightful story.

Jesus and his disciples are guests at a wedding in a small Galilean town about 9 miles from Nazareth. Jesus’ mother Mary is also present. The wine at the celebration runs out too quickly; the party might be over only shortly after it began! Mary tells her son, “They have no wine.” Initially, Jesus responds rather abruptly, “What is it to me or to you? My hour is not, as yet, arriving.” Nevertheless, his mother turns to the servants and gives them a direction: “Do whatever he tells you to do.”

Nearby are large water jars for the religious rites of purification. They too, are empty, though they can hold twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus tells the servants to fill them with water, then to draw some out and take it to the chief steward for tasting. They do what Jesus says, and when the steward tastes what is brought to him it is no longer merely water but now the very finest of wine.

There is much to ponder here. Jesus takes what is ceremonial and turns it into an announcement of God’s presence. Jesus recognizes a ritual that has become empty and fills it with fresh possibility. Jesus embraces a disaster and transforms it into a path to new life.

We have often called what Jesus did here a miracle; but John’s gospel calls it a “sign”. Because Jesus’ action is not an end unto itself, offered to satisfy a disgruntled people. Rather, it is an announcement of a deeper and fuller reality. It is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God coming very, very near; a manifestation of the good news of God’s love for everyone! It is a delicious foretaste of the fullness of God’s reign.

For the wedding couple this day is only a beginning. God will be ever-present in the midst of their life together; a third partner whose love will constantly offer new vitality. And in a truly covenantal relationship, the “best wine” will be yet to come, no matter what is encountered along the way!

For all God’s children, the story highlights that perceived disaster and shortcoming and interruption of our carefully laid plans can become a blessing. It is no accident that the proponents of this amazing grace are a mother whose unplanned pregnancy scandalously interrupted her own “year of betrothal” and caused her to leave town, yet whose son now embodies God’s presence in the most revealing and surprising ways. Together, they engage a freedom that enables and makes real a deeper experience of human life: a gospel celebration right in the midst of present history.

So as we put up our new sign, a celebration is in order. We are clearly in good company! I pray that our imaginations will be stoked. How will our sign announce the nearness of God’s realm, the surprising, enlivening power of God at work right here? What deeper reality will it point to? Surely it can say more than: Worship 10:15 am; Sunday School 8:45 am. Will people in our town get a sense of Jesus filling familiar ritual with fresh possibility? Will they hear the invitation he offers, realizing that all they have and all they are is welcomed in God’s realm (including the perceived disasters)? Will there be sense that our inspired faith community itself might be the very best of “signs”?

Jesus did this, the most local of his signs, in Perkasie of Bucks County, and revealed his glory;
and his disciples believed in him.

 

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