Bridgewater, Massachusetts, March
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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