Sunday, January 29, 2023

Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord - Mt 17:1-9



                                                                                      Mt 17:1-9



          The moon is the brightest object in the night sky.  Depending what phase it is in, the moon can provide real illumination at night.  It is so significant that military planners have historically taken the phase of the moon into account when developing operations.  Whenever possible, night missions have been planned for the least illumination possible from the moon.

          While the moon can provide light at night, we recognize that it doesn’t do this on its own.  Instead, it simply reflects light that is coming from the sun.  It isn’t truly a source of light, but rather it derives its light from another source.

          In our Old Testament lesson this morning, we hear about how Moses’ face shines with the radiance of the divine glory after he interacts with Yahweh.  It is a sight that frightens the Israelites. While this is impressive, in our Gospel lesson for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord we hear about how Jesus’ face shines like the sun. There is nothing reflected here, but instead Jesus’ divine nature is the source of the radiance.

          Our Old Testament lesson picks up just after the Golden Calf incident. While Moses was on Mt Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments and the instruction of the Torah, the people came to Aaron and said, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

          Aaron used their gold to make a golden calf, and the Israelites began to worship it.  Moses returned from the mountain, and when he found the scene he threw down the stone tablets and broke them. By this action he showed that Israel had broken the covenant.  Yahweh was ready to destroy Israel and start over with Moses, but Moses interceded for the people and God relented from destroying the nation.

          Moses had returned to the top of Mt. Sinai as Yahweh reestablished the covenant with Israel.  He wrote on a new set of stone tablets, and then Moses came down the mountain to the people.  Our text tells us, “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”  Moses had been in the presence of God and the radiance of the divine glory continued to be reflected in his skin, even after he left God’s presence.

          Moses’ face shone with divine brilliance and Aaron and all the people were frightened by the sight.  When Moses recognized what was happening he began the practice of wearing a veil after he had been speaking with God, and went to speak to the people.  We learn from the end of Deuteronomy that Moses spoke with God in a way that no one else did – he spoke face to face with Yahweh – and his shining face demonstrated this.

          This background is important for understanding our Lord’s transfiguration and Peter’s response to it.  In the Gospel lesson we learn that Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a high mountain by themselves. Matthew tells us, “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” 

          At Christmas we celebrated the incarnation of the Son of God.  God the Father sent forth the Son into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary.  The Son of God – the Second Person of the Trinity – took on humanity without ceasing to be God.  During the season of Epiphany we have contemplated how the saving glory of Christ was revealed through his miracles. Today, we see the divine glory of Jesus revealed directly as his face shines like the sun and his clothes are as white as light.

          Jesus shone in divine glory, and something else remarkable happened as Moses and Elijah appeared to the disciples and were talking with Jesus.  Moses and Elijah were the two greatest prophets of the Old Testament- both had done mighty works. They were both also associated with the end times.

          Caught up in the moment, Peter said, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  The problem with this statement was that it seemed to place Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. Yet as we have seen, Jesus’ face shone for an entirely different reason.

          In our Old Testament lesson, Moses’ face shines with the derived glory of Yahweh.  But in the Transfiguration, Jesus Christ shines with the innate glory of God himself.  Jesus is God in the flesh. In the personal union the divine and human natures were joined together.  Jesus’ face shines like the sun because he is God, not because he has been with God.

          Peter was still speaking when God the Father acted to show how wrong the apostle was to put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah.  We learn that a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  The Father identified Jesus as his Son, and directed the disciples’ attention to him.

          The disciples fell on their faces terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” When they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain the Lord commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

          The reference to Jesus’ death helps us to understand the meaning of Jesus’ transfiguration.  The Gospel lesson begins with the words, “And after six days.”  This specific time reference is very unusual in Matthew’s Gospel, and calls our attention to what has preceded.  In the previous chapter, Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

          Next Matthew tells us, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Peter had just correctly confessed that Jesus is the Christ.  And now Jesus says that he is going to be killed. This was too much for Peter.  Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

          In the Gospel lesson we hear words that should sound familiar. We heard them on the first Sunday after the Epiphany when we celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord. After Jesus had been baptized, the Spirit descended on Jesus and God the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  These words were taken from Isaiah chapter forty two and designated Jesus as the Servant of the Lord.  We saw that this was Jesus taking our place and beginning his course as the Suffering Servant who would die for our sins.

          Now, Jesus has told his disciples that he is going to suffer and die. This is not what the disciples expect of the Messiah.  If fact, it sounds like the exact opposite of what a Messiah should be. Peter’s response illustrates this in a dramatic way. 

          The transfiguration of Jesus holds together two seemingly opposite realities.  On the one hand, Jesus has spoken about suffering and death.  On the other hand, Jesus stands on the mountain and reveals his divine glory.  The transfiguration teaches us that the these are not contradictory.

          Jesus has taken on the role of the suffering Servant.  He journeys to the cross of Good Friday to offer himself as the sacrifice for our sin.  Only in this way can we be reconciled to God.  Christ will suffer and die. But this will not be the end.  As our Lord tells the disciples after the transfiguration, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”  The death of Jesus Christ leads to his resurrection on the third day.  It leads to the day when Jesus’ flesh is transformed so that it can never die again. It leads to the resurrection that vindicates Jesus – the resurrection that is the beginning of our own resurrection.

          What is true of Jesus is also true of those who believe in him.  After predicting his own death, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Our Lord says that those who believe in him will suffer. They will even be killed.  But this is not failure or defeat.  Instead, the risen Lord is the guarantee that the way of the cross leads to life as we share in our Lord’s resurrection.

          Suffering and death. Glory and exaltation. These are not contradictory for Christ, and so they are not for those who have been baptized into Christ. The presence of the former is not a denial of the latter.  This is true as well in the experience of our daily life. When we encounter loss and sorrow, this does not mean that God’s love and care is absent.  Instead, in Christ’s resurrection we find the presence of God’s love.  In Christ we find the living hope, for we know that he has already been exalted in glory as he rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God.

         Our Lord – the risen One – has promised that he will sustain us in faith through his gifts of the Means of Grace.  He will support us so that we can continue to believe and trust in him.  He, the risen Lord, is the reason that we can trust and believe in God. The glory of his transfiguration points to the glory of his resurrection.  The One who died on the cross to give us forgiveness, rose from the dead on Easter. We who have shared in his death through baptism, will also share in his resurrection. Nothing that we experience in the present can change this fact. The risen Lord’s saving glory continues to revealed to us through his Word and his Sacraments. He is present for us now, and we keep our eyes fixed on him, because his glory will be ours on the Last Day.







Sunday, January 22, 2023

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany - Rom 1:8-17


Epiphany 3

                                                                                      Rom 1:8-17



          How do you feel when someone contacts you, and asks you to support something through your contributions?  It happens all the time via mail, email, and phone calls.  In truth, we are inundated with such appeals. That is true just in the Church. There are so many different ministries and mission efforts that you can never support them all.

          And then when you move outside the Church, there are even more causes that want your support.  These take in every aspect of life as we are asked to support groups that work for health, political groups, and groups that address any number of social problems. Again there are so many causes – many of them certainly worthy – that you can never support them all.  However, watch out.  If you send a contribution to a group just once, you will never cease to hear from them.

          I mention this because as we listen to our text this morning, we are hearing Paul ask the Romans for mission support.  We think of Romans as being one of the great statements about the Gospel and the Christian faith. While it is that, in practical terms it is also Paul asking the Romans to support him in his future missionary efforts.

          Unlike the churches in major cities like Corinth, Philippi, and Ephesus, Paul had not founded the church in Rome.  In fact we don’t know who first brought the Gospel to the heart of the Roman empire.  There was so much travel to the capital of the Empire, that it is not surprising that quite soon there were groups of Christians gathered in that city which was one of the largest in the ancient world. 

Paul begins our text and opens the letter with his typical thanksgiving as he writes, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.”  It was indeed a big deal that the faith in Jesus Christ was present in Rome. Then Paul goes on to speak about his prayer for the Romans – prayer that immediately includes his hope to come to Rome. The apostle writes, “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.”

Paul was the apostle of Jesus Christ – the authorized representative of the risen Lord.  He brought something unique  - he wasn’t just any other Christian.  So Paul goes on to say that his presence will benefit the Romans – even as he then immediately qualifies this by granting that he will be blessed by them too.  He writes, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you-- that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine.”

We learn later in the letter, that Paul’s goal was to pursue mission work in Spain which was an important area in the western part of the Empire. This is the work in which he hopes that the Christians in Rome will be able to assist him.  Yet at the same time, Paul looks forward to preaching the Gospel in Rome. He tells them, “I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.”

This leads Paul to comment on his charge as an apostle to the Gentiles – to those who are not Jewish.  He states, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” 

When the apostle talks about Greeks and barbarians, he is referring to the way that Gentiles looked at the world.  Greek culture had spread throughout the Mediterranean world from the time of Alexander the Great at the end of the fourth century B.C. Those who were part of this culture considered themselves to be superior to those who are not – the barbarians as they called them.  Yet Paul says he is obligated to all: Greeks and barbarians – to those who are considered wise and those who are not.

Paul is eager to preach the Gospel in Rome.  In our text he goes on to explain why this is so.  He states, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” 

The apostle declares that he is not ashamed of the Gospel.  It is helpful to pause and consider why he says this. Why might someone be ashamed of it?  Well for starters, the Gospel is the proclamation that a Jew who was crucified is the Lord of all.  Gentiles looked down upon Jews as being an odd group of people with their circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath observance.  Yet the Gospel wasn’t just about a Jew. Jesus had died the death of a criminal. And he hadn’t just been executed.  He had been crucified.  He died in the most pathetic and humiliating way possible – something considered so horrific that polite society didn’t even mention it.

Jesus had been crucified.  Yet now the apostles were proclaiming that Jesus was Lord. This was the same word that was used to refer to the Roman Emperor.  There could be no greater contrast than between the most powerful man in their world and a Jew who had been crucified. To proclaim Christ crucified as Lord was foolishness to the world. Paul freely admitted to the Corinthians, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The message of the Gospel might sound foolish to the world.  But in this case, appearances were deceiving.  Paul goes on explain why he is not ashamed as he says, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  In the Gospel there is the power of God that gives salvation – a salvation received by all who believe.  This salvation is certainly intended first for the descendants of God’s covenant people, Israel. But it also includes the Gentiles – it includes you.

In the last verse of our text, Paul explains why the Gospel is the power of God for salvation.  He says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”  The righteousness of God is God’s saving action to put all things right. The apostle says that it is revealed.  The word used here is the source of our word “apocalypse.” Paul declares that in Jesus Christ, God’s saving action has burst onto the scene.  It has been revealed by God because it was his action in Christ, and now he makes it known through the proclamation of the Gospel.

This saving action of God was necessary because of our sin.  Paul explains in chapter five that sin and death spread from Adam to all people.  He says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” It is sin that rules the lives of all people, for the apostle says in chapter three “that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.”

Because that was our situation, the righteousness of God was revealed.  God acted in his Son Jesus Christ.   The apostle went on to say, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  God acted to justify us – to declare us righteous and innocent.  He did this by giving Jesus Christ as the atoning sacrifice that removed sin. By his death on the cross, Jesus won forgiveness for us.

Paul says that he is not ashamed of the Gospel.  This is a word that we need to hear because the world around us today heaps scorn upon the Christian faith.  We are told that there is no such thing as truth – an ultimate objective standard – according to which God can judge us.  Let’s face it, popular culture considers the Gospel to be a fairy tale – they think it is nonsense.  The world bristles when we proclaim Christ as the only way to salvation and fellowship with God.

Yet Paul says that he is not ashamed.  He is not ashamed because he met the risen Lord.  Paul thought it was all folly – until the risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus.  He wasn’t alone. The brothers of Jesus, such as James, didn’t believe in Jesus during his ministry. But when the crucified Lord appeared to them, they became missionaries and martyrs for Christ.

We are not ashamed of the Gospel because we believe in the risen Lord. We have faith in Jesus – we trust and believe in him. The power of God’s salvation is received by faith and faith alone, because faith leaves God in charge.  Forgiveness and salvation are received by God’s grace. They are a gift.  There is nothing that we can do. God has given us the promise in Christ, and so we simply receive the promise in faith. It is received by faith from beginning to end.

Paul says in our text, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  The apostle calls us to confident faith because it is faith in the crucified and risen Lord.  

He urges us to confess Christ because in this way we receive the saving power of God. Paul says in chapter ten,  if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” And then he adds, For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’”  Those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord will not be ashamed because on the Last Day the Lord Jesus will raise them from the dead. They will stand before the judgment seat of God and hear the verdict that they are righteous and holy in his eye because of faith in Jesus Christ. 












Friday, January 20, 2023

Genna Biermann funeral sermon - Rom 8:31-39


Genna Biermann funeral

                                                                            Rom 8:31-39



          The first time I met Genna Biermann in the summer of 2006, she had dreadlocks.  The Biermann’s had just returned from a vacation in Jamaica, and her hair was stilled styled from her time there.  It did make an “interesting” first impression, and Genna commented on this in laughter at that time.  As I look back, it just fit because Genna Biermann was a fun loving person who was not concerned about trying to impress other people.

          Genna was simply a wonderful individual, and that is why losing her is so sad for so many.  She was a loving and faithful wife as she and Dan shared life together.  In a true a case of opposites attract, their personalities complemented each other, and they loved spending time together.

          Genna was a dedicated mother and grandmother.  She was a blessing to both her children and grandchildren.  Her involvement in their lives and the time they got to spend with her was something that enriched all.

          Genna was an outstanding teacher. Her own love of learning never ended – in the summer she was always working on some scientific project or opportunity for learning. This translated into the deep interest she took in her students and the way she taught them. My own son will be pursuing a career in science, and Genna played a very important role in guiding him on that path.

          More than anything, Genna Biermann was a remarkable woman of faith.  Genna joked that Dan brought her into the Lutheran church kicking and screaming. But once here she embraced the biblical teachings as her own, and was eager to talk about them with anyone.  Genna trusted in the Lord and the Gospel absolutely.  Her witness to faith in Christ in the face of imminent death was moving. We should all hope to have such deep and profound faith.

          In one of my last visits with Genna, she charged me with preaching the Gospel at her funeral.  That I will certainly do.  But as a Lutheran, Genna also knew the importance of distinguishing Law and Gospel.  She knew that the Law prepares us for the Gospel.  Sadly, this morning Genna herself is the illustration of Law.

          Genna Biermann has died. I do not understand why she died so young.  Only God knows that.  But I know why she died.  She didn’t die because of the cancer that spread through her body.  That was just the instrument that brought about death. Instead,  she died because she was a sinner.  Paul says in this same letter, “The wages of sin is death.”

          Genna was indeed a wonderful person. But that doesn’t change the fact she was a sinner.  Paul says in Romans: “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’”  She did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  She did not love her neighbor as herself in all ways at all times.  God is the holy God, and Jesus tells what is necessary to have fellowship with him.  He said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 

          Genna knew this was true. She confessed her sin.  She did every Sunday when she attended the Divine Service. She confessed her sin one last time in the Commendation of the Dying.  Genna also knew that it was true of you.  That is why she wanted the Gospel proclaimed at her funeral.  She knew that on your own you are sinners who will face God’s wrath and judgment. That can be the only outcome for you apart from Christ.

          Genna Biermann died because she was a sinner.  But she has not received God’s judgment, and she never will.  Paul says in our text, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

          God did not spare his Son.  Instead, he sent his Son into the world as he took on humanity and became man.  True God and true man, Jesus was in this world to die in Genna’s place – to die in your place. On the cross he received God’s judgment against sin.  He was the sacrifice by which our sin was atoned for and forgiven.

          In fact Paul asks, “Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.”  God will not bring a charge against Genna, because he did it against Christ in her place. Genna believed in Jesus Christ the crucified Lord. And so Genna was justified by God’s grace – she was declared by God to be righteous and innocent. The verdict of the Last Day has already been spoken about Genna.  Paul says earlier in Romans, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Genna died at peace with God – her sins forgiven.

          We are here today because of death.  But because Genna believed in Christ and was baptized into his death, death does not get the final word.  Paul says in our text, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

          Jesus Christ died on the cross on Good Friday. But on the third day, God raised him from the dead.  Jesus passed through death in order to defeat it for Genna – in order defeat it for you.  Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, Genna lives now.  Paul told the Philippians, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” As the apostle contemplated his own death he said, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”

          Genna has departed and she is now with Christ. We will take her body and bury it in a cemetery. But because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, God is not done with her body.  Just before our text Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Then he explained what this glory will mean when he said, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

          Resurrection – that is what awaits Genna’s body. That is what awaits Genna. The Lord who has risen from the dead will return in glory on the Last Day.  The apostle told the Philippians, “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

          This is the love that God has shared with Genna.  It is the love that God has shared with you – the love that is proclaimed to you this morning. Through baptism and faith this love from Christ is yours. Paul says in our text, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”  Not even the death of a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend can separate us from Christ’s love.

          Like us all, Genna’s life was not without troubles. She faced challenges. But because Genna knew Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Lord she lived in the knowledge that victory was hers. She lived in the confidence given at the end of our text where Paul declares: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,

nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

          Genna is held securely in God’s love today as she is with the Lord.  She will share in that final victory when Christ returns in glory and transforms her body to be like his.  In life and in death, nothing can separate her – and all those who believe in the crucified and risen Lord – from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.


Sunday, January 15, 2023

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany - Jn 2:1-11


Epiphany 2

                                                                                      Jn 2:1-11



          Amy and I were married in July of 1997. Having a wedding in central Illinois in July was a bit of a gamble.  You can run into sweltering weather that can make everything miserable. However, we had a gorgeous day with temperatures in the low 70’s.

          In fact, everything about the day was wonderful.  The wedding service was a great Lutheran wedding.  The decorations at the wedding reception were lovely. The food was great.  It was a joyous occasion with our family and friends. I enjoyed every minute, … and then I was ready to leave because our wedding night awaited.

          After all the work and anticipation, it would have been very disappointing if something had gone wrong at the wedding.  My brother was married the following summer, and there hasn’t been another Surburg wedding since then. That will change this summer when my niece Naomi is married.  As I see the work and money that must be spent on even a reasonable wedding, I certainly hope that everything goes well.  I want Naomi’s wedding to go as well as ours did so that she too will have memories of a wonderful event.

          Weddings have always been the focus of preparations and the expenditure of money.  There is certainly the concern that things will go well.  In our Gospel lesson we hear about a wedding where this was not the case.  In fact, a social disaster struck as the wedding party ran out of wine.  However, our Lord Jesus was there and he used this occasion to perform the first miracle in the Gospel of John.  This first miracle explains to us what we see in all of Jesus’ miracles, and in the person of Jesus himself.

          In our Gospel lesson we learn of how Mary, Jesus and his disciples were invited to a wedding held at Cana, which was just under four miles away from Nazareth.  Just as in our world, a wedding feast was an important social event.  Yet we learn that all did not go as planned because the wedding ran out of wine.

          This was a disaster.  People in the ancient world drank wine and it was certainly expected that a wedding feast would serve it.  A wedding without wine in first century Palestine would be like a wedding today without wedding cake for everyone.  It was unthinkable and would be source of embarrassment.

          Mary showed care for the situation as she told Jesus, “They have no wine.”  She obviously believed that Jesus could do something about this.  However, our Lord’s response seems unexpected. He said, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” The words sound like a rejection. Yet Mary did not receive them in this way. She had faith in her son’s ability to put things right and so she said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

          Jesus’ statement about the “hour” alerts us to the fact that what is about to happen involves more than rescuing a wedding host from social embarrassment. In John’s Gospel the word “hour” refers to Jesus’ saving work of dying on the cross and rising from the dead. His hour is the goal of his entire ministry and our Lord will fulfill this at the time ordained by the Father.  On two different occasions we learn that people tried to seize Jesus, but they were unable “because his hour had not yet come.”

          Our Lord acts in his time and his way.  Later, Jesus told servants to take the six large water jars that were present and to fill them to the top. Together they held almost one hundred and eighty gallons.  Next he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”  Imagine how absurd this sounded.  But they obeyed, and when the master of the feast tasted it, the water had been turned into wine.  In fact, the wine Jesus had made was better than the good wine that had already been served at the wedding feast.

          Jesus performs this first miracle, and John makes sure that we don’t overlook its significance. This was not just a matter of Jesus rescuing people from social embarrassment. Instead John tells us, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

          John describes the miracle as a sign that reveals Jesus’ glory.  We hear about this event on the second Sunday in Epiphany because this is what Epiphany is all about. The word “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word that means “appear.” During Christmas we celebrated how the Son of God entered into the world in the incarnation as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Now, our Scripture readings will focus on how the saving glory of God was revealed through Jesus in his ministry.

          John says that the miracle revealed Jesus’ glory.  This recalls what he had said at the beginning of the Gospel when he wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Son of God revealed his glory through the miracle of turning water into wine. His other miracles did the same.

          Yet Jesus’ statement about his “hour” leads us to recognize that the great manifestation of his glory occurred in Jesus’ death.  Jesus said during Holy Week, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

          The revelation of Jesus’ saving glory occurred in a paradox. It occurred as he died on the cross.  Jesus said, Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Then John adds, “He said this to show” – literally, ‘to sign’ – “by what kind of death he was going to die.” The miraculous signs all point to the miracle of the cross – a miracle that at the time when it happened did not look like a miracle.

          Jesus had told his opponents, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The Son of God entered into the world to free us from our sin. That is why John the Baptist called him “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 

          By ourselves, we are slaves.  We fail in sin again and again. We worship the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I, as we put ourselves before God and our neighbor. Yet Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to take away our sin. By the shedding of his blood on the cross he has fulfilled the Father’s will. Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice that takes away sin.  In ourselves we continue to struggle with sin. But through Christ we are able stand before God as those who are holy in his eyes.

          In our text John says, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” Jesus revealed his saving glory in death. Yet in John’s Gospel, the revelation of Christ’s glory is one sweeping movement that descends down into the tomb and up again in resurrection and ascension. 

          Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”  On Easter Jesus took up his life again. He rose from the dead, and his exaltation continued as he returned to the Father in his ascension.

          In our text, the disciples see the sign of Jesus turning water in to wine. They see the sign that reveals Jesus’ glory and they believe in him.  At the end of the Gospel John says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” 

You now see Jesus’ glory in his inspired word. Before his ascension Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  Through the words of John’s Gospel, the Spirit reveals the saving glory of Jesus to us here and now.

You have seen Jesus’ glory and God has called you to faith. You have been born of God. Because this is so, you have life.  Jesus said, And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  You have eternal life already now, and you also know that the risen Lord will raise you up on the Last Day.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”

Through Christ you have received God’s love that has given you life.  Because this is true, it changes the way we live. John said in his first letter, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  Christ’s sacrificial love for us now guides the way we live. It is the source that prompts us to seek the good of others as we put their needs before our own. Christ’s action for us prompts to act, for as John says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

In the Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus turns water into wine.  By this first miracle Jesus provided a sign that revealed his glory. It was an action that called the disciples to believe in him.

The Spirit of Christ reveals the sign to us this morning through the Gospel of John. This sign points to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through which we have received the saving glory of God.  By faith in the risen Lord we have forgiveness and life now – a life that causes us to act in love towards others.