Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
(Prunes will be substituted for strawberries.)
Strawberries are the principle crop of a rural community in California. For years, at harvest, they held a huge celebration and raised a banner across Main Street with the first two lines above boldly printed on it. Then one year, the crop was all but ruined by torrential rains and the community was forced to add the third line to their banner. I don’t know how it strikes you, but I would be disappointed with the change.
The Gospel lesson for Sunday tells of a much more exciting change at another festival in another small community. Rather than going from something good to something not so exciting, Jesus went from the ordinary (water) to something festive (wine). The wedding guests at Cana clearly see it as a change for the better! In his account of the Gospel, John constructs his story of Jesus’ ministry around seven signs. Changing water into wine is the first and changing death to life is the last. John presents Jesus Himself as a change for the better. The “water” of Law is changed into the “wine” of the Gospel.
This story is a preacher’s delight. It is filled with images around which many a sermon has been built. John begins with the words, “On the third day,” reminiscent of the resurrection. A wedding feast is not only the standard symbol in both Testaments for the banquet at the end of time, but is also one of Jesus’ favorite images for the Kingdom of God. Wine is the conveyor of the blood of the New Covenant shed for the forgiveness of sins.
John brings this all together in his first story of Jesus revealing Himself to the world. It heralds a change for the better: the old to the new, the lifelessness of law to the liveliness of the Gospel, the ordinary to the extraordinary, the uninteresting to the exciting.
Someone once said that the only thing permanent is change. All we have to do is look around us to see all kinds of evidence. In our small galaxy, 100 billion stars change position at the speed of light. The economy in general and the stock market in particular make a giant roller coaster look more like the surface of a billiard table. The cells of our bodies die at an incredible rate and are replaced even faster until aging reverses the process. Depending on how fast you read, hundreds of people will die as you read this devotion. Slightly more will be born.
Change is usually unnerving. Most people tend to resist it and some always do. There is good reason for this. Medical science is at the same time lengthening life and multiplying the problems of the elderly. We love to see children mature and grow up, but we hate to see them lose their sparkle and spontaneity or leave home. America has increased knowledge and technology until we have the capacity to feed the world or destroy it.
One of the reasons why people resist change is that while Jesus might be changing water into wine, others are busy trying to change it back into water. The little child bursts forth one day into the beautiful wonders of language and the slightly older child waters it down to profanity. One person fights for freedom from puritanical oppression and others ruin freedom with license.
The trouble with resisting change, however, is that the current status quo is simply the leftover of someone else’s change. We are no more likely, and often less likely, to “stay for the better” than change for it. Hundreds of years ago, the quill penmen of Paris rioted against the introduction of the printing press. A Danzig mob drowned the inventor of a weaving loom in 1661. Bargemen on the Fulda River destroyed Dennis Papin’s steamboat in 1707 and set steam propulsion in ships back almost 100 years.
My approach to change (which will come as no surprise to most of you) is one of faith. I believe that God is still creating and that God’s changes are always for the best. He only wants what is best for us and when our lives are attuned to His will, the changes will be exhilarating. After all, Jesus didn’t go to all the trouble to come to the world in order to change water into wine. He came to change sinners into saints, fishermen into fishers of men, Saul into Paul, evil into good, fear into faith, hate into love and Good Friday into Easter!
It may surprise you, however, to know that even in ancient history the highest form of alchemy was not changing lead into gold but changing the ordinary stuff of humanity into something precious. It cannot be done by chemistry or contemplation, physics or metaphysics. It is the action of God in the Means of Grace. Through the Gospel and the Sacraments, Jesus still changes the water of humanity into the wine of the children of God.
Yet, I look around and see so many people held captive by the ordinary and everyday. Their biggest thrill in life is a better than average TV program, a bonus check, a bigger than average fish on the line or a big victory by their favorite team.
Some are even members of churches, but the wedding feast of life has been lost to the morning after, with stale smells and drooping decorations. Their relationship with Christ and His Church–once a celebration of life–is lost. In its place is a watered-down insurance against death. The trouble with such water is that it sustains life enough to delude them into thinking they are living. The “wine” is lost and, sadly, so are many people.
I look at the church in the world–the greatest enterprise on the face of the earth–and I see how it is easier to change water into wine than people-on-dead-center into people on the move. I look at most congregations and what I see isn’t bad, but then neither is water. I see enough people at a worship service to warrant having one, enough new disciples to keep the church from being extinct in a generation, enough students to warrant a Sunday school, enough effort at serving others to warrant the occasional notice of the local news, enough money to pay the bills.
I yearn for the wedding feast where everyone is compelled to come in and celebrate, with a new wedding garment and a recreated, plentiful supply of festive wine waiting for them. I envision new disciples coming in a steady stream, celebrative worshipers packing the house, children hungering for the Word of Life. The hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the lonely are visited and the biggest money problem is the exhilarating decision about whom we help next.
When I ask, “Why this…and not that?” I already know the answer. You can lead a sinner to the “wine” of the Gospel, but you cannot make him drink. Yet, I believe God has given His Son to change sinners into saints. I believe Jesus gave His life on a heinous cross and rose in victory to make it possible. He gives gifts and talents to people to change the water of life into the wine of His Kingdom. He has given us the ability to change the world.