Water to wine

Water to Wine… A Telling Sign

Jesus turning water to wine is a sign that points to the coming of the Kingdom of God, where Jesus is Lord. It is a Kingdom that is marked by Jesus’ life of suffering love, culminating in his crucifixion and resurrection.  An authentic, joyful, and grace-filled faith that is like fine wine and that goes beyond superficial ‘grape juice Christianity’ is born out of struggle and suffering. 

Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: John 2:1-11


I called this sermon “Water to Wine…a Telling Sign”, and I think it’s a pretty decent title.  But as I was doing some research for my sermon this week, I came across a couple of other sermon titles that I thought were even better but were already taken.

One was called ‘Party On!’  And my favorite was ‘I Wish Jesus Was at My Wedding’.

Whatever you call it, this is a great story.  It’s such a good story that when I was in Israel/Palestine about 10 years ago, about every souvenir store that I went into that was near Cana was selling wine that they claim was leftover from that very wedding.

I brought some home with me to Ohio.  And then after moving to this area I was happy to find some of that wine right here in Northern Virginia!

On Hwy. 50 near Middleburg there’s a winery that’s actually called “Cana”.  And of course one of their wines is called “Miracle”.

I doubt that it came from the source of the wedding Jesus was at—if it did, let’s hope that it ages well!  But it’s a nice marketing strategy nonetheless!

Anyway, I love the way that the story of Jesus turning water into wine is depicted in The Chosen series video that we watched.

I mentioned The Chosen in a recent sermon, saying that I heard that it did a good job of bringing out the humanity in people and in Jesus, and we see that in this scene of the wedding at Cana.

We see the joy and celebration of a typical wedding in Jesus’ day.  We see facial expressions filled with emotion in people, from Jesus to the servants who discovered the water had turned to wine, to the master of the feast who announced to everyone, and we see the emotion of contentment in the bride and groom.

And then we see it in the exchange of a tender glance between Jesus and his mother Mary at the end of the scene, where you see her lips say “thank you”, and Jesus’ little nod and smile acknowledging her.

I look forward to watching more of The Chosen, and seeing how the stories from Jesus’ life come alive in ways I hadn’t noticed before.

Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana is the first recorded miracle of Jesus in the Bible.  It happened before he did any healings, or walked on water or made a meal for 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and a handful of fishes.

In John’s gospel, there are seven recorded miracles of Jesus, and as we talked about in the Children’s Time, John doesn’t call them miracles like Matthew, Mark and Luke do.  Instead, John calls these miracles “signs”.

Signs, things that point to something beyond, something greater than the sign itself.

Water to wine, walking on water, feeding the multitudes, the healings, the raising people from the dead, these are all signs of something greater that Jesus was going to do.

In Jesus’ day, Jewish people would have heard in the wine miracle an allusion to the future coming of the Messiah.    In the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 25, we see a beautiful vision of this Messiah and the hope of what he will do:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. (Isaiah 25:6)

 One commentator said:

The abundance of fine wine is a symbol of the abundance of joy that awaits not only Israel, but all peoples on the day of God’s salvation.

We as Christians believe that God’s salvation and joy have come with Jesus, just as the Angel told the shepherds in the field:

“I bring you tidings of great joy for all the people, that unto you this day in the city of David has been born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Am I the only one who hears Linus’ voice when I hear that passage?)

The water to wine miracle at Cana is a sign that points to the reality that the Kingdom of God has invaded the world with the coming of Jesus.

It’s a kingdom whose foundation is love:  love of God, love of neighbor, and love of even enemies, with spacious room for forgiveness, and no room for violence, or retaliation or revenge.  This kind of spacious love is what we call grace.

This way of grace-filled love was taught and modeled beautifully by Jesus, and he showed us that this way of loving and living is the way to experience true joy.  But that joy does not come without cost.

It is a joy often born of suffering.  It’s a sacrificial love that ultimately led Jesus to being crucified on a cross.  And that kind of love is so powerful that it cannot be contained by death, as Jesus’ resurrection from the grave shows us.

And Jesus’ resurrection showed the world both then and now that the power of death, and hatred and prejudice and oppression, as strong as they are in the world,

they are overpowered through the nonviolent love of Jesus that bears the fruit of justice and compassion, forgiveness, grace, and joy.

At the wedding in Cana, it says that Jesus’ glory was manifested, and his disciples believed in him.  But that was just a sign pointing to the greater manifestation of Jesus’ glory at his death and his resurrection,

which has led to countless people throughout the centuries believing in him and putting their trust and hope in him.

Is this the real “fine wine” that the wine at the wedding feast was a sign pointing to?

That Jesus’ death and resurrection are the best wine, made with the fruits of sacrificial love, amazing grace and unspeakable joy, none of which the world had ever tasted  before?

This is what author and pastor Brian Zahnd is getting at in his book called “Water to Wine”.   The book is about a sort of mid-life faith crisis that he experienced right when he was in his prime as a successful pastor of a large megachurch in Missouri.

Zahnd came to a point where he had this spiritual crisis, where he realized that something was missing, his faith needed a reboot.  He said he actually had dreams about finding something better that the watered-down Americanized Christianity that he was drinking.

Zahnd said that he learned from vineyard owners that in order to produce good wine the grapes must struggle, they must suffer.  He says,   

The taste of good wine is the taste of struggle and suffering mellowed into beauty. 

There’s a deep truth there that applies to far more than winemaking—it also applies to the formation of the soul…  The great souls grown in the Lord’s vineyard all know what it is to suffer.  American Christianity, on the other hand, is conditioned to avoid suffering at all costs.  But what a cost it is! 

Grape juice Christianity is what is produced by the purveyors of the motivational-seminar, you-can-have-it-all, success-in-life, pop-psychology Christianity.  It’s a children’s drink.  It comes with a straw and it is served in a little cardboard box.

I don’t want to drink that anymore.  I don’t want to serve that anymore.  I want the vintage wine.  The kind of faith marked by mystery, grace, and authenticity.  The kind of Christianity that has the capacity to endlessly fascinate is not produced apart from struggle and suffering. 

It’s the pain of struggle and suffering that confers character and complexity to our faith.

I believe that God’s grace is more than sufficient to carry us and give us joy in the midst of our struggles and suffering. 

We see this grace and joy in the life and witness of Dr. Martin Luther King,  whose lifetime of struggle in working for civil rights, justice and peace we remember tomorrow.

And if we look back on our own lives, I would guess that we can point to times where we felt this unexplainable joy and peace in the midst of a dark time, a time where we struggled in our life.

Maybe that time is now for some of us, in the midst of this pandemic that just keeps hanging around, disrupting our lives and relationships.   But in the midst of it all, maybe you have gotten a taste of this “vintage wine”,

this joy and grace and peace during this pandemic that at times has threatened to suck the life right out of you.

You know what?  I’ve tasted some of this wine just in the past couple of months, as we have walked alongside our new Afghan friends, as we have helped them get settled, as we have gotten acquainted with them and heard some of their stories.

I don’t know about you, but I have been inspired and have experienced joy in seeing how these young adults and children have endured so much suffering,

and overcome so many obstacles and to get to where they are today.  And how they are living not with fear but with gratitude and with hope for the future here in our country.

I want to close by showing a segment that aired on the CBS Evening News with Nora O’Donnell this past Thursday night.  It featured Rukhsar Habibzai, one of the young adults whom we’re getting to know.  Ruk’s is working at Johnny Hsu and Virginia Chin’s dental practice, and is also passionate about cycling.

May Ruk’s story of hope inspire you as it has me and countless others.