Bridgewater, Massachusetts, March 2, 2003

Joel 3:17, 18 Blessings for God's people

Then you will know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her. In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the Lord's house, and will water the valley of acacias.

John 2:1-11 The miracle at Cana

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."

And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what is there between me and you? My hour has not yet come."

His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the master of the banquet." So they took it.

When the master of the banquet tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now."

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The Heavenly City #179-82 Reborn inside and out

Each of us has an inner self and an outer self. The inner one is our spiritual self, and the outer one is our material self. For us to be reborn, both of these have to be reborn.

When we have not been reborn, our outer, material self is in control, and our inner self works for it. But when we have been reborn, our inner, spiritual self is in control, and our outer self works for it. So you can see that our life is arranged upside-down from birth. What should be in control is just a worker, and what should just be a worker is in control. For us to be set free, this arrangement has to be turned the other way around. This cannot happen unless we are reborn from the Lord.

I will show through examples what it means for our inner self to be in control with our outer self working for it, and the other way around.

If pleasure, money, and pride are all we think of as good, and we feel pleasure in hatred and revenge, and search deep inside ourselves for excuses to support all of this, then our outer self is in control and our inner self is working for it.

But if we feel goodness and joy in thinking and wanting what is good, honest, and fair, and in saying and doing these things outwardly, then our inner self is in control and our outer self is working for it.

Our inner self is reborn from the Lord first, and our outer self is reborn through it afterwards. This is because our inner self is reborn by thinking things that have to do with faith and kindness, but our outer self is reborn by a life in harmony with them. This is what the Lord meant when he said, "Unless you have been born from both water and spirit, you cannot enter God's realm" (John 3:5). In the spiritual meaning, "water" is the truth that goes with faith, and "spirit" is a life in harmony with it.

When we have been reborn, our inner self is in heaven, where we are angels together with the angels we will live with after we die. We can then live a heavenly life, love the Lord, love other people, understand what is true, sense what is good, and feel happy because of this.

Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the master of the banquet." (John 2:7, 8)

The Gospel of John, like the Gospel of Mark, does not start with the story of Jesus' birth--at least, not in a literal sense as it is told in Matthew and Luke. Instead, John starts with a philosophical and spiritual account of the Jesus' origin in God as the eternal Word, and of "the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us." It proceeds to an account of John the Baptist preparing the way for the Lord, and then the Lord himself comes on the scene in the flesh, calling the first of his disciples in preparation for his public ministry. As Luke tells us, this took place when Jesus was about thirty years old (Luke 3:23).

In the Gospel of John, the story of the miracle at Cana (or of changing water into wine) is presented as the first act of Jesus' public ministry after the calling of his first disciples. And it is significant that it is with deeds, not words, that Jesus begins to show his divine nature to the world.

It is also significant that his first miracle takes place at a wedding. Literally and socially, a wedding is one of the most joyful and one of the most life-changing events in any person's life. Once married, for good or for ill, nothing will ever be the same again. If the marriage is a good one, two lives have begun to coalesce into one, transforming both into something that they never were before.

In many places throughout the Prophets and the Gospels, marriage is invested with a deep spiritual significance. This seemingly human ritual is given a meaning far beyond the physical and social plane that it is ordinarily associated with. The spiritual marriage, we are told, is between the Lord and the church. The Lord desires to have a close and intimate relationship with the gathering of his people, his followers throughout the world. It is this spiritual body of believers, and not any human organization, that is truly the church of the Lord. And we are told that the Lord wishes to get engaged and then married to this church, seen as a vast human spiritual organism.

That spiritual marriage is a reflection of the divine marriage that takes place eternally within the Divine itself. The Lord's divine love, which is the very substance of God, is eternally betrothing and marrying the Lord's divine wisdom. The universe and everything in it is a child of that divine marriage. And on a deeper level, all the love we feel and all the truth we know and understand are also children of that infinitely fruitful divine marriage.

This means that marriage is at the very core of ultimate reality, and is the source of all that exists. Therefore in the Gospel of John--the deepest and most philosophical of the Gospels--Jesus chooses to begin his public ministry where everything in the universe begins: at the celebration of a wedding feast.

At this wedding, unfortunately for the bridegroom and his master of ceremonies, the wine has run out. This may not seem like such a big deal--especially since the guests have apparently already had a bit too much anyway. But in ancient Near Eastern culture, hospitality to guests was considered a sacred duty. Running out of anything while entertaining guests--and especially running out of wine--was a great disaster and a great humiliation.

Apparently this particular wedding involved friends of Jesus' family of birth, since his mother was there, and he and his disciples were invited as well. And apparently Mary, the mother of Jesus, believed he could do something about this minor catastrophe. She said to him, "They have no wine." Jesus, not recognizing her as his mother, but instead with the respectful title of "woman," seems to put her off. But she is not put off, and instructs the servants to do whatever he tells them.

Her belief in his abilities is not disappointed. But how subtly Jesus works the miracle! He does not make a great show of it. Instead, he tells the servants to fill with water the six stone water jars standing at the house--jars whose use is identified as vessels for water used in the Jewish rites of purification. The servants, eager to do their duty well, fill the jars right to the brim. Even then, Jesus does not wave his arms and utter magic words, but simply instructs the servants to draw some out from the jars and bring it to the master of the banquet--whose job it was to see to it that all the guests were well fed and entertained, and that everything in the feast went smoothly.

We are left with the impression that it was when the water was drawn out of the stone jars that it became wine. And when the master of the banquet tasted the wine, he marveled at its quality, saying to the bridegroom, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." He did not know where this fine wine had come from.

The story closes by informing us that this was the first of Jesus' signs (or miracles), which he did in Cana of Galilee--only about seven miles north of his home town of Nazareth. And through this miracle of transformation, he revealed his glory, and his newly called disciples believed in him.

Though this miracle did serve to solidify the faith of the Lord's disciples, as with everything else in the Word of God, in addition to that immediate effect it has a deeper, spiritual significance for people in all time and in all places. It was not only to help the Lord's disciples strengthen their faith two thousand years ago, but also to help us grow in our faith and spiritual life today. So let's take a deeper look at this miracle of transformation that the Lord performed on the joyful occasion of a wedding feast, as the first sign that began to reveal his glory.

Just as there is a marriage within the Divine Being, and between God and humanity, so there is a spiritual marriage within each one of us. We are, after all, created in the image and likeness of God, so that anything that exists in God must also exist in us--though in a finite, limited, and imperfect form compared to the infinite, perfect nature of God. Just as there is a divine marriage of love and wisdom in God, which is God, so there is a spiritual marriage of love and wisdom, or of goodness and truth, in us--and that marriage is our true, inner nature. It is our actual being; the substance of who we are.

Though this sounds abstract, it is, in fact, part of our daily experience, if we will pause and reflect on it for a moment. Everything we think or do comes from some motive, some love within us, whether we know what it is or not. If we had no motive, no desire, we would have no life. We would have nothing to move us forward on the course of our lives. Our motives are the love that is the substance of our being.

Yet a motive by itself is ineffectual without a means to accomplish its desires. That means is our thinking mind--the things we know, understand, and believe. In other words, it is the truth that we know, the knowledge we have gained, the information we have stored in our memory to draw back out for use when it is needed. Our loves and motives work through the truth that we know, and this gives us both the drive and the capability to say and do the things that make us the person we are.

And it is in this context that an amazing spiritual transformation takes place. This wedding was among friends of the Lord and of his earthly and spiritual family. It was among devout, practicing Jews, who had six stone water jars used to observe the Jewish rites of purification. It was among good people; among believers in and practicers of the faith.

Our transformation also takes place when we have become believers and practicers of our faith. It comes when we have made a commitment to put both our heart and our head into living out our beliefs. It comes when we are ready to participate in the spiritually fruitful marriage to which the Lord calls each one of us. In other words, it comes when we are already committing ourselves to being active, practicing Christians.

When we make this commitment, and become actively involved in our church, it is like attending a wedding feast. We have a sense of joy, of community, and of deeper usefulness that we have not felt in our lives before. We celebrate and enjoy our new and deeper life, and it gives us great satisfaction.

Yet very often, something happens along the way. After the initial joy of discovery and new life, as time goes by, we find our first zeal waning. Like a new toy that is the greatest thing in the world when a child first receives it, after the novelty wears off, we tend to lay it aside, and get busy again with our other concerns. We may still be attending church and doing our duty, but somehow there just isn't the same life in it that there was at first.

Figuratively speaking, we have run out of wine. Yes, there is still the food of daily goodness, but the wine of deeper inspiration is gone. We go through our daily rounds, we do our daily tasks, but we do not feel the deeper sense of joy and fulfillment in them that we felt when we first began on our new spiritual path.

And like running out of wine at the wedding in Cana, this is more than a minor inconvenience. It is a building spiritual disaster. After all, presumably we got involved in the church because we felt a lack of deeper inspiration in our lives, and wanted something more, something higher, to move us along and give us a reason to live. We wanted a sense of joy in life. And if we lose that sense of deeper life and higher joy, how is it so much different from the life we were living before? Perhaps our outward behavior is better--more moral, ethical, and generally more healthy than it was before. But what about our spirit?

It is when we are feeling this sense of loss, this sense of spiritual emptiness within, that we realize our need for new inspiration and new life. And if, like Mary, we have the presence of mind to turn to the Lord, we will find the satisfaction of our inner thirst.

Notice, first, that the Lord doesn't make any promises. Instead, he asks a puzzling question, and makes a mysterious statement. Both of them are designed, not to put us off, but to get us thinking more deeply. What is there between us and the Lord? And when will the Lord's time come in us?

Notice, next, that the Lord does not do anything himself. Rather, he instructs the servants what to do. Fill the stone water jars--and they fill them to the brim. Now draw some out and bring it to the master of the banquet. They do so, and in the act, the water is transformed not just into ordinary wine, but into the finest that has yet been served at the wedding feast. An amazing transformation has taken place, but in the simplest of ways.

When we come to the Lord seeking new life after our initial zeal wears off, he does the same with us. He does not wave his arms in grand fashion, pronouncing some magic words and transforming us in a poof of light. Rather, he gives us simple instructions. Fill the jars with water. These are the jars used in the Jewish rituals of purification--reminding us that to prepare for the Lord's miracles in our lives, we need to purify ourselves of thoughts and feelings that are unworthy of the Lord and of spiritual life.

Then we are to fill the jars with water. When our spiritual life has become stale, it is time to go back to Word of God, to our sources of spiritual wisdom, and fill the empty vessels of our minds with new stores of truth and understanding about the things of faith.

And finally, we are to draw what we have learned out of our minds, and put it to use in our lives. This is when the transformation takes place. It is not when the truth is stored in our minds, but when we draw it out, using it to bring joy and comfort to the people around us, that it is transformed from the water of ordinary understanding to the wine of a new and deeper vision of life. And as we serve others with new willingness and new joy, we find that this new wine that the Lord has given us is the finest of all. Amen.

Music is Treasured Moments
2003 Bruce De Boer

Used with Permission