Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 16, 2022
It was a bright, sunny, southern California day. I couldn’t have been more than seven years old when my grandfather, a priest in the Episcopal Church, took me for a drive in his car. A big, brown, four door 1978 Cadillac. We drove for a bit, and we stopped at the little Episcopal Church not far from my parents’ home. My family, my parents and my sister, weren’t really church people. We were the people who would sit in your pew on Easter and Christmas Eve. That little Episcopal Church, the one I stopped at with my grandfather, was the one I had been to just a handful of times.
We got out of the car and went into the little church. It was dark, quiet, the middle of the day. This memory, it’s stitched into my brain, and I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this story before this week. My grandfather went to the altar rail with me, knelt down, I knelt with him, and we prayed. He said something like, “tell God ‘thank you’ for all the gifts you’ve received.” I was thinking he meant Christmas presents or birthday gifts, and I probably muttered some senseless prayer.
But that image, of kneeling alone in a church with him, of praying, as I look back on it now it was a transformational moment in my life. And I thank God for it. It was no grand, flashy event. No one else was there. I didn’t hear an angel chorus start singing. There was no lightning and thunder. It wasn’t a conversion experience from a life of sin to a life of grace. It was just a little boy kneeling in a quiet church with his grandfather. But for me, as I look back on my life, it was a moment in which Jesus revealed his glory to me. It was a moment, not the only moment, but a step along the way, in which I came to believe in him. It was God’s glory because I began to realize that some people really do believe this stuff. It was God’s glory because it was the first moment in my life that I spoke with God. It was God’s glory because I came to know that in the church I was loved, and accepted, and cared for.
Since the beginning, Christians have shared stories like this; moments when God’s glory was revealed and they came to believe in him. At its core, that’s what the story about the wedding in Cana of Galilee is about. Sure, this story has been talked about in all sorts of ways. We joke about Jesus making 120 gallons of wine, and not just mediocre wine, but the really good stuff. We talk about this God of abundance, we think about Jesus’ relationship with his mother. This story is always part of marriage services in the Episcopal Church. But this week as I was praying and reflecting on it, it was the last line that floored me. “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:12). This sign, this event, this abundant changing of water into wine had a purpose. And the purpose was for Jesus to reveal his glory so that his disciples would believe in him.
Pay close attention to this. God’s glory is revealed when Jesus changes the water into wine. But no one else notices. It’s not a big, flashy, showy event. The head waiter doesn’t know where the wine came from. The bridegroom doesn’t know. Surely the people drinking all that wine don’t know and don’t care where it came from. It was just a few people who saw this thing take place; who witnessed the glory of God making an abundance. And it was just those few who came to believe in him.
All throughout the holy scriptures, God is revealed in these simple, private ways so that people would come to believe in God. Moses meets God in the burning bush. Of course, Moses is the only one there with God. But through that experience, Moses comes to believe in God. Later on there’s the prophet Elijah. He runs away to Mount Horeb all by himself and God is revealed to Elijah there. But the revelation, the glory doesn’t come in great strength; no, Elijah meets God in the sound of sheer silence. In the Gospel of Luke, on the first Easter afternoon, the risen Lord starts walking along with two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus, though they don’t know who he is. Jesus talks with them about the Bible and then breaks bread with them. Instantly, they realize that it is Jesus with them and his glory is revealed. It wasn’t all the disciples, it wasn’t every follower of Jesus who got that revelation, it was just the two of them. More and more I have come to believe that Jesus reveals himself to us, but rarely is it in big ways. Jesus reveals his glory in the subtleties of life. Jesus wants us to see those signs so that we would come to believe. If only we would notice them. For Moses it was the burning bush, for Elijah it was the silence on Horeb, for some disciples it was the water into wine; for me it was a simple prayer in a darkened church.
Now of course, there are public ways that God is revealed. Every Sunday we gather and God is revealed in scripture and in the breaking of bread. That’s how our collect for today goes, “grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” The stories from the Bible reveal God to us. In the act of taking communion God is revealed to us. And because of it, we believe in him. This is God’s glory. But I don’t want to focus on the public at the expense of the private.
So, what was it, what is it for you? Think back on your life, what was that small moment, that little gift of revelation that God gave you? What was the sign that God gave you? What was the thing, the event, the gift that helped you believe? You might be the only who received that gift. No one else may have noticed. That’s okay. Remember, the guests who were drinking the wine from Jesus didn’t notice. It was just me and my grandfather in that church. That sign, whatever it was, might not seem like much but it was the glory of God.
So this week, I have a spiritual challenge for you. This week, I’m asking you to share that story you have. Tell someone else what it was in your life that made you come to believe. As I have done with you this morning. I know, I know, it sound so un-Episcopalian. “You want me to talk about Jesus?” But I’m not asking you to stand on a street corner or make some big Facebook announcement about it. And this isn’t some ploy to tell someone who doesn’t go to church and try to get them to start coming. Maybe you would feel more comfortable telling another Christian. That’s fine. But your story, the sign that was given to you, is a gift from God. A gift that should be shared. This is why you have come to believe. This is a testament to how much Jesus loves you – that he has done this for you.
And don’t take my word for it. Take it from the Gospel of John. The very last line, the last verse in John goes like this, “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” That’s where you come in. Your story, the things Jesus has done in your life, they are just as important as all the other things that Jesus ever did. That is a gift, a gift I’m asking you to treasure, to honor, and now to share. You are here today because you have seen God’s glory, you have been given a sign, and now you have come to believe.
What starts small with God, ends ridiculously big. At a wedding in Cana of Galilee, some jars of water become enough wine for everyone. For Moses, a burning bush becomes the deliverance from slavery to freedom. For Elijah, the sound of silence becomes the faith of a spiritual giant. For a young boy, a simple prayer in a darkened church became a life, a calling. Your small gift, the story of God that you share, could be the very thing that helps another to believe. This is the glory of God that has been revealed to us.