Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
John's story of the wedding is not only a supernatural event. It also has significance. "A significance" can be broken down to "a-sign-if-I-can-ce" i.e. A sign if I can see it! The key is the head steward's statement in verse 10, "He has saved the best wine for last!" This is never done. While everyone can still evaluate the quality of one's wine, one serves his best. After a few glasses the cheaper stuff can be introduced without spoiling the party!
We often overlook the significance of these verses, since now days weddings are full of bridezillas etc., we have a slightly different point of view. However, weddings in Jesus day were much happier affairs. They were the beginning of joy of something new and bright. After all Jesus used a wedding to announce his ministry to the world.
In Jesus' day older was better. Ancient wisdom was to be sought after. All golden ages were in the past. Jesus in his first miracle announces God's intention to do a new thing. He will turn convention on its ear. The miraculous production of such an abundance of wine heralds in a new age of joy. The wedding feast of the lamb is foreshadowed in this insignificant wedding in Cana. As wine temporarily enlivens a party, so the coming of the messianic age brings abundant life forever. Jesus' statement to his mother, "My hour has not yet come," tells her that he is on God's timetable and not hers. This first sign (Jn 2:11) points to the climax of all signs where on the cross Jesus bestowed the eternal life. That day in Cana the wine was a foretaste of glory divine. In the joy of a wedding, the source of eternal life was made public for the first time.
His name is Jesus. His mother's advice to the wine stewards that launched Jesus' public ministry is still good advice. "Whatever he says to you, do it!"
Not just eternal life by and by, but fullness of life here and now is Jesus' offer to all who will come unto Him. Kierkegaard's statement about the church reversing this miracle is an indictment against our taking the joy out of life for people who seek to follow Jesus. He said, "Christ turned water into wine, but the church has succeeded in doing something even more difficult: it has turned wine into water." The Gospel is not just a quaint story about an excellent retirement plan! It is a gift from God enabling joy in the midst of the adversities and deprivations of human existence. Jesus' gift in the wedding is joy and hope. All weddings should reflect this joy and hope in celebration of the hope and joy Jesus brought to us.
The church has divided into denominations over the verses in this chapter of 1 Corinthians. Paul is making an assertion that the gift of being able to profess Christ Jesus as Lord is the key gift that the Spirit wants to bring to all fellowship. His words fall upon deaf ears. The impressive gift of speaking in tongues and having another interpret made plain vanilla scripture reading seem blasé. With this new gift one did not have to pour over the texts of the church fathers. One spoke and another interpreted and it was done. Or was it? Paul found the divisive nature of the fellowship at Corinth to be the result of immaturity. He never denies the gifting of the church by our Lord Jesus. He just is appalled that they can't agree that unity is more precious than dramatic pronouncements.
Paul uses three Greek words to describe what God is doing in the church. Charismata is used to refer to various "gifts." Diakonia is used to refer to various services. Energemata is used to refer to various activities. These three taken together reveal the work of the Spirit of God in His church. Together they represent a trinity of evidence confirming the Holy Spirit's presence. One must look beyond just the gifts to see what services and activities God is leading His church to embrace in our world.
In this passage Paul has a Trinitarian representation of God: the Spirit, the Lord, and God.
It is a foreshadowing of how hard it is to speak of God without some delineation of His unity.
In 325 at Nicea the church will choose Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the mysterious Trinitarian understanding of the one God. Paul knew one could not just keep saying God, God, God, etc. and fully communicate Him whom Christ Jesus revealed in His incarnation.
Paul's list is not all-inclusive. He makes no attempt at a systematic catalogue of the Spirit's work. It is a pastor trying to gather up contrary children who love themselves more than others. Unity is defined as a collection of diverse elements collected around a center strong enough to hold them. Jesus is this center for the church. The gifts, services, or even activities are not and cannot be. Paul makes "Jesus is Lord" the bedrock of faith for the Corinthians and for the church for all time. The awareness of what others are feeling trumps the enjoyment of what one might be feeling at the expense of others.
In struggling to be understood, Paul introduces the image of the church as the body of Christ. Many members: one body. In the ancient world the reference to a people as a body was for the purpose of keeping the society stratified. People had to understand their place and stay in it. Paul liberates this image with his words that there is no difference between Greek and Jew, free and slave, male and female in the body of Christ. This is a classic case of a Rabbi taking a teaching that was commonly known and reinvesting it with a new egalitarian meaning.
Weddings are an announcement of joy, a moment of pure joy and hope. We should mention that modern day marriage can almost nullify these moments of joy. We need to point out that Jesus saw such occasions as so joyous he started his second career at a wedding.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Woody owned a boat that sat in his front yard. He had it made. One day his best friend called and asked him to come by the office. Woody's wife had worked for his best friend for over fifteen years. He shut the door and said, "Woody, Gloria has been embezzling money from my company. I figure she has taken about $90,000. In honor of our friendship I do not want to send her to jail. I have told her I would be talking to you and that she would not be able to return to our offices. I just want my money back and this will be over." Woody assured him that he would replace the money. He went home and sold his bass boat. He went to the bank and borrowed against his paid-for house. Woody asked God to let him live another fifteen years to see the debt paid off. He forgave Gloria and went back to work in earnest. Woody only lived another eight years. He worked hard all eight of them. When he died there was only one memorial given to the church in his memory. It was from Gloria and it read, "In loving memory of the one who covered all my sins with his love."
Lieutenant John Blanchard, a soldier in basic training in Florida during W.W.II, wandered into a post library and found a book to read. He was captured by the margin notes, so he looked in the flyleaf and saw the book had belonged to Miss Holly Maynell. He did some snooping and found her address in New York. He was shipped overseas the next week. He took a chance and wrote her a letter telling her about how he found her name in the book. For thirteen months they corresponded and opened their souls to each other. He asked for a picture, but she said if he loved her it would not matter what she looked like and refused to send one. Finally, the day came; they were to meet in Grand Central Station. Hollis wrote, "You'll recognize me by the red rose I'll be wearing on my lapel. In John's own words this is what happened, "A young woman was coming toward me, beautiful, trim, blonde, eyes were as blue as flowers, and in her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive. I started toward her forgetting that she was not wearing the rose...and then I saw Hollis Maynell! She was standing behind the girl. A woman with graying hair. BUT she wore a red rose on the rumpled brown lapel of her coat. I had been attracted by her spirit, so I approached her. There she stood, her face was gentle and sensible, and her gray eyes had a twinkle. I didn't hesitate. My hand gripped the small worn blue leather book which was to identify me to her. I squared my shoulders and saluted and held out the book to the woman even while choking back the bitterness of disappointment. 'I'm John Blanchard and you must be Miss Maynell. I am so glad to meet you; may I take you to dinner?' The woman's face broadened into a smile. 'I don't know what this is about, son, but the young lady in the green suit who just went by, asked me to wear this rose. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should tell you that she is waiting for you in the large restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test!'"
Moses Mendelssohn, the grandfather of the well-known German composer, was not handsome. He had a grotesque hunchback. He fell hopelessly in love from a distance with a merchant's daughter, Frumtje, who was a vision of loveliness. She was repulsed by his appearance. One day he gathered his courage and approached her. He said, "Do you believe marriages are made in heaven?" "Yes," she answered looking at the floor, "And do you?" "Yes, I do," he replied, "You see, in heaven at the birth of each boy, the Lord announces which girl he shall marry. When I was born, my future bride was pointed out to me. Then the Lord added, 'But your wife will be humpbacked.' Right then and there I called out, 'Oh Lord, a humpbacked woman would be a tragedy. Please, lord, give me the hump and let her be beautiful.'" Then Frumtje looked up into his eyes and was stirred by some deep memory. She reached out and gave him her hand and became his devoted wife, the grandmother of the great Mendelssohn. (Barry & Joyce Vissell, Chicken Soup for the Soul [Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.,1993]
"Til death do us part" is the key phrase in the marriage vows. All others find their place beneath this banner. It is Paul's great confession in the last half of the eighth chapter of the book of Romans, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus," that is reflected in the vow. To proclaim to love another person as deeply, profoundly, and permanently as God has loved us is the only way to begin a relationship in which one's life is not more important than the life of one's beloved. The gift of oneself was first God's idea in Jesus Christ. It is the only gift that matters, and all other gifts find their value under its banner.
In the Jack Nicholson film About Schmidt, the best wedding gift is the father of the bride's decision not to spoil things by giving vent to his certainty that his daughter has made the wrong choice of a mate. Earlier, when Jeannie had brought her fiancé, Randall, to meet her intended, Schmidt was totally underwhelmed by the young man. The occasion was the funeral of Warren's wife, Jeannie's mother, and even then, Randall had approached him about investing in a hair-brained scheme to make money. Jeannie refuses to listen to her father's pleas to turn away from the lout. She returns to Randall's home in Denver where she continues her wedding plans. Warren decides to travel west in the recreational vehicle he and his wife had purchased. He vows to disrupt the wedding somehow. After a series of mishaps along the way, and some further ones with Randall's strange mother, Warren does not find the opportune moment to foil his daughter's plans. The wedding takes place without a hitch, and the moment arrives at the reception for the father of the bride to give the toast/speech. We wait for his words of denunciation, but instead, he offers gracious words of support and good wishes. Even though he (and we) are certain that Jeannie has made the wrong choice, he refuses to spoil her precious moment, but instead offers his good wishes for their happiness. Because he has not burned the bridge connecting him to his daughter, we know that he will be on hand, when and if her marriage fails, so that he can offer any needed comfort and support.
It took just fifteen minutes for Dorothy Frances Gurney to write the hymn that has probably been used in more English and North American weddings than any other through the years. It was in 1883 that her sister was to be married. The family was singing a hymn when, according to Dorothy Frances Blomfield, as she was known before, she herself married, someone said that it is a pity the words of the hymn were not suitable for a wedding. Her sister turned to Dorothy and challenged her (she had written many poems) to write new words for her. Excusing herself to the library and asking not to be disturbed, Dorothy came up with the words for "O Perfect Love," and rejoined the others, who sang the hymn for the first time. Quite a wedding gift! Christ is addressed as the embodiment of the perfect love and the perfect life, which those present pray, will be the destiny for the couple pledging their troth to each other. The prayer continues with the plea that they will be granted joy and peace that will take them through their lives to the dawning of heaven.
'Try saying this silently to everyone and everything you see for thirty days: 'I wish you happiness now and whatever will bring happiness to you in the future.' If we said it to the sky, we would have to stop polluting; if we said it when we see ponds and lakes and streams, we would have to stop using them as garbage dumps and sewers; if we said it to small children, we would have to stop abusing them, even in the name of training; if we said it to people, we would have to stop stoking the fires of enmity around us. Beauty and human warmth would take root in us like a clear, hot June day. We would change. (Wishing Happiness, Joan Chittister)
To love at all is to be vulnerable. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
Wedding ceremonies don't always turn out the way they're planned. In August a young couple was all set to get married at an Episcopal church in Pittsburgh. But at 4:00 p.m., the designated time for the start of the service, the bride was sitting out by the curb in an air-conditioned limousine while her 200 guests sat and sweated as inside in the pews waiting for the service to get underway. The problem was not that the bride or groom had gotten cold feet. Rather the problem was that the organist had failed to show up. But 20 minutes after the appointed hour, the father of the bride went outside and told his daughter that they really needed to go ahead and start the wedding whether the organist was there or not. So, the bride reluctantly made her way down the aisle. Yet as she started into the sanctuary, she heard some humming. A woman in the back row had started to hum the tune "Here Comes the Bride." As she continued to make her way further down the aisle, other guests picked up on the idea and began to hum the tune as well, until eventually the whole sanctuary resounded with the melody. Following the final benediction, the couple was pleasantly surprised to discover that they didn't have to leave the sanctuary amid the sound of humming. Rather the powerful pipe organ suddenly burst forth with "Ode to Joy." While the service had been going on, a friend of the groom had gone out on the streets and had been frantically asking passersby if they knew how to play the organ. It turned out that one person he talked to said that he did play. Although the stranger was dressed only in shorts and a t-shirt, he agreed to help the couple out. He quietly made his way up to the console in the balcony and was ready to play his piece the moment the service was over.
An early version of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution read: "All persons are equal before the law so that no person can hold another as slave." But some legislators feared that the language was too strong and would have the unintended effect of granting equality to women. The lawmakers then revised the wording to do their best to make sure that the husband's rights over his wife were not challenged. Historians say that the American tradition of viewing marriage primarily as a legal contract derives from the Protestant understanding of marriage, while Catholics have tended to stress the church's control over marriage, understanding marriage to be a sacrament. It was not until a 1967 Supreme Court ruling that laws prohibiting interracial marriages were officially nullified.
Some wedding celebrations get entirely out of hand. In fact, "wedding rage" is beginning to enter the public's vocabulary much in the same way that "road rage" has become a familiar term. During this past July and August, at least three different weddings made the news for the brawls that broke out. In each of those cases, members of the wedding parties were arrested and taken away to jail. Those incidents occurred in Cleveland, Ohio, South Windsor, Connecticut, and Gainesville, Florida. A psychologist in Oregon observes: "A wedding is very stressful, and the bride and groom want everything to be perfect. It doesn't take much to push them over the top." A fight broke out at a wedding reception in New Jersey when some friends of the groom showed up who had not been invited because the bride did not like them. But they showed up anyway, wearing jeans and Harley Davidson T-shirts. Security personnel eventually had to break up the pushing, shoving, and yelling that ensued. Another couple in Missouri got into such a heated argument with each other during the photographing after the service that, at the reception, they refused to talk to each other.
Beginning at the time of the Civil War and continuing until recent times, the divorce rate has increased every decade. The rate particularly accelerated starting in the mid-1960s. The divorce rate started to level off again during the 1980s, but sociologists theorize that is not due to an increase in marital stability. Rather it merely reflected the fact that baby boomers, the demographic group that was most likely to divorce, were starting to get older and thus had passed through the point in their lives where they married and divorced. Approximately half of all marriages that took place in the 1980s in the United States ended in divorce.
Marriage is not something that should be entered lightly. When John Wesley traveled through Georgia, he had a infatuation for a young woman named Sophy Hopkey. He struggled with trying to decide whether she was the one whom he was meant to share the rest of his life with. Eventually Wesley did what many people at that time did to make important decisions-he cast lots. He marked three lots: "Marry," "Think Not This Year," and "Think Of It No More." He ended up drawing the third of those lots and proceeded to break off his relationship with her.
The Trinity Baptist Church in Renton, Washington, stresses the seriousness of the commitment that is involved in marriage. The church also seeks to help couples recognize how special that union is. As a way of helping young people to prepare for marriage, the church advises couples to set limits on their relationship, to establish bounds with each other that they will not cross prior to their wedding day. As a result, it is not uncommon for couples to wait and share their first kiss on their wedding day. That is the case for about 1/3 of the couples who get married at that church. The pastor of the church says that the overwhelming majority of couples he works with-as many as four out of five-commit to do nothing physical between themselves besides kissing and holding hands until after they are married. Nationwide more than half of all couples live together before they are married, according to the National Marriage Project, a research organization at Rutgers University.
A professor at the University of Washington says that he has developed a mathematical formula that is able to predict with great accuracy if a couple will have a happy marriage. Professor James Murray claims that his two equations have a 94% success rate in determining if a couple will stay together or not. Couples are evaluated on their ability to communicate about subjects like sex, child-rearing, and money. They are given positive points for good signals, such as smiles and affectionate gestures, and they are assessed negative points for bad signals, such as rolling the eyes and coldness. The results of that assessment are then plugged into the professor's formula, and he is instantly able to offer his prediction for the couple's future.
Getting married can be an expensive proposition. In Shanghai nowadays the average couple spends about eight years' worth of salary to set up a household together. The average cost of getting married in Shanghai is $18,000, but the typical worker makes only about $184 a month. The run-up in expense is mainly due to the increasingly materialistic nature of those wanting to get married these days. In the past, most couples there were satisfied to get a new bicycle and a new radio when they wed. Now many couples expect to purchase a new apartment, a luxury wedding reception, an exotic honeymoon, and all new appliances. Prior to the 1970s all a couple had to own in order to have their marriage approved by the government were a bicycle, a radio, and some furniture.
A minister was officiating at a wedding for a couple that were not exactly regular churchgoers. At the conclusion of the service, as the minister prepared to pronounce the benediction, he raised his right hand in the direction of the bride and groom. The groom was a bit puzzled by that, but then he suddenly thought he knew what was going on-he thought the minister wanted to give him a "high five." A few seconds later the bride raised her hand and gave the minister a high five as well, to the complete puzzlement of the clergyman.
Marriage is an act whereby a person agrees to move from self-love to love for another person. Last year an artist in the Netherlands, however, decided that the person she most wanted to marry was herself. The 29-year-old wore a wedding dress as a local alderman in the city of Harlem officiated, although the wedding will not be recorded in the city's official archives. The young woman thought a wedding was appropriate to symbolize the way she had brought together the emotional and business sides of her personality. Following the ceremony, she vowed never to divorce herself.
In many people's eyes, marriage is not as important as it used to be. A recent Gallup Poll found that half of all Americans believe it is morally acceptable to have a baby outside of marriage. Fifty-one percent said that out-of-wedlock births are morally acceptable, compared to 46% who say that it is morally wrong. When church-attending habits were taken into account, the results were quite dramatically different. Of those who say they attend church weekly, only 26% agreed that out-of-wedlock births are morally acceptable. In contrast, 71% of those who say they seldom or never attend church agreed with that statement. The poll of 1,005 adults was conducted in May of 2003.
Who is supposed to pay for a wedding? The old tradition said that the bride's family normally paid for it. But that tradition has been changing. A couple in Kansas City, Missouri, came up with a rather creative way of paying for their wedding. They sought sponsorships for the event. When the couple realized how much money the wedding and reception would cost, they began contacting various businesses to see if they would be interested in supplying items for the wedding in return for advertising at their wedding to acknowledge their sponsorship. So far two companies have offered to supply wedding rings. By the time the wedding comes in June, they hope that most of the items they need will be supplied by various businesses in the area.
The Second Baptist Church in Houston came up with a rather creative way of advertising a new sermon series last year. Along a prominent highway the church rented a billboard and posted the following message: "www.MyBadMarriage.com." When intrigued motorists went home and logged on to the site, they discovered information about a forthcoming series of sermons on marriage that would be taking place at the church. The site also included an interactive poll and biblical information about the meaning of marriage. While the billboard was up, the web site received more than one million hits.
Love in a marriage is a love that is meant to never end. Likewise, some couples in Trondheim, Norway, also seem to have a love that just won't end. St. Olav's Hospital there recently added a new lane of traffic in front of their building. They discovered that traffic was becoming congested because when people would drop their spouse off in front of the hospital, they would often sit together in the car kissing for several minutes before the spouse would get out of the car. All the while traffic would back up and cause quite a mess. Now one lane is designated for those who want to kiss their spouse good-bye, while the other lane is reserved for non-kissers.
The Church of England is trying to encourage people to get married in church. To communicate that message, the Church participated for the first time this past summer in Britain's National Wedding Show, a trade exposition for those who are planning their upcoming nuptials. The Church of England boasts 16,000 churches and chapels throughout the nation, many of which, church leaders claim, are quite beautiful places for wedding ceremonies to take place. Ever since the government relaxed the laws governing marriage ceremonies in the mid-1990s, fewer and fewer people have been turning to the church to be married there. Instead many couples are opting to get married on the London Eye, the immense Ferris wheel along the Thames, or they head off to some beach for the service, with some even participating in underwater weddings. About a half million people get married each year in Britain, with only about 180,000 choosing to have their service at a church.
Many weddings in Somalia are now being conducted in the morning. Reuters (9/12/03) reports that a widespread problem in that African country is gate crashers. During many wedding receptions, gangs of people attempt to enter the festivities, mainly to steal money and gifts that have been brought as presents for the couple. Apparently the thinking is that most thieves aren't early risers, and so newly married couples do their celebrating before the criminals get out of bed.
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: God's steadfast love extends to the heavens, God's faithfulness to the clouds.
People: God's righteousness is like the mighty mountains, his judgments are like the great deep.
Leader: God is the one who saves humans and animals alike.
All: Therefore, we will, praise the Lord and sing of his steadfast love!
Leader: Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want You to be uninformed. You know that when You were pagans, You were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.
People: Dear God, we confess that we still follow pagan ways, at times seeking success at the cost of integrity; of judging others by preconceived notions; of denying or disparaging the gifts of others; and engaging in actions that disrupt the unity to which Christ calls is. Forgive us and renew us by Your Spirit.
A moment of silent confession.
Leader: My friends, hear the Good News: in Jesus Christ God forgives us!
All: Therefore, we will give thanks to our gracious God and seek to live lives worthy of our calling.
Gracious and accepting God, each week we stand before You and offer our gifts, no not "our" gifts, but yours, because we know that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." Accept them, even as in Christ You have accepted us. Amen.
O God, we thank You for the gift of the church, the body of Christ. Your apostle Paul called the church "the bride of Christ, " so we know You call us into a close, intimate fellowship. Today this metaphor for the church might not be as powerful as in days of old, because we live in an age which pays lip service to marriage, but regards it as a matter of convenience, a contract rather than a commitment, one which can easily be terminated. Help all those who have chosen to marry to reflect upon and honor their vows at a deeper level than before. And help us all-married and unmarried, young and old-to see that we are married to You, a covenant relationship established through the blood of Your son on the cross. In our baptism into this community we have begun our journey of intimacy, one fraught with many victories and defeats. Intimacy is difficult for us, and so we ask for Your grace, that we might remove our masks at times and truly be open and honest with one another. Help us to seek opportunities in this congregation to grow closer together in study and service. We pray not only for ourselves and our church, but for the world that has not yet accepted Your covenant of love. Be with those who war against one another and themselves, that they might find that peace of Christ "which passes all understanding." Guide our Leaders and all members of our government, that our world might seek those things, which make for peace. This, and much more, we pray in the name of the Christ, who is Jesus our Lord. Amen.