Finest Wine

The text of the sermon, based on John 2.1-11, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, January 16, 2022.


In ancient times, hospitality was a universally-understood sacred and shared duty. A responsibility of the host and the guest.

Years ago, Pontheolla and I were privileged in being granted a seven-month, around-the-world, recreative, life-transformative sabbatical. We journeyed to – and, staying in each place at least a month’s time, sojourned through – many lands. One of the most memorable was South Africa; especially our fortnight in KwaZulu-Natal. There, under the aegis of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Hillcrest, we visited the nearby enclaves of the Xhosa and Zulu tribes. At our first stop, at the home of Christina Gasa, she said to us: “God has blessed me and my home with your presence.” At every visit, similar words of greeting were repeated. Until that moment, truly, moments, Pontheolla and I had believed that hospitality was the obligation of the host manifested in words and deeds of welcome to and for the guest. Our Xhosa and Zulu sisters and brothers reformed our understanding with the epiphany, the revelation of the inherent mutuality of hospitality. And so, we, in contemporary times, learned what our ancient forebears knew. The host may prepare the grandest graces for the guest, but all is for naught unless and until the guest appears with the gift of presence.

Hospitality. A sacred, shared duty.

A wedding. An occasion of grandest celebration. Among the invitees, Jesus and his disciples (meaning that he came “in role” as a recognized rabbi). At some point, during the several days of merriment, “the wine gave out.” For the hosts, a situation of grievous guilt-and-shame. Did they not purchase enough wine? Or, as weddings were community-wide celebrations, did more guests appear than had been anticipated; that absence of attention, a sign of the negligence of inhospitality? Or, given the mutuality of hospitality, did the guests fail to bring their offerings of wine to supplement the provisions of the host? It really didn’t matter. For the lack of wine, the symbol of shared festivity, was a betrayal of sacred duty.

Jesus’ mother, with maternal love, sensitive to the humiliation of the hosts, somehow knows that her son can do something. “Woman…” Jesus replies. At first glance and sound, a brusque word of dismissal. Yet this is the same word that Jesus, languishing near death on the cross of his crucifixion, spoke to his mother before giving her into the care of his beloved disciple, “Woman, behold your son.”[1] Here, with this term of endearment, Jesus would resist his mother’s request: “What concern is that to you and to me.” For his “hour,” the time of the fulfillment of his life’s purpose, the realization of his God-ordained destiny had “not yet come.”

This strange saying is a hint to the meaning of what will come, which John the evangelist, driving the point home, lest we miss it, makes clear: Jesus did this, the first of his signs…and revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

Mary, again, somehow knowing Jesus can do something, also knows that he will. Therefore, she instructs the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

And then Jesus turns water into wine. The finest wine to share with all. The chief steward or master of ceremonies of the feast chastises the bridegroom for reserving the best for last. Yet he knows not the source of this finest wine. Nor does the host. Only the servants, the lowliest of the low. They know.

This tiny detail, when writ large, tells us everything we need to know about to whom Jesus reveals his glory. Only those who, without pride in their life’s station and without pride of their own persons, who, therefore, know their constant poverty of spirit and their need for God, with open eyes can see and believe.

See and believe what? This epiphany. This manifestation. This revelation. That Jesus, in heavenly hospitality, pours out his blood, the truest, finest wine, upon the cross of his crucifixion to cover the guilt and shame of sin that we may know blessed reconciliation with God, with others, and with ourselves.

God has blessed us, for Jesus has come to the home of our hearts.

© 2022 PRA

[1] John 19.26b

#theinherentmutualityofhospitality #therevelationofJesusglory #theheavenlyhospitalityofsalvation

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