Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jesus Is Not Very Spiritual

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 17, 2010
John 2:1-11

The epistle speaks of the Church in the way we’re used to. It is spiritual, heavenly, eternal. We are not of this world, we are citizens of a heavenly Kingdom. The Church and Christianity are spiritual. The Bible says that God is spirit.

But in the Gospel reading for today Jesus isn’t very spiritual. He’s at a wedding. He could have been going around healing people or preaching. When His mom finally convinces Him to take care of the wine situation He does just that. He takes care of the wine situation. They needed more wine and He provided them with that. Sure, He did it in a miraculous fashion, but is there anything especially spiritual about wine? Couldn’t He instead have used this as a moment to teach the happy couple about the more important matters of spiritual and eternal life rather than just having a grand time at the reception?

It is pretty amazing that He took water and turned it into wine. That is not an ordinary thing. So in that sense He is doing a spiritual act. But is it really that big of a deal? Healing people is a big deal. He’s actually helping them, not just giving them a better party just when things were going south.

Perhaps you’ve heard people say that they’re not religious, but they’re deeply spiritual. Maybe you’ve run across people who don’t belong to a church because you don’t have to belong to an institution to have a spiritual walk with God. Maybe the Church seems to you a little too ordinary, not quite as spiritual as you think it ought to be. Perhaps you feel like your walk with Christ has come to the point where the well has run dry, like the wedding where they ran out of wine. What spiritual thing does Christ do here to help us out?

Mary was probably a girl when the Lord blessed her with the gift that is unique among people, giving birth to the Son of God. She, I believe, understood more than anyone else who her Son was. When she was young and had just gone through an amazing series of events in traveling to Bethlehem while pregnant, giving birth to Jesus, witnessing the astonishing things shepherds and wise men were saying about her Son, she quietly kept these things in her heart and pondered them.

The woman who now came to Jesus at the wedding was no longer a young mother but a seasoned one and was going up to Jesus with the problem at hand, they had run out of wine. Jesus, the only one who obeyed the Fourth Commandment perfectly, always honored His mother and was obedient to her. So when He doesn’t comply at the wedding, something’s up. Why was Mary asking Jesus? Why was Jesus telling her that He had nothing to do with the situation? Why did Mary ignore her Son and go to the servants telling them to do whatever Jesus told them to do so that the problem could be solved? Why did Jesus do it? He made a valiant attempt to be spiritual: Mom, My hour has not come. It’s not time yet.

Jesus knows exactly what is going on and does what He came to do. Everything He did in His life and especially His three year Ministry was pointing toward His hour: His suffering and death on the cross. The greatest spiritual act ever accomplished: salvation won for all people.

This was part of that. But how may not be apparent because it seems so unspiritual. Maybe Mary knew what was going on, we know Jesus did. To us saving the day with wine when the party had gone down the tubes seems just what it is on the surface. Not to them, though. They saw what it was that Jesus did. It was a sign. That’s what John tells us. It was a sign, and signs point to things. We know what it is, it’s the cross. It’s His suffering and death and resurrection. It’s His hour.

Though it seems pretty worldly and unspiritual, His changing water into wine is actually very spiritual. In ancient cultures wine was a symbol for joy. Some cultures had gods for just about everything, and you guessed it, there were some that believed that there was a god of wine, one that brings abundant joy. With prophecies from the Old Testament that the hills would flow with wine when the Messiah comes and other cultures with their own religions of wine coming in abundance, here people got a front row seat to one who was bringing about a spectacular thing: wine out of something that’s not wine. Wine from water. And not just wine. A lot of it. And not just a lot of it. The best.

Jesus can appear so very unspiritual until we see that everything He does is for and because of the cross. If being sprinkled with a little water and having words said over you seems a mere ritual and not all that spiritual, look at what Jesus did at a wedding in Cana. He took some ordinary water and did something extraordinary with it. He gave people wine from it. If a little piece of bread and a sip of wine seems like not that spiritual of a meal that we share in, ponder what Christ did when His mom said, “Do whatever He tells you.”

That’s good advice. It’s the most spiritual advice you can get. If Jesus says, “Take and eat,” and “Take and drink,” then do what He tells you. And if all you see and taste is bread and wine, then know—believe—that you are eating and drinking the very Body and Blood of Christ. Know that the one who brought the Messianic age in with jars flowing with wine suffered Himself for His blood to be shed on the cross so that it could flow freely for the sins of the world.

This is what we learn from our Lord Himself: He is not very spiritual. At least, not according to the notion of ‘spiritual’ so many people today have. His religion is not a flight of fancy. What we know and believe does not come from our heart and is not based in emotion. It does not flow from good intentions or the desire to be compassionate to people in offering them what they want or think they need. He does not come to us in our designs of meeting Him in the mountains or sitting in front of the TV watching a televangelist.

He is very earthy. He takes water and turns it into wine. He takes water and gives us the forgiveness of sins in Baptism. He takes bread and wine and comes to us in those very physical, natural, and even mundane things to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith in Holy Communion.

He’s not very spiritual but He sure knows how to deliver to us the eternal spiritual blessings we need. Thank God He does. Amen.


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